Saka Light Cavalry

Saka Light Cavalry

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Terribly Obsure (E) Rebellion: The Eureka Stockade.

Whilst Australians may wonder why this Rebellion features in a Terribly Obscure I am fairly sure it fits the bill, especially with mt Pom followers ;-)
1851 saw the discovery of gold and with it an influx of migrants other than the usual agricultural workers. A great strain was put on all professions as many left their normal jobs and went to seek their fortune seeking gold. The Governments answer to this was to create expensive licences that had to be renued every month at a cost of 30 shillings no matter how successful the miner had been the previous month. The idea was that the shear cost would deter some and many others would go back to their professions as they failed to make ends meet. Not only was these licence's unpopular but the method of enforcement was heavy handed. The problem was that the established Police Force was far too few in number so a hasty and large expansion was required. Not a small amount of irony found a ready source of recruits being ex-convicts and their previous guards. This quickly led to corruption as the Police were open to bribes and even the honest ones just had so much work related to the miners (checking all licences twice a week!) so normal police duties suffered and with it a rise in crime both inside the camps and also in the area around them.
This only led to angering the miners who felt the licences were excessively expensive and saw little return in both mining profits and social decency. The greater the resistance and anger to the licence and police corruption the greater the Police brutality. The spiral just fed itself until it came to a head in the Eureka Lead at Ballarat where a man accused of the murder of a Digger (miner) escaped justice due to being a friend of the police. A group of Diggers burnt down Bentley's Hotel where the murder took place and three of them were arrested for arson. When the demand for their release was refused the miners along with other demands the diggers had two choices. Back down or make a stand! The murder of the digger had had acted as a rallying call and the main grievances were brought to the fore. Voting for all miners (at this point you had to have mined for 6 months in one location to vote), the removal of the hated licence and reduction of corruption within the police. The Governor refused to release the men and 18 days later on the 29th November 1854 a second mass meeting was held and this was the first display of the Eureka Flag, a dangerous development.

The five stars represent the Southern Cross.
The meeting broke up after the burning of Licences and the election of leaders. The following day further licences were burnt and the diggers now numbered over 1000 men and they built a wooden stockade made of stakes. They swore an oath of allegiance assuring the Governor could neither ignore or tolerate the miners actions. In the mean time extra troops had been dispatched to help contain the miners and by the 3rd of December enough troops were in place to take action (around 700). Meanwhile many of the miners had slipped away from the stockade knowing they stood no chance against well armed professional troops whilst having few arms themselves. Early on the 3rd the troops moved against the stockade. Despite the low numbers of arms and now numbering less than 200 strong the diggers still tried to make a stand. Organised resistance lasted but about twenty minutes before the troops defeated the miners leaving around 50 dead to a cost of three of their own.

Breaching the Defences.
13 of the leaders of the uprising were charged with treason and many others had been wounded in the action and following sweep through the diggers camp and whilst they faced hanging for the charge of treason they were all acquitted instead. As often is the case when unreasonable events lead to such activities the central government after an investigation found the miners demands were just and whilst the licences were not revoked, the cost of them were reduced to an 8th. Voting was allowed for all miners no matter how long they had worked the area and the Gold Commissioners (who were hated for their corruption and heavy handed manner) were replaced by a system of wardens.

Wargaming the Rebellion.
Obviously any wargame of the stockade action is going to be short and not exactly inspiring, as such most of the gaming this can provide is almost of the roleplaying level. Actions between Police and the Bushwhackers or travellers and bushwhackers (bandits in the bush) or fictitious small engagements between the police and diggers where both sides have limited arms.

8 comments:

  1. I think these days we'd all it a protest rather than a rebellion!

    Interesting story though.

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  2. indeed. Very nice bit of History.
    Thanks for sharing

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  3. Very interesting, another slice of history I was totally unaware of!

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  4. I'd heard of this encounter and bruising one it was too for the diggers! I did toy with the idea of a 'what if' gaming board that considered fitting in the mines!

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  5. Hi Ian thanks for your comments they say my stuff is in the mail so it's just a waiting game

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  6. "Bushwhackers"

    Bushrangers?

    (Although bushwhacker is an Aussie term for someone who spends a lot of time in the bush)

    We recently had a TV programme here which featured a dramatisation of the Stockade, although it was mostly concerned with the trial afterwards (it was part of a series on trials which had shaped Australian history)

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  7. The Eureka flag has become a potent symbol of anti-authority in Australia and has been adopted by the trade union movement, the Republican movement and the far-right movement despite the fact that the miners have more in common with small-business owners, were loyal to the crown and included a large minority of foreigners!

    As KK says, bushranger is the more accepted word here, but otherwise a great summing up of Australia's closest call with civil war.

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  8. Not an obscure part of Oz history here in Oz but yep....elsewhere it may be obscure. The rebels had many Irish among them and they faced a lot of brutality in Australia's early years. Yeah...bushwhacker sounds odd to someone in Oz. Bushranger, like Ned Kelly. I thought that you could home brew Saga to make a Bush Ranger vs cops skirmish game. Could be fun.
    Cheers

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