The newspaper article below preludes the incident which became the Brisbane Riot of 1866 and the aftermath. Newspaper Report editorialises the incident and documents the anxious days after. Court Hearing Nov 21 is the newspaper court transcript which details the incident in full and Court Hearing Nov 22 details the defence and summing up. Riot Stories are accounts, one from a policeman and the other from a citizen.
In the early part of September 1866 some degree of excitement prevailed in Brisbane, arising out of the embarrassed position of our colonial finances. Several meetings of the unemployed were held, at which their position and grievances were discussed, various resolutions were passed, and deputations were appointed to wait upon the Government. It unfortunately happened that the only members of the Ministry then in town were Mr. Bell, the Minister for Lands, and Mr. Lilley, the Attorney-General; the other members of the Cabinet being in Sydney.
The deputations were received by Mr. Bell, who, on behalf of the Government, offered to provide work for the men at the rate of 15s, a week for three days' labour and 1s. 6d. for children, but the men wanted 30s. a week for six days' work and 5s. for children. The deputation subsequently waited upon the Governor, at Government House.
They were received by his Excellency and the Hon. Ministers, and were informed that it was not in the power of the Government to do more than had been already proposed, and that if that proposition was not accepted, the men had no alternative but to wait until Parliament assembled, when the matter would be taken into consideration.
Another meeting was held, at which the opinions of the unemployed were divided, a considerable number of them being in favour of accepting the proposition of the Government; and the rest - among whom was a large sprinkling of loafers - for rejecting it.
Matters remained in this state until Saturday week, when about 150 navvies (railway track workers) came down to Brisbane from Helidon; and on Monday, in conjunction with the unemployed of the city, formed a deputation to the Colonial Secretary, who with the two other members of the Cabinet had returned from Sydney.
The object of the deputation was to ascertain what the Government could do for them. Mr. Macalister offered to give two hundred single men free passages to Rockhampton, where there was a demand for labour, with seven days' rations on arrival, and also to convey about thirty married couples to Gayndah where such persons were required.
He also informed them that an additional sum of £3000, would be given monthly to Mr. Willcox, the agent for Messrs. Peto, Brassey, and Betts, the railway contractors, to enable him to employ extra hands. These terms, favourable as they were, did not meet the views of the unemployed, and some foolish threats were made as to what they would do if the Government did not comply with their demands.
In the afternoon a crowd collected in the streets, and the police, volunteers, the Fire Brigade, and special constables were called out, but no further disturbance of the public peace occurred. On the following evening a number of rowdies who had mixed with the unemployed succeeded in creating some excitement among the crowd, and an attempt was made by some of them to break into the Commissariat Stores.
The police, the volunteers, and some special constables were again called out; the Riot Act was read, and after some little difficulty the streets were cleared. A number of stones were thrown by persons in the crowd. The Police Magistrate was struck by one of the missiles while reading the Riot Act, and several of the police and special constables were also injured.
Beyond this, no further mischief was done, and the crowd was dispersed. On the next day about 120 persons went to Rockhampton in the Government steamer Platypus, and about 90 returned to Ipswich en route to Helidon; several more have left since. No further disturbance has taken place, and a considerable number of the unemployed have since gone to Rockhampton.
It is but due to the navvies to say that they have repudiated any connection with the disturbance, which appears to have been got up by a number of idle follows, who are lounging about Brisbane, too lazy to work oven if they could get it. Several of the leaders are in custody.
The prompt means adopted by the Government, and the alacrity with which the police, the Volunteers, the Fire Brigade, and the special constables turned out to preserve the peace of the city, had the effect of nipping in the bud the elements of mischief which existed in the crowd.
Though the great majority of the unemployed were quiet and peaceably disposed, there was scattered amongst them a considerable number of rowdies who wished to create a disturbance. Some excitement still prevails among the navvies on the line, owing to a proposition that has been made to reduce for a time the rate of wages.