A. L. (Arthur Lincoln) Haydon.

The trooper police of Australia; a record of mounted police work in the commonwealth from the earliest days of settlement to the present time online

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1852. Robberies, acts of bushranging and other exciting
episodes by that time had become of alarming frequency ;
the newspapers chronicled them every day ; but all these
incidents were suddenly eclipsed by an act of unparalleled
daring, an act that recalls remembrances of buccaneering on
the Spanish Main. As reported in the Melbourne Argus of
April 3rd the particulars are as follows

Lying off the lighthouse at Williamstown, in a part of
Port Phillip Harbour known as Hobson's Bay, was a gold-
ship. This vessel, the Nelson, had just come in from Geelong
with 24,000 worth of gold, and was shortly to leave for
London, With such a valuable freight it might have been


expected that a proper watch would have been kept, but
this was not the case. In the early morning of the 2nd a
party of twenty-two masked men (other accounts say
sixteen) put off from the beach at Sandridge in two boats,
and with muffled oars rowed to the ship's side. There was
no one on deck to hail them or give any alarm ; the pirates
clambered on board unseen and took possession.

Two sailors and a boy who were found in the forecastle
were easily secured. The rest of the Nelson's crew five
in all with the chief officer, Mr. Draper, were surprised in
their bunks. Each one of the robbers was fully armed, and
resistance was useless in the circumstances, though the chief
officer pluckily showed fight. In a few minutes the vessel
was at the mercy of the gang. Having seen to the safe
disposal of their prisoners, the men proceeded at once to the
lazarette, where the treasure was stowed, and carried the
boxes to their boats. Then they led Mr. Draper and the
ship's hands to the plundered store-room, locked them in,
and decamped.

Immediately the pirates had quitted the vessel's side a
seaman, who had evaded capture by finding a sure hiding-
place, liberated the prisoners. The chief officer at once
rowed to shore to give the alarm, and the Water Police were
soon at work searching for the thieves. In the darkness
not much could be done, but when daylight broke a boat
stranded on the beach near St. Kilda showed where the
rascals had landed. On the sand were the wheel-tracks of
the cart which had carried off the booty. The second boat
was found later on at Williamstown.

On the strength of this information Captain Sturt, of the
Melbourne force, set off with a body of mounted police to
scour the country, but for several days no traces of the men


THE RUSH FOR GOLD, 1852-1855

could be found. For the better conveyance of the gold the
boxes had been discarded, these being picked up, empty, on
the beach. In the absence of other clues the police were hard
put to it to unearth the robbers, and their non-success gave
the Melbourne press opportunity for railing at the Govern-
ment's inability to protect life and property.

" That twenty-two men, evidently all sworn to secrecy,"
said a leader-writer in the Argus, " could meet and plan such
a daring robbery among so limited a population as that of
Melbourne, without exciting a suspicion among the police,
is strange. Granting, however, that the cunning of the
rascals evaded all suspicion, what is to be thought of the
efficient police force that could not perceive any symptoms
of such a deed while it was being executed ? Is there a
police force ? And what are its duties if bands of robbers
can plunder in this fashion ? Again, these men were armed
to the teeth. It is shrewdly suspected that they intended
to attack the Admiral, a gold-ship which sailed yesterday
afternoon a fact which they probably did not know. It
is perfectly clear that they were prepared to perpetrate any
amount of violence, and to hazard their lives in the accom-
plishment of their project."

In a later issue of the paper a correspondent fulminated
against the authorities in these terms : " We have no
Government. That is a fact, as clear as noonday. What
represents the Government is an imaginary will-o'-the
wisp ; a band of creatures like men, but actuated only by
the spirits of decayed old women. There is no safety for
individuals in their properties on land or water ; day after
day numbers of robberies are recorded ; people are found
dead in the street, in houses, or on the roads . . . some-
thing must immediately be done to render life and property



safe, otherwise the thief and murderer will usurp the func-
tions of the judge and magistrate ; crime of the most degrad-
ing and abominable kind will reign supreme, and Victoria,
the finest of the colonies, will be converted into a terrestrial
hell ! "

Newspaper tirades do not always voice public sentiment.
That Melbourne people generally were incensed at such a
crime being perpetrated in their midst was natural, but the
difficulties encountered by the police did not go unrecognised.
Nor were the " old women " of the Government asleep, as
some supposed, while the much-abused police were working
surely if quietly towards their end. Within a week the
principals of the Nelson pirates had been laid by the heels.
Four men in all were arrested, one being on the point of
sailing for [Sydney, the three others being located at a
Williamstown inn. They were duly placed on trial and were
sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment.

