Tuesday 27 March 1866
MONSTER TORCH-LIGHT PROCESSION AND OPEN-AIR MEETING.
A monster torch-light procession and open-air meeting in connection with the existing political crisis were held last evening, and, taken together, must be pronounced to have constituted one of the most strikingly important and successful political demonstrations ever made in the colony.
The weather was very unfavorable for the objects of the promoters of the movement, inasmuch as rain fell occasionally, and at times somewhat heavily, throughout the proceedings, and the thoroughfares through which the procession passed were in a condition, owing to the accumulation of mud, the reverse of inviting to indulgence in walking exercise. Nevertheless, an immense multitude accompanied the torch-bearers throughout the entire of their journey, and the great bulk of the crowd entered with manifest earnestness and sincerity into the expressions of sentiment to which utterance was given from time to time during the march. The aspect of such a gathering illuminated as it was by the lurid glare of torches, whioh were supplied in profusion, was necessarily both pioturesque and imposing in the extreme; and when the effect was heightened by the performance, by a band of musicians, of selections of airs fraught with well-known loyal, patriotic, or political significance, the impressiveness of the occasion, was proportionally augmented. But above all other influences of the hour, the irresistible conviction that tho entire movement was an orderly and quiet, though distinct, expression of the popular will, was tho most strongly perceptible to the consciousness of the observer. The good temper of a popular political assemblage in Victoria has always been a prominent characteristic of the colony. In our periods of greatest political excitement in the past— and they have been neither few nor trivial — this has been a conspicuous trai of the mass of the people; but it certainly was never more apparent than last evening.
During the entire of a muddy walk of some three miles in length, and with an open-air meeting to wind up with, no angry exclamation issued from the lips of the uncomfortable and mutually jostling crowd, nor was any (symptom of resentment displayed, unless the burning of a copy of the Argus, which was casually brought under notice, or the giving of a few groans for that journal, are to be construed into something of that kind. The procession was advertised to start from the wood market, in Elizabeth-street, at seven p.m., and very shortly after that hour a start was effected.
The march was led off by a number of torchbearers. They were immediately followed by a waggon containing the band of musicians already mentioned ; and to this in turn succeeded another waggon, in which, was elevated a banner of canvas bearing the inscription in large letters, ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God.’ The band on starting struck up the famous air, ‘ See the Conquering Hero Comes,’ and to its strains the procession, which even by that early period had reached a considerable number, moved off in tha direction of town. At every step of its progress its bulk continued to augment nearly all the pedestrians in the streets which, it traversed joining in the march ; and before the corner of Bourke street was reached the human torrent filled ap tho entire width of the spacious thoroughfares, and poured along in an unbroken tide of several hundreds of yards in length. At this point the leading torch-bearers turned to the right, and proceeded up Bourke-street west, and thence by their left into Queen-street, and along it down Collins street, to the intersection of that thoroughfare with Elizabeth-street. Here another divergence was made to the left, and on arriving in front of the Age office the procession halted for a few moments, and gave three cheers for the Age.
The march was then resumed along Elizabeth street and up Bourke-street east, where the band played the historical ‘ Chant des Girondins,’ that ‘ Mourir pour La Patrie,’ which has been heard in times of less peaceful political agitation with such remarkable effect far beyond the seas. Proceeding up Bourke-street nothing noteworthy occurred until the procession reached the eastern extremity of that thoroughfare, where a brief halt was called immediately outside the fence of the enclosure of the Legislative Chambers. Here, after three hearty oheers had been given for the Ministry and the majority in the Assembly, the National Anthem, and immediately afterwards ‘ Rule Britannia,’ were performed by the band, and the march was again resumed. At this stage it seemed to be pretty generally understood amongst the crowd which had joined the original procession on its way that tho open-air meeting, with which the prooecdings had been announced to conclude, would be held at or in front of tho Belvedere Hotel; and on reaching that establishment, as the procession still pursued its course down Victoria-parade, a small proportion of those. composing it halted, with the apparent intention of securing favorable positions from whioh to listen to the addresses proposed to be delivered. The bulk of the crowd proceeded down tho northern side of Victoria-parade, until it had reached the intersection of George-street, where a final halt was called, and it was soon apparent that this was to be the scene of the promised meeting. The waggon which had led the march was then converted to its destined purpose of a platform for the chairman and speakers, and a gallery for the representatives of the press. For both uses and more especially the latter, it was of course very poorly adapted, inasmuch as it was totally unsheltered from the cold wind and rain which prevailed; but, in the subjoined report, the best efforts that the unfavorable circumstances would admit of have been made to record the substance of the addresses delivered : —
Mr Longmore., M.L.A., was called to the chair. Amidst great enthusiasm. He said the meeting had done him honor in calling upon him to preside over so vast an assemblage, inasmuch as he was not a local man. So attributed the position he had been placed in to a knowledge that he had always
sympathised with the movement, and had done as much as lay in his power in other places to further the great object they all had in view. He had the more pleasure in presiding as the meeting sought peaceably to demand their rights, which he had no doubt they would before long as peaceably obtain.
