The Eureka Stockade was caused by a disagreement over what gold miners felt were unfair laws and policing of their work by government.
Miners were unable to claim the land on which they worked, and so risked being relocated at a moment's notice. They were also required by law to buy a licence and carry it with them at all times, or face a fine and arrest. The miners felt this was an unfair system and were prepared to fight for change.
Police invaded the mines to enforce the licensing laws, in late November 1854. The miners refused to cooperate, and burned their licences and stoned police. Several miners were seriously wounded.
On 30 November, 500 miners gathered under the Eureka flag and elected Peter Lalor as their leader. They swore to fight together against police and military. After the oath, they built a stockade at Eureka, and waited for the main attack.
On 3 December, there was an all-out clash between the miners and the police, supported by the military. The miners planned their defence and attack carefully, but they were no match for the well-armed force they faced. When the battle was over, 125 miners were taken prisoner and many were badly wounded. Six of the police and troopers were killed and there were at least 22 deaths among the diggers:
The most harrowing and heartrending scenes amongst the women and children I have witnessed through this dreadful morning. Many innocent persons have suffered, and many are prisoners who were there at the time of the skirmish but took no active part [...] At present every one is as if stunned, and but few are seen to be about. The flag of the diggings, "the Southern Cross," as well as the "Union Jack," which they had to hoist underneath, were captured by the foot police.
– The Argus, 19 December 1854
The Argus, 4 December 1854.
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The rebellion at the Eureka Stockade took terrible casualties, but although the miners were defeated on the day, they were successful in bringing about the changes they sought.
Within months all the miners held for trial were acquitted, except one. A royal commission investigating the goldfields recommended that the licensing laws be replaced with a system whereby miners paid a tax on gold they found, instead of paying for the possibility of striking gold. Miners were also given the right to own the land on which they worked.