The Hon. Peter Lalor MLA, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, 1880-1887
5 February 1827|
|Died||9 February 1889
Richmond, Victoria, Australia
|Known for||Leader of the Eureka Stockade and Politician|
Peter Fintan Lalor (//, locally [ˈloːlə]; 5 February 1827 – 9 February 1889) was an activist turned politician who rose to fame for his leading role in the Eureka Rebellion, an event controversially identified with the "birth of democracy" in Australia. He is famous for being the only outlaw to make it to parliament.
Early life and migration to Australia
Peter Lalor was born in the family home of Tenakill, at Raheen in the County Laois (then known as Queen's County), Ireland, the son of Patrick "Patt" Lalor, a landowner and supporter of the abolition of tithes who held a seat in the House of Commons from 1832 to 1835. He was the first Catholic MP for Queens County, Ireland since the reign of James II. His mother was Ann, née Dillon. They had 11 sons of whom Peter Fintan Lalor was the youngest. His eldest brother was the Irish revolutionary James Fintan Lalor. Another brother, Richard Lalor, served as a Parnellite nationalist in the British House of Commons. His mother died on 4 June 1835 and his father then married Ellen Mary Anne Loughnan with whom he had no children.
Three of the Lalor brothers migrated to America and fought on both sides of the Civil War. However, Peter and his brother Richard decided on Australia, arriving in Victoria in October 1852. Lalor worked first in the construction of the Melbourne-Geelong railway line, but resigned to take part in the Victorian Gold Rush. He began mining in the Ovens Valley, then moved to the Eureka Lead at Ballarat where he befriended Mr. Duncan Gillies (who later became Premier of Victoria). His brother Richard returned to Ireland, becoming politically active and himself a member of the House of Commons.
Events leading to the Eureka Stockade
The agitation against the goldfields licenses began at Bendigo in 1853, and was quickly taken up at Ballarat, and a Reform League was formed amongst the diggers on the various goldfields for the redress of grievances. In October 1854, the Government ordered the police to go out hunting for unlicensed diggers two times a week.
In the latter half of 1854 a digger named James Scobie was killed in a scuffle at the Eureka Hotel, on Specimen Hill; Bentley who was the publican, was considered by the diggers to have participated in the murder. He and others were charged with the murder and arrested, but when brought before the police court, they were discharged.
A indignation meeting was held at Ballarat on 17 October, close to the spot where Scobie was killed. At this meeting a committee was appointed, of which Peter Lalor was one. The authorities, fearing that the meeting might lead to an attack on Bentley's hotel, sent police to act as a guard over it. A youth threw a stone at the lamp in front of the building, breaking the glass. That act of violence, was the spark. With cries of "Down with the house" and "Burn it.", the angry mob stormed the hotel and set fire to it. Three people were arrested, and charged with act of incendiarism, and were committed and imprisoned.
A mass meeting was held on Bakery Hill on 11 November 1854, to demand the release of the alleged incendiaries. It also passed resolutions affirming the right of the people to full representation, manhood suffrage, the abolition of the property qualification for members, payment of members, short Parliaments, and the abolition of the Gold Commission and the diggers' licenses. Bentley, in the meantime, had been re-arrested on the advice of the Attorney-General William Stawell for the murder of Scobie, and convicted. He was sentenced to three years on the roads.
On 29 November a meeting of about 12,000 men was held at Ballarat. This is said to be the first public meeting that Mr. Lalor addressed. He moved one of the resolutions submitted and passed. It called for a meeting of the Reform League for the following Sunday to elect a central committee. The "insurgent flag " was hoisted on the platform. It represented the Southern Cross constellation. One of the resolutions passed at the meeting declared the license fee to be an unjustifiable imposition. A bonfire was soon kindled and the licences burnt. At this meeting, the rebellion was formally inaugurated.
Lalor led the miners' opposition towards the incompetent and often brutal administration of the goldfields, and was elected to lead the men in the armed uprising after the meeting on Bakery Hill. The diggers formed a barricade, where they were attacked by troops and police on 3 December. Lalor's left arm was seriously wounded, resulting in its amputation. A warrant for Lalor's arrest for sedition was initially sought, but he was taken from Ballarat and hidden by his supporters in the Young Queen Hotel at South Geelong. The warrant was withdrawn in June 1855 after juries had found 13 other ringleaders not guilty of sedition.
As a result of the uprising a number of the miners' complaints were resolved. Legislation was passed to give miners the right to vote. A new form of licensing of Miners Rights costing £1 per year was introduced. The monthly gold tax was abolished. A general amnesty for the three miners arrested after the Bentley's Eureka Hotel fire and the 114 arrested at the Eureka Stockade was proclaimed.
