Gold licences were a way for the government to assert the rights of the Crown (under law all minerals belonged to the Crown), to tax the miners, and to attempt to control the number of people flocking to the goldfields. Governor La Trobe hoped that a hefty fee would provide revenue to maintain law and order and serve as a disincentive to those thinking of leaving their regular employment to try their luck on the diggings.
It was proclaimed that from 1 September 1851 all miners in Victoria must pay 30 shillings a month (the equivalent of a week’s wages) for a licence to dig for gold, or risk prosecution. Additional legislation passed in 1852 meant that all those exercising any ‘trade or calling’ (cooks, butchers, tent-keepers etc.) on the goldfields also had to purchase monthly licences. These were to be carried at all times and produced on demand; those who failed to produce a licence were arrested and fined. If unable to pay the fine the offenders were jailed.