The Eureka Story

Eureka and Democratic Traditions

The Ballarat Reform League Charter

The Eureka Stockade Diggers’ March

Eureka and Democratic Traditions

People came to Victoria and the Victorian goldfields in the early 1850s bringing with them various economic, social, political and religious attitudes.  They came from more than thirty countries, particularly from Europe and North America. Following the industrial revolution in the early 19th century and the turbulence of many wars in Europe at that time, new social theories developed about equitable treatment of working class people and the role of labour and capitalism.


The term socialism was coined in the 1830's in Britain and the first organised labour movement commenced in Britain around 1824.  Considerable social ferment was experienced in the 1830's when Chartism first emerged in Britain.  Chartism was a movement for political and social reform and a more democratic constitution. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 which stipulated the six main aims of the movement as:

  • Universal suffrage for all men over the age of 21

  • Equal size electoral districts

  • Voting by secret ballot

  • An end to the need for a property qualification for members of parliament

  • Payment of members of Parliament

  • Annual elections for Parliament

In 1846-8 there was considerable unrest in Europe which can be traced back to widespread crop failures, the most severe being the Irish Famine of 1846-9. This distress had the effect of producing mass movements in opposition to governments which, coupled to middle class demands for better opportunities in industry and society, caused government after government across the continent to fall.

Victorian Goldfields

And so people came to Victoria, to the gold fields from the early 1850's, undoubtedly strongly influenced by their experience in their home countries. They brought with them a strong belief in social justice wherever they had come from.  The ideals embodied in the British People’s Charter summed up their aims and were incorporated in the Ballarat Reform League Charter written and adopted by the diggers a fortnight before Eureka. A copy was presented to the Victorian Government a week later. The Government’s reaction to the Charter was to send troops to Ballarat. A further deputation to Commissioner Rede was also rejected. He was determined 'To crush them and their democratic agitation in one blow'.

The diggers had had enough. A monster meeting was held on 30 November at which Government Gold Digging Licences were burnt. The following morning the local commandant staged a licence inspection and diggers who attempted to evade inspection were fired upon by soldiers. That afternoon a large number of diggers resolved to build a defensive ‘Stockade’ against further government attacks. They swore to defend each other and to fight for their rights and liberties. Then they marched to the Eureka Lead where they erected their ‘Stockade’.

Troopers in Red Coats by George Browning, courtesy of the Gold Museum, Ballarat

On Sunday at dawn on 3 December, 280 soldiers and police stormed the stockade containing about 120-150 diggers. The police units followed the army with an uncontrolled bayonet charge. Between 22 and 30 diggers, and 5 soldiers were killed. About 120-140 men were arrested and most were shortly released. Only 13 supposed ring-leaders were sent for trial.

In the hotbed of the Ballarat gold fields in November 1854 nothing was done by the
Government administration to avoid the awful confrontation.  There was no digger representation in the local or state administration.  There was no attempt to conciliate with the diggers after the massive Bakery Hill protest meeting on November 30th.  Rather there was a move to re-establish ‘law and order’ and crush any unrest.

Contrasting Approaches

It is interesting to note that the diggers’ production of a Charter, their monster meetings and their deputations to the Governor were all non-violent and organised in a democratic manner, whereas the government operated quite differently. They instituted secret codes, used spies, planned a secret police network and sent provocateurs among the diggers to stir up trouble, hoping to be able to blame them for any violence that might arise.

In Melbourne the Government administration was clearly not in touch with what was really happening and was not able or was not prepared to respond adequately. They thoroughly deserved the public censure that followed after the stockade slaughter.

Reaction to Eureka

The reaction by the Victorian community after the Eureka Stockade was swift and its tone was quite certain.  Monster meetings took place in Melbourne in the following week.  More than 10,000 people attended peaceful mass meetings in the streets of the city and spoke eloquently of their dismay and sorrow at the events that had occurred.  They passed a series of resolutions demanding change.

Thirteen diggers were tried for treason and all were acquitted.  A goldfields commission was rapidly established (by December 7) to enquire thoroughly into conditions on the goldfields.  Their findings published in late March led to a speedy amelioration of social and political conditions.  Very substantial and far-reaching changes granted much local autonomy to the goldfields.  Miner's licences were abolished and a Miner's Right at one pound a year was substituted.  This entitled the holder of the Right to vote in elections thus effectively bringing in male representative democracy, as the vote was available to anyone willing to pay £1 per year.

As a result of this turnaround in Government attitude several Chartist points were quickly gained:


Manhood suffrage

1855 with Miner’s Right

1856 under new Constitution but coupled with residency and literacy qualifications, limiting the universality of the franchise.


Secret Ballot

1856 First in the world


Frequent Parliaments

1859 Not annual as Charter demanded but no longer than 3 years.


Payment of members

1869 So that poor men could represent poor men

Eureka was a product of its time and circumstance and was driven in large part by the incompetence of the government administration as well as the lack of representative government.  It affected many aspects of life in this country for the better especially reaffirming the right of free people to go about their business without fear or coercion. It was high drama, with the Bonfire of Burning Licences, the Flag, the Stockade, an Oath and eventual Victory, following initial Defeat.

Eureka speaks to us of the importance of a free society being prepared to react to oppressive authority while seeking fairness and equity, valuing human rights and respecting human dignity.  In short the Eureka diggers by their actions were seeking a more democratic and just society for all.

