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Past and Present, and Men of the Times.

Chapter XV

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Chapter XV.

The Story of the Eureka Stockade (continued)—The Diggers and the Soldiery—Taken by surprise—A short but bloody conflict—Capture of the Stockade—Escape of Lalor—Sympathy with the diggers, and its effect—I return to my own story—I fit out a whaling expedition—The wreck of the Dunbar—I start cattle dealing—Bushrangers—We lose our horses—The capture of the robbers—A horse-dealing story—"Black Bill."

The delegates having returned to Ballarat, a great meeting was held, and Kennedy, Humphrey, Black, Lalor and Verne made inflammatory speeches, in which they persuaded the diggers to pass a resolution, declaring that they would all burn their licenses and pay no more fees. Skirmishes between the soldiers and diggers now became frequent, and, on the 30th November, when the last "digger hunt" took place, the police and soldiers were roughly beaten off. The diggers among their tents set up a flagstaff, and hoisted a banner of blue, with four silver stars in the corner. Then the leaders knelt beneath it and, having sworn to defend one another to the death, proceeded to enrol the miners and form them into squads, ready for drilling.

Meantime the military camp was being rapidly fortified with trusses of hay, bags of corn, and loads of firewood. The soldiers were in hourly expectation of an attack, and for four successive nights they slept fully accoutred, and with their loaded muskets beside them. All night long lights were seen to move busily backwards and forwards among the diggers' tents, and the heavy tread of great bodies of men could be heard amid the darkness. Lalor was marshalling his forces on the slopes of Ballarat, and drilling them to use such arms as they possessed, whether rifles or pistols, or merely spikes fastened at the ends of poles.

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Sir Charles Hotham now sent up the remaining eight hundred soldiers of the Ninety-Ninth Regiment, under Sir Robert Nicoll, and to these he added all the marines from the men-of-war and nearly all the police of the Colony. They were several days on the march, and only arrived when the disturbance was over. The diggers had formed an intrenchment, called the Eureka Stockade and had enclosed about an acre of ground with a high slab fence. In the midst of this stronghold they proclaimed the "Republic of Victoria," and here they were able to carry on their drilling unmolested, under the command of the two leaders—Verne, a German, and Peter Lalor, the son of an Irish gentleman.

They sent out parties in every direction to gather all the arms and ammunition they could obtain, and made extensive preparations for an assault, but never imagined that the soldiers would dream of attacking them until the arrival of Sir Robert Nicoll. They kept guard it is true, but only carelessly. Captain Thomas, who commanded the troops in the camp, determined to finish the affair by a sudden attack, and on the Saturday night, while the diggers were amusing themselves in fancied security he was carefully making his preparations. On Sunday morning, just after daybreak, when the Stockade contained only two hundred men, Captain Thomas led the troops quietly forth, and succeeded in approaching within three hundred yards of the Stockade without being observed.

The alarm was then given within, the insurgents rushed to their posts, and poured a heavy volley upon the advancing soldiers, of whom about twelve fell. The attacking party wavered a moment, but again became steady, and fired with so calm and correct an aim that whenever a digger showed himself, even for a moment, he was shot. Peter Lalor rose on a sand heap within the Stockade to direct his men, but immediately he fell, pierced in the shoulder by a musket-ball. After the firing had lasted for twenty minutes there was a lull, and the insurgents could hear the order "Charge," ring out clearly. Then there was an ominous rushing sound, the soldiers were for a moment seen above the palisades, and immediately the conflict became hand to hand. The diggers took refuge in the empty claims where some were bayonetted and others captured, whilst the victors set fire to the tents, and soon afterwards retired with one hundred and twenty-five prisoners.

A number of half-burnt palisades, which had fallen on Lalor, page 123concealed him from view, and, after the departure of the soldiers, he crawled forth, and escaped to the ranges, where a doctor was found, who amputated his arm. The Government subsequently offered a reward of £500 for his capture; but his friends proved true, and preserved him till the trouble was all passed. The number of those who had been wounded was never exactly known, but it was found that twenty-six of the insurgents had died during the fight, or shortly afterwards, and in the evening the soldiers returned and buried such of the dead bodies as were still lying in the stockade.

