Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
James Scobie was a Scottish digger who was murdered on 7 October 1854 near the Eureka hotel. Scobie had tried to force his way into the hotel after hours for a drink and died in the ensuing confrontation. The inquest, which was privately and hastily held on the same day, cleared three men – including James Bentley, owner of the hotel and an ex-convict from Van Diemen’s Land - of any wrongdoing, much to the outrage of the diggers. A subsequent judicial inquiry on 12 October, set up to quell the miners’ dissatisfaction with the verdict, also cleared Bentley.
The future stockade leader Peter Lalor was involved in organising diggers to protest against the handling of investigations into Scobie’s death, including setting up a committee to further investigate the proceedings of the inquest and a petition to Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Hotham.
The controversy surrounding Scobie’s death came to a head on 17 October, when a crowd of five to ten thousand diggers assembled outside the Eureka hotel in protest and a riot eventually ensued which led to the destruction of the hotel.
On 22 October, a witness to the murder, Thomas Mooney, came forward and gave new evidence implicating Bentley and his wife, and Thomas Farrell. At the trial in November 1854 at Melbourne’s Supreme Court, James Bentley, William Hance and Thomas Farrell were all found guilty of the manslaughter of James Scobie and sentenced to 3 years hard labour. Catherine Bentley, heavily pregnant at the time, was found not guilty.
The authorities’ response to Scobie's death was an important catalyst for the events leading directly to the Eureka Stockade.