INFLUX OF ‘DIGGERS’
Kind permission of the Bendigo Art Gallery
Chinese Settlement in Victoria, 1877. Illustrating the interior
of the Chinese Camp at Sandhurst (Bendigo) – wood
engraving, Charles Gregory. The peak in numbers of Chinese
alluvial miners had been in the 1850’s – by
1880 most of the Chinese camps were deserted.
As a result of the rush of people to the area, the Gold Commissioner’s
Office, the Police Barracks and the courts were erected on Camp
Hill, now the present Rosalind
Park in central Bendigo. The “diggers”,
as the miners were called, numbered as high as thirty thousand
and came from all over the world; from England, Wales, Scotland,
Ireland – along with Germans, Italians, Swiss, French and
Americans. The Chinese population reached many thousands in the
early gold rush period but their numbers dropped rapidly as the
nineteenth century progressed. The Golden
Dragon Museum in Bendigo celebrates the contribution
of the Chinese to the goldmining, cultural and commercial life
of the growing city.
With the discovery of gold, Gold Commissioners were appointed
in 1852 to administer Victorian colonial law and, from the Government
Camp, Commissioner Panton dealt with matters chiefly arising from
the Gold License. In addition to the imposition of the gold license
of thirty shillings a month the diggers also objected to the method
of collection by the police of the time. Between June and August
1853, Bendigo diggers took to wearing a red ribbon as a symbol
of their objection to the license and to arbitrary government.
On August 28th 1853, ten thousand diggers marched on the government
camp and offered ten shillings for their September license; Commissioners
Panton and Wright could not accept this gesture but did not collect
licenses for September. The day passed without anger or bloodshed.
The diggers were eventually to succeed in having the license replaced
by a Miner’s Right.
The angry Red Ribbon protests by miners against the goldfields
authorities in 1853 were orderly by comparison with the later
Eureka episode at Ballarat. However, the
Ribbon Movement on the Bendigo field is increasingly
viewed as being significant in the development of the democratic
process in Australia.
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