Page:Banking Under Difficulties- Or Life On The Goldfields Of Victoria, New South Wales And New Zealand (1888).pdf/48

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or, life on the goldfields.

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great goldfields of Ballarat towards the end of the year 1854. The goldfields by this time comprised by far the most important interest in the colony, more than half the population being connected with them. A growl of complaint from this miscellaneous mass of people had scarcely ever ceased to be emitted from the first, and this ominous noise had been gradually increasing in loudness and sharpness under an accumulating variety of evils. Some of these evils, so far at least as the authorities were concerned, were irremediable—such as the discomfort of digging life, and the precariousness of its results—both of these adverse features having been aggravated by the circumstance of a scanty rainfall in the year 1854, when the yield of gold was in consequence small. Other evils seemed to admit of remedy, and the colonial Government received plentiful blame at the hands of the diggings community in regard to them. There was, indeed, much substantial grounds for these complaints. A vast irregular society had been suddenly called up throughout the colony, and the Government, somewhat perplexed how to deal with it, had been fain to let the difficulty solve itself by doing nothing, that is to say, although they had appointed paid officers and paid magistrates, who went through a round of duties, and with special strictness—that of collecting the gold mining license of 30s. monthly, as well as other Government dues—yet they had never taken any steps to make the goldfields population socially and politically a part of the colony. There were no arrangements for a mining franchise and a goldfields representation, and no social status, even by the simple and usual expedient of graduating the people to the Government by enrolling the more respectable of the great mining community as local justices of the peace. This state of things had lasted three years, and it was generally aggravated by the vain efforts of the colonists to induce the hesitating Government to sell adequate quantities of the public lands. Many a digger longed for a few adjacent acres, on which he might rear a home and plant a garden or potato-field of his own, and for such a rare luxury he would willingly have exchanged the tin pannikin or pickle-bottle full of gold that lay concealed in a corner of his tent, and that represented the last six months of his mining toils.

“Discontent centered itself in the question of the monthly license fee, as it was a subject on which a demonstration could be most effectually made. The Government had tried some palliatives in the license difficulty, and by allowing a discount on pre-payments for longer terms than a month had hoped to supersede many of the collector’s visits, and so diminish the occasions for the hostile manifestations. These efforts had not been successful.

“The Ballarat riot took its more immediate rise from one of the ‘raids’ upon the diggers for the obnoxious license money. Upon the first serious threatenings of disturbance, a party of