One important outcome of this sensational affair was its
effect on the question of transportation. The Order in
Council of 1840, which had freed New South Wales and,
inclusively, Victoria from the plague of convict shipments,
had left Van Diemen's Land and Norfolk Island as the sole
two penal settlements in Australia. To the former of these
went the bulk of transported felons. In the few years
between 1842 and 1846 the number received totalled 19,000.
By the year 1851, when Victorians had cause to look askance
on Van Diemen's Land immigrants, half of the island's
population were either convicts or ex-convicts who had
gained freedom.

In Victoria public feeling was now fully aroused on this
vital question. Anti-Transportation Leagues were formed,
mass meetings were held in Melbourne and other centres,


THE RUSH FOR GOLD, 1852-1865

and resolutions were passed calling on the Imperial Govern-
ment to cease deporting prisoners to Van Diemen's Land,
or Tasmania. At home Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary,
was slow to realise how united were the colonists on this
point. But the insistent petitions of Victorians and
Tasmanians at length won the day. Transportation to
Tasmania ceased on February 10th, 1853.

In the meantime the development of the goldfields was
proceeding apace. In New South Wales the mining camps
were being conducted in a fairly orderly manner ; in Victoria
less settled conditions prevailed. At Bendigo, Eagle-hawk
Creek, and other places, there was considerable turbulence,
to which the grog-shanty and the dance-hall contributed
their quota. The Mounted Police, including the black
troopers, already referred to in the specially raised corps
of Gold Police, under Captain Mair, endeavoured to cope
with the situation to the best of their ability, but the few-
ness of their numbers made the task an almost impossible
one. More police were drafted into the colony from Tas-
mania and from England, the Lieutenant-Governor having
no military upon which to draw. The ever-shifting and
constantly increasing population of the diggings, however,
at times baffled the authorities.

In these early days of the goldfields there was an addi-
tional attraction to the bushranger in the mail-coaches which
ran between the diggings and the towns. Often the vehicles
contained passengers who carried with them large quantities
of gold in the shape of nuggets or dust, usually destined for
the bank. Both in New South Wales and Victoria cases of
" sticking up " mail-coaches came to be frequent, and the
mounted police patrols had instructions to be particularly
alert in looking out for these gentlemen of the road. In


November 1853, we find the following proclamation issued
from the Colonial Secretary's Office in Sydney :

" Whereas it has been represented to the Government
that the mails on certain roads have been repeatedly robbed,
and it is considered expedient to establish a fixed scale of
Rewards, applying to all cases of Mail Robberies : His Ex-
cellency the Governor-General directs it to be notified that
for such information, within six calendar months after the
commission of the offence, as shall lead to the apprehension
and conviction of those implicated, a Reward of Twenty
Pounds will be paid in each case of mail robbery unattended
by violence, and a Reward of Fifty Pounds in each case in
which the guilty parties have been armed and have used
violence, and that in addition to the above Rewards, re-
spectively, application will be made to Her Majesty for the
allowance of a Conditional Pardon to the person giving the
information, if a prisoner of the Crown."

" By His Excellency's Command.


On the Victorian goldfields the monthly licence fee
formed the principal bone of contention between miners and
Government. It was regarded as a severe tax by the major-
ity, especially as it was extended to every individual who
resided on a goldfield, whether digger or store-keeper, and
the methods employed for its collection only served to
heighten opposition. In the execution of their duty the
police were often provoked into taking harsh measures.
Digger hunts had their tragic as well as their humorous side,
and if tents were burnt down and men too roughly handled
an outburst of indignation and protest was only to be ex-
pected. A sight too frequently seen, and one that caused


THE RUSH FOR GOLD, 1862-1855

much resentment, was that of handcuffed miners chained
to trees pending their examination for the non-production
of licences. As there were no lock-ups on the diggings, the
police were obliged to have recourse to this rough method.
Several prisoners could be secured by their " darbies " to
one chain at a time. Afterwards an attempt was made to
fit up temporary cells of corrugated iron, but these " Dutch
ovens " or " sardine boxes," as they were variously termed
became unbearable in the heat of summer nights. The chain
was often welcomed as a relief.

