Category Archives: 40th regiment

The Eureka Rebellion – what we can and can’t ever know

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George Browning, Eureka Stockade, 1854, 1985-9. The City of Ballarat Historical Collection, reproduced with permission from The City of Ballarat. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

There are many parts of the Eureka Rebellion (also known as the Eureka Stockade) story that we know are historical facts, but there are many other parts that will forever remain uncertain, and even unknowable. This should not stop us from being curious about this interesting and important event in Australian history, as history is full of uncertainties. Sometimes these can be solved by more research, or even new ways of collecting and examining evidence, but sometimes they have to remain a mystery. The history you learn in the school subject often called History or Humanities is driven by the curiosity of academic historians, and their job is tell the truest version of our history. This can change over time when new evidence is found, or when evidence is interpreted from a new perspective.

Ultimately, stretching our critical and creative thinking muscles is really important in the study of history.

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So, what can we know about the Eureka Rebellion?

Historians know for a fact that this famous Australian event occurred on Sunday, 3 December 1854. How is this knowable? Historians can find lots of primary source evidence that was written by people who experienced the Eureka Stockade Battle and all claim the event happened on this day. Here are two examples (1, 2) of such primary sources that corroborate (which means agree with each other) to tell us that the date this event happened was indeed Sunday, 3 December 1854.

Here is another: In his famous book about his experience of the Eureka Stockade Battle, Raffaello Carboni wrote in Chapter 1:

‘Brave comrades in arms who fell on that disgraced Sabbath morning, December 3rd’.

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Charles Doudiet, Eureka Slaughter 3rd December, 1854. Ballarat Fine Art Gallery Collection. Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

When historians can agree on something like a date, we can be very confident that such a detail is an historical fact. In the same way, we can know for a fact that it was a fight between Redcoat soldiers and a group of (mostly European) goldminers, and that people on both sides died on the day of the battle.

What is currently unknowable about the Eureka Rebellion?

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Aunty Marlene Gilson, Surviving on the Goldfields, 2014. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum – The Sovereign Hill Museums Association. Aunty Marlene paints Wadawurrung oral histories to document her ancestors’ experiences of 19th century life. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

There are some parts of the story that historians do not agree on, and they probably never will. These are uncertainties, or things we cannot currently know based on the available historical evidence. For example, there is a debate about exactly where the Eureka Stockade Battle took place, and just how many people died as a result of it. There are questions around the role of women and children in the days leading up to, and during, the fight itself. A Wadawurrung oral history that has been passed down from generation to generation also exists. It describes Europeans running to the Aboriginal camp near the stockade to keep safe during the fighting – you can learn more about this here. While there is some evidence to support all of these aspects of the Eureka Rebellion story, we cannot be completely confident that these stories are true, and we may never be able to know for sure. And that is okay – we should still learn about them as possible truths about this historical event.

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Samuel Huyghue, Plan of the Eureka Stockade attack by the military on 03 December 1854, 1854. Reproduced with permission from Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

All historical stories contain facts and uncertainties; we simply have to keep our versions of the story honest by stating which parts we can know, and which parts are currently unknowable. For example, in our popular Education Session for visiting students called Put Yourself in the Eureka Story (during which the whole class dresses up as characters who played a role in the Eureka Stockade Battle), we say ‘about 30 people died’ when talking about the battle death toll (the number of people killed) because we will never know for sure. Some reasons why we will never know exactly how many people died during the Eureka Stockade Battle are:

  • There is no police report from after the battle stating exactly how many dead bodies were found on the battlefield that day, and newspaper reports and books written by witnesses claim different death tolls. Also, due to the complicated politics linked to this event, the government of the time may have wanted to make the death toll look small, while the miners may have wanted the death toll to look large – this may explain why different primary source documents describe different numbers in their death tolls. You can view the list of people whom Peter Lalor believed were killed in the Eureka Stockade Battle here. However, Captain Thomas, leader of the Redcoat soldiers who fought in Ballarat, reported a different death toll:

‘The number of the killed and wounded on the side of the insurgents was great, but I have no means of ascertaining it correctly; I have reason however to believe that there were not less than thirty killed on the spot, and I know that many have since died of their wounds. Amongst these, and the persons in custody, several leaders of the insurrection appear, two of whom lie dangerously, if not mortally wounded, in hotels near the spot.’

