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Eurekas Eyewitness

By Jay Flynn

Figure 1

When the shots rang out over the Eureka Stockade on the morning of December 3 1854, Raffaello Carboni stepped
out of his tent to a scene of carnage. Men lay dying as Carboni helped a doctor tend to the wounded. The soldiers
used bayonets to slay the outnumbered diggers in what was more of a massacre than a battle. The prominent red
haired Italian watched what he would later call crimes against humanity. Carboni would go on to pen the only
published eyewitness account of the events at the Eureka Stockade, yet he is an often forgotten historical figure. He
is submerged in an event that is significant to the underpinning of social history in Australia.
Raffaello Carboni
Raffaello Carboni, or Carboni Raffaello as he is
often known, was an Italian immigrant, who worked
and mined on and around the Victorian goldfields in
the mid 1850s. He was a part of the Eureka
rebellion and was there when the Eureka Stockade
was attacked by heavily armed soldiers. In the book
he wrote about the event, he describes the wild
scenes of violence as he made great claims that
were previously unheard. He describes what he saw
with great colour yet some historians seem to agree
that he actually saw nothing. Regardless of this, he
has a reliable insight responsible for the only
eyewitness account of the rebellion that exists
today. The evidence shows he was there, but the
fact he is he never fired a shot and that may be a
reason why he is forgotten by many.1

Figure 2

As well as being Italian, he had fiery red hair which


meant he would have been highly recognisable. He
spoke highly of himself and noted himself as a
professor, interpreter and accomplished translator.
On the fields his nickname was Great Works.2
Carbonis story is a colourful one. He took part in
the Rome uprising in the years 1848 and 1849.
Afterwards he went into political exile in both
Berlin and Paris. He eventually found his way to
England where he became a professor at the College
of Preceptors. It was here where he found out about
the gold rush through extensive coverage on
English media. He thought heading to Australia
would find him his fortune and allow him to indulge
his aspirations to become a writer. He came to
Australia for gold and became a major player in
what was Australias greatest trial for equal social
democracy effort to date.3
Carboni arrived in Melbourne in 1852. He spent a
few months in Ballarat before turning his attentions
to Bendigo. For a while he was a shepherd, a
position that was in very high demand, and then he
returned to Ballarat. He was there a few months
before joining the growing cause of dissent, where
he became involved in the challenge of oppressive
power.4 The pressure on the goldfields clearly got to
1

him, he eventually became keen to the resistance


that became a rebellion.
He started with the Ballarat Reform League, an
organisation who sought and would fight the end of
gold licences. Four days before the Eureka Stockade
he was appointed head of the foreign attachment of
the Stockade by Peter Lalor. Lalor was the
legendary leader and hero of the Eureka Rebellion
and the two were good friends.5

bayonets to threaten the diggers, it was a heavy


hand which pushed the diggers into action. Carboni
explained that they were locked or chained up when
they could not produce their mining licenses.8 His
views were possibly ignored at the time due to the
view that the miners were in the wrong, which only
adds to his position and his story.
It was soon after he finished writing and publishing
the book that he left Australia to return to Italy,
where he fell into obscurity. There is no mention of
him after he headed home to Italy and he never
came back to Australia.9

Figure 3
Reproduction of Carbonis gold license

Commentators such as Professor A.W Jose has


called the organisation nothing more than a band of
foreign agitators. Several historians have even gone
as far as to glorify the acts of the soldiers in the
attack and It was these attitudes then and now that
kept Carbonis opinions oppressed.6
Carboni was however well enough known to have
been depicted in film and television productions
surrounding the events of the Eureka Stockade. In
many films, his role has been lessened and
downplayed, and he has often been depicted without
any kind of courage. In a television miniseries made
in 1985, he was shown hiding in a chimney for the
entirety of the battle. Often enough in cinematic
productions he is depicted as a side note and
something pathetic and often comes across as
nothing more than an Italian stereotype.7
There is nothing typical about Carboni despite him
being portrayed in films as an Italian stereotype. His
account is also something that is not typical. In his
account of the events which led up to the stockade
the police are shown in a very bad light, typically as
violent thugs who were heavy handed and brutal. In
one specific story they used rifles fixed with

Figure 4
Illustration of Peter Lalor and Raffaello Carboni
By Chris Grosz

Carbonis Book
Carbonis book was simply titled The Eureka
Stockade. It is the only eyewitness account of the
Eureka Stockade that exists today. The book is
vivid in its accounts of all that occurred on
December 3, whilst describing the events which
fuelled the rebellion and what set in motion
everything that happened. The book however, was
not properly published and made widely accessible
until ninety years after the event. He wrote the book
to exonerate the diggers who were both injured and
killed.10