As if there were not already sufficient irritation on this
score, Governor Latrobe's executive council now proposed
to increase the licence fee to 3, double the original amount.
The cost of collection so far had exceeded the value of the
revenue thus obtained, 1 and the proved richness of the mines
seemed to warrant a larger return. It was fondly hoped,
also, that many of the less fortunate diggers would become
discouraged and would make their way back to the settle-
ments, which were practically denuded of labour. The
paucity of workers, indeed, in the towns, on the farms, and
stock stations, was so serious that prices had risen to a
ruinous height. With rash haste the Government promul-
gated the new order, the official Gazette of December, 1851,
announcing that from the commencement of the following
year the increased fee of 3 would be imposed.

Victorians who remember those early days will easily
recall to mind the storm of protest that immediately uprose.
The miners were unanimous in denouncing this fresh im-
position and in their determination to resist it by force if

1 In 1853, replying to a deputation of Bendigo and Castlemaine miners*
Governor Latrobe stated that up to that time the cost of administering the
goldfields had amounted to 600,000, the revenue from licence fees and
gold export duty having been little more than 460,000.



necessary. At meeting after meeting inflammatory speeches
were delivered, until the gravity of the situation was brought
home to the Council. Within two or three weeks the
Government wavered and was lost. The objectionable
notice was cancelled, and the agitation for the time subsided.

Early in 1852 a new cloud appeared on the horizon.
Acting in concert with the Colonial Office in London, the
Governor put forward a proposal that in lieu of the obnoxious
licence fee an export duty on gold should be substituted,
a merely nominal fee being exacted to ensure the proper
registration of qualified miners. This not only seemed to
offer a fairer form of taxation, but possessed the advantage
of simplifying the work of collection. All such royalties
would be dealt with in Melbourne, thus obviating the inces-
sant friction with the police. Latrobe's idea had its merits,
but the miners were not in a state of mind to listen even to
any modification of the present system. There is no doubt
that much misrepresentation of the proposal was made, for
in most places it was understood that the Government was
seeking to still further bleed the digger.

Signs of disaffection manifested themselves in the
following year. In January unpleasantness occurred on
the Ovens goldfield, where in a fracas an unlicensed miner
was shot dead and an Assistant Gold Commissioner received
some rough usage at the hands of the mob. Four months
later there was a more serious outbreak at Forest Creek,
near Castlemaine. A police sub-inspector who was engaged
in raiding shanteys that were suspected of illicitly selling
spirits blundered badly. He attempted to arrest an innocent
man, burnt his tent, destroyed the stores of two other people
implicated, and thereby raised a hornets' nest. The com-
rades of the injured store-keeper rallied round him in large


THE RUSH FOR GOLD, 1852-1856

numbers. After a " roll up " meeting notices were displayed
on trees and huts around the field : " Down with the trooper,
Christian, and shoot him. Down with oppression ! "
" Diggers, avenge your wrongs." " Down with the police
camp. Up with Christian. Cry ' no quarter,' and show no
mercy ! " Only the presence of a considerable body of
police prevented the disorder developing into a riot. This
and other vexatious incidents helped to swell the storm of
discontent. More miners' meetings were held, and deputa-
tions waited on Mr. Latrobe to insist on the lowering of the
licence fee. It was to be reduced to 10s. a month, they said,
with the option of quarterly payments if desired, and the
practice of collecting by means of an armed force was to be
discontinued. Furthermore, the miners asked for proper
representation in the legislature.

This last demand was not unreasonable. In the few years
since the opening of the goldfields the mining population
had undergone a distinct change. Whereas at first men had
come and gone, mere birds of passage taking their pick of
the gold here and there, thousands were now following gold-
digging as a settled and permanent occupation. 1 It was this
class which was clamorous for reform and for due recog-
nition of its political and social rights.

