Oliver Spence/Chapter 6
THE GREAT BATTLE.
After the collapse of the British Empire, which, as all students of history are aware, was chiefly occasioned by the Anglo-Russian war, in which the "Tsar of all the Russias" was completely victorious, and by the annexation of India extended his territory to the Indian Ocean, the Australian Colonies were formed into an independent Federal Republic. The method of government was still in theory democratic, although in practice plutocratic. There was a Federal Parliament, consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate. Each Representative had a constituency of not less than thirty thousand electors, which no one but a rich man or a tool of the financial rings ever attempted to "represent," for not only did it require considerable money to contest such a large electorate, but it was generally believed that the ballot had ceased to be secret and there was so much fraud exercised at elections by the agents of the financial rings that it was regarded as quite impossible to return pure democrats to power. Of the two branches of the legislature, however, the more oligarchic was the Senate, which consisted of eight men from each of the State Parliaments. These men were, of course, actually appointed by the rings, and in the Senate were, after the rings, the most powerful in Australia. They retired from office by rotation, so that there was never a general election, nor had the President of the so-called Republic, power to dissolve the Senate. It had a veto over all bills passed by the "Representatives," was secure by the nature of its constitution from any possibility of its being influenced by the masses (termed by the Senators "the swinish multitude"), and was defended by a powerful army and well-equipped navy. The army and navy had been originally formed for the ostensible purpose of protecting life and property from a possible Russian or Chinese invasion, but it was soon evident that the greatest danger to the Australian plutocracy was "from within, not from without," and consequently for the purpose of stamping out anything like incipient revolt, the army and navy became very useful to their employers.
The seat of the Federal Government was at first Hobart, which had become but a trifling distance from the continent, owing to the great ease and speed of the newly-invented boats, driven by compressed air; but when it became manifest that even in conservative Tasmania the Government was not quite secure from "popular clamour," it was decided that Albury, once celebrated as a border town, but which, after the enlargement of Victoria and the consequent shifting of the border, had degenerated into a mere Sleepy Hollow, should be the new Federal city. The change answered admirably and the Government, now enormously powerful, ruled Australia, in the interest of the rings, with a rod of iron.
As soon as the news of the New South Wales outbreak (which had rapidly spread to the other colonies) reached the Federal Government, extensive preparations were at once made for its suppression. Many of the military had joined the insurgents, but there still remained a very large number who were willing to fight to maintain the old order of things. Most of these were massed in Victoria, where the outbreak had been, after severe fighting, temporarily quelled.
The defeat of the Victorian insurgents was, however, more owing to the smallness of their numbers and their want of sufficient arms and ammunition than to any other cause, for they fought with great courage, pertinacity and skill. The Brotherhood marksmen particularly distinguished themselves by the ease and accuracy with which, firing from the roofs and windows of houses, they picked off the various officers, and the men told off to work the machine-guns. The authorities had, with their troops,a number of machine-guns, termed "mob-quellers," an improvement on the old Gatling gun. The simple, yet delicate machinery of these guns was, however, soon put out of gear by well-directed shots from the insurgent sharpshooters.
Eventually, however, the insurgents had no alternative but to abandon the fight, and by a piece of highly creditable strategy they succeeded in making good their retreat.
After the Victorian flight both sides drew together their forces with the view to a decisive battle, which finally took place in the interior of the continent.
Prior to the federation of Australia a large portion of the interior of the country was unknown. Many attempts had been made by explorers to penetrate to the heart of this terra incognita, but apparently with but small success, as few of the explorers had ever returned to the coastal settlements to relate their experiences. After the Federation, however, it was determined by the Government that a large party should be fitted out for the purpose of thoroughly exploring the whole of the hitherto unexplored portion of Australia. The Government was rewarded by the discovery, in the north-western portion of the interior of a large settlement of white people, of whom further information will be given in another chapter. It was in that portion of Australia that the celebrated "Battle of Leichhardt" took place.
The Governments of Victoria, West Australia and Tasmania sided with the Plutocracy, while, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the newly-discovered State of Leichhardt were in the hands of the revolutionists. North Australia (formerly the Northern Territory) was considered doubtful, as that State was chiefly populated by Chinamen, who, though bitter against the white workers in the South, because of the large number of Chinamen who had been killed or maltreated by them, were yet strongly suspected by the Plutocracy of sympathy with Communistic principles.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary forces was, of course, Oliver Spence. The Honorable Israel Smith led the forces of the Plutocratic Oligarchy. Israel Smith was said to be a descendant of Bruce Smith, who, it is believed, was in the ante-federation days a member of the Government of New South Wales.
In numbers the insurgent forces were but seventy thousand men, while those of the Plutocracy numbered one hundred thousand. The Insurgents, however, made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in numerical strength, while their opponents were held together chiefly by the promises of plunder, position and pay, made to them by the Oligarchy; and it was strongly suspected that many would desert to the insurgents if there appeared any reasonable probability of the Revolution being ultimately successful.
A number of skirmishes occurred between the combatants, but decisive battle did not take place until some days after the marshalling of the forces on both sides.
The battle will now be described, necessarily from the insurgent side, as that side has handed down to us the most reliable accounts of the great event.
On the morning of the battle, about eight o'clock, orders were received from the Commander-in-Chief to retain in some secure place as many of the explosive bullets, gas-balls (described in the second chapter) and other ammunition as possible; it was also ordered that the air-ships used to convey baggage should be sent to the rear. It became evident that Oliver Spence intended to disregard the Fabian tactics of the enemy and to give battle at once. It also became known that a force of men from the capital city of Leichhardt was marching to the support of the rebels.
An hour after, it was seen from the excitement among the staff-officers that the battle was momentarily expected to begin. The insurgents received orders to stand to their arms, and shortly afterwards Spence ordered them to take up a very advantageous position on a gently rising ground, where they awaited the enemy's onslaught; for Marshall Israel Smith had, it appeared, from the movements in his army, observed by the insurgent officers, decided to pick up the gage of battle thrown down by Spence.
Shortly after the insurgents had taken up their position, their right was attacked by a portion of the enemy and warmly engaged by them, but the insurgents beat them off, and by the orders of the Commander a long line of portable steel barricades was erected between them and the enemy. These, by the peculiar nature of their construction resisted all the ammunition of the enemy, so that it became evident that Israel Smith's forces must attack the insurgents in the rear. This they at last succeeded in doing, and soon the groans of the wounded and dying filled the air. Owing to the fact that on both sides where powder was used, it was of the smokeless, noiseless variety, the evils of war could be both seen and heard in all their horror.
The fight continued for some hours with varying fortunes on both sides, until Oliver Spence, who had hoped to win without resorting to the more terrible means at his disposal, finding it impossible, ordered out the Electric Bomb Throwers. These terrible engines of war were loaded with large Panmort bombs and discharged their death-dealing contents by means of a simple electrical appliance, which had then but recently been invented. This action of the Revolutionary Commander practically decided the battle, and the arrival at that time of the Leichhardt contingent was taken as a signal, and excuse for the immediate surrender of the Oligarchy's army. The Oligarchy was completely and disastrously defeated. Marshall Israel Smith and several officers shot themselves, rather than become prisoners, while nearly all the soldiers who surrendered joined the revolution. Over half the Oligarchy's forces had been killed and the Revolutionists had also suffered severely. Spence had conducted the battle with great skill and personal valor. Four horses had been killed under him, and at one time he had been temporarily blinded by the blood which gushed in his face from a comrade whose skull had been shot away.
War is a dreadful thing, but is sometimes as necessary to save and secure the lives and liberties of peoples, as on occasion a surgical operation may be, to preserve the life of an individual.