On the following day, four soldiers who had been killed in the engagement, were buried with military honours. Many of the wounded died during the course of the following month, and in particular the colony had to lament the loss of Captain Wise, of the Fortieth Regiment, who received his death wound in the conflict.

When the news of the struggle, and of its issue, was brought to Melbourne, the sympathies of the people were powerfully roused in favour of the diggers. A meeting, attended by about 5000 persons, was held near the Prince's Bridge, and a motion proposed by Mr. David Blair, in favour of the diggers, was carried almost unanimously. Similar meetings were held at Geelong and Sandhurst, so that there could be no doubt as to the general feeling against the Government, and, when at the beginning of 1855, thirteen of the prisoners were brought up for trial in Melbourne, and each in his turn was acquitted, crowds of people, both within and without the courts, greeted them, one after another, with hearty cheers, as they stepped out into the open air, once more free men. The commission appointed by Sir Charles Hotham, commenced its labours shortly after the conclusion of the riot, and in its report the fact was clearly demonstrated, that the miners had suffered certain grievances. Acting upon the advice of this commission, the Legislative Council abolished the monthly license fee, and authorized the issue of "Miners' Rights," giving to the holders, on payment of one pound each per annum; permission to dig for gold in any part of the Colony. New members were to be elected to the Council, in order to watch over the interests of the miners, two to represent Sandhurst, two for Ballarat, two for Castlemaine, and one each for the Ovens and the Avoca diggings. Any man who held a "Miner's Right" was qualified to vote in the elections for the Council.

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After a long interview with my friends, I had a good look about Melbourne, and took a rest for a while. One day I was at lunch in my lodgings, when I received a letter from my old friends Baird and Fox, from the Steiglitz Diggings, asking me to come up. I went immediately, and found that they had expended £800 in buying an interest in a quartz claim—all their money in fact—and as yet had got no returns. The prospects from the stone were pretty good, but I imagined the gold was lost in the crushing process, which was the primitive Californian one, common Mexican "arrestra," simply two huge boulders dragged round in a trough by a horse, attached to a cross beam and upright post. At any rate, the fact was patent that they had got nothing for their outlay, and there being little appearance of future dividends, I persuaded Baird to come away with me and look at a schooner I had seen lying at Geelong for sale. If she suited him, I said I would buy her, and give him a start in the intercolonial trade. We went down to Geelong, but could not came to terms about the schooner, so we went up to Melbourne again.

There was a fine brig, called the "Jane," lying in the river Yarra, which was for sale. Baird said she was well adapted for a whaling vessel, so I purchased her for £2000, and became a shipowner. I installed Baird at once as captain, and he managed to ship a few hands, and we took the brig down to Sydney for a fit out.

In a very short time Baird had his complement of men, his number of boats and all whaling gear, with two years' stock of provisions; and when all was ready, I found the outlay had cost me £4000. I arranged with Captain Baird that he should have one-eighth of the profits, if any, of the cruise, and £2 per week wages, and if he made a successful voyage he should become half owner of the brig on his return. The "Jane" was towed down to a place called Spring Cove, near the Sydney Heads, and a large party, including Mrs. Baird, Mrs. Barry, and myself and friends, went down and spent the last night on board, and were pulled up by the crew in the ship's boats next day.

On the following day my investment was under way, and if good wishes could avail, she was sure to make a fortunate trip. I looked round for a week or so, but saw nothing suitable to go into; and as inactivity did not suit me, I determined to return page 125to Melbourne, that place offering more scope for business at this time, and besides it was time I was adding to my cash account. The whaling speculation had made a considerable inroad, and the balance to my credit did not now exceed £1800.

One morning, as I was in George Street, Sydney, there was a rumour about a ship being on shore at the Sydney Heads. This was in 1857.