Events now began to move rapidly. Ballarat, which
hitherto had not taken any prominent part in the agitation,
evinced its sympathy with its comrades at Bendigo. It was
to be a common cause on all the fields. At the end of August
1853, the Gold and Police Commissioners at Bendigo were
so startled by a popular demonstration that they sent urgent

1 How vast Victoria's gold yield was becoming will be understood from
the official returns. In 1851 the output was 145,137 oz. (580,548) ; in
1853 it had risen to 3,150,021 oz. (12,600,084).

97 H


messages to Melbourne advising the reduction, and even the
abolition, of the licence fee. In the face of this Latrobe and
his councillors surrendered. They had a strong force of
soldiers and police at command, a regiment having arrived
from England, 1 but they wisely forebore to precipitate a
conflict. The licence was therefore allowed to stand at
10s. per month, modifications were made in the conditions
under which it was issued, and also in the collection of the
fees, and with these concessions gained the miners abandoned
open hostility.

The following year saw a new Governor in the person
of Sir Charles Hotham, a distinguished naval officer. Mr.
Latrobe had resigned the post to return to England. With
a" view to more closely examining the position of affairs, Sir
Charles paid a visit to the goldfields, and by his diplomatic
speeches very favourably impressed the diggers. For one
thing, he recognised the fact that the franchise must inevit-
ably be granted, and he held this out as an inducement to
future orderliness. Promises, however, were not everything.
The miners by this time knew that they were powerful enough
in their organisation to enforce the reforms on which they
insisted, but meanwhile the " digger-hunting " annoyance
on the part of the police had not altogether abated. So
many men were known to be working on their claims without
licences that the Gold Commissioner was ordered to be still
more zealous in his efforts to rectify the abuse. This he
proceeded to do, with much consequent trouble. There was
additional dissatisfaction arising from the prohibition of
liquor-selling on the goldfields, and from the presence of

1 AtBendigo alone there were 154 soldiers and 171 police. By an Act
to regulate the police force, passed in January 1853, the constabulary on
the fields were much increased.



Chinese diggers, with whom the Government sided. The
cumulative effect of these pin-pricks was soon to be felt.
Unexpectedly, an event occurred which suddenly set the
goldfields aflame with rebellion, and made the name of
Eureka historic in Australian annals.

What happened was in itself a trifling affair, trifling, that
is, in the eyes of a mining community. A digger named
James Scobie called at the Eureka Hotel, Ballarat, one
October night after hours and asked for drink. He was
refused. An altercation ensued, the result being that at
daylight Scobie was found lying dead outside the house, his
head evidently having been split open by a spade. Bentley,
the hotel proprietor and a Tasmanian ex-convict, was
suspected of the murder, and he, his wife and another ex-
convict named Farrell, were arrested, but the trial proved
abortive. The local bench acquitted the accused in the face
of what was considered to be damning evidence. Instantly
Scobie's friends roused the miners of Ballarat to action. The
Eureka Hotel was assailed, wrecked and then burnt to the
ground, while its inmates only escaped with their lives
through the intervention of the police.

Upon this Governor Hotham ordered a fresh inquiry to
be made into the case. In the end gross corruption
was proved, the chairman of the magistrates was dis-
missed, with some other officials, and Bentley and Farrell
were convicted. The latter received severe sentences of
imprisonment. It is a pity that the authorities did not rest
content with this. Their next step was to arrest and sen-
tence three ringleaders of the mob which attacked the
hotel. This act further incensed the angry miners, and a
" Reform League " was formed for the purpose of insisting
on " the prerogative of the people." In due course a


THE RUSH FOR GOLD, 1852-1856

deputation waited on the Governor to demand the release
of the prisoners, but Hotham took umbrage at the attitude
of the delegates, and peremptorily refused.

The miners' representatives went back to Ballarat, to
proclaim the futility of their mission to a meeting of some ten
thousand indignant men. That day, 29th November, 1854,
witnessed a memorable scene on Bakery Hill. Inflamed
by the violent speeches of their leaders, the mob denounced
the Government, hoisted a flag which was to be the emblem
of the " Republic of Victoria," and proceeded to display
its contempt for authority by burning all licences. A number
of fires were quickly made, into which the obnoxious
documents were thrown. And ere the flames had died
down every man present had taken an oath to unite in the
defence of any digger arrested for not having a licence.