(Cheers.) He viewed the monster meeting as the first shot fired across the enemy’s bows, with a view of bringing him to, which, if not effective, would have to be followed by heavier metal. He considered that meeting as a most satisfactory proof that Victoria, notwithstanding what was said by her maligners, was well fitted for universal suffrage.
The people had met in vast numbers, peaceably, and without even the semblance of a disturbance, though there were many of their enemies who would fain provoke a riot The people know too well the danger that beset them by the adoption at present of any but peaceful and energetic means to accomplish their purpose. They had shown themselves patient and long-suffering, and in spite of the calumnies heaped upon them and their representatives, they had sought as yet by constitutional means to effect a deliverance from the perilous position in which they and the best interests of the country had been placed by the revolutionary conduct of the Legislative Council. The responsibility devolving by the Constitution upon the Upper House from the action they bad taken had failed; and if, whilst unable to take upon themselves the responsibility of the situation, they still continued obstructive, no other course would be open to the people than boldly ond firmly to assert their rights. In the M’Culloch Ministry they had found an able exponent of their views and wishes, and he trusted that Ministry would remain firm and never consent to take office until the Council had been taught its proper place in the Constitution and Government of this colony. (Loud cheers.)
Mr C. E Jones, M.L.A., moved tho first resolution, namely : — ‘ The opinion of this meeting is that the M’Culloch Ministry were obliged to tender their resignations because it was impossible properly to carry on the Government of the colony under a Constitution which had failed to carry into effect tho wishes of the people, as expressed during two general elections, and to provide means for the good government and general welfare of the country at large. Therefore, it is now incumbent upon the people to take immediate and effective steps through their representatives, and otherwise by outdoor agitation of the question, to procure a reform of the Constitution under which we live, to alter and remodel it as may be found expedient for good and legitimate government, and for the prevention of repetitions of such disastrous deadlocks as that under which the colony is now laboring.’
He said it was with pride he witnessed so large a meeting, on such an inclement night, prepared to give us their adhesion to the course pursued by the M’Culloch Ministry. It might be said that he was only there in discharge of his functions to praise the M’Culloch Ministry. He was there to do his duty, as he trusted all present that night were (Cheers.) He apprehended the M’Culloch Ministry had shown that they wore not, like the Council, regardless of the interests of the country. They submitted a tariff that could be accepted, in face of the difficulties surrounding it, as an instalment of protection, which was rejected by the Council. They appealed to the country with a view of manifesting the wishes of the people, but the Counoil remained defiant. They asked the country whether the Treasury should be protected from the pilfering of the soft goods clique, and the country endorsed their policy. The Council had adopted every possible subterfuge to justify their rejection of the tariff, the last of which was that the preamble was an offence against the privileges of the Lords (Laughter.) He admitted that the Council offered but a very sorry substitute for the British peerage, but it was the only one the colony had. It was not to be compared with the good and venerable institution of the mother country; but the colonial lords arrogated to themselves rights which the British House of Peers had not dared to claim for two hundred years past. They had dared to eject a Supply Bill, and after a general election. It was true that they bad presumptuously declared that they would accept the responsibility of that rejection. They attempted to form a Ministry, the first step towards which was considered to be to send for Dr. Embling. (Laughter.) It had since been proved that it was the best and only suggestion of which Mr Fellows was capable, and that all he aspired to do was to play a. practical joke, which had been tolerably well sustained for a fortnight to the jeopardy of the Constitution, and at the hazard of a revolution. (Cheers.) He (Mr Jones) wondered on what grounds it could have been supposed that Dr. Embling represented the protectionists of Victoria. He had entered the House pledged, to support tho McCulloch Ministry ; and how could he, to be consistent, adopt means to supplant them? Mr Fellows had hoped to sow dissension in the ranks of the protectionists, and chose a fitting tool for his purpose; but the object was not accomplished, and in despair Mr Fellows had given up all hope of forming an Administration. The question to be considered now was whether Mr Fellows, having failed constitutionally to oppose the Government, would, in the interest of law and order and the Constitution, give his assistance to the Ministry in order that the country might be governed according to the wishes of the majority. If he did not do so, the consequences would bo such as every thoughtful mind must shudder to contemplate. The Council was not uble to accept the responsibility of the situation it had evoked, and it was its duty to concede to the Assembly that which had so strenuously and so peacefully been struggled for. The present Ministry had conceded as much as they dared to do; and supported as they were by the people, relying on their moral power, they would eventually secure a victory. If all moral persuasion failed, they could still approach her Majesty by petition for an alteration of the Constitution. The country never could be governed with an Upper Chamber so constituted as the present Council was, and the struggle to effect such an alteration as they were desirous of securing would prove of incalculable benefit to future generations. (Loud cheers).