A great gloom was cast over the colony by the loss of a fine ship within seven miles of the City of Sydney. The "Dunbar" sailed from Plymouth in that year, with about a hundred and twenty people on board, many of them well-known colonists who had visited England and were now on their way homewards. As the vessel approached the coast a heavy gale came down from the north-east, and, ere they could reach the entrance to Port Jackson night had closed around them. In the deep and stormy gloom they beat to and fro for some time, but at length the captain thought it safer to make for Sydney Heads than to toss about on so wild a sea. He brought the vessel close in to the shore in order to search for the entrance, and when against the stormy sky he perceived a break in the black cliffs, he steered for the opening. This, however, was not the entrance, but only a hollow in the cliffs, called by the Sydney people "The Gap." The vessel was standing in for the rocks when a mass of boiling surf was observed in the place where they thought the opening was, and ere she could be put about she crashed violently upon the foot of a cliff that frowned ninety feet above the fragments and the drowning men.

At daybreak the word was given that a ship had been wrecked at "The Gap," and during the day thousands of people poured forth from Sydney to view the scene of the disaster. On the following morning it was discovered that there was a solitary survivor, who, having been washed into a hollow in the face of the rock, lay concealed in his place of refuge throughout that dreadful night and all the succeeding day. A young man was found who volunteered to let himself down by a rope and rescue the half-dead seaman. To prevent the repetition of so sad an occurrence lighthouses were erected for the guidance of ship-captains entering the harbour.

After I had seen the wreck I called a sale at my house, and disposed of all the furniture, etc., and left for Melbourne with my wife and child and the Indian boy, who by this time had page 126become very much attached to us, and was very useful. On arriving I banked the balance of my cash and rented a furnished house in Collingwood, in the suburbs of Melbourne. Strolling down Bourke Street one day, I met an old acquaintance, Tom Labey. He was doing well, and was in a large way in the flour trade. I asked his advice as to what he thought might be a safe speculation to start in. He said that lots of vessels arriving at the wharves brought bullock hides and sheepskins, and I might do worse than commence as a buyer of all I could get. I adopted the idea, and bought and sold these commodities for some months, and found it to be a very profitable game.

While thus engaged I one day fell in with a cattle-dealer named Tom Jones, an old friend of mine in the early days in Sydney. We immediately fraternised, and the result was that he persuaded me to join him and go up-country buying cattle, and driving them on to the various goldfields and there sell them. We soon made our arrangements, and Jones and I, and the Indian lad, started for a station I was acquainted with to purchase a mob of cattle, I took about £1200 in cash with me, in £20 and £50 notes, which I took the precaution to carry in a broad belt under my clothing, as "sticking-up" was very rife in those days; and I soon had occason to be thankful for this foresight.

We called at a roadside house in the Black Forest for refreshment and feed for our horses. After I had satisfied the inner man, I went out to the stables to see how the horses were feeding, when lo and behold the steeds had flown or had been spirited away. I immediately went back to the house and reported our loss. The landlord seemed to take the matter very coolly, and merely uttered the word "bushrangers," and as the Black Forest was one of their noted haunts, we concluded it was all up with our quadrupeds. The landlord asked if we had lost anything else, and Jones said he had a lot of money sewn up in his saddle, but did not satisfy his curiosity as to the amount, for it began to enter his mind that his questioner knew more about the abstraction of our horses than he cared to divulge. Jones, who was a very outspoken fellow, made no secret of his thoughts, but flatly told him so. The Indian boy had seen the landlord talking to three men while we were inside, and the landlord had told him to go into the house, and this strengthened our suspicions of foul play, and we determined to wait and see further into the matter, if possible.