This revolutionary action was at once reported to
Hotham. " Inspect all licences ! " said the Governor in a
return despatch, and next morning another of the customary
" digger hunts " began. But this time, when the warning
cry of " Joes ! Joes ! " went the round of the camps the
troopersjwere received with a hot fusillade of stones, in the
face of which nothing could be done. In vain did Gold
Commissioner Rede harangue and plead with the crowd ;
their minds were made up. Finally, as a last resort, the
Riot Act was read, after which military and police combined
and dispersed the assemblage. Of those taken prisoners
eight were arrested for non-compliance with the licence

This completed the tale of the morning's work. More
serious events were to follow. In the afternoon and evening
of the same day a monster meeting was held on Bakery Hill,
where again loud denunciations of the Government showed


the temper of the miners. At the head of the men was Peter
Lalor, an Irish digger who had been most prominent through
all the agitation. His summons to arms met with an instant
response. It was resolved to seize rifles, ammunition,
horses and stores, to drill and organise their forces, and to
fight to the bitter end. " We swear by the Southern
Cross," ran the oath taken, "to stand truly by each other
and fight to defend our rights and liberties ! "

There was no waste of time. The next day squads of
men commenced to drill, the erection of a stockade at the
junction of the Eureka lead with the Melbourne road was
ordered, while sentries posted themselves on the roads lead-
ing to Melbourne and Geelong to be on the look-out for
reinforcements that the military might be expecting. By
night-time so much had been accomplished that the hastily
formed stockade contained a small army of eight hundred
men, armed with rifles, pistols, pikes and other weapons.
Arms had been commandeered from all quarters, special
picquets enforcing the orders fand safeguarding the store-
keepers from robbery. Some of the receipts given by the
levying officers in the name of the League were roughly
drawn up, and make amusing reading. One runs : " Re-
ceived from the Ballarat store, 1 Pistol for the Comtee, x
Hugh McCarty Hurra for the people ! " Another : " The
Reform Lege Comete, 6 drenks, fouer chillings, 4 Pies, for
fower of the neight watch patriots, x. P."

The forces on the opposing side were under the command
of Captain J. W. Thomas, of the 40th Regiment, and com-
prised both soldiers and mounted police. This little army
of less than five hundred went into camp in hourly expecta-
tion of attack. But the leaders of the insurgents were desir-
ous of making yet another effort to end the matter amicably.


THE BUSH FOR GOLD, 1852-1855

Two prominent miners, George Black and Carboni Raffaello,
were appointed to meet the Gold Commissioner, to demand
the release of the eight imprisoned non-licence holders and
the discontinuance of " digger hunting." As before, how-
ever, the request was met with a curt rebuff. It was now
realised that there was no other recourse save to arms.

On 1st December Captain Thomas's camp was fired
upon. Early on the following morning, the stockade having
been much strengthened and reinforced by four hundred
Creswick miners, a march was made to Bakery Hill, but
without coming into conflict with the police. Meanwhile,
infantry, artillery and marines had been ordered up from
Melbourne by the Commissioner, so that Captain Thomas
could now rely on a strong body of troops.

According to an authoritative account, " every Govern-
ment employe was armed and told off to his post, and
sentinels and videttes were placed at every point. The
principal buildings of the camp were fortified with breast-
works of firewood, trusses of hay, and bags of corn from the
Commissariat Stores, and the women and children were sent
for security into the store, which was walled with thick
slabs and accounted bullet-proof. A violent storm of rain,
with thunder, commenced as these arrangements were com-
pleted, and the Mounted Police, soaked through, spent the
night standing or lying by their horses, armed, and horses
saddled ready for instant action. At 4 a.m. on the 2nd of
December the whole garrison was under arms, and soon after
daylight a demonstration in force was made towards Bakery
Hill without opposition, although bodies of men were seen
drilling near the Red Hill. A mounted trooper coming from
Melbourne with despatches was fired at near the Eureka lead.
No work was carried on through the entire diggings, and



every place of business was closed. Notices were issued

Online LibraryA. L. (Arthur Lincoln) HaydonThe trooper police of Australia; a record of mounted police work in the commonwealth from the earliest days of settlement to the present time → online text (page 8 of 32)