Link between the Magna Carta and the Eureka Stockade

It might not appear obvious but there is a direct link between the Eureka Stockade and the Magna Carta.

This year has seen celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.
This document is seen as a founding piece of democracy. It was signed by King John in 1215 and recognised everyone, including the king, as subject to the law for the first time.  It limited the power of the monarchy for the first time.  It enshrined the right for “freemen” to justice and to have a fair trial.   It also linked taxation and representation for the first time.  The king could no longer levy taxes without getting the approval of the leading aristocrats and clergy.

The Magana Carta was amended many times over subsequent years but the underlying principles about limiting the arbitrary use of power remained.

It is a cornerstone of what became the British Constitution and other key crucial documents such as the United States Bill of Rights and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Following the industrial revolution in Britain and the grim conditions for many of the working class, there was a push to reform the electoral system to give voting rights to everyone, not just the wealthy.

Before 1832, only 10% of British males were allowed to vote and they were the wealthiest men.  The poor had no say in how the country was governed.

The Chartists movement was born out of the conditions after the 1832 Reform Act; while increasing some men’s eligibility to vote, it was still representative of a small percentage of the British population.  The movement was focused on non-violent protest and invented the petition as a political instrument.

The People’s Charter, referenced the Magna Carta, as it was about linking representation and taxation.  “There should be no taxation without representation” became the catch cry.

The Charter advocated universal suffrage for men over 21; the abolition of property qualifications for members of Parliament; annual Parliamentary elections; equal representation; payment of members of Parliament; and voting by secret ballot.

There was an enormous demonstration in support of the People’s Charter on Kennington Green in 1848.  Then a petition of several million signatures was presented to the British Parliament on 10 April, 1848.

The British Parliament did not accept the demands of the Chartists although the demands were legislated over the coming decades.  The Chartists decided not to take violent action and the movement dissipated unfulfilled.

A number of Chartists were transported to Australia for their political beliefs and some came to Victoria look for a new place to explore their progressive views.

The formation of the Ballarat Reform League was under these Chartists with J.B Humpffray as Chairman with Kennedy and Holyoake. The same demands were made on the Ballarat goldfields.

Numerous miners came to the Victorian goldfields from Britain and Ireland who had been influenced by the British Chartists.

The consequences of the Ballarat Reform League Charter can also be seen in the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition in Victoria – the largest petition of the 19th century.

Australian women were the first in the world to get the right to vote and to stand for Parliament in 1902.  Women over 21 did not get the right to vote in the UK until 1928.

So the Magna Carta’s effect on the beginning of democracy in the world also reached Ballarat in 1854 and helped shaped democracy as we know it today.

Ballarat is justifiably proud of its history and role in the creation of Australia’s democracy.

Those progressive roots developed on the gold fields can still be seen today with Ballarat being the first city in the world to be part of a UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape pilot program and winning a grant in a global IBM challenge as a Smarter City.  M.A.D.E won a 2015 MAGNA Innovation award.

Opinion editorial for the 161st Anniversary of Eureka, Published in The Courier on December 3rd.

Jane Smith
Director of M.A.D.E

Portrait of Jane Smith, Director of M.A.D.E

Jane Smith
Director of M.A.D.E