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Jones told me secretly that he had £800 sewn up in the lining of his saddle—a rather expensive lining, I thought just then. About two hours after we had missed our horses, eight mounted policemen rode up to the house. We immediately told them what had happened, and of the money in Jones's saddle, and of our suspicions of the landlord. Six of the police, accompanied by Jones, on one of their horses, set out to look for the bushrangers, and two stopped with me at the house. About two hours after the party left the Indian boy came running in and told us our horses were coming up the road. We went out, and at the moment four men rode by at full gallop, but one of the horses, which I took to be mine, stuck up his rider and refused to pass the house.

There was one police horse in the stable, but he was immediately brought out, and one man mounted and rode after the gang, and the other officer and myself ran down the road to where the horse was playing up with his rider, and refusing, despite whip and spur, to move on. The mounted policeman fired at this man, who immediately jumped off the horse and ran into the bush, which at this place was remarkably dense and almost impenetrable. I jumped on the horse the robber had left, and saw now that it was Tom Jones's steed. I also held the policeman's horse while he and his mate scrambled into the thicket after their prey. They succeeded in catching him in about ten minutes and we took him back to the house and secured him.

We saw by certain but almost imperceptible signs that our worthy host and the prisoner needed no introduction. They were evidently no strangers to each other. The policeman and I overhauled Jones's saddle, and found a new piece of flannel on the inside, and just as I was about to rip it open Jones and the party of police returned from their unsuccessful search. I handed over the saddle to allow Tom to make his discovery himself, telling him we had got his horse and saddle back, and also the rider. Tom opened the lining, and, to the astonishment of the party, brought forth from this hiding-place £800 in bank notes and some bank receipts.

He handed £50 to be divided among the policemen. They decided to stay that night, and try and devise some plan for the capture of the rest of the thieves, and cause a restoration of my steed also, and in this they were successful, as the sequel will show. It was now dark, and one of the policemen interviewed page 128the prisoner, who, upon a promise of leniency, told all he knew about the robbery, and his companions. He said the gang was in a bushy gully, when the party of police passed, and they immediately turned back after the police went by. He also told him that two of the thieves were brothers of the landlord, who had actually planned the robbery, and it was arranged that the rest were to return at night and rob us of what we had.

He further said the three brothers were "old hands," that is, ex-convicts from Hobart-town, and advised the police to keep out of the way for a few hours, and they would possibly capture the whole gang, who were sure to return to the house. Upon receipt of this information the sergeant, in command, took the landlord into custody, handcuffed him, and put him in the stable with the other prisoner, and placed a guard over them. He stationed the rest of his men to watch for the coming of our free-and-easy friends.

About four o'clock in the morning, three men came on foot to the back door of the house and, knocking softly, said, "Are you asleep, Jack? Get up and let us in." The sergeant opened the door, and Jones and the four officers pounced upon them, and had them down and secured before we, in the front of the house, could get round to assist. It was lucky they were taken by surprise, as each of them carried loaded revolvers. We found the horses fastened up about one hundred yards from the house, After breakfast, we accompanied the police, who took their five prisoners to a small town about twelve miles distant, called, I think, Heathcote, where they were charged before a magistrate with robbery, and committed to Melbourne for trial, and we were bound over to appear as witnesses. The sessions being close at hand, we were obliged to forego our cattle-dealing for a time, and attend the court at Melbourne. When the day came, we gave witness against the gang, and four of them were sentenced to two years hard labour each. The landlord got clear off, but was again arrested on leaving the court on another charge, and returned to gaol. This broke up one gang of these murderous pests for a time.

While in California, I thought I had heard enough of violence and robbery, but Victoria seemed to carry off the palm in those days. There were regularly organised gangs of marauders, who were called bushrangers, who permitted no one to pass without fleecing him, and it is possible, seeing the columns of advertise-page 129ments in the daily papers for missing friends, that many poor fellows were sent out of the world by some of these miscreants, who had no earthly excuse for their criminal occupation, as employment was plentiful, and gold obtainable at the diggings with very little labour.