  • Many of the miners who survived the battle went into hiding immediately afterwards to avoid being arrested by the police. During their many months in hiding, some may have died from their battle injuries. However, as they were on the run from the law, it is likely their deaths were never reported to the authorities.
  • Medicine in the 19th century was not as advanced or informed as it is now – you could die from an infected scratch (because we didn’t know about germs, let alone antiseptics or antibiotics, in the 1850s). As a result, there may have been people who died from their battle injuries a whole year after 3 December 1854, and these deaths were probably not added to the official count of people killed as a result of the Eureka Stockade Battle.
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The original Eureka Flag, on display at the Eureka Centre in Ballarat. Reproduced with permission from the City of Ballarat Historical Collection. Photo credit: Tony Evans Photography.

There are also historical uncertainties surrounding the most famous Eureka Rebellion artefact – the Eureka Flag. While recent scientific study of the flag has helped us better understand what the flag is made of, we will never know exactly who made it. For example, there is a popular children’s book called ‘The Night We Made The Flag: A Eureka Story’ by Carole Wilkinson, in which the stars of this famous flag are described as being made from a girl’s nightdress. However, since this book was published, museum conservators have undertaken some study of the flag stars to reveal they are made from a wool fabric, which 19th century fashion experts tell us was not the kind of material used to make nightdresses. Before this research was undertaken, the stars were believed to be made of a fine cotton linen, from which nightdresses were commonly made at this time in history. The blue part of the flag used to be thought of as wool, but this new research tells us it is mostly cotton. This demonstrates how important it is to keep our minds open as to how the flag was made; the nightdress explanation was just a theory which has now evolved and been made less certain thanks to this new research.

Until new evidence or new ways of undertaking research come to light, many aspects of the Eureka Rebellion story have to remain unknowable. What other historical events or characters have question marks hanging over them?

Links and References

Some older Sovereign Hill Education blogposts on the causes of the Eureka Rebellion:

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/10/22/why-do-i-have-to-learn-about-the-goldrush/

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/02/17/what-caused-the-eureka-stockade/

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/06/19/what-caused-the-eureka-stockade-part-2/

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/02/27/what-caused-the-eureka-stockade-part-3/

Behind The News (BTN) on the Ballarat gold rush and Eureka Rebellion:

http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s3900125.htm

A video entitled ‘Eureka Stockade: Riot or Revolution’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kry-xiVYMJc

The State Library of Victoria blogpost on the Eureka Stockade: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/golden-victoria/impact-society/eureka-stockade

The State Library of New South Wales on the Eureka Stockade: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/stories/eureka-rush-gold/rush-victoria

The National Museum of Australia on the Eureka Stockade: http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/defining_moments/featured/eureka_stockade

No matter how the Eureka Stockade is represented, there will always be people who critique its interpretation: https://www.theage.com.au/national/the-eureka-myth-20041023-gdyus1.html

How to encourage critical thinking in History: https://sheg.stanford.edu/history-lessons

Five ways to improve your critical thinking:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dItUGF8GdTw

Costume at Sovereign Hill: The Redcoat Soldiers

When you visit Sovereign Hill, you see lots of different kinds of costumes being worn by the staff and volunteers in the streets, shops and on the diggings. All our costumes tell stories about the kind of people who were really here in Ballarat in the 1850s. Some of our most photographed costumed characters are the Redcoat Soldiers, who tell the story of the British Army’s role in 19th century Victoria.

