Riot at Ballarat

Scobie Incident

A digger named James Scobie, late one evening, knocked at the door of the Bentley's Hotel, at Ballarat. Finding the place closed for the night, he tried to force entry, and continued his clamour so long that Bentley became angry and went to chastise him. A crowd gathered to see the fight and in the darkness, James Scobie's head was split open with a spade.

Bentley Aquitted

Whose hand it was that aimed the blow no one could tell; but the diggers universally believed that Bentley was himself the murderer. He was therefore arrested and tried, but aquitted by Mr Dewes, the magistrate, who was said by the diggers to be secretly his partner in business.

Kennedy Stirs the Masses

A great crowd gathered around the hotel, and a digger, named Thomas Kennedy, addressed the multitude, in a vigorous Scottish accent, pointing out the spot where their companion's blood had been shed and asserting that his spirit hovered above and called for revenge. The authorities sent a few police to protect the place, but they were only a handful of men in the midst of a great and seething crowd of over eight thousand powerful diggers.

Bentley Hotel

For an hour or two, the mob, though indulging in occassional banter, remained harmless. But a mischievous boy having thown a stone, and broken the lamp in front of the hotel, the police made a movement as if they were about the seize the offender. This roused the diggers to anger and in less than a minute every pane of glass was broken; the police were roughly jostled and cut by showers of stones; the doors were broken open. The crowd burst tumultuously into the hotel, and the rooms were swarmed with men drinking liquors and searching for James Bentley, who, however, had already escaped on a swift horse to the camp. As the noise and disorder increased, a man placed a handful of paper and rags against the wooden walls of the bowling alley, deliberately struck a match and set fire to the place. The diggers now deserted the hotel and retired to a safe distance, in order to watch the conflagration. Meanwhile a comapny of soldiers had set out from the camp for the scene of the riot and on their approach the crowd quietly dispersed ; but by this time the hotel was reduced to a heap of smouldering ruins.

Conviction of Rioters

For this outrage three men were apprehended and taken to Melbourne, where they were tried and sentenced by Redmond Barry to imprisonment. But James Bentley was also re-arrested and tried, and as his friend Dewes could on this occassion be of no assistance to him, he was sentenced to three years of hard labour on the roads. Dewes was dismissed from the magistracy and Sir Charles Hotham did everything in his power to conciliate the diggers. They were not to be thus satisfied, however, and held a stormy meeting at Ballarat, in which they appointed a deputation, consisting of Thomas Kennedy, J.B.Humffray and George Black, to demand from the Governor the release of the three men condemned for burning Bentley's Hotel. Hotham received them kindly, but declined to accept their message, because, he said, the word "demand" was not a suitable term to use in addressing the representative of Her Majesty. As the diggers were haughty and refused to alter the phrase, the Governor intimated that, under these circumstances, no reply could be given. The delegtes having returned to Ballarat, a great meeting was held and Thomas Kennedy, J.B.Humffray, George Black, Peter Lalor and Vern made inflammatory speeches, in which they persuaded the diggers to pass a resolution, declaring they would all burn their licenses and pay no more fees.

 

History of Australia