Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/103

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

field in force, and lost no time in turning up the soil in all directions, and washing out the golden grains. To quote the words of the genial Hibernian historian of Sandhurst, Mr. John Neill Macartney, who was the government mining registrar of the district for many years, "all around resembled ant-hills with their teeming numbers, and the diggers' tents reminded one of a serried and invading army." The license-fee, or rather its mode of collection by the insolent Crown officials, soon became in Bendigo, as in Ballarat, an insupportable grievance, and it was only by a lucky chance that hostilities were at one stage averted. As Mr. Macartney very truly says, many a scholarly and polished gentleman's heart was beating under the blue shirt of many a digger, and it is not difficult to understand how men of that stamp were wrought into a dangerous state of exasperation by the wanton insults of brutal and ignorant troopers. Bendigo, at that time, numbered a considerable proportion of honest Hibernians amongst its tent-living population, so it is not surprising to read in the contemporary records of a great diggers' demonstration held towards the close of 1853, that "flags of all nations were present, but a splendid Irish banner was most conspicuous in the van."[1] Deputies from mass meetings of the diggers were sent down to Melbourne to remonstrate with the governor in person, and to point out the inevitable consequences of denying the gold-fields' population the rights of freemen, and of leaving them at the mercy of a ruffianly police. But His Excellency turned a deaf ear to all remonstrances, and insisted on ruling in quarter-deck fashion. If the peace was preserved

  1. "First marched the Irish—always first in every agitation"—is the comment of Mr. William Howitt on this demonstration, in his "Two Years in Victoria."