Page:The progress of the colony of Victoria.pdf/10

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370
[Oct.
The Progress of the Colony of Victoria.

have required a man of greater tact and talent than he possessed, and was indeed a very difficult one. Hampered by the provisions of Acts of Parliament, badgered by the colonial press, and embarrassed by the claims of the squatters on the one hand and the diggers on the other, his situation was most unenviable; and there is little doubt that his death, in the early part of this year, was caused by the disappointment and annoyance he underwent.

The continued imports on the already depressed market in the middle of 1854, added to the decline in the yield of gold, and the enormous arrivals of immigrants, resulted in a crash amongst the mercantile community. One great failure led to another, and a general panic ensued. In 1853 there had been 25 cases of insolvency in Melbourne; in 1854, the number amounted to 186. Almost all public works and private buildings were suspended; wages fell lower and lower, and at length it became difficult to get employment in Melbourne on almost any terms. The value of land and of rents fell to about a quarter of what they had been; and it was found that the colony was upwards of three millions sterling in debt, betraying great incapacity or extravagance on the part of government. This critical state of affairs contributed to fan the flame of discontent, which broke out at the Ballarat diggings in 1854

I have mentioned that the amendments which were passed by the Commissioners in September, 1853, with respect to the licence fees, and other matters at the gold fields, failed to meet the case or to give satisfaction. Public meetings were constantly held, and other demonstrations made, but nothing serious had yet occurred. In October, 1854, a man was murdered in a hotel at Ballarat, and the landlord (a Mr. Bentley) was suspected of being implicated. After much noise about it, he was brought before the police magistrates; a superficial examination ensued, and he was acquitted, though the evidence was clearly against him. It was supposed that some of the magistrates had a share in his hotel, and that he owed his acquittal to this fact. A great outcry was raised,—the people took the law into their own hands and burnt down the hotel, and Bentley with difficulty escaped with his life. The government appointed a commission to inquire into the affair, and the result was, that the popular suspicions were confirmed with reference to two members of the bench and a serjeant of police. Bentley was again arrested, tried, and found guilty of manslaughter. Still there was no reform in the administration on the gold-fields, and things were allowed to jog on in the old style.

Towards the end of November, a large meeting of the diggers was held at Ballarat; they unfurled the banner of the Southern Cross, burned all their licences, and resolved to take out no more. Next day the commissioners collected a large body of police, and went round among the diggers, requiring them to produce their licences -—a highly imprudent step in the excited state of the public mind. The diggers showed a defiant front, the Riot Act was read, and the first blood spilled. The diggers organized themselves into a body, and having been drilled in large numbers by some old soldiers of their party, they entrenched themselves behind a stockade, and