The Argus reported that while the victors of Eureka were removing the dead, the wounded, and the captured from the stockade, Peter Lalor, the diggers' leader, lay under the pile of slabs in which he has been hidden, bleeding from the wound in his arm. A musketball had shattered the bone close to the shoulder, and the few who knew where he was lying saw the blood trickling from beneath the pile of slabs even while the soldiers, keen to capture him, were still in the stockade. When the last of them had gone, Lalor was helped from his hiding place, put upon a white horse, and rode away through the bush towards Warrenheip. There he claimed shelter at the hut of a man he knew. The digger was absent, and his wife went to look for him. Lalor, however, doubted her genuineness, and believing that she had gone to communicate with the police, he took to the bush again for shelter. All that night he wandered about, with his crushed arm still swinging useless and unattended. He was greatly weakened from loss of blood, and only his indomitable pluck kept him up. Towards morning he determined to seek assistance from Stephen Cummins, an old friend whom he could trust, and who lived with his wife on Pennyweight Hill. It was on the early morning of the Monday following the fight that Mrs. Cummins drew her husband's attention to a man walking slowly between the holes on the flat, and said, "That is Peter Lalor; I feel sure of it". "As I ran down to help him," Steve Cummins told a friend, "his face was grey and worried. He looked like a frail old man rather than a powerful young one, so greatly had pain and loss of blood during the 24 hours weakened him. I helped him into the hut, where as well as we could, my wife and I bandaged the wounded arm. I knew that my hut was no place for him. A reward of £200 had been offered for his arrest, and there were many mean spirits keen to earn it. Our friendship was well known, and I felt sure that sooner or later my place would be searched by the police. I ran at once across the gully to the Roman Catholic Presbytery and told Father Smyth that Lalor was in my tent badly wounded and in need of surgical assistance. I told him my fears as to the police visiting us, and Father Smyth said, 'He will be safer here, I think. Bring him over after dark.' So that night we took him across to the presbytery, meeting, fortunately, not a soul upon the road." Steve Cummins's intuition had served him well, for next night the police searched his hut, just at the time when he was watching Drs. Doyle and Stewart amputating Peter Lalor's arm, for the severity of the wound and the delay in treating it precluded any possibility of the arm being saved. Through the ordeal of amputation, as in every other emergency of life, he showed that fine courage which nothing could shake. A man employed about the Presbytery took the severed arm away as soon as the operation was over, and threw it down an abandoned shaft, but by Father Smyth's orders it was recoved later and properly buried. The first operation was not complete. A portion of the bullet remained lodged in the stump of the arms, and it was only after a second operation at Geelong that the wound healed properly.
Due to the political changes caused by the Eureka Stockade, Lalor was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council in November 1855 as Member for the new district of Ballaarat, and remained in this role until March 1856. In November 1856, under the new, more democratic constitution (featuring near-universal white male suffrage) Lalor was elected unopposed to the Legislative Assembly seat of North Grenville (Ballarat West). As he was the Eureka hero his policies were not scrutinised at all before the election and his later voting record as a parliamentarian shows he once opposed a bill to introduce full white-male suffrage in the colony of Victoria.
During a speech in the Legislative Council in 1856 he said, "I would ask these gentlemen what they mean by the term 'democracy'. Do they mean Chartism or Communism or Republicanism? If so, I never was, I am not now, nor do I ever intend to be a democrat. But if a democrat means opposition to a tyrannical press, a tyrannical people, or a tyrannical government, then I have been, I am still, and will ever remain a democrat."
Weston Bate wrote that the role of landowner and company director seemed to suit him more than that of rebel, and that Peter Lalor "disgraced himself in democratic eyes by trying to use Chinese as strike-breakers at the Clunes mine, of which he was a director. He was absolutely ruthless in using low paid Chinese workers to get rid of Australians seeking better and safer working conditions. In parliament he supported a repressive land Bill in 1857 which favoured the rich. There were 17,745 Ballarat signatures to a petition against Lalor's land Bill. Withers and others were puzzled and hurt that the folk hero should prove to be a better fighter for money and political position than for the people's rights. Lalor held North Grenville until August 1859, but never represented Ballarat again, and in the October 1859 election he stood for and won South Grant in the Legislative Assembly instead.
Lalor held South Grant for over eleven years after this point, finally losing it in January 1871. In 1871 he also contested but lost the seat of North Melbourne. In May 1874 he was re-elected to South Grant, holding it until April 1877, then taking the Legislative Assembly seat of Grant in May 1877, which he would hold for another almost twelve years until his death in February 1889.
Lalor's key political postings were as Commissioner Trade & Customs and Postmaster-General of Victoria from August to October 1875, then Commissioner Trade & Customs from May 1877 until March 1880, as well as postmaster-general again from May to July 1877. Lalor also served as chairman of committees in the period from 1859 to 1868.
As successor to Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, his most effective political post was probably that of Speaker, a post he held from 1880 until 1887 when illness forced his retirement; he was awarded a pension of £4,000 by parliament.