I stayed a week or two in Melbourne, and found out that my wife did not like the place. It certainly was very lonely for her, having no friends or acquaintances. She asked me to take her back to Sydney, and leave her with Mrs. Baird, of whom she had grown to be very fond, she being the first and only female acquaintance Mrs Barry had made since we left California. Captain Baird had been gone now about ten months in the brig, and I thought I might learn some intelligence of him, and arranged to make a trip to Sydney, and leave Mrs. Barry there as she desired.

I saw Jones the next day, and informed him of my change of plans, and told him that as the Indian boy and he seemed to agree very well he could take him with him. He was a capital rider, and would be very useful to him. Tom was very glad to get him, and this matter being settled, we went and had a little parting "spree," which I think must have degenerated into a complete fuddle, as we found ourselves, in the morning, minus our cash and our watches and it served us right. Of course we "kept it dark." The next day Tom and the boy started up country in the cattle trade. Jones was to keep the boy for twelve months, and give him two pounds per week, and pay his expenses, which was not so bad for the young Indian savage I thought.

I took my wife to Sydney in the steamer, and installed her with Mrs. Baird, who was very glad to have her back again, as she felt very lonely herself without her husband. Just then the whaling barque "Lady Emma" arrived in port with a full cargo, and knowing Captain Buger, I went on board to ask him for news of the "Jane." He informed me that Baird and himself had been together three months previously, and that at that time Baird had got about 700 barrels of oil on board, and had parted with him, Captain Buger, to cruise at the Three Kings.

I was overjoyed to hear this account, and now felt assured that, barring accidents, Baird would have a lucky voyage. Captain Buger wanted me to resume the whaling business, but I declined, and told him that my mind was made up to go back to Victoria. Something told me that I should do well there, page 130although just then Sydney was in a very flourishing state, and many persons tried to persuade me to start in the butchering line there; but something drew me Melbournewards, and go I must.

I arranged matters with my wife, who tried hard to get me to settle down in Sydney. I placed £300 in the bank to her account, and taking the residue of my stock of cash, I bid goodbye to her and Mrs. Baird, and left in the Melbourne steamer. We were six days on our passage, and had frightful weather. A great many female passengers were on board, and were terribly frightened. It was one continuous scene of terror and alarm, and I decided, when at last I set foot on shore, that I would try and give lady-carrying vessels a wider berth in future.

There was a very old friend of mine named Lake keeping an hotel in Melbourne, and I told the cabman to drive me to his house, and I took up my lodgings there for one month before I commenced to do anything to speak of. I purchased a horse, saddle, and bridle, paying £50 for the turn-out, and rode out with a party I had made an appointment with to look at some horses in a paddock four miles from town, which were for sale. The man, who was called "Black Bill"—he gave no other name—went into the paddock with me, and we rounded the horses up. They were a first-class lot, and adapted principally for coaching. I asked him where was the owner of the mob. He said he was in Melbourne, but he was prepared to deal about them. I told him I preferred to deal with the principal always. He pressed me very hard to make him an offer, but I began to suspect there was something wrong. I put him off by telling him I would consider the matter, and let him know my intentions that night, intending meanwhile to make inquiries.

When I got home to the North Melbourne Hotel I asked Lake if he knew "Black Bill," in the horse-dealing line; and although he knew nearly all this fraternity then in Melbourne, he pleaded ignorance of this gentleman's acquaintance. I told him he was coming in in the evening, and he would have an opportunity of giving me his impressions of him. "Black Bill" arrived in due course, accompanied by a rough and dirtier-looking vagabond than himself, and introduced his friend as the owner of the horses. Lake, who had been scrutinising the pair, formed a similar opinion of them to myself, and advised me to have nothing to do with them; and at last went so far as to give page 131them a gentle hint that their room would be preferred to their company and they thereupon left.

In the morning Lake drove me out to the paddock where the horses had been, but they had disappeared, also the pseudo owners, It was fortunate that I declined dealing with these gentry, as I afterwards learned that they had stolen the mob from a station in the interior They were disposing of them some time after in Ballarat, and were arrested and tried, and sentenced to four years each for horse-stealing.