Gold License Fee

The digger had but one grievance to trouble his life and that was the monthly payment of the license fee. This tax had been imposed under the erroneous impression that every one who went upon the gold fields would be earning a fortune. For a long time this msitake prevailed, because only the most successful diggers were much heard of. But there was an undistinguishable throng of those who earned much less than a labourer's wage.

Avoiding Fees

The average monthly earnings throughout the colony were not more than eight pounds for each man ; and out of this sum he had to pay 30 shillings every month for the mere permission to dig, To those who were fortunate this seemed but a trifle expense ; but for those who earned little or nothing there was nothing to do but to evade payment and many were the tricks adopted in order to "dodge the Commissioners". As there were more than one fifth of the total number of diggers who systematically paid no fees, the police were in the habit of stopping any man they met annd demanded to see his license ; if he had none, he was at once marched off to the place that served for a gaol and there chained to a tree.

Discontent Amongst The Miners

The police were in the habit of devoting two days a week to what they called " digger hunting" ; and as they often experienced much trouble and vexation in doing what was unfortunately their duty, they were sometimes rough in their proceedings. Hense arose a feeling of hostility among the diggers, not only to the police, but indeed to all the officials on the gold fields. The first serious incident of the prevailing discontent took place on the Ovens, where a commissioner who had been unneccessarily rough to unlicensed diggers was assaulted and severely injured.

Attempt to Stop Fees

But as violence was disapproved by the great body of miners, they held a large meetings, in order to agitate in a more constitutional manner for the abolition of the fee. At first they sent a petition to Governor Latrobe, who declined to make any changes. It was then hinted that, possibly, they might be driven to use force ; and the Governor replied that, if they did, he was determined to do his duty. But in August, 1853, when the tension was increasing, Latrobe hurriedly reduced the fee to 20 shillings a month.

Latrobe Compromises

This appeased the miners for a time; but the precipitancy with which the Governor had changed his intention showed too plainly the weakness of the Government ; for, indeed, there was at that time scarcely a soldier in Victoria to stop the insurrection, if one should break out. Among the confused crowds on the gold fields, there were a great number of troublesome spirits, amny of them foreigners, who were only too happy to encourage dissension. Thousands of miners had been disappointed in their hopes of wealth and being in a discontented frame of mind , they blamed their misfortunes entirely on the Governor.

Latrobe Calls For Troops

In spite of the concession that had been made to them, through all the gold fields a spirit of dissatisfaction prevailed; mutterings were heard as of a coming storm, and Latrobe, in his alarm, sent to all the neighbouring colonies to ask for troops. As the ninety-ninth Regiment was lying idle in Hobart Town, it was at once depatched to Melbourne.

 

History of Australia