Later life and Death
Lalor married Alicia Dunne on 10 July 1855 in Geelong. Their daughter, Anne (Annie), was born in Prahran in 1856; their son Joseph was born at Sandridge (now called Port Melbourne) on 18 December 1857. Annie Lalor married Thomas Lempriere in 1882, but died three years later of pulmonary phthisis. Joseph Lalor became a medical doctor, marrying Agnes McCormick of Dublin, Ireland and leaving descendants.
Alicia Lalor died on 17 May 1887 at the age of 55 years. Following her death, Peter Lalor took leave from Parliament and visited San Francisco, California.
Lalor died in 1889 at age 62 at his son's home in Richmond and was buried at the Melbourne General Cemetery.
A statue depicting Peter Lalor's life was erected at Sturt Street in Ballarat in 1893. Presented to the municipality by a friend of Lalor's, James Oddie who was also first Chairman of the city and was unveilled by another friend, the premier, Hon. Duncan Gillies.
The Melbourne suburb of Lalor, Victoria, was named after him in 1945.
Lalor Street in Ballarat East was also named in his honour.
Portrayals of Lalor's role in the Eureka Rebellion appear in film.
The first film to have Lalor appear in is supposed to be Eureka Stockade (1907 film), but only a seven minute fragment thereof has survived. In 1915, Lalor was portrayed by Leslie Victor in the silent film The Loyal Rebel - this film is also considered lost. Next, he was played by Chips Rafferty in the 1949 British film Eureka Stockade (released in United States of America under the title, Massacre Hill.) He was played by Australian actor Bryan Brown in Eureka Stockade, a two-part television mini-series which aired on the Seven Network in 1984. The last film to date to picture Lalor was the Australian documentary Riot or Revolution: Eureka Stockade 1854 from 2006, with Lalor played by Andrew Larkins.
For further infos about the various films depicting Peter Lalor, see: Eureka Rebellion#Film and television.
His portrait is featured on two commemorative postage stamps, a 38c Ireland stamp released on 3 May 2001 in the "Rebel Spirit, Irish Heritage of Australia" series and a 2004 AUD2.45 Australian stamp commemorating the Eureka Stockade.
- Macquarie Dictionary, Fourth Edition (2005). Melbourne, The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd. ISBN 1-876429-14-3
- Biography of Peter Lalor at Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 8 April 2013
- "DEATH OF MR. LALOR, M.L.A.". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) (Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia). 11 February 1889. p. 8. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- "GOLD-SEEKERS OF THE FIFTIES.". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) (Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia). 1 July 1899. p. 4. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
- "An Act to further alter "The Victoria Electoral Act of 1851" and to increase the Number of Members of the Legislative Council of Victoria.". 1855. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
- "Re-Member (Former Members): Lalor, Peter". Parliament of Victoria official site. Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
- "Lucky City: The First Generation at Ballarat 1851-1901" page 133, (Weston Bate, Melbourne University Press, 1978)
- "Ballarat Revisited.". Worker (Brisbane, Qld. : 1890 - 1955) (Brisbane, Qld.: National Library of Australia). 10 March 1936. p. 14. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- "Lucky City: The First Generation at Ballarat 1851-1901" page 134, (Weston Bate, Melbourne University Press, 1978)
- The Loyal Rebel at IMDb Retrieved 9 April 2013
- Eureka Stockade (1949) at IMDb Retrieved 9 April 2013
- Eureka Stockade (1984) at National Film & Sound Archive Retrieved 9 April 2013
- Riot or Revolution: Eureka Stockade 1854 notes and credits at parham-media-com Retrieved 9 April 2013
- Riot or Revolution: Eureka Stockade 1854 at IMDb Retrieved 9 April 2013
- "Sovereign Hill Sound and Light Show". Sovereignhill.com.au. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
- Peter Lalor's pistol at the State Library of Victoria
- Mennell, Philip (1892). " Lalor, Hon. Peter". The Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co. Wikisource
- Ian Turner, 'Lalor, Peter (1827 - 1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, Melbourne University Press, 1974, pp 50–54.
Additional sources listed by the Australian Dictionary of Biography:
- W. B. Withers, The History of Ballarat (Ballarat, 1887); L. Fogarty (ed), James Fintan Lalor (Dublin, 1947); T. J. Kiernan, The Irish Exiles in Australia (Melb, 1954); Historical Studies, Eureka Supplement (Melb, 1965); C. Turnbull, Australian Lives (Melb, 1965); Parliamentary Debates (Victoria) 1856-87; Australasian, 19, 26 June 1880, 17, 24 September 1887, 16 February 1889; Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 16 February 1889; J. Parnaby, The Economic and Political Development of Victoria, 1877-1881 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1951); G. Robinson, The Political Activities of Peter Lalor (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Melbourne, 1960); Lalor family papers (National Library of Ireland).