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Sovereign Hill’s daily Redcoat Soldiers parade.

Students often ask, ‘Why are they wearing bright red jackets? Soldiers today wear camouflage to hide in the bush, but a red jacket can’t hide you anywhere!’. These jackets, which are actually called coatees, were red for a number of reasons:

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A diagram explaining the different parts of a Redcoat’s uniform. Click on the image to enlarge.

The Redcoat Soldiers played an important role in the Eureka Rebellion and their daily parade around Sovereign Hill is one of our most popular events. We need to keep them looking ‘spiffy‘, so our Costume Department recently began a big project to make new uniforms for our hard-working soldiers.

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The two ‘tails’ on a coatee.

Every time our Costume Department makes a new outfit for one of our staff or volunteers, the team starts by doing some research. There are lots of paintings, photographs and written descriptions of the Redcoat Soldier uniforms, which help us re-create their outfits to look just like the real ones worn in the 1850s. We were very lucky in this instance to find a real 1840s-50s Redcoat coatee in the collection of a local history buff, which revealed secret pockets inside the coatee ‘tails’! We think these would have been used for storing gloves and hiding important documents. Next time you visit Sovereign Hill, ask a Redcoat soldier what he hides in his secret tail pockets.

This very old, fragile coatee also helped us understand what the lining and internal structure of the coatees should be, which not only makes them more comfortable for the people wearing them, but also makes those people look more muscular and broad-shouldered.

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The internal structure of a coatee.

The coatee was designed to make the chest of the man wearing it (only men could be in the British Army in the 19th century) look like a triangle (women desired to be hour-glass shaped), and epaulettes would be attached to the shoulders to make them appear even bigger. If you were an important officer in the regiment (team of soldiers), you would have received a ‘uniform allowance’ as part of your wages which you could use to decorate your coatee further.

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Left: An 1850s shako. Right: Sovereign Hill’s re-created shako.

The Sovereign Hill Costume Department have now created three different kinds of Redcoat uniforms for our daily parades: an officer’s uniform (in scarlet red), and soldiers’ uniforms and a drummer’s uniform (in madder red).  We were able to achieve the correct coatee colouring thanks to information from a uniforms supplier in England which has been making outfits for the British Army since the Battle of Waterloo – more than 200 years ago! Many details like buttons, pom-poms and embroidered trimmings for the new costumes had to be made by hand by skilled craftspeople, which took a lot of hard work to organise. Re-creating the hats – or shakos – presented one of the biggest challenges to the Costume team, but the new Redcoat costumes are nearly finished and ready for the daily parade.

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Drummers wore heavily-decorated uniforms.

All of our costumes tell stories about the history of clothing dyes, innovations in sewing techniques and machines, and developments in the manufacture of textiles, as well as showcasing the fashions of the time. The popular fashions of the 1850s also tell stories about community values and ideas about masculinity and femininity. What do your clothes say about you and the community you live in?

Links and References

Read about the role of the Redcoat Soldiers in the Eureka Rebellion: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2011/08/15/the-redcoats-connecting-history-lessons/

Sovereign Hill’s Redcoats firing their guns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loLdcXa0_w8

A wonderful V&A webpage about 19th century fashion: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/0-9/19th-century-fashion/

Learn about ladies’ weird 1850s underpants…: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/09/06/gold-rush-undies-womens-fashionable-underwear-in-the-1850s/

What did children wear during the gold rush? https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/11/26/gold-rush-babes-childrens-fashion-in-the-1850s/

Men’s 1850s fashion: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/07/17/gold-rush-beaus-mens-fashion-in-the-1850s/

Women’s 1850s fashion: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/02/28/gold-rush-belles-womens-fashion-in-the-1850s/

The British Army during Queen Victoria’s reign: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Army_during_the_Victorian_Era

A social story for ASD students preparing for a Sovereign Hill visit: http://www.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/Here_come_the_Redcoats.pdf