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‘When peace shall lie once more regained, and there shall be time for deliberate judgement, the citizens will reckon with the Government. Meantime, they will not pledge themselves to support it; and they will not organize themeselves into bodies for the purpose of filling the place of that expensive military force, which should never have been sent out of Melbourne. [We] do not sympathise with revolt; but neither do [we] sympathise with injustice and coercion. [We] will not fight for the diggers nor will [we] fight for the Government’ (Editorial from The Age, 5 December 1855).
Martial Law declared
The overrunning of the stockade had the desired effect of restoring the Ballarat goldfields to goverment control. A declaration of martial law in the Buninyong district was short-lived, and concerns over preparations against further uprisings proved unnecessary. However, as Gold Commissioner William Wright reported, the number of mining licences taken out dropped to virtually nil over the next few months. Wright had travelled to Ballarat as part of the Commision that Lieutenant Governor Hotham had initially appointed in mid November to look into the administration of the goldfields.
In addition to Wright, membership of the Commission included William Westgarth (chairman), John Pascoe Fawkner, John Hodgson, John O’Shanassy, and James Ford Strachan, all members of the Legislative Council.
The Commission’s findings
Despite suggestions, the Commission was not redirected to look at the causes of the stockade uprising. Their report, delivered on 27 March 1855, the same day as the acquittal of the last of those charged with treason, could hardly have avoided meditation on the episode. The immediate complaints of the mining community were on the whole addressed by the Commision – in particular, the replacement of the mining licence with an export tax, the election of miners to local courts to adjudicate disputes, and the representation of miners in the Legislative Assembly with the miners’ right to vote.
The stockade also launched the political careers of Lalor and Humffray, both of whom went on to serve in the Victorian Legislative Assembly.
The Age editorial of 5 December 1855 questioned the government’s handling of the stockade, and noted that the ‘people have unanimously demanded an amnesty for the political offences arising out of that unhappy period of blunders and misrule.’
Despite the public call for an amnesty covering those diggers involved in the Eureka battle, law enforecement remained a priority for the Government. Apart from those thirteen charged with treason, two other court cases resulted from Eureka. Henry Seekamp, editor of the Ballarat Times, was arrested the day after the stockade battle. He was charged with seditious libel and eventually convicted. Seekamp’s conviction thus became the only one that eventuated from the entire affair. Curiously, part of the evidence against him was a copy of the Ballarat Reform League charter that he printed.
No government representative was ever convicted of committing criminal acts at Eureka. One man, Arthur Akehurst, a clerk of the peace, was arrested and tried for the manslaughter of storekeeper Henry Powell. Eyewitnesses testified to Akehurst cutting Powell with his sabre, in spite of Powell’s non-involvement in the stockade. Powell survived his wounds long enough to make a statement against Akehurst. However, the prosecution’s case was dropped when Powell’s dying deposition was ruled inadmissible.
The government was not held accountable for the destruction nor for the theft of property during the events that transpired at Eureka. Numerous accounts were given to the Commission of Enquiry lamenting the wanton disregard for the property of innocent bystanders by soldiers and police. Raffaello Carboni submitted a petition for compensation, suggesting that drunken troopers had robbed arrested prisoners of their belongings shortly after their capture.