Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/85

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71
A BIRTHPLACE OF FREEDOM.

Father Patrick Smyth and Father Matthew Downing, were present at this historical meeting, and naturally exerted all their influence to induce the excited diggers not to take the irretrievable step of burning their licenses. But however willing the Irishmen, who constituted no small percentage of that crowd of 12,000 diggers, would be under ordinary circumstances to heed and obey the voice of their pastors, their blood was now boiling with indignation at the wrongs they had so long endured from their tyrannical oppressors, and whilst they listened to their priests with patience and respect, they could not be diverted from their fixed determination to summarily and decisively end such intolerable persecution. Messrs. Lalor, Quinn, Murnane and Brady were four of the principal speakers, and the most important resolution agreed to was couched in the following terms: "That this meeting being convinced that the obnoxious license-fee is an imposition and an unjustifiable tax on free labour, pledges itself to take immediate steps to abolish the same by at once burning all their licenses, and that, in the event of any party being arrested for having no licenses, the united people under all circumstances will defend and protect them."

Affairs on the gold-fields had now reached a crisis, but the governor and his advisers were resolved to pursue their tyrannical policy towards the diggers to the bitter end. According to them, what had just transpired in Ballarat was but a cloak to cover a democratic revolution, which must be stamped out at all hazards. The day following the burning of the licenses witnessed the last "digger hunt" on the Australian gold-fields. It was carried out with a great display of military force, in the hope of overawing the rebellious diggers and striking terror into their hearts. A