The Ballarat Reform League Inc. (BRL) was formed to honour the memory and achievements of the original Ballaarat Reform League. BRL first met in December 1999 and was incorporated in January 2000.
The original Ballaarat Reform League was active for only a brief time around October and November 1854.
A committee that was known to meet at The Star Hotel in Main Road, Ballarat, had reportedly been initially formed to organise the defence of prisoners taken for the burning of Bentley’s Hotel (17th October 1854). The committee went on to discuss and formulate a Charter outlining such goals as manhood suffrage and full and fair representation.
The Ballaarat Reform League was a movement that grew out of the frustration that the diggers felt with their treatment on the goldfields.
The new Victorian government had within a month of the official discovery of gold in Victoria in August 1851, imposed a large licence fee for the right to dig for gold. The fee was unpopular but the even greater irritant was the heavy handed, and at times corrupt, administration of the goldfields by the local officials. Eventually collecting licence fees became armed hunts.
The feelings of the diggers is expressed in this excerpt from the Ballarat Times 28 October 1854:
It is not fines, imprisonments, taxation and bayonets that is required to keep a people tranquil and content. It is attention to their wants and their just rights alone that will make the miners content.
The protests against the injustice of their treatment began in Buninyong in August 1851 and as the search for gold spread across Victoria so also did the protests and the calls to the government to listen and to remedy the situation.
The Ballaarat Reform League was the final movement seeking to broker a peaceful deal. Its calls to the government were ignored. The brief battle at the Eureka stockade which followed was an unnecessary battle for which the government stood condemned. The peaceful goals of the Ballaarat Reform League were achieved but at the terrible cost of many lives.
The Charter of the Ballaarat Reform League
The Charter of the Ballaarat Reform League was put to a public meeting in the afternoon of Saturday 11th November 1854 before an estimated crowd of 10,000 men at Bakery Hill. It was overwhelmingly adopted and the Ballaarat Reform League came into official existence from this date. The meeting supported not only the formation of the League but that the principles, objects and resolutions passed be presented to Governor Hotham, which they were on 27th November 1854 in a deputation led by J.B. Humffray, a Chartist from Britain.
The Charter’s most ambitious and visionary goals were described as follows:
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.
The Ballaarat Reform League and the Eureka Flag
A second Monster meeting of 10,000 to 12,000 men was held on 29th November 1854 at Bakery Hill to hear the results of the deputation. It was at this meeting that the Southern Cross now more commonly known as the Eureka flag was first flown. The anger of the meeting when they heard of Governor Hotham’s dismissal of the Charter led to a call to burn their licences.
Months of unrest culminated in the morning of Thursday 30th November 1854 with a provocative licence hunt by police and soldiers. Aimed to crush criticism the hunt only created fury. The most belligerent of the diggers rushed to Bakery Hill where the flag of the Ballaarat Reform League proclaimed community concern for civil liberty and constitutional rights. Led by Peter Lalor, an Irishman, they swore by the Southern Cross to hazard all in defence of their rights. The diggers began construction of a rough stockade on the Eureka diggings.
The brief battle at the stockade at dawn on the 3rd December 1854 was a tragic and unnecessary battle with many lives lost. Protest had been turned into resistance and the authorities interpreted this as insurrection. The government, and therefore the gentry who ran it, was condemned for its terrible system failure. The democratic outcome was social as well as political. By their sacrifice the stockaders had achieved the peaceful goal of the Ballaarat Reform League and had hallowed its Southern Cross.
The Ballarat Reform League Inc launched a major project in 2003 to place monuments on sites across the Victorian goldfields where there were significant actions that culminated in the formation of the Ballaarat Reform League in November 1854 and in the battle at the stockade on the Eureka lead, Ballarat, on 3rd December 1854.
Seven monuments have been erected so far, at Buninyong, Chewton, Beechworth, Bendigo and three in Ballarat at: Bakery Hill, Main Road, and the Eureka Stockade Park. This project has been generously supported by The Vera Moore Foundation.
“The Ballarat Reform League could be counted a very successful political movement
– the envy of its Chartist antecedents in Britain … its basic demands won in 1855.”
Anne Beggs Sunter, The Ballarat Reform League. A History
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