Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/79

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65
A BIRTHPLACE OF FREEDOM

houses to let, business is at a standstill, and even schools are closed. In some of the suburbs not a man is left, and the women are known, for self-protection, to forget neighbours' jars and to group together to keep house. The ships in the harbour are in a great measure deserted, and masters of vessels, like farmers, have made up parties with their men to go shares at the diggings. Both here (Melbourne) and at Geelong all buildings and contract works, public and private, are at a standstill."

When the exciting news was published in the Old World, the natural result was an exodus on a very large scale to the Golden Land of the south. All the nationalities of Europe were represented in this huge rush of gold-seekers. Every county in Ireland sent its thousands. Indeed, the large percentage of Irishmen on the gold-fields soon became a very noticeable feature. Mr. J. D'Ewes, who was the stipendiary magistrate in charge of Ballarat during the early period of its history, relates that on one occasion he witnessed a purchase, made by one of the banks, of five thousand four hundred ounces of gold, the produce of one claim at Eureka, discovered by a party of twelve Irishmen. The price paid by the bank to the lucky Hibernians was £4 2s. per ounce, so that each man received £1,845 as his share of the profits of this one golden hole.

For a time the Victorian Government, taken by surprise, was utterly powerless in the presence of this unexpected influx of population, but it eventually recovered its self-possession, proclaimed the right of the Crown to the gold, despatched officials to preserve order, and issued licenses to dig for the precious metal. At first the license fee was fixed at £1 10s. per month, but it was soon doubled in the hope of thinning the crowds that continued to travel to the gold-