Mr Tennent seconded the resolution, and in doing so observed that be was not one of those who addressed political meetings on all occasions, but he had been greatly struck by the inscription in the waggon close by, that the voice of tbe people was the voice of God. He was never more convinced of the truth of that inscription than he was from the aspect of the meeting then before him. He felt that he was one of themselves; and he gloried in the fact, that in acting as did, be and those with whom he worked were working for the people. He knew that be was acting against his own interest in taking part in the proceedings, bat ho was glad to be present, and he felt that if the people persisted in their course they must achieve a victory.
The Chairman put the resolution, and, on taking a show of hands for and against it, said he saw two hands only held up against it, the rest of the meeting signifying their approval of it. The result was received with cheers and laughter, and the question was then declared to have been carried.
Mr Cobb, M.L.A., moved the next resolution. In having to speak at a table which was so very unstable, and in the open air on a wet night, he felt that he labored under difficulties, but at the same time, he could not but feel it a privilege to address so large and intelligent a meeting. It would be a sorry day for Victoria when the people were not allowed to meet in public for the consideration of their civil orreligious difficulties — (cheers) — and he trusted that they might never see that day arrive, but that they would always be able to discuss their privileges and assert their rights. It was now some eighteen months since the people had first delegated to their representatives the power of making known through those representatives in the Assembly that they required that the fiscal policy of a country should be altered. No free trade Ministry in past times had been so able to assert their rights as the M’Culloch Ministry. (Cheers.) No sooner had the wishes of the people become known than that Ministry introduced a tariff which, although not as protectionist as could be wished, contained the elements of progress, and was therefore considered to be a step in tho right direction. They were all aware of the action taken by the Council with respect to the tariff, and the progress of events which had ultimately induced Mr Fellows to attempt the formation of a Government, relying upon finding traitors in the protectionist camp. Notwithstanding that there were a few traitors in the camp, they had found that they had been cast out without doing the injury which the enemies of the people had at first anticipated would result from their presence. The difficulties surrounding the position of the country were undoubtedly very great, but if the people remained firm, he had no doubt that the bill would, ere long, become law. It was a familiar courso for the people’s enemies to call them a mob, but, judging from the appearance of the assemblage before him, he regarded it as representing the intellect, wealth and political power of the country. The time was now come when the people must not only ask but demand their rights, and insist upon not only the bill as a whole, but upon an amended bill, which the exigencies of the country demanded should be so framed as to effectually protect the industries of the country. He moved ‘That it is the opinion of this meeting a deputation shall wait upon the M’Culloch Ministry, to request that body, as the exponents of the views of the people, to take such course of action as will effectually obviate the great difficulty now existing, caused by the obstructive policy of an irresponsible oligarchy in the Upper House, over whom the Governor, the Legislative Assembly and the people have no control whatever; and to request the said Ministry, in concert with the representatives of the people, to advise his Excellency the Governor to adopt such means (irrespective of the Upper House) as will at once conduce to the peace and prosperity of the country, and advance the interest of the people generally.’
Mr. Butt, M.L.A., seconded the resolution. He said the people had been decried as a mob and as revolutionists, but the nine or ten thousand persons assembled that night belied such assertions.
