1843 saw the first election held in the Port Phillip District to select a member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales. In Melbourne there was to be one representative and before the eve of the election there was only one candidate, the English Catholic, Edward Curr. Encouraged by the Scottish Presbyterian minister, John Dunmore Lang, Henry Condell, an English Presbyterian, also stood for election.
Excitement levels were high; the candidates made deals with voters, who had to keep their promises as voting was not by secret ballot. It was a very public event. How men voted was disclosed both at the time of voting and in the newspapers afterwards. Voting was only for men who occupied a house worth £20 per annum. Some voters were booed or spat on and it was probably not surprising that out of the 565 men who were enrolled to vote, not many wished to. Most of Melbourne's population of 11,000 rolled up for the occasion, especially as the candidates supplied alcohol. About a thousand men milled around the polling booth. Ladies paid money to get a good seat in the stands which were erected in the street.
Voting closed at 4 pm. and when it became clear that Edward Curr had lost, the Irish Catholics went on a rampage, screaming and swearing and expressed violent intention towards their enemies. When they couldn't find Condell at the Golden Fleece Hotel, they swarmed outside the Mechanics' Institute in Collins Street. The Chief of Police arrived with Henry Dana and the mounted Native Police who consisted of 4 white men and 6 black. They had their swords drawn. The Riot Act was read and the crowd told to disperse. The crowd moved on to find Thomas Green, the auctioneer, who had kept order on the day. Windows were smashed, stones were thrown, and eventually Green fired shots into the crowd, hitting one man in the back and one in the foot. The Native Police arrived and the Riot Act was again read. Only when the police agreed to arrest Thomas Green did the crowd quieten down. The Military arrived on horseback and managed to force the rioters up Elizabeth Street to St. Francis Church. Here the mob was told to go home or the military would be given the order to shoot to kill.
Everyone knew there would be a good punch up on Election Day; it wasn't a spontaneous event. Even E. C. Green who ran a French Academy advertised in the newspaper that men should have boxing and fencing lessons ( at his Academy ) to "save their peri craniums from being cracked."
In Sydney Governor Gipps said their election had gone tolerably well, not withstanding a good bit of rioting and the death of one man!
Choosing not to write much about the Catholic - Presbyterian rioting, the "Melbourne Times" newspaper focussed on the Native Police. The inclusion of aborigines was denounced as being unconstitutional and supplying arms to 'savages' was not advisable. Also that under British Law it was not permissible to have a 'foreign armed force.'
Jennifer Gerrand spoke at length on the history of conflict between the English Protestants and the Irish Catholics, dating back to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. She also talked about the differences between the Scottish and the Anglicans, differences which still exist today and this year Scotland will hold a referendum to decide on independence from England.
Prior to the 1843 election, the numbers of Irish Catholics arriving in Australia had increased enormously. Governor Bourke had realised that he needed a Catholic Chaplain for the Irish convicts and in 1837 he reinstated Father John Therry as official chaplain. William Grant Broughton became the first Anglican Bishop in 1829 and John Dunmore Lang, established the first Scots Church. Lang believed in millenarianism. He saw a threat in everything around him; he railed against the Pope as 'a man of sin.' He couldn't abide Caroline Chisholm helping poor Irish Catholic women and he actually organised ship loads of Scottish immigrants to Australia. Before leaving their homeland Scottish migrants were reminded they were forever Scottish.
Changes were happening however. In 1836, Governor Bourke abolished the status of the Anglican Church as the state church of New South Wales, declaring each denomination equal before the law. The Government saw that religion was essential in a young country, for maintaining order and moral standards especially as the country was emerging from its convict origins and its military government.
Migrants into early Australia brought their prejudices; To Protestants, the thought of Catholics, who in England were 'foreigners' in Parliament was intolerable and Catholics were threatened by the thought of Protestants. The "Melbourne Times" article referring to the Native Police as 'foreigners' was the beginning of a shift in thought away from what was happening in Britain to what was happening in Australia. One prejudice taking the place of another.
There was no intention for anyone to be hurt in the post-election riot. No one was armed. It was the people's method of protesting to the government as electoral reforms heightened their anxieties.
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