The First Fleet to Eureka (1788-1854)

History of Australia Part 2

The day the colony at Sydney was founded coincided with the arrival of two French ships under the command of Admiral La Perouse. They were given a warm reception, took on wood and water and left. The incident did cause some trouble for the English because it reminded them of France's interests in the area, along with the Dutch the names of places in Australia reflect the French explorers who conducted a bulk of the natural and anthropological surveys. It is possible that was the beginning of Australia's fear of outsiders. For well over a century Australian's would see themselves a tiny white bastion of the far side of the world surrounded by those who wanted to take them over. This feeling would dominate the future country's foreign policy for a long time.

The new convict colony established itself and soon ran into trouble. The settlers came equipped but the preparations were not properly thought out for the settlement. One in three of the convicts were Irish, around one-fifth of them were sent to Australia as punishment for political or agrarian disturbances in Ireland. In Britain at the time, the sentence was known as Transportation, where one would be sent to a penal colony for seven or fourteen years, or even worse ''For the term of their natural lives." Few of the convicts had practical farming experience and a complete lack of understanding for the seasonal variations for Australia.

The colony nearly starved as the first crops failed and soldiers had to survive off what they hunted. The Governor sent a ship to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies for supplies. The Second Fleet arrived shortly after from England. Despite this life was hard in the early years and the colony was built from harsh convict labour. By 1790 the colony began to be self sufficient and living standards improved.
From the beginning social disturbances emerged in the new colony. In 1804 the Castle Hill Revolt broke out with 200 most Irish convicts escaping but eventually were hunted down by the New South Wales Corps. Four years later came the Rum Revolt. The British Government appointed as Governor, William Bligh, famously known as the Captain marooned by the mutinous crew of the Bounty. He is also an ancestor of the first woman and current Premier of the State of Queensland, Anna Bligh.

Bligh was charged with trying to clamp down on corruption of the New South Wales Corps, who were Rum trafficking. On the 20th anniversary of settlement in Australia the New South Wales Corp flying the colours marched up to Government House and seized the Governor, who they claimed was cowering behind his bed in full dress uniform. The military controlled the colony until 1810 when Governor Lachlan Macquarie was given a mandate from Britain restore the Government and discipline the colony. Upon his arrival, the New South Wales Corps was forcibly deported and replaced with the 73rd Regiment.

The European expansion was initially hampered by the terrain. Like a spine, the Great Dividing Range is a continuous belt of mountains that lie behind the coastal rim of the entire eastern seaboard. In 1813, Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth discovered a way through the Blue Mountains to the interior which led to pastoral expansion.

The founder of the Australian wool industry, vital in later years was the colourful John Macarthur, a Scottish officer and distant relative to US General Douglas MacArthur. He was also one of the leaders of the Rum Rebellion in 1808.

As well as convicts, free settlement took off under Governor Macquarie's regime which lasted till 1821. People traveled across the world to farm and start a new life in what seemed like endless Crown Land. The Government tried to control settlement through allocated nineteen counties but illegal expansion continued, by people known as Squatters. These people would become the basis behind a new powerful land owning class. The growth of free labourers and artisans forced the end of convicts being transported to New South Wales in 1840.

Smaller settlements sprung up elsewhere for convicts, such as Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), Moreton Bay (later to become Brisbane) and the Swan River Colony in the west which would become Perth. Many American political prisoners captured in British North America were transported to the Port Arthur penal colony in Van Diemen's Land. Its location in harsh wilderness on a peninsular looking out to the South Ocean made it the most isolated prison in the Empire.

New South Wales was slowly divided into new colonies, each administered by a Governor appointed by the King. Until it gained separate colony status, settlements of New Zealand were governed from New South Wales. Throughout the 1800s the nucleus for the modern Australia takes shape:

1825- Van Diemen's Land Colony proclaimed. Capital at Hobart. It is renamed Tasmania in 1856 in honour of explorer Abel Tasman.

1829- Swan River Colony proclaimed. Its territory covers the entire western third of Australia. Capital now where modern day Perth is. Colony changes name to Western Australia in 1832.

1836- South Australia is proclaimed. The colony is the first to be a free British province and not a convict settlement. Its capital is at Adelaide.

Throughout this period trade with Britain was essential. The British Pound was the official currency though more favoured in business transactions was Rum. Australian entrepreneurs began to prosper with land grants, convict labour and began exporting native cedar back to England.

1851- Colony of Victoria separates from New South Wales. Melbourne becomes capital.

1859- Colony of Queensland is separated from New South Wales. Capital at Brisbane.