It was they who paid the larger share of the taxes, and had a right to let their voice be heard. Take away the working man, and where would be Lord Collingwood and the Duke of Jika Jika be (Loud laughter.) The people had proved themselves to bo the truest Conservatives, in that they sought no selfish aggrandisement, but simply desired the prosperity of the country, which was most readily obtained by giving employment to the people.
He believed in moral force, but he was not disposed to show the white feather. The people were the best judges of what best suited their interests, and they objected to the teachings of those who were humble enough when their foot was on the lowest round of the ladder, but who, having climbed up higher and attained to comparative affluence, kicked down the ladder to prevent others rising by the same means. That night’s meeting would convince the people that, if they were united, nothing could resist their legitimate demands. They who willed that such a thing should be had already half accomplished their purpose; and if the people persisted in their demand for their constitutional rights, they might rest assured no power on earth could prevent the attainment of them. (Cheers.)
The resolution was put and carried amidst great applause.
Mr Crews moved the third resolution: — ‘ This meeting, having the most unbounded confidence in his Exoelloncy Sir Charles Darling, most heartily approves the course of action he has taken daring the period of contention between the popular majority of the people and the oligarchy of the upper branch of the Legislature; and desires to tender its respectful approbation of tho statesmanlike stand he has made to forward the interests of the colony, and to meet the wishes of the people, as enunciated through their representatives in the Legislative Assembly, to whom this meeting desires to tender its most sincere thanks for the course they have taken in the defence of the rights of tho people, and the strict adherence to their pledges made at the late elections.’ He said he was proud of the honor of addressing such a multitude. The resolution expressed most emphatically the sentiments he had long entertained for his Excellency.
A long residence in the colony had enabled him (Mr Crews) to study the career of several governors, but there was no one whose name deserved to be more honored and revered than that of Sir Charles Darling. (Immense cheering for the Governor.) He had shown himself fully equal to the position, unparalleled as it was in the history of constitutional government; and because he had proved so, he had called down upon his head the vituperation of the Argus and of that oligarchy which sought to rule the colony. He (Mr Crews) believed from what he had seen of his Exaellency, that, politically, he had a conscience void of offence towards all men, and that he was not likely by fawning cajolery, abuse, or threat, to swerve from the position he had taken up, bucked as he was by the Assembly and the people. He (Mr Crews) wss glad to find so large a meeting encouraging the Assembly to pursue the course they had hitherto taken. He wished the members of the Council stood in the position in which he was that night ; for he felt assured if they were, they would see such a multitude of intelligent, earnest, and determined men before them that they would no longer obstruct progress. If the meeting could even be photographed, and copies given to members of the Council, he almost felt convinced they would, without delay, request the Assembly to send up the tariff, and promise to pass it. (Cheers.) Such an assemblage might be termed by some a mob. He did not altogether object to such a word; there were two kinds of mobs, and it would be difficult to find a more intelligent or orderly mob anywhere. (Cheers.) The resolution very properly did honor to those representatives in the Assembly who had adhered to their pledges, and he believed the people could depend upon them.
To the people he said, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the right principles of democracy, for if steadfast to the end they must have the victory. (Loud cheers.)
Mr William Thompson briefly seconded the resolution, and expressed his high opinion of the action taken by his Excellency, whom the people ought not to permit to be vilified. He (Mr Thompson) did not advise a recourse to physical force, but there were limits to human forbearance and endurance, beyond which it was dangerous to attempt to drive a man. He trusted the display of moral force would accomplish their object.
The motion was put and carried.
Mr Payne moved the fourth resolution — ‘ That the following gentlemen form a deputation to wait on the M’Culloch Ministry, and request them to take suoh steps as will obviate the great difficulty now existing, namely, Messrs Cope, Jones, Burtt, King and M’Caw, M.L.A.. ; and Messrs Crews, M’Williams, Payne, Thompson, Wilkinson, M’Birnie and Tennent, members of the Collingwood Protection League.’
Mr. M’Williams seconded the resolution, and urged a determined resistance to the encroachments of the Council. He would use all the moral force available to effect the object, but if that failed other measures would have to be resorted to.
He would rather risk his personal liberty than sacrifice the political freeedom he had enjoyed, and which he hoped and was determined still to enjoy.
The motion was put and carried.
A vote of thanks to the Chairman was put and carried by acclamation, and the immense assemblage dispersed, after singing the National Anthem, and giving three cheers for the Governor, the Ministry, and the Age.