Figure 5

Figure 6

Carbonis book is actually said to be the most


widely and frequently republished historical
primary source in Australias history. The books
importance and relevance has been recognised yet
its accuracy has been questioned.11
In it Carboni challenged the notion that the diggers
were in the wrong and that they had committed acts
of treason. He states that the diggers in the stockade
actually lacked arms and numbers and were easily
overrun. The result was a brutal act of violence.12
The reasons for telling his story are clear and whilst
at the time they went mostly ignored, it is thanks to
him that we know what actually transpired.
While over time Carboni has been cast as an
unimportant coward we can see from his own
perspective that he was far more involved than has
been represented. He himself has admitted that he
was asleep in his tent while the fighting started, he
did not fight but he attended to the wounded and
was thereby involved on the battlefield. He has
already challenged the narrative, and by his
convictions we have a much better and clearer idea
of what actually happened through the text.
In the introduction of its 150th anniversary edition
Thomas Keneally says that the book was being
published at a time when the Eureka Stockade was
still a great issue. His importance rested on the idea
that what happened at the time has never been
clear.13 Carbonis account eventually became
relevant when it was accepted as a possibly true
version of events. The book reads like a wellconstructed work of fiction and yet it rings with
truth. While it has been called a case of self-serving
egotism, it has meant something to Australias
history of democracy and the way it is viewed.14

Keneally states that Carboni remained on the


goldfields for several months afterwards to write his
story. He did this in order to exonerate both the
dead and the survivors of the attack rather than for
fame or money. Immediately following the event,
the miners were demonised and this would be the
general consensus for many decades to come.15
Carboni would strongly state that what he saw were
crimes against humanity. In fact, his accounts
have been rendered as something uncontrollable. Its
frank nature has made numerous historians
uncomfortable by his words and the lawless nature
of the rebellion.16 His desire to tell the truth as he
saw it meant that many ideas were rendered
insensitive and one sided.
Dr Evatts, in the forward for one of the later
editions of the book, wrote that Carbonis account is
illuminating and that it falls short of literary skill.
The language of the book is idiosyncratic, meaning
it is made of language exclusive to Carboni, the
time he lived in, and of the goldfields he worked on.
Despite its shortcomings it is something which
challenges what was considered for a long time to
be the truth.17

The Stockade
The stockade was attacked before dawn on
December 3 1854. The diggers were greatly
outnumbered and had far fewer weapons. The
diggers were caught unawares and had no chance
against the force of 276 soldiers and police. The
diggers numbered around 120. The number of
diggers who were killed is estimated to be around
thirty. Only five soldiers were reported to have met
the same fate. An unknown number of diggers were
injured. Later, many people would have problems
with Carbonis account and many would disagree
with what he had to say.18

Figure 7
Recreation of scene of Eureka massacre

The Eureka Stockade has been forever shrouded in


uncertainty. At the time it was considered an act of
illegal resistance to the law. Carbonis account
makes it a resistance against government oppression
and for Carboni this absolutely crucial.19 The
Eureka Stockade was first published in 1855, some
eight months after the event. Up until this point
knowledge was biased and one sided. Despite this,
his book did not reach acclaim until the middle of
the twentieth century. Carbonis voice was alone in
calling out the evils that were committed on
December 3 1854.20
The stockade is now widely considered important in
Australian history and critical in developing our
sense of identity and democracy. Some historians
even consider the event it to be the cradle of
Australian democracy, the place in which our
democracy was born. Carboni would have us think
that there is more importance in the events he
recorded and they translate to our own sense of
history. To dismiss it or to abandon its principles
would be to completely undersell its importance. In
the 160 years since it occurred, this view has
reached favour with most people and Raffaello
Carboni had a major role in this all.21 Later
historians have often enough accepted Carbonis
view, that it was one sided and an act of defiance
rather than an act of aggression on behalf of the
diggers.22

H. V Evatts said in 1940, Australian democracy


was born at Eureka. This reports the change from a
negative view of the diggers back than to a more
positive view now. It was the first only occasion of
Australian citizens challenging any kind of
oppressive authority. It significance has been a
matter of wide-spread discussion since 1854. Its
representations in the line of history are crucial but
Carboni challenged the information of what
occurred in the first place.23

Conclusion
The Eureka Stockade is not just as account of the
attack by troops on the ill-guarded stockade. It is an
account of life on the goldfields as well as an
account on all the events that lead to the faithful
day. He released information about the oppression
of license hunts, and the control that he describes
often as being heavy handed. While it speaks of the
good and bad in Australian history it remains
crucial in our understanding of what happened. It
matters now as the Eureka Stockade is crucial in the
way we see our history and the way in which we
became Australia.

