A Clare contribution to the Eureka Stockade

The Eureka Stockade could be termed Australia's 1916 - a rebellion that Australia might be free . A rebellion in which Clare people played a crucial part.

Clare's reputation for being in the coalface of political change is legendary. They don't call it the Banner County for nothing. It was the Clare Dragoons who took the Banner into battle - they have been battlers in Clare ever since.

O'Connell and de Valera were elected in Clare and things were never the same. Dromoland's William Smith O'Brien was one of the leading Young Irelanders - doing his bit so that Ireland might be free.
And, Clare's reputation for going into battle hasn't been confined to these shores. They've led the way into battle in foreign fields - one of the most famous battles taking place 150 years ago. It was the Eureka Stockade - the event that shaped the future of Australia.

Two Claremen played their part in this seminal episode in Australia's history. Timothy Hayes and Michael Tuohy answered the call to arms - their place in Australian history is secured. They fought the fight and lived to tell the tale.

A remarkable story with Clare folk at its core. Hayes' exact parish unknown, but there's no denying his Clareness - Timothy is always referred to as the Clareman who was the second most important figure in the Stockade escaped after Peter Lalor while his wife Anastasia was the woman who sowed the Southern Cross banner that was raised aloft at Eureka.

Michael Tuohy's Clare origins are much clearer - he was born in Scariff in 1830. He survived the Great Famine but buried many family members and friends. He never forgot that food was being exported from Ireland to line the pockets of English absentee landlords, while a million Irish men, women and children died and a further million were forced to immigrate. Although he had travelled 12,000 miles to escape the tyranny of the British government, once again he faced the same tyrants. There were many more people who looked on the British Empire rulers as tyrants.

Hayes and Tuohy were miners - unhappy miners at that. All miners who were digging for gold held a grievance against the ruling class as firmly as they ever held a shovel. It was empire stuff and the way she treated her subjects.

The Victorian Colonial authorities worked from the premise “that all gold belongs to Queen Victoria” and that the diggers making claims on crown land were a “necessary evil” that needed to be controlled with an iron fist. The authorities did just that.

The license fee levied on diggers was one pound ten shillings - exorbitant when you consider that in 1851 a squatter could buy twenty square miles of land from the Victorian government for one pound ten shillings. The miners had enough.

They were determined to assert their rights and mobilised. 10,000 diggers and their supporters attended a mass meeting in November 1854 and the Ballarat Reform League was born. The chief aim of the league was to over throw British authority.

“If Queen Victoria continued to act upon the ill advice of dishonest ministers and insists upon indirectly dictating obnoxious laws for the Colony, under the assumed authority of the Royal Prerogative, the Reform League will endeavour to supersede such Royal Prerogative by asserting that of the People which is the most Royal of all Prerogatives, as the people are the only legitimate source of all political power.”

Timothy Hayes was chairman of the league, while commander-in-chief was his mining partner Peter Lalor from Laois. He was given a mandate to “resist force by force” and he soon had diggers erecting a simple fortification about 200 meters from the remains of Bentley's hotel. They enclosed about an acre of relatively flat ground that had some miners ‘huts and stores on it, but no shafts.

As the sun was setting, Captain Ross sword in hand hoisted the Southern Cross that was sown by Anastasia Hayes. Lalor, rifle in hand jumped on a stump and asked those present to swear on oath to the new flag. Lalor took off his hat, knelt and swore the oath on behalf of the assembled miners. “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend out rights and liberties.”
By December 2, miners were openly drilling and ready for combat. The blacksmith inside the stockade continued to make pikes for the diggers who didn't have access to firearms. Drilling stopped around midday when the Catholic Priest Father Smyth arrived to tend to the needs of the Irish Catholics. They listened to his pleas not to fight, but sent him on his way empty handed. The battle for independence was about to begin.

December 3 was the day - the first volley was fired by diggers as the soldiers and police breached the stockade at the north and west end. This slowed the soldiers advance, but it was always going to an unequal struggle. Those in the stockade were there to be slaughtered.

Thirty pikemen using primitive pikes that had been made in the forge in the stockade, used their simple weapons to slow down the government advance. The pikemen, under the leadership of Patrick Curtain, were unsung heroes of the stockade, using their flimsy pikes against muskets slowing the advance enough to allow many of the diggers to flee the stockade.

