Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/91

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
77
A BIRTHPLACE OF FREEDOM.

Speakers in the Australian colonies. The diggers captured in the stockade were brought to Melbourne to await their trial for high treason against Her Majesty. So determined were the authorities to convict at any cost, that they did not hesitate to resort to the hideous system of packed juries. Every Irishman, and every citizen suspected of sympathy with the miners, were promptly told to stand aside. Nevertheless the current of popular opinion was so powerful, and the sympathy with the persecuted diggers so widespread, that prisoner after prisoner was acquitted, amid the ringing cheers of a crowded court and the more boisterous demonstrations of satisfaction from the thousands outside. Eventually the State trials were wisely abandoned by the Crown; the proclamations of outlawry against Mr. Lalor and his fellow-leaders were unconditionally withdrawn; the concealed chiefs came forth into the light of day once more; a Royal Commission, with the late Sir John O'Shanassy as one of its principal members, was appointed to inquire into the grievances of the miners; the oppressive license-fee was soon abolished on their recommendation; parliamentary representation was given to the gold-fields, and before the first anniversary of the storming of the Eureka stockade came round, Mr. Lalor was one of the members for Ballarat, and the mining population was as quiet, law-abiding, and industrious as any other section of the community.

That the armed resistance of the diggers on the Eureka paved the way for democratic freedom in the Australian colonies, and abolished for ever a semi-military despotism over free-born men, is an historical feet that cannot be called into question. Irishmen played the most important part in that exciting episode, and to this day Irishmen continue to be the backbone and sinew of the flourishing city