History with Brian James: The 12th regiment of Lambing Flat

Collins Park Wagga 2012. Cannon taken to Lambing Flat 1861. Photo: contributed

Collins Park Wagga 2012. Cannon taken to Lambing Flat 1861. Photo: contributed

In February 1861 the problems between the European Miners and the Chinese miners erupted into open conflict with the European miners attacking the Chinese and driving them from their gold claims.

The local police force was greatly outnumbered and were powerless to act. A military force was assembled and despatched from Sydney on 25th February 1861 to quell the riots at Lambing Flat.

The force consisted of 130 men of the 12th Regiment under Captain Richard Atkinson and three 12 pound guns under Captain Charles Lovell with 20 mounted police as an escort to the ammunition and stores. Portion of the 12th Regiment had previously been deployed at the Eureka Stockade.

Extra mounted police were sent in from other areas with Captain Atkinson being in overall charge and Lt Saunders his supporting officer. The troops marched from Victoria Barracks to Redfern Railway Station from here they travelled by train to Campbelltown. From Campbelltown they were transported by horse drawn buses bearing name destination boards such as Wynyard or Glebe, reaching Lambing Flat in eight days. The main body of soldiers reached Lambing Flat on 11th March and immediately dug trenches and set up fortifications on Camp Hill, where Campbell and Berthong streets are now.

The New South Wales Premier, Charles Cowper, had arrived and met with the miners and business leaders and promised to pass new laws restricting entry into the colony of more chinese. Without warning the military on the 24th May, the Queen's birthday, fired a Royal salute and departed for Sydney.

By June 30, 1861 discontent had reached boiling point as rumour spread that 1500 more chinese had landed in Sydney and were heading to Lambing Flat.

Cowper had failed to get his new Chinese Restriction laws through the upper house of Parliament.

A large mob of European miners drove the Chinese from Lambing Flat, Blackguard Gully, Sawpit Gully and Back Creek, inflicting serious injury and destroying tents and possessions.

The Chinese retreated to Currawong Station where they were given shelter by grazier James Roberts.

The police arrested three ring leaders and on the 14th July a 1000 plus force of miners lay siege to the police camp in an attempt to release the prisoners. After gunfire from both sides the police dispersed the rioters with a sabre charge. Next day after releasing the prisoners the police withdrew to Yass leaving the Miners Protection League in control of the town.

A military force and a 12 Pound Field Gun under Cornell John Kempt from the 12th Regiment and a Naval Brigade of 72 with a 12 Pounder under Captain Cator from HMS Fawn were dispatched.

The troops were transported by train to Campbelltown and then by coach, 50 per day, to Lambing Flat. On arrival all was found to be quite and no problems were encountered. The 12th Regiment remained at Lambing Flat until August 1862, the Naval Brigade returned to Sydney on the 7th August 1861. The officers of the 12th Regiment were captain John Wilkie, Lieutenants Dawson and Richardson and Ensigns Saunders and Cooper.

On February 1, 1862 Captain Wilkie died of natural causes and Lt Morley Saunders was promoted to captain.

The 12th Regiment under Captain Saunders were ordered to return to Sydney and left Lambing Flat at midday 21st July 1862. One drunken soldier had to be placed on the gun carriage, camping the first night at Currawong Station.

A violent storm next day and the gun carriage overtured, they camped at Ryan's Galong Station. On marching to Binalong Saunders tells Chief Commissioner Beckham that Colonel Hamilton had seduced his wife.

Later Saunders intervenes in a fight at the Golden Fleece public house and is struck on the head by a bottle. Left Binalong 11am next day but Lance Corporal French is too drunk to march and is left with Binalong police.

The long and arduous march continues, traipsing through Yass, Breadalbane, Shelley's Flat, Mittagong, Berrima, and the Crossroads and on to Campbelltown Railway Station

They catch the 4.45pm train to Redfern and March to Victoria Barracks arriving at 7.30pm on the 13th August 1862.

After a strained meeting with Hamilton and a series of further events and a Court of Enquiry into the march from Lambing Flat Saunders is Court Martialled. Saunders is eventually found to be not responsible for his actions due to the state of his health at the time.