The gold miners’ grievances about the life on the Victorian goldfields were driven by poor conditions and an inept colonial administration that was ill-equipped to deal with the massive influx of people to the goldfields of central Victoria. Nowhere were these issues more prevalent than on the Forest Creek diggings, the site of the first major gold strikes on the Mount Alexander diggings. The miners’ political claims of universal male suffrage, and for no tax without representation, echoed the Chartist agenda of the first half of the nineteenth century.
In November 1857, male suffrage was achieved in Victoria with the ending of the property qualification for Lower House elections. In Britain, the radical Chartists of the 1830s and 1840s had promoted an appealing agenda of moral and practical philosophy, based upon the rights of man, and male suffrage, but it was not until the Reform Act of 1867 that the majority of the male working class became enfranchised. It was thus in Victoria that the vote for adult males was first realised in the British Empire, leading Weston Bate to claim that the aftermath of the Eureka Stockade saw Victoria ‘taking democracy to the world’. Russel Ward’s radical nationalist reading of the gold rushes reaches similar conclusions, while Ernest Scott is more explicit, arguing that the program of the Ballarat Reform League ‘was, in short, substantially that of the English Chartism adopted to local circumstances.’