On 3 December 2004 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the
The Australian colony of
By 1854 there were 25,000 or more miners working in the fields of Ballarat. By then all the easy surface gold had been exhausted, and gold could be found only by sinking exploratory shafts through layers of clay, silt and gravel down to the bedrock up to 50 metres below the surface. The hills for miles around the mining area were denuded of trees to provide timber for the deep shafts being dug.
Authority in the camps was maintained by the Resident Gold Commissioner, Robert Rede, and enforced by a military garrison.
The main source of revenue on the gold fields was the "Miner©s Licence©. The monthly fee for this licence was 30 shillings, a month, a considerable sum at the time. This fee entitled the holder to work a single 12 foot (3.6metre) square claim, and was levied whether or not any gold was actually found. Understandably this fee was very unpopular with the miners, who were also resentful of the weekly "license Hunts© conducted by the police and the military. In September 1854 the Governor, Sir Charles Hotham, prompted by budget shortfalls ordered an increase in the frequency of the license checks to twice weekly. This caused simmering resentment.
Two more events occurred which added to the unrest in the area. The first was the arrest of crippled non English speaking Armenian servant of the priest, Father Smyth. The Armenian was wrongfully convicted of assaulting a trooper. The second was the unpopular acquittal of the publican of the Eureka Hotel, who had been charged with murdering miner, James Scobie. After an angry mob burned the hotel to the ground Commissioner Rede requested troop reinforcements in order to reassert government authority.