The Ballarat Reform League Charter

The Ballarat Reform League Charter is a four-page handwritten manifesto of democratic principles and demands presented to Governor Charles Hotham in November 1854. The Charter, written by members of the Ballarat Reform League and representing the aspirations and demands of the mining community of Ballarat, was instrumental in the campaigns for democratic reform in the Colony of Victoria. The Charter is resonant with universal democratic values, drawn from Chartist and other international democratic movements of its time. The Ballarat Reform League Charter is a central feature of the Eureka story, one of the most significant and influential events in Australia’s political and social history.

The Ballarat Reform League Charter was included in the 2004 UNESCO Australia Memory of the World Register. On the 13 October 2005 it was also included, as the first object, in the Victorian Heritage Register (Reference: PROV, VA 466 Governor VPRS 4066/PO Inward Correspondence, Unit 1 No.69)

Original Document & Text

To view the original documents of the Ballarat Reform League Charter, click on the images below. The original text follows each image.

Page 1

Original record reproduced with permission of the Keeper of Public Records

[A1 Put away. Given to H.E by Mr Black at the interview on the 27th Nov 1854 Copy CK]

At a Meeting held on Bakery Hill in the presence of about ten thousand men on Saturday November 11th, 1854 the following were adopted as the principles and objects of the “Ballarat Reform League”

That it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called upon to obey – that taxation without representation is tyranny.

That, being as the people have been hitherto, unrepresented in the Legislative Council of the Colony of Victoria, they have been tyrannised over, and it becomes their duty as well as interest to resist, and if necessary to remove the irresponsible power which so tyrannises over them.

That this Colony has hitherto been governed by paid Officials, upon the false assumption that law is greater than justice because, forsooth, it was made by them and their friends, and admirably suits their selfish ends and narrow minded views. It is the object of the “League” to place the power in the hands of responsible representatives of the people to frame wholesome laws and carry on an honest Government.

That it is not the wish of the “League” to effect an immediate separation of this Colony from the parent country, if equal laws and equal rights are dealt out to the whole free community. But that if Queen Victoria continues to act upon the ill advice of the dishonest ministers and insists upon indirectly dictating obnoxious laws for the Colony..

Page 2

Original record reproduced with permission of the Keeper of Public Records

..under the assumed authority of the Royal Prerogative the Reform League will endeavour to supersede such Royal Prerogative by asserting that of the People which is the most Royal of all Prerogatives, as the people are the only legitimate source of all political power.

Political changes contemplated by the Reform League

1. A full and fair representation

2. Manhood suffrage

3. No property qualification of Members for the Legislative Council.

4. Payment of Members

5. Short duration of Parliament

Immediate objects of the Reform League

An immediate change in the management of the Gold Fields, by disbanding the Commissioners.

The total abolition of the Diggers' and Storekeepers licence tax, and a thorough and organised agitation of the Gold Fields and the Towns.

That to carry out the forgoing objects there should be a large tent erected in which to meet and conduct the business of the Reform League. Cards of membership will be issued in a few days and Ballarat divided into districts.

At the same Meeting the following among other resolutions were passed:
That this Meeting condemns the insolent language used by the Colonial Secretary, the Surveyor General, the Chief Commissioner of the Gold Fields, and the Chairman..

Page 3

Original record reproduced with permission of the Keeper of Public Records

..of Committees, for their unwarrantable assertions respecting the veracity of the Diggers and the respectability of the representatives of the public press on the gold fields, and their sneering contempt at an appeal for an investigation into the malpractices of the corrupt Camp at Ballarat.

That this meeting having heard read the draft Prospectus of the Ballarat Reform League approve of and adopt the same, and hereby pledge themselves to support the Committee in carrying out its principles and attaining its objects – which are the full political rights of the people.

That this meeting expresses its utter want of confidence in the political honesty of the Government Officials in the Legislative Council, and pledge themselves to use every constitutional means to have them removed from the office they disgrace.

That this meeting also expresses its disapprobation of the mode in which the Board of Enquiry was appointed. That it ought to have been composed of independent gentlemen and not paid officials.

Page 4

Original record reproduced with permission of the Keeper of Public Records

27 Nov. 1854
Resolutions passed at a Public Meeting on Bakery Hill Ballarat.

The Eureka Stockade Diggers’ March

It was Eureka’s Children who were instrumental in seeing the Diggers' March returned to Ballarat in 2001. Phillip Moore, our President at that time and local Ballarat identity Jack Harvey researched the route for the march, from Bakery Hill to the Eureka Stockade, selecting appropriate key sites for the trail and writing a basic narrative.

Eminent historian and member of Eureka’s Children, Emeritus Prof. John Molony selected six key points along the trail and enhanced the narrative with the following commentary. A seventh key point was later added (Eureka Lead) by Eureka's Children. Download Commentary.

The route of the Diggers’ March retraces that actually taken by the diggers on the afternoon of the fateful day (Thursday 30 November) in 1854 when, having sworn their allegiance under ‘the Southern Cross’ on Bakery Hill, they then marched to the Eureka Lead where they built their stockade and elected their leaders.

Route of the Diggers’ March

Points of Interest

1. Bakery Hill

4. Carboni’s vantage point

7. Eureka Lead site

2. St. Alipius Church 

5. Bentley’s Eureka Hotel plaques

8. Eureka Stockade site

3. Site of Hayes’ tent

6. Site of Bentley’s Eureka Hotel

9. Site of Eureka Stockade

Note: Eureka Lead runs along and crosses part of Eureka Street