The miner's licence was the colonial government's response to the need to provide infrastructure including policing during the Australian gold rushes from the 1850s.
The first Australian mining laws were enacted in 1851. A proclamation by [governor la trobe]], Governor of New South Wales, on 22 May 1851 asserted the Crown's right to all gold discovered in New South Wales. Governor Fitzroy invoked the "Case of Mines" (R v Earl of Northumberland) of 1567, which confirmed the Crown's prerogative right to all gold and silver found in the Crown's realm. Victoria separated from New South Wales on 1 July 1851, and the Victorian Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe issued a similar proclamation on 16 August 1851. In January 1852, Victoria enacted the Mining Act 1852 (repealed) supplemented by the Mining Act 1853 (repealed). Before that, ownership of minerals and petroleum passed to those who were granted title to land by the colonial governors according to common law concepts, except the right to "Royal Mines" (the precious metals of gold and silver) which remained vested in the Crown by virtue of royal prerogative.
Under the new regime, no man could dig for gold unless he had bought a licence. Initially, the fee for the licence was 30 shillings a month, an amount believed to be high enough to discourage unlucky diggers but not so high as to encourage rebellion. The fee was later reduced to 1 pound a month, or 8 pounds a year. The licence entitled the miner to 3.6 square metres (approx 38.75 sq feet, ie., 6 feet square) of land, and the fee had to be paid regardless of whether or not gold had been found.
There had been protests against the miner's licence from its inception. The miners' grievance led to the formation of the Anti-Gold Licence Association in 1853, which resolved that miners pay no more than 10 shillings in licence fees and, if this reduction was refused, to pay no more fees.
On 30 August 1853, Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe announced the abolition of the licence system to be substituted by an export duty and a small registration fee. However, the Victorian Legislative Council rejected La Trobe's proposal and his promise was not enacted and the licence system continued.
In September 1853, only 400 of the 14,000 miners renewed their licences. The continued grievances led to outright rebellion known as the Eureka Stockade in Victoria, Australia, in 1854. As a result of the Eureka Stockade, a Miner's Right was introduced in Victoria to replace the licence.
- Case of Mines (1567) (R v Earl of Northumberland) 1 Plowd 310; 75 ER 472.
- Mining Law of Western Australia, by Michael W Hunt. ISBN 978-186287-729-0. p. 1.
- Blainey, Geoffrey (1963). The Rush That Never Ended. Melbourne University Press. pp. 20–21.
- Aplin, Graeme, S.G. Foster and Michael McKernan (eds.), ed. (1987). Australians: Events and Places. Broadway, New South Wales, Australia: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates. p. 65. ISBN 0-949288-13-6.
- McPherson, Hamish (2004). ""To stand truly by each other": The Eureka rebellion and the continuing struggle for democracy". Marxist Interventions: Articles from Australia in the social sciences. Australian National University. Retrieved 2006-12-20.
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