Karl Marx in The Neue-Oder Zeitung 1855

News from Australia

Source: the Neue-Oder Zeitung, March 7, 1855;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

The latest news from Australia adds a new element to the general discomfort, unrest and insecurity. We must distinguish between the riot in Ballarat (near Melbourne) and the general revolutionary movement in the State of Victoria. The former will by this time have been suppressed; the latter can only be suppressed by far-reaching concessions. The former is merely a symptom and an incidental outbreak of the latter. Concerning the Ballarat riot, the facts are simply these: A certain Bentley, owner of the Eureka Hotel at the Ballarat goldfields, had got into all sorts of conflicts with the gold diggers. A murder which occurred at his house increased the hatred of him. At the coroner’s inquest Bentley was discharged as innocent. Ten of the twelve jurymen, who functioned at the inquest, however, published a protest against the partiality of the coroner, who had attempted to suppress witnesses’ evidence disadvantageous to the prisoner. At the demand of the people a second inquest was held. Bentley was again discharged despite very suspicious evidence by some witnesses. It became known, however, that one of the judges had financial interests in the hotel. Many earlier and later complaints show the dubious character of the government officials of the Ballarat district. On the day Bentley was discharged for the second time, the gold diggers held a tremendous demonstration, set his hotel on fire and then withdrew. Three of the ringleaders were arrested on a warrant issued by Sir Charles Hotham, the Governor-General of Victoria State. On November 27 a deputation of gold diggers demanded their release. Hotham rejected the demand. The gold diggers held a monster meeting. The Governor sent police and troops from Melbourne. It came to a clash, several dead remained on the scene, and according to the latest news, up to December 1, the gold diggers have hoisted the flag of independence.

Even this story, which is in the main taken from a government paper, does not put the English judges and government officials in a favourable light. It shows the prevailing distrust. There are actually two big issues around which the revolutionary movement in Victoria State is revolving. The gold diggers are demanding the abolition of the gold digging licences, i.e. of a tax directly imposed on labour; secondly, they demand the abolition of the property qualification for Members of the Chamber of Representatives, in order themselves to obtain control over taxes and legislation. Here we see, in essence, motives similar to those which led to the Declaration of Independence of the United States, except that in Australia the conflict is initiated by the workers against the monopolists linked with the colonial bureaucracy. In the Melbourne Argus we read of big reform meetings and, on the other hand, of large-scale military preparations on the part of the Government. It says among other things:

“At a meeting of 4,000 persons it was decided that the license-fee is an imposition and an unjustifiable tax on free labour. This meeting therefore pledges itself to take immediate steps to abolish the same, by at once burning all their licenses. That in the event of any party being arrested for having no licenses, the united people will defend and protect them.”