Lambing Flat Riots

Lambing Flat was a poor man’s gold field, it was alluvial and mostly 1.5m to 16m below the surface, which meant expensive equipment was not needed. This was the same for the Chinese, who were also poor men, but the Europeans did not see it that way. They resented the Chinese who they claimed looked and spoke differently, they were “clannish”, “sodomite idolaters”, were dishonest and worst of all wasted and dirtied the water. They diverted water from creeks and tipped dirty water from puddling directly back into the creeks instead of directing it into settling ponds first. Animosity between the Europeans and Chinese soon grew to boiling point. By November 1860 agitation turned to action and the Chinese were driven off.


Reading of the Riot Act.

On November 27th Burrangong was declared a goldfield and Gold Commissioner David Dickson arrived with three troopers. There being no suitable accommodation available they based themselves at Robert’s Currawong station, 20km away. The population of the goldfield was now over 3,000.

With the arrival of a gold commissioner and troopers the Chinese believed that they would receive protection, and returned in increased numbers.

There were many Americans and others who had been on the Californian goldfields and the American Vigilance Committee idea was soon resorted to. On December 12th a roll-up of miners was called to destroy the grog shops and shanties that had sprung up. Once this had been achieved they turned their attention to the Chinese, driving them off their claims. Pig-tails were cut off, some partially scalped, two Chinese were reportedly killed.

Captain Zouch, Commandant of the Southern Police Patrol, was despatched with more troopers to restore order. The police numbers were now 8 mounted and 2 detectives. On arrival, Zouch, found all was quiet, the miners were back at work, and no bodies could be found.

On Sunday 27th January the miners again rioted and drove the Chinese from the fields, threatening to destroy the police barracks if the police interfered. Commissioner Cloete was sent to Yass for help. Inspector McLerie was then sent to Lambing Flat with 30 men.

A Miners Protection League was formed on the 3rd February and a mass meeting was called for 17th February. Speakers including Charles Allan, John Stewart and William Spicer addressed the meeting at Golden Point. Despite the increased police numbers they could do nothing, Commissioner Dickson read the Riot Act, but this was ignored. The rioters moved through the town to Blackguard Gully and Wamba Numba driving the Chinese off, beating them and cutting off their pig-tails, destroying or stealing their tools, shovels, cradles, tents and possessions.

Eleven men were arrested and charged with destroying tents. The diggers sent out runners and 4,000 miners rallied to demand their release. The situation was tense overnight and in the morning they were released with a caution. The police were busy turning Chinese away as they tried to return to their claims.

The miners had defied the Government and as the police action was ineffectual a contingent of military was sent on 25th February 1861. Twenty mounted police were sent to escort three twelve pound field guns under Captain Lovell and 130 men of the 12th Regiment under Captain Atkinson—the same regiment which had seen action at Eureka.

The troops started from Redfern Station on a special train to Campbelltown and from there by ten horse buses to Goulburn and on to Lambing Flat, arriving on the 5th March.

Meanwhile the Premier, “Slippery Charlie” Cowper, had arrived at Lambing Flat and addressed the miners and promised new legislation would be passed restricting Chinese immigration and urged the miners to be patient until this occurred. Cowper was given a farewell dinner at the Great Eastern Hotel and returned to Sydney.

The military arrived but all was quiet, the troopers mixed with the locals and even played friendly cricket matches. The cannons were fired occasionally in practice. Without warning on May 24th, the Queen’s Birthday, the artillery fired a 21 gun salute and all departed.

The Legislative Council would not pass Cowper’s new legislation and in mid June a rumour spread that 1,500 Chinese had landed in Sydney and were on their way to Burrangong. On 30th June 1861 the call “Roll-up, Roll-up, No Chinese” was soon heard and 1200 miners marched from Tipperary Gully led by a brass band and the large Roll-up Banner to expel the Chinese from the goldfield once and for all. The numbers soon swelled to an estimated 3,000.

The Chinese at Blackguard Gully, Sawpit Gully and Back Creek were attacked and driven like cattle before the mob. They were bashed, pig-tails cut off, some almost scalped, tents and equipment burnt or destroyed. They retreated to Robert’s Currawong Station where they were given shelter.

Five of the miners leaders were arrested and committed for trial. On Sunday 14th July 1861 some 1,200 miners laid siege to the Police camp in an attempt to have their friends released. The Riot Act was again read, this time by Commissioner Griffin, but was either not heard or ignored. Shots were exchanged from both sides and the mob was finally dispersed with a mounted sabre charge. Several police were wounded as was many miners, one miner, William Lupton, standing many metres away was killed by a stray bullet.

Next morning the Police released the prisoners and abandoned the camp. The Courthouse was burnt down by a lunatic who had been in the lock up and was released at the same time.

The military was again despatched, this time under Colonel Kempt, comprising the 12th Regiment under Captain Wilkie, a howitzer under Lieutenant Pitt and 11 police constables under Captain McLerie, arriving on 31st July.

Five men who were arrested at Tipperary , three who were arrested at Yass and the original five arrested at Lambing Flat were committed for trial at Goulburn. Of the 13 charged 12 were acquitted, only one man, Owen, was found guilty of riotous assembly and sentenced to two years imprisonment. William Spicer was arrested later and was also sentenced to two years imprisonment.

The acquittal of the twelve men resulted in a big celebration on the goldfields, a bullock was roasted whole and celebrations were load and long. In November 1861 a further victory was celebrated when the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act was passed through Parliament, the beginning of the White Australia Policy.

The military remained at Lambing Flat until 31st July, 1861. The name was changed to Young, to honour the Governor, Sir John Young, and to remove the name of Lambing Flat from the map.

After the gold rush petered out the town began to die, most of the mining population had moved on, the Chinese who were prepared to re-work old ground were invited back to save Young from becoming a ghost town.

Today a sign marks the area where the Riot Act was read, a short distance from the Lambing Flat Folk Museum



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