Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

A measure of democracy

Isaac Hayward was born in Gloucester, England in 1837. He arrived in Victoria in November 1852 at the age of 15 and immediately joined the growing number of gold diggers in Ballarat. By 1854, the population of the Ballarat goldfields district had swelled to 25,000. Law and order was enforced by the Gold Commission's police force, reinforced by a garrison of soldiers 􀀀 the diggers considered these authorities corrupt. Opposition to the requirement for a miner's license was growing. In June, twice weekly checks of miner's licences were instigated by Victoria's newly appointed governor, Charles Hotham.

Unrest increased, and on 29 November thousands of miners protested in the streets and defiantly burnt their licences. In early December miners constructed a stockade against the government troops at Eureka. As Isaac Hayward and other miners slept within the stockade on the night of 3 December 1854, government troops stormed the rebellion — 22 diggers and five troops were killed in the resulting conflict.

The subsequent Royal Commission acknowledged the corruption of the administration and agreed with the demands of the miners — a miner's right of one pound replaced the eight pound annual mining licence and the hated Gold Commission was replaced. The courage of the miners led to a decisive moment in Australia's early democracy.

By and by there was a result, and I think it may be called the finest thing in Australasian history. It was a revolution — small in size; but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against injustice and oppression ... It is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle.

Mark Twain upon visiting the Victorian goldfields in 1895.

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