This series consists primarily of records gathered as part of the Criminal Trial Briefs relating to various incidents in Ballarat in 1854 that culminated in the Eureka Stockade rebellion. Criminal trial papers relate to five main trials - the murder of James Scobie, the riot and burning down of Bentley's Hotel, the breach of the peace (riot), the Robbery of the Bank of Victoria at Ballarat, and the treason trials (which related directly to the Eureka Stockade incident). Other papers include some weekly reports to the Commissioner of the Gold Fields for the week ending 02/12/1854, the miners' petition to Governor Hotham regarding the mishandling of the James Scobie affair, and correspondence from the Police Department, Inspector's Office at Ballarat to the acting Chief Commissioner of Police relating to Eureka.
The records relating to the Criminal Trial Briefs include Recognizance to give Evidence, Recognizance for Bail, Depositions of Witnesses, Statement of the Accused, Brief for the Prosecution, notes taken by the prosecution, additional evidence documented, and trial exhibits (including a map showing the route that the police took to Eureka Stockade). Further research is required in order to determine the original order of the records.
The trial process began with committal hearings within Ballarat where evidence against the prisoners was heard. The depositions taken, mainly from troopers and police involved in the attack and from some eyewitnesses, attempted to identify each prisoner's level of involvement as they were brought into custody. The process involved taking sworn and signed statements (depositions) from witnesses who testified to the circumstances surrounding the charges. The testimony was made in front of the accused, who were then given a chance to respond to the charges by submitting a Statement of the Accused. Those charged often formally declined to submit a statement. If the committal hearing involved the death of a person, it became known as an inquest. The witnesses were bound by a 'Recognizance to Give Evidence' or a signed undertaking that they would appear at the trial to repeat and answer to their testimony. This could be in the Circuit Court (at Geelong, in this instance), Criminal Sessions (usually at the Supreme Court, Melbourne) or a Gaol Delivery (also in Melbourne).
New Supreme Court systems had been established under the New South Wales Act 1823 (Act No. 4 Geo. IV, 1823) which were declared by the Act to be at all times the Courts of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery. This Act enabled the Colonial judges to have the same powers as English Courts, including the Court of the King's Bench, and gave the Colonial Courts full jurisdiction to try criminal cases at any place within the areas under their authority. Use of the Court of the King's Bench was reserved for the more important State Trials, usually concerning matters of concern to the governments of the day. Serious criminal offences were tried by persons acting under special commissions, such as the commission of Gaol Delivery. Gaol Delivery was a right afforded by the English Constitution, and formed part of the five essential checks on Royal Authority over the people under English rule. The Crown could appoint certain persons Justices in order to ensure that people committed to prison were speedily brought to trial and thus 'delivered' from gaol. This involved a judicial hearing of the charges brought against all prisoners awaiting trial in the area, and permitted the 'clearance' of any gaol.
The signed statements and other documents were forwarded to the prosecutors in the jury trial, forming the raw material for the prosecutor's brief. All trials within this series (except the Robbery of the Bank of Victoria) ended up at the Supreme Court in Melbourne. The Criminal Trial Briefs and related papers contain notations reflecting the process from committal hearing to Supreme Court. Notations included the date of trial, name of the judge, the verdict (i.e. whether found not guilty or guilty), the charge (e.g. murder, riot &c), the Criminal Trial Brief Number, the name of the court, notations taken at the time of the trial, newspaper clippings of trial transcripts, and other notes (such as the names or number of other people originally indicted for the same offence at the same time, whether those charged were discharged or were to appear at a particular court, where prisoners were to be held - such as in Melbourne Gaol, &c).
The Eureka Stockade incident was an eruption of suppressed anger on the Ballarat goldfields in 1854, and remains an ongoing symbol of popular protest. Arising out of an unpopular licensing scheme, the rebellion resulted in a set of even more unpopular show trials that failed to convict any of those charged.
Events leading up to the Stockade began with the death of James Scobie on the night of 6th October 1854 and the manner in which the authorities dealt with administering justice. A coronial inquest into the death of James Scobie was held, with Coroner David John Williams finding insufficient evidence against Eureka Hotel owner James Bentley and adjourning the matter. Displeasure felt by the miners against the decision resulted in a judicial inquiry, which was presided over by Gold Fields Commissioner Robert Rede, Police Magistrate John Dewes, and Assistant Commissioner Johnson on 12th of October 1854 and resulted in the accused being discharged. The Inquest for James Scobie forms part of this series.
This miscarriage of justice in the inquest and magisterial hearing into James Scobie's murder was the impetus for the minder's sending a petition outlining their concerns to Governor Hotham, and ultimately caused a large group of miners to assemble outside of the Eureka Hotel on the 17th of October 1854. A riot ensued, resulting in the apprehension of three miners and the destruction of the Eureka Hotel, and causing further tensions to develop between the miners and the authorities. Two days after the riot a reward was posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the death of James Scobie, which lead to the arrest and conviction of the Bentleys on the 20th of November. Several miners had also been arrested on suspicion of causing a riot, and were being tried at the same time.
It was during this period of unrest that the Bank of Victoria in Ballarat was robbed of between thirteen and fifteen thousand pounds by four unknown persons. With the discovery of some of the stolen bank notes being passed in the city of Ballarat and elsewhere, three people were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the robbery. Insufficient evidence and the inability to obtain further evidence from the prisoners themselves would appear to have resulted in the case being dropped.
The meeting at Bentley's hotel marked a turning point in the relationship between government and diggers on the Ballarat goldfields. At the same time that the trials of Bentley and those accused of burning down his establishment were being held in Melbourne, and with the Board of Enquiry investigating the conduct of the local magistracy in Ballarat, the Resident Gold Fields Commissioner Robert Rede, pursued a more obstinate program of licence hunting. Also putting on a bold front, the diggers began to organise and protest on a grander scale, which lead to further riots, and the construction of the Stockade. Early on the morning of Sunday, 3rd of December 1854, Police attacked the Stockade and caught the miners off guard.
Although many miners were apprehended, only thirteen were charged with high treason. The records relating to the State Trials form part of this series, and include depositions of witnesses for the prosecution taken between 7 and 9 December 1854 in Ballarat. These depositions formed the basis for the Prosecutor's Brief, used to assist in the trial. Recognizances were also served to each deponent requiring them to attend the trials, scheduled for 15 January 1855 in Melbourne.
Proceedings in the trials began on the 22nd of February 1855, and had enormous public interest, resulting in them being widely reported. Editorials and public comment were scathing in their criticism of the handling of events by the Government and sympathetic towards the plight of the miners. After the quick acquittal of Joseph and Hayes, subsequent trials were postponed while a new jury panel was collected together. This manoeuvre was widely criticised, but did not have much effect. With each 'not guilty' verdict announced for the Eureka defendants the courtroom erupted into celebration, much to the chagrin of the Attorney-General and presiding judges.
Further records detailing events that occurred regarding the Eureka Stockade, including its aftermath and events leading up to the Stockade, may also be located in VPRS 1189 Inward Registered Correspondence I
VPRS 1085 Duplicate Despatches from the Governor to the Secretary of State
VPRS 4066 Inward Correspondence
VPRS 937 Inward Registered Correspondence (especially Unit 10 of the P0 Consignment))
VPRS 3219 Outward Registered Correspondence
VPRS 1095 Special Files
VPRS 1080 Minutes of the Executive Council
VPRS 30 Criminal Trial Briefs