Great Meeting of Diggers – 15 December 1851. D Tulloch 1851. Engraved T Ham 1852. Allport Library & Museum of Fine Arts. Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office.
This website has been created by the Chewton Domain Society to tell the story of the 1851 Monster Meeting of Diggers at Forest Creek (now Chewton) on the Mt Alexander goldfield at the beginning of the Victorian gold rushes.
On Monday 15 December 1851, all over the Mt Alexander goldfield diggers downed tools and 15,000 gathered at Forest Creek for the first organised mass protest meeting against Victoria’s colonial government.
The diggers did not have a vote and they had few civil rights but together they were not without power. With their new flag flying, they defied the colonial government plan to double the cost of their gold licences. In a brave act of mass civil disobedience, they declared their refusal to pay any more for their licences. And their show of strength worked. Governor La Trobe, fearing that there could be insurrection on the goldfields, backed down and cancelled the proposed increase.
The Diggers’ Monster Meeting was a first step in the development of parliamentary democracy in Victoria. It started and set the pattern for a protest movement that spread across the Victorian goldfields.
United in their refusal to pay more for their gold licences, the diggers became the Diggers, a political force of men and women who understood that their strength lay in unity. And this became a connecting thread as their democratic protest movement spread to the Red Ribbon Rebellion in Bendigo in 1853 and finally to the uprising at Eureka in 1854 that finally ended the old order on the goldfields.
The Diggers’ 1851 Monster Meeting is now commemorated and celebrated every year in December at the Meeting site in the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, where the Diggers’ flag flies permanently. The first commemoration, held in Castlemaine in 1995, was organised by a group of locals led by Doug Ralph with a re-enactment of the 1851 speeches from the dray. Since 2003 the annual commemoration has been organised by the Chewton Domain Society.
The site of the Diggers’ 1851 Monster Meeting, now in the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park on Dja Dja Wurrung land, was declared a site of historical significance and listed in the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR2368) in 2017. The Heritage listing acknowledges the important historical role of the 1851 Meeting as a key first step in the development of parliamentary democracy in Victoria.