Gripping diary captures pivotal moment in Australian history

IT WAS the day after the massacre at the Eureka stockade. The rebellious diggers were shocked and subdued. In his goldfields diary, 19-year-old Samuel Lazarus wrote that they “will bear a great deal before they will risk a repetition” of “the blood-stained lesson” they had been given by government troopers.
But, that night, a lone digger fired once into the troopers’ camp. The soldiers responded with a volley of 50 or 60 musket shots, fired indiscriminately among the miners’ tents.
Wrote young Lazarus the next day, Friday December 5, 1854: “Among the victims of last night’s unpardonable recklessness were a woman and her infant – the same ball which murdered the Mother (for that is the term for it) passed through the child as it lay sleeping in her arms.”
Another young woman “had a miraculous escape. Hearing the reports of musketing and the dread whiz of bullets around her, she ran out of her tent to seek shelter – she had just got outside when a ball whistled immediately before her eyes, passing through both sides of her bonnet.”
Lazarus’ historic story is now for sale. His original hand-written diary, which runs from September 1853 to January 1855 and vividly recounts the events leading up to the stockade and its aftermath, will be auctioned on Tuesday.
Now yellowed with age, the journal was written in a modest stock notebook of the time. It is expected to sell for up to $80,000, said Jonathan Wantrup, of Australian Book Auctions, but the market for historical artefacts was hard to predict: “It might sell for three times that or half that.”
When he wrote it, Lazarus was a young schoolmaster newly arrived from England. He was in Ballarat with a business partner and a tent that could hold 600 people, with which he wanted to set up an auction house on the goldfields.
He was an intelligent, literate man with a wry turn of phrase, a contempt for the Irish and a fine sense of what he thought of as British honour – something he thought had been disgraced by the cowardice of the troopers’ assault on the stockade, in which even unarmed men and those surrendering had been slaughtered.
He did not witness the attack himself but meticulously recorded the tensions leading up to it and what he saw when he walked through the gruesome scene later in the day.
He had witnessed the earlier burning of the Eureka Hotel and the flight of its landlord, Bentley, whom a corrupt magistrate was protecting from being charged with the murder of a well-respected digger named Scobie.
Writes Lazarus: “A short time before the (hotel) was set on fire Bentley sprang on a horse and galloped away without coat or hat . . . with a yell of rage the diggers pursued him . . . he rushed past me in his flight and I think I never saw such a look of terror on a man’s face.”
Sympathetic though he was to the diggers and their burning sense of injustice, Lazarus was still judicious in his assessments. Of a petition demanding the release of diggers charged over the hotel violence, he writes: “No man in his senses can believe for a moment that the Governor will recognise the word ‘demand’ in a petition – it is easy to guess the result.”
Mr Wantrup said it was rare to get such an eyewitness account, particularly in a nomadic community, as mobile populations were notoriously poor record-keepers. “It’s also rare to get participants’ accounts of any event that show such a degree of objectivity and intelligent judgement.”
Weston Bate is a historian who wrote a two-volume history of Ballarat including the book Lucky City, which describes Eureka.
He said Lazarus’ story was valuable because there were only a handful of eyewitness accounts of the aftermath, “and a lot of them are reminiscences (written later) rather than diaries written at the time”.
He believed Eureka itself was important because it marked a crucial turning point in Australia’s sense of its own identity. “Eureka is the beginning of Australia’s understanding that it doesn’t have to behave the way the English gentry would have liked it to behave . . . Eureka was more about injustice and civil liberties than it was about mining licences,” he said.
Samuel Lazarus was also present at the other key historic event of his century: he was foreman of the jury that found Ned Kelly guilty in 1880.
Historians have debated whether the jury foreman was him or another Samuel Lazarus of the day. But Mr Wantrup said family documents showed that Lazarus’ son, Julius Samuel Lazarus, wrote to his son in 1944 confirming that his father was foreman at the Kelly trial.
That son – Samuel’s grandson – was the architect and photographer Hugh Frankland, who had changed his name from Hubert Samuel Lazarus.
The diary’s history is a story in itself. It remained quietly in family hands until 1982. Then it came to the attention of Keith Ridout, a mobile librarian. He was chatting to people in Cann River about what a shame it was that a local family had burnt all the diaries of an elderly relative who had died.
The people he was speaking to showed him their little piece of history, Lazarus’ diary. It had come to them through a relative, but they were not his direct descendants, Mr Ridout said.
“I suggested the State Library should at least know about it, but they didn’t want folks to know they had it. I persuaded them to let me send it down to the State Library and allow it to be photocopied, as long as I didn’t let the library know their name or where it came from.”
In 1996, the diary was sold to a Queensland collector through Christie’s for $38,000. It is now being sold by the collector’s estate.
Jock Murphy, manuscripts librarian at the State Library, said it would be sad if the diary went to an overseas collector, but that outcome might be unlikely because of cultural heritage legislation.
On whether the library might bid for it, he said, “We will just have to see how it works out.”
A gruesome day
A large body of soldiers were entering the gully leading to the camp with three dray loads of dead and wounded . . . I guessed at once that the military had made an attack on the Eureka Stockade, but I did not guess that Englishmen in authority had made such a savage and cowardly use of their power.
I entered (the stockade) and a ghastly scene lay before me which it is vain to attempt to describe – My blood crept as I looked upon it. Stretched on the ground in all the horrors of a bloody death lay 18 or 20 lifeless and mutilated bodies – some shot in the face, others literally riddled with wounds – one with a ghastly wound in the temples and one side of his body absolutely roasted by the flames of his tent – Another, the most horrible of these appalling spectacles, with a frightful gaping wound in . . . his head through which the brains protruded, lay with his chest feebly heaving in the last agony of death. One body pierced with 16 or 17 wounds I recognised as that of a poor German whom I have often joked with. Newly-made widows recognising the bloody remains of a slaughtered husband – children screaming and crying around a dead father – surely the man that polluted the early dawn of a Sabbath’s morning with such a deed of blood and suffering must have a stony heart if he does not think with keen remorse on the desolation of many a widowed heart his merciless work has left. But this sanguinary carnage, revolting as it is to the mind, is not half so sickening as the savage wanton barbarity of the troopers. Did not turn their swords on armed men, but galloped courageously among the tents shooting at women, and cutting down defenceless men . . . (A) trooper galloped up to Mr Naslam (reporter for one of the papers) and ordered him to join the government force. He . . . gave an excuse (which was strictly true) that he was unwell, when the wretch at once levelled his carbine and shot him in the side. Not content with this wanton barbarity he handcuffed him and left him on the ground weltering in his blood. Another man . . . awoke by the firing, went out of his tent in his shirt and drawers and seeing the savage butchery going on cried out in terror – “for God’s sake don’t kill my wife and children”. He was shot dead.

First published in The Age.