This Day in the Law
December 3

Eureka Stockade Leads to Birth of Democracy in Australia (1854)

On December 3, 1854, the first and only armed civil uprising occurred in Australia called the Eureka Stockade (also known as the Eureka Rebellion). The Eureka Stockade has also been characterized as the event which led to the birth of democracy in Australia.

In August 1851, miners struck gold near the town of Ballarat located about 65 miles northwest of Melbourne, Australia. Within a year thousands of miners flocked to the area to find gold. The miners were faced with some difficult conditions and forced to pay fees to mine, known as mining licenses, without any representation. The miners argued this was taxation without representation – much like the American colonists argued against the British prior to the American Revolution. And unrest continued to grow among the miners.

On this day, December 3, 1854, miners in Eureka formed a stockade – i.e. a barrier of posts and timbers – to engage in civil protest against the local authorities over taxation without representation and other issues like highly priced mining items. Local authorities, including the police and military, quickly dismantled the stockade/rebellion. But over twenty miners died during the small rebellion.

Today, this event is known as the Eureka Stockade and was the first and only civil armed conflict in Australian history. The Eureka Stockade also is considered by many to be the event that led to the birth of democracy in Australia. At minimum, it was a turning point in Australian politics.

After the Eureka Stockade, the miners gained nearly full support by the general public for their demands and the Gold Commission police force – the authority that controlled the miners – granted the miners nearly all of their requests. Shortly thereafter, Peter Lalor, one of the striking miners, was elected as a representative.

The Eureka Stockade also made international news, including within the United States. Mark Twain summed up the Eureka Stockade when he said:
By and by there was a result, and I think it may be called the finest thing in Australasian history. It was a revolution — small in size; but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against injustice and oppression....It is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle. It adds an honorable page to history; the people know it and are proud of it. They keep green the memory of the men who fell at the Eureka stockade, and Peter Lalor has his monument.
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