Of 30 pikemen who took part in this life and death struggle, only 5 or 6 survived to tell the tale. About 20 or 30 Californian Rangers armed with revolvers under the leadership of Charles Ferguson, had left the stockade at around 1.00am to look for a cache of arms. Fearing that they had been lured out of the stockade, Ferguson returned with the Californian Rangers just before the stockade was invaded by the government forces. By now many of the diggers lay wounded in the stockade.

Those who tried to escape were ran down by the cavalry that had now surrounded the stockade. Within 15 to 20 minutes of the first shot been fired, the back of the revolt had been broken, the troops and police were in complete control of the stockade, suffering few injuries.

Three privates lay dead or dying. Michael Rooney, Joseph Wall and William Webb. Twelve more were wounded, Captain Wise was also wounded, shot in the right thigh and upper part of his leg, Although surprised by the attack, the diggers had fought a hard battle. The foot soldiers took the most casualties among the government forces as the cavalry and the foot and mounted police had not been involved in the battle proper.

Peter Lawlor wrote three months after the Eureka massacres - “ as the inhuman brutalities practiced by the troops are so well known, it is unnecessary for me to repeat them. There were 34 diggers casualties at which 22 died. The unusual proportion of the killed to the wounded, is owing to the butchery of the military and troopers after the surrender.”

Thirteen people were arrested and committed for High Treason in January 1855. Timothy Hayes and Michael Tuohy were among the 13. They brought to the Old Melbourne Jail, where they were held in vile conditions, fed barely anything and were repeatedly stripped naked and searched.

Hayes was the first Clareman in the dock. He had been the chairman of the final mass meeting at Bakery Hill on the 29th November 1854 when he stood up and whipped up the crowd into a frenzy by calling out “your liberties, will you die for them!!” The crowd roared its approval and burnt their mining licenses.

In his trial, Catholic curate, Father Smyth swore that Hayes had gone to mass during the attack at the stockade. The jury believed the priest and acquitted Hayes - he was carried shoulder high through the streets of Melbourne in celebration.

Tuohy was also acquitted and was the longest survivor of the 13 who stood trial for High Treason. He took part in the 50th anniversary celebrations at Ballarat in 1904 and continued farming till he died at the age 83 from pneumonia at the Ballarat Hospital in September 1915.

Tuohy and Hayes had played their part - but the contribution of the two Clare women in this defining episode in Australian history cannot be underestimated.

At the age of 34 on the 5th of October 1852, Anastasia Hayes arrived in Melbourne with her five children and husband Timothy. A survivor of both the famine and the defeat of the Young Ireland movement in 1848, she had no love for the Victorian colonial authorities. Her husband Timothy, Peter Lalor and Duncan Gilles formed a mining partnership on the Ballarat goldfields. The family lived in a tent on the goldfields. She gave birth to their sixth child in the tent. Anastasia took on a job at a nearby Catholic school to make ends meet.

She was known as a firebrand on the goldfields, complaining about how the miners were treated. In another age, she would have been one of the leaders of the Eureka rebellion. In 1854, she encouraged her husband Timothy to become a leader of the rebellion.

After the rebellion was crushed. Anastasia was at the forefront of the resistance, she was involved in the operation with anaesthetic when Peter Lalor's arm was removed to save his life. Then there's the story of Clare born Briget Callinan and her heroic deeds to save the lives of her brothers.

Nineteen years old Bridget and her two younger cousins searched among the dead and dying at the Eureka Stockade for her three brothers, Patrick, Michael and Thomas as the police and soldiers were arresting, beating and in some cases killing wounded miners.

They found her brother Michael who had two bullets in his thigh and her brother Patrick who had two bayonet wounds, one between his shoulders and one under his left breast. Bridget confronted the heavily armed police and soldiers causing a diversion which allowed her two brothers to escape with the assistance of her cousins.

She was a heroine in an heroic event - an even that changed Australia. The proof came within a year of the rebellion when all the demands of the Eureka stockade were met. These included the abolition of diggers licences, manhood suffrage and the abolition property qualifications for members of parliament.
The Clare people involved in the Eureka Stockade had helped change things.

Courtesy of the Clare Champion
By Joe O Muircheartaigh
December 2004