or, life on the goldfields.
Riots at Ballarat.
The principal, indeed the only trustworthy and impartial source of information with respect to these riots, is the history of Mr. Westgarth. It is impossible to write clearly and correctly about the great event of 1854 in Victoria without using his work. The writer takes this opportunity of acknowledging his indebtedness to such a high-class authority.
“The Ballarat outbreak is a solitary incident in Australian history. It serves to show the danger of inattention to premonitory symptoms on the part of Governments, and it may also illustrate what senseless things the people may be hurried into doing in moments of excitement. The commission wished to close this unpleasant page of the colony’s affairs, and so end at once a subject that had occurred under very exceptional circumstances, and was not likely ever to occur again. A general amnesty of the past was therefore urged upon the Government. But the Government judging its duties differently, put the parties who had been arrested on their trial for high treason. The disadvantage of this extreme measure was that, under what the French would call the extenuating facts of the case, the rioters became objects of public sympathy. In the opinion of not a few they were patriots who contended against an irresponsible and tyrannical Government. They were acquitted by the jury, as had been very generally anticipated, and they were afterwards fêted by a section of the people—a proceeding well nigh as culpable and unreflecting as the outbreak itself. The rioting, after all, ended satisfactorily, and even with a reaction of more than usual loyalty.
“There are popular prejudices, which, in a society like that of the colony, are sometimes all the more irrepressible and injurious with the political and social importance of the masses that hold these prejudices. The antipathy of the mining population to the Chinese is a case in point. The presence of large numbers of this race in the colony is, at best, a very doubtful benefit, notwithstanding that they eat rice and increase trade, and that a trader should respect all customers. The Government, agreeing in the doubts of the case, has had checked the large and threatening immigration by means of heavy fines, or head-money imposed on the ships that brought the Chinese; and this procedure has been followed by South Australia and New South Wales.