Notes

Edward Masey, The Eureka Stockade by Carboni Raffaello, The Australian Quarterly, 119/3 (1947) p126.
Raffaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade, (Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004) p62.
3
Raffaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade, (Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004) px.
4
Raffaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade, (Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004) pix.
5
Raffaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade, (Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004) pxii.
6
Raffaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade, (Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004) pix.
7
Gitano Rando, Raffaello Carbonis Perception of Australia and Australian Identity, University of Wollongong, (2006) p3.
8
Carboni Raffaello and the Eureka Stockade, The Age, (Saturday 23 October 1948) in Trove [Online database] p7.
9
Eureka Stockade: Italians Story of Famous Raising in Victoria, Worker, (Monday 1 November 1948) in Trove [Online database] p9.
10
Edward Masey, The Eureka Stockade by Carboni Raffaello, The Australian Quarterly, 119/3 (1947) p126.
11
A.T Yarwood, The Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni, Labour History, 18 (1970) p83.
12
A.T Yarwood, The Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni, Labour History, 18 (1970) p83, Raffaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade,
(Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004).
13
Raffaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade, (Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004) pviii.
14
Raffaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade, (Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004) p25.
15
Raffaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade, (Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004) pviii.
16
Raffaello Carboni, The Eureka Stockade, (Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004) pviii.
17
A.T Yarwood, The Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni, Labour History, 18 (1970) pp83.
18
Carboni Raffaello and the Eureka Stockade, The Age, (Saturday 23 October 1948) in Trove [Online database] p7.
19
Trevor R Reese, The Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni and Geoffrey Serle, The English Historical Review, 80/317 (1965) p867.
20
Trevor R Reese, The Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni and Geoffrey Serle, The English Historical Review, 80/317 (1965) p867.
21
David Miller, The Eureka Tradition, (1994) p1.
22
David Miller, The Eureka Tradition, (1994) p1.
23
Anne Beggs Sunter, Contested Memories of Eureka: Museum Interpretations of the Eureka Stockade, Labour History, 85 (2003)
p29.
2

BIBLIOGRAPHY
PRIMARY SOURCES
Carboni, Raffaello, The Eureka Stockade, (Carlton Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2004).
Carboni Raffaello and the Eureka Stockade, The Age, (Saturday 23 October 1948) in Trove [Online database]
p7.
Important Reprint, The Canberra Times, (Saturday 8 June 1963) in Trove [Online database] p20.
Eureka Stockade: Italians Story of Famous Raising in Victoria, Worker, (Monday 1 November 1948) in
Trove [Online database] p9.
FIGURE 1: Flying Eureka Flag The ABC
(http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201312/r1213028_15819772.jpg)
FIGURE 2: Portrait of Raffaello Carboni 1856 Italian Historical Society,
(http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/172107682).
FIGURE 3: Reproduction of Raffaello Carbonis gold licence, Australian Culture
(www.australianculture.org/chapter-85-the-eureka-stockade-raffaello-carboni/).
FIGURE 4: Peter Lalor and Raffaello Carboni, Illustration by Chris Grosz, (http://www.themonthly.com.auissue/2006/September/13161448243).
FIGURE 5: The Eureka Stockade: A red covered paperback Gold Museum Ballarat,
(http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/221961438).
FIGURE 6: Title Page of the Book Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni Italian Historical Society,
(http://trove.nla.au/version/172102205).
FIGURE 7: Ireland, B. Birds eye view of events at Ballarat, 3 December 1854,
(http://www.explore.moodoph.gove.au/people/raffaello-carboni).
SECONDARY SOURCES
Beggs Sunter, Anne, Contested Memories of Eureka: Museum Interpretations of the Eureka Stockade, Labour
History, 85 (2003) pp29-45.
Masey, Edward, The Eureka Stockade by Carboni Raffaello, The Australian Quarterly, 119/3 (1947) pp126127.
Miller, David, The Eureka Tradition, (1994) pp1-9.
Rando, Gitano, Raffaello Carbonis Perception of Australia and Australian Identity, University of Wollongong,
(2006) pp1-20.

Reese, Trevor R, The Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni and Geoffrey Serle, The English Historical
Review, 80/317 (1965) p867.
Yarwood, A.T, The Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni, Labour History, 18 (1970) pp83-84.