In December 1855, two days after the first anniversary of the dawn battle at the Eureka goldfield, the Victorian Legislative Council assembled in St Patrick’s Hall in Melbourne. It was at this stage still a unicameral legislature. The election of the new bicameral legislature as provided by the newly proclaimed Constitution of 1855 was yet to take place. But because of the passage of a bill to expand the representation of the country areas that had been sent to London by the previous governor, Joseph Latrobe, eight new representatives of the goldfields were elected to the Council. A number of them had been leaders in the recent political agitation on the goldfields.Their period of service was from November 1855 to March 1856 when the new electorates for the new bicameral parliament were established.
THE BALLARAT REPRESENTATIVES
Peter Lalor (1827–1889)
Most prominent was Peter Lalor, brother of the Irish revolutionary James Fintan Lalor. As the conflict loomed at Ballarat in late November 1854, Peter Lalor had led the diggers to swear by the Southern Cross ‘to stand truly by each other’ to defend their ‘rights and liberties.’ He had lost his right arm in the battle and for most of the past year had been in hiding with a price of ₤200 upon his head. If captured, he would have been charged with high treason, and possibly sentenced to hang. Now he took his place in the House as one of two members for Ballarat.
John Basson Humffray (1824–1891)
The second representative for Ballarat was Welsh-born John Basson Humffray, secretary of the Ballarat Reform League and one of the delegation that attempted to negotiate a redress of key grievances with the Governor, the Attorney General and the Colonial Secretary five days before the conflict at Eureka. He was a miner who became a bookseller in Ballarat. In 1855 in the unicameral Legislative Council Humffray advocated improved law and order on the Ballarat goldfields. He also seconded a motion from J.M. Grant of Ballarat that called upon the Governor to produce copies of all correspondence between the Governor and the Secretary of State for the Colonies relating to the outbreak of violence at Ballarat. He later served in the Legislative Assembly as the member for North Grant until 1859 and then for Ballarat East until 1871.
THE SANDHURST (BENDIGO) REPRESENTATIVES
James McPherson Grant (1821–1885)
James Macpherson Grant was a lawyer who had volunteered his services in the successful defence of seven of the prisoners from Eureka. In November 1855 he represented Sandhurst (Bendigo). Grant was a man whose left-wing views matched those of the majority of his Bendigo constituents in the aftermath of Eureka. He played a prominent role in the campaign against Governor Hotham’s claim to autocratic powers. He assisted in exposing the Ministers who acquiesced in the Governor’s scheme at the same time as they accepted promotions or enhanced pensions. Yet he did not contest their claim that they had been motivated by their support for responsible government, for this provided a rebuke to the Governor’s claims. He had a long parliamentary career as a land reformer and constitutional law reformer, and served as member for Sandhurst until 1859 and then Avoca until 1885. He was a minister in five Governments.
Robert Benson (1801–1860)
Benson was the Chairman of the Bendigo Reform Association. Following the conflict at Eureka, the Government established an enquiry into the grievances of the goldfields population. The mining population of Bendigo elected Benson to represent them at the enquiry, and he did so clearly and persuasively. As a member of the Legislative Council in December 1855, Benson called on the members of the Legislative Council to oppose the Governor’s claims for extra-constitutional powers. He moved (and Grant seconded) a proposal for the establishment of a Select Committee to clarify the powers and procedures of the new courts of the goldfields that had been recommended by the Goldfields Enquiry. He became a member of the first local mining court to be established. He was also a member of the Land Convention that campaigned for land reform. He paid for his electioneering expenses by selling his land, and died in poverty.
OTHER GOLDFIELDS REPRESENTATIVES
Two store-keepers from Forest Creek; Vincent Pyke and James Wheeler represented Castlemaine in the expanded Legislative Council. Pyke (1827–1894) had been a goldminer at Forest Creek who became a storekeeper. In December 1855 he presented a petition from the mining community of Castlemaine calling for the introduction of the secret ballot. He represented first Castlemaine and then Castlemaine Boroughs from 1857–1862 in the Legislative Assembly.
James Wheeler (1826–1904), who later became the director of a saw-milling company at Daylesford, served for many years in the Legislative Assembly representing Creswick from 1864-67, and again from 1880-1889. He subsequently represented Daylesford until 1890. In November 1855 he spoke in favour of Greeves’ motion which, if it had passed, would have amounted to a vote of no confidence in the Government for its complicity in the Pensions Affair and for acquiescing in the Governor’s claims to choose the ministry and to control parliamentary business.
Daniel Cameron (1819-1906) represented the Ovens District in the Legislative Council of 1855-56. He spoke in support of the motion of Dr. Augustus Frederick Adolphus Greeves.
Duncan Longden was the editor of the Ballarat Star, a mine manager and sheep farmer who served as the member for Avoca. In December 1855, during debate on Greeves’ motion Longden sided with the Government against the majority of goldfields representatives. The motion was narrowly lost. The Age denounced Longden as a traitor. He attempted to gain the seat of Talbot in 1865 and South Grant in 1867 but was was not elected.
After the former Colonial Secretary John Foster failed to gain endorsement for the seat of Villiers-Heytesbury J.M. Knight narrowly won the seat. During the debate on Greeves’ motion he voted with the Government.
WHAT THE GOLDFIELDS REPRESENTATIVES ACHIEVED
Though their period of office was short because of the scheduled termination of the unicameral Legislative Council, the Goldfields representatives achieved important outcomes for their constituents. Their vigorous support for the principle of responsible government put an end to Governor Hotham’s autocratic claims and they won many tangible benefits for the goldfields. However at the first election under the new Constitution in late 1855, few could meet the £2000 property threshold required for representatives under the new Constitution.