ON THIS DAY... The Red Ribbon Agitation (1853)
The members were diggers wishing to voice their grievances against the gold license fees of thirty shillings a month, the powers of police enforcing the law and the inability to vote or buy land and other matters.
A “Bendigo Petition” of over 5000 signatures was presented to Governor La Trobe of Victoria on 1 August 1853, who replied that the Government “was not inclined to make any change to existing laws.”
On 13 August a meeting of 10,000 or so diggers vowed to pay no more that pay ten shillings per month for a license. Thomson’s proposal was “passive resistance” and a deputation of committee members and selected diggers was chosen to enter the Gold Commissioners camp and each offer ten shillings for the September license. Their offerings were refused. Commissioner Joseph Patton explained he and all Commissioners were responsible to the Government for 30 shillings per license, however he would explain their actions to the Governor and not take any action against the men. In the days that followed tension mounted in Sandhurst and with fears of open rebellion the troops at Camp Hill were strengthened.
The Anti Gold License Association was formed in Sandhurst in June 1853 under the leadership of George Edward Thomson, ably assisted by William Dixon Campbell Denovan.
On 27 August the diggers moved to wearing red ribbons as a symbol they were pledged to no longer pay the old license fee. Groups of diggers gathered all over the “Bendigo Diggings”, from Golden Square, white Hills, Kangaroo Flat, and Eaglehawk they came marching into Sandhurst. On reaching All Saints Hill the men waited, watching as the delegates entered the Commissioners’ Camp at View Point.
Led by Thomson, the 10 shillings were offered to Commissioner Paton who refused acceptance pointing out that all commissioners were accountable to the government for 30 shillings per license and Governor La Trobe had not been given time for discussion.
However, the sympathetic Panton assured the delegates that the Government would be informed of their events and the men would not be troubled if they dispersed quietly.
La Trobe acted quickly. On 30 August the Legislative Council proposed the reduction of License Fees and to remove the power of police to make arrests for non-payment.
The Red Ribbon Agitation had achieved the first of the gold field reforms it sought.
William Dixon Campbell was interred in Bendigo Remembrance Park, 15 July 1906 in Monumental Section E2, Grave number 10706.
George Edward Thomson was interred in Bendigo Remembrance Park, 15 July 1906 in Monumental Section B4, Grave number 3110.
Researched and written by Mrs. Greta Balsillie.
Sources:“A History of Bendigo” - Frank Cusack
“ Red Ribbon Rebellion - Geoff Hocking
The Bendigo Advertiser.
Edited By: Rebekah Middlemiss