Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/83

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69
A BIRTHPLACE OF FREEDOM.

statements, ordered us to march as prisoners to the camp, first to pay fines of £5, and then to take out our licenses. Expostulation was vain; promises were sneered at; nothing short of £20, that is £5 each, could procure our liberation; so off we marched in the worst of humour. The first mandarin before whom we were brought, took the cue from the captors, pretending to laugh at 'our ruse,' assuming at the same time an air of menace, in which he hinted at locking up in default; but on my asking 'if one of his brother-commissioners, to whom I had a letter of introduction from a certain person in authority at head-quarters, was in the camp,' the matter assumed another complexion. The other commissioner soon arrived, and, glancing at the signature, he grasped my hand and shook it almost to dislocation; but, had I not had the letter, the consequences would have been both expensive and disagreeable. Reflecting on this, I began for the first time to think that the diggers' outcry against official tyranny and exaction was not altogether a baseless grievance. I could well imagine the state of feeling likely to be generated by a persistence in such a system of arbitrary persecution, and I was not surprised when it reached its climax soon afterwards."

These are only samples of the intolerable wrongs the mining population was compelled to endure at the hands of an irresponsible régime, and when it is added that the diggers were not permitted to cultivate the smallest portion of land for the maintenance of themselves and their families, it may be supposed that they would have been more than human if they had remained quiet under such grievous oppression. They organised a peaceful and constitutional agitation, to which all the gold-fields of the colony unanimously gave their assent and support. Its object was