Ballarat Reform League

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The Ballarat Reform League was formed on 11 November 1854 at Ballarat as a protest against the regulation of the gold diggings, specifically the League was formed with the view of abolishing the Miner's Licence and having the miners connected with the fire at the Eureka Hotel released.[1]

John Basson Humffray, was elected secretary until 30 November 1854. The miners then chose to use physical force rather than moral force to push their claims and elected Peter Lalor as "Commander-in-Chief", who led them to build the Eureka Stockade.

The movement was supported by Henry Seekamp, editor of the Ballarat Times.

Leaders of the Ballarat Reform League[edit]

George Black, a well-educated Englishman was editor of the "Digger's Advocate." Through his paper he worked to form the diggers into a cohesive group which would resist oppressive laws. A Welshman, John Basson Humffray, took the conservative view and believed the solution should be gained by constitutional means. Frederic Vern, a Hanoverian, was full of fine talk about righting wrongs and because of the noise he made, was wrongly believed by the Government to be directing the forces. But the man who held the loyalty of the diggers was Peter Lalor, an Irish engineer. Because of his courage and integrity he was a man whom other men would follow loyally. The most picturesque personality among the leaders was an Italian, Raffaello Carboni, and it is to his dynamic and emotional narrative that we owe much of the detail of those bitter days. The sixth man, Timothy Hayes, was an Irishman and a rousing speaker.[2]


  • Tuesday, 17 October: At the spot where James Scobie was killed 5,000-10,000 diggers gathered to protest the acquittal of the prime suspect, James Bentley, the husband of the owner of the Eureka Hotel licensee Catherine Bentley! Bentley fled for his life because the police ordered him to leave as the hotel was attacked and burnt down.
  • Sunday, 22 October: Ballarat Catholics met to protest the treatment of Father Smyth's servant.
  • Monday, 23 October: A mass meeting to protest the selective arrest of McIntyre and Fletcher & Westerby for burning down Bentley's Eureka Hotel attracted 4,000 miners and supporters. It was decided to form a Digger's Right Society, to maintain their rights.
  • Tuesday, 1 November: 3000 diggers met once again at Bakery Hill. They were addressed by Kennedy, Holyoake, Black and Ross. The diggers were further incensed by the arrest of another seven of their number, for the burning down of the Eureka Hotel.
  • Saturday, 11 November: A crowd estimated as 10,000 men gathered at Bakery Hill, directly opposite the government encampment. At this meeting the "Ballarat Reform League" was created, under the chairmanship of Chartist John Basson Humffray and Peter Lalor as secretary. Several other Reform League leaders including Thomas Kennedy and Henry Holyoake had been involved with the Chartist movement in England. Many of the miners had past involvement in the Chartist movement and social upheavals in England, Ireland and Europe during the 1840s.

The Ballarat Reform League used the British Chartist movement's 1853 "Karl Marx" manifesto principles to set their goals. The meeting passed a resolution "that it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny". The meeting also decided to secede from the United Kingdom if the situation did not improve.


The demands of the Ballarat Reform League encompassed:

  • Manhood suffrage (the right for all men to vote, but not women or Aborigines)
  • Abolition of the property qualifications for members of parliament
  • Payment of members of parliament
  • Voting by secret ballot
  • Short term parliaments
  • Equal electoral districts
  • Abolition of diggers and storekeepers licenses
  • Reform of administration of the gold fields
  • Revision of laws relating to Crown land.

Throughout the following weeks, the League sought to negotiate with Commissioner Rede and Governor Hotham, both on the specific matters relating to Bentley and the men being tried for the burning of the Eureka Hotel, and on the broader issues of abolition of the licence, universal suffrage and democratic representation of the gold fields, and disbanding of the Gold Commission.

Commissioner Rede's response to these disputes was perhaps an ill-judged one, but stemmed from his military background and has been attributed by many historians (most notably Manning Clark) to his belief in his right to exert authority over the "rabble." Rather than hear the grievances, Rede increased the police presence in the gold fields and summoned reinforcements from Melbourne.

On Monday 24 November a delegation from the Ballarat Reform League: John Humffray, George Black and Thomas Kennedy; met with Governor Hotham. They attempted to negotiate with Sir Charles Hotham for the release of the miners arrested after the attack on Eureka Hotel, and presented their list of "demands" for universal suffrage as well as abolition of the miners and storekeepers licenses. The only concession Hotham was willing to make was one digger's representative elected to the Legislative Council. The delegation rejected this, and returned to Ballarat empty handed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ""Sunday Morning, December 3, 1854.". Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 - 1954). Qld.: National Library of Australia. 12 January 1929. p. 12. Retrieved 9 February 2012. 
  2. ^ "THE EUREKA RISING PREVIEWED AFTER 100 YEARS.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1954). ACT: National Library of Australia. 28 November 1953. p. 4. Retrieved 16 February 2012.