The Gold Rush

Evidence of gold in Australia was well known, but the finds in the newly formed Victoria especially round the Bathurst area in 1851 kicked started the modernisation of the colonies. The rush began at the time of a world wide depression which encouraged the migration of two percent of the population of Britain and Ireland to Victoria and New South Wales. An influx of continental Europeans, Chinese and North Americans followed too through the 1850-60s.

The Victorian Gold Rush rivaled California's. At its peak two tonnes of gold were arriving in the colonial treasury and dominated much of the world's gold output. Melbourne's population of 10,000 in 1840 went up over 100,000 in just a decade.

Within a small period, free settlers far outweighed the population of convicts and many found new wealth and laid down the foundations and fortunes for some Australia's wealthiest families. Along with the industrialization of Victoria the colonies enjoyed more employment options and a growth in expansion and prosperity.

The Indigenous population suffered immensely from the expansion. During this time 90 of their population was wiped out. Foreign diseases were a major contributor and starvation as Europeans drove them from their resources. It is also well know that they were attacked and often hunted down as sport. There are many recorded massacres and the settlers in Van Diemen's Land were openly trying to exterminate the native population. It is easy to see why Indigenous Australia doesn't take kindly to the reminded of their genocide every 26th January on Australia Day, which to them is Invasion Day.

The Eureka Rebellion

Social problems began to emerge. Gold miners became agitated by the inflated prices of mining equipment and costs of obtaining Mining Licences, along with taxes without representation and the actions of government agents. These grievances spread across the gold fields for many years in the form of public meetings and civil disobediences until a rebellion broke out in 1854. The miners, influenced by the British Chartist Movement demanded included:
• Manhood suffrage (the right for all men to vote, excluding Aborigines).
• Abolition of the property qualifications for members of parliament.
• Payment of members of parliament.
• Voting by secret ballot.
• Short term parliaments.
• Equal electoral districts.
• Abolition of diggers and storekeepers licenses.
• Reform of administration of the gold fields.
• Revision of laws relating to Crown land.

Victorian Governor Hotham refused to hear the demands, believing it was his right to control the rabble and increased police presence in the gold fields. The Governor offered one concession to allow one elected representative of the Diggers (miners) to the Victorian Legislative Council. The delegation to the Governor rejected the proposal and returned to Ballarat.

Police reinforcements from Melbourne were attacked. Soon after a meeting of 12,000 'diggers' were told about the reform movement's failure with the Governor and angrily burned their licences, agreeing to open resistance. As a sign of defiance the miners raised the 'Eureka Flag' designed by a Canadian miner bearing only the Southern Cross. The miners gathered on Bakery Hill and swore allegiance: "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties."

Police began random licence searches and made arrests, and began to be met by angry mobs. The miners now option for physical rather than reformist force choose Peter Lalor as their leader who began to mobilize them as a military force. They banded together to prevent being harassed by the authorities and came set up the Eureka stockade. Made of over turned wagons and simple barricades it wasn't really much of a fortress. Lalor himself labeled it: "it was nothing more than an enclosure to keep our own men together, and was never erected with an eye to military defence".

Knowing that they would be attacked Lalor's plan was: "If the government forces came to attack us, we should meet them on the Gravel Pits, and if compelled, we should retreat by the heights to the old Canadian Gully, and there make our final stand". It is now known most of the miners at the Eureka stockade were Irish and therefore the password at the Stockade was "Vinegar Hill", the site of the 1804 Irish revolt in NSW.

The Government clamped down hard on the revolt. On December 3, 1854, 276 police and soldiers arrived at the Stockade and shortly after a one sided battle raged. It took them fifteen minutes to outclass and route the ramshackle miner army, who were gunned down indiscriminately. 22 miners where killed, more wounded. Six soldiers were killed. 120 other miners were taken away to a Government camp. Martial law was imposed and resistance was put down across the gold fields. However the word of the massacre at Eureka caused a PR nightmare for the Government and the public began to protest in favour of the rebel's and their reform agenda. There were thirteen of the

Of the 120 rebels detained, thirteen were put to trial. Of this thirteen many were foreigners and it is interesting to note the background of these people who came together in the gold fields of Victoria. James McFie Campbell was a black man from Jamaica. Raffaello Carboni, writer of the Eureka accounts who came from Italy. A Jew named Jacob Sorenson. John Manning, a journalist who came from Ireland. John Joseph, a black man from New York. Jan Vernick from Holland.

Three Americans were brought to trial for treason however the US Consul intervened for two (except for the black man John Joseph). Joseph's trial ended with a Not Guilty verdict. The court erupted into cheers, and Joseph was carried on a chair in triumph by 10,000 people cheering through Melbourne. Eureka was a watershed in Australian politics. Within a short time, the colonies introduced elected parliaments on manhood suffrage and many of the reforms took place out of public pressure. Peter Lalor would one day become a member of the Victorian Parliament.