The History of the Victorian Parliament – The Eureka Stockade and Peter Lalor

Peter Lalor represents an interesting example
of the sort of person who was able to enter the Parliament of Victoria. I guess the story
is reasonably well known, he was born in Ireland in 1827, he was a civil engineer by training.
He came out to Victoria in 1852 for the gold rushes, but in fact started as a merchant
rather than a gold miner, then went to Ballarat and combined his merchant activities with
being a gold miner, became the leader of the Eureka uprising almost by accident when some
of the leaders of the reform groups that were opposed to the Licence Fee and the way that
police were collecting that fee, didn’t attend a meeting and he was the one who actually
took over the leadership. And the story is very well known how on 3rd December 1854 at
the Eureka Stockade sometime on early Sunday morning, sometime between 3.30 and 4 o’clock,
soldiers from the 40th Regiment and police officers attacked the stockade with 120 miners
in it, 30 miners were killed, 13 were arrested for sedition, but a number of the leaders
escaped, including Lalor. Lalor in fact been very badly wounded at the Eureka Stockade.
He was hidden under a wood pile by his supporters and they squired him away and that afternoon,
that very day he had to have his arm amputated as a result of wounds he had received when
the conflict took place. The 13 miners who had been arrested for treason
went to trial but all of them were exonerated. This was a great embarrassment to the government
at the time and especially to the Governor Sir Charles Hotham and to the Attorney General
William Stawell. They’d insisted on going ahead and trying the treasonable miners and
all the legal advice was “don’t do it” because you won’t get a guilty verdict in
Victoria and that proved to be the case. So the treason charges were dropped, as they
were against Lalor. Late in 1855, Lalor was in fact elected to
the first Legislative Council of Victoria. One of the consequences of Eureka was that
it widened the electoral base for Victoria. It made possible the election of people who
weren’t necessarily from a wealthy background. We have basically somebody who led an uprising
against the Crown and yet here he is, just a bit over a year later, being in the Legislature
talking in various forms on various subjects to do with the colony as a whole. It’s a
very interesting process, isn’t it?, that allows a man of that background to be entirely
accepted within the Parliament. And he stays a member of Parliament until his death in
1889. The great cliché about Lalor is that he went from Eureka to Speaker.

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