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    Peter Lalor, 1856, by Becker, Ludwig, courtesy of National Library of Australia.

Lalor, Peter (1827 - 1889)

Raheen, Ireland
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Digger, Eureka Stockade leader and politician

Peter Lalor was the youngest of a family of eleven, the son of Patrick Lalor, a middling tenant farmer and anti-tithe Member of Parliament for Queen's County in the 1830s. An elder brother, James Fintan Lalor, was also involved in the abortive Young Ireland uprising in 1848.

Peter Lalor and his brother Richard immigrated to Australia in 1852, and while Richard soon returned, Peter moved on to Ballarat to stake a claim on the Eureka lead. Although there was a large concentration of Irish diggers his particular 'mate' was Duncan Gillies, a Scot. Lalor was reported to be among the shrinking minority of Ballarat diggers who were having 'fair luck' on their claims.

A relatively unobtrusive figure on the goldfields, Lalor became upset over the murder of James Scobie and joined the Ballarat Reform League. At an assembly of miners on 30 November 1854, following a ‘digger hunt’, he became a somewhat accidental leader of the diggers. In the absence of the Reform League’s regular spokesmen, Lalor ‘mounted the stump and proclaimed “Liberty”, and called on the men to arm themselves and to organize for self-defence’. Some hundreds were enrolled and Lalor, according to Raffaello Carboni, 'knelt down, the head uncovered, and with the right hand pointing to the standard, exclaimed in a firm measured tone: “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other to defend our rights and liberties”. A universal well-rounded Amen, was the determined reply'.

Lalor stood his ground during the attack on the Eureka Stockade, and was wounded. He was smuggled off the battlefield to a party of doctors by whom his left arm was amputated at the shoulder. Legend has Lalor recovering consciousness during the operation and, seeing one doctor with signs of faintness, saying 'Courage! Courage! Take it off!'

Despite a £200 reward being offered by Governor Hotham for information leading to Lalor’s arrest for treason and sedition, he managed to remain in hiding in Ballarat and later in Geelong.

Following Eureka, an inquiry made a recommendation that the Legislative Council be enlarged to include elected representatives of the goldfields: Lalor was one of two diggers' leaders elected in November 1855 to represent Ballarat. Lalor enjoyed a long Parliamentary career, culminating in his appointment as Speaker in 1880.

Cate Elkner

Carboni, Rafaello, The Eureka Stockade, Tom Keneally (introduction), The Miegunyah Press, Carlton, 2005. Details
Eureka On Trial: Archives of the Eureka Stockade (online exhibition), 2003, http://eureka.imagineering.com.au/. Details
Turner, Ian, 'Lalor, Peter (1827 - 1889)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5, Melbourne University Press, 1974, pp. 50-54. Details