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Peter Lalor's pistol

Pictures, Australian history
Date: mid-19th century
Author: Peter Lalor

This pistol was owned by Peter Lalor, the leader of a group of aggrieved miners at the Eureka Stockade uprising in Ballarat, Victoria in December 1854. It is believed the pistol was used by Lalor during the riot. While quite typical of the period, it would probably have proven inaccurate and awkward to use.

Peter Lalor (1827–89) was born in Queen's County, Ireland. His father was a member of the Irish parliament, and his family had been active in the Irish independence struggle for two generations. While Lalor was indoctrinated into the mysteries and realities of politics at a young age, he did not follow his father into politics but trained as a civil engineer at Trinity College.

Lalor arrived in Ballarat at 26 years of age, intending to make money on the goldfields and then return home. A natural leader, Lalor soon became involved in the struggle to alleviate the heavy monthly licence fee imposed by the colonial government on the diggers.

An 1853 petition, signed by 5000 diggers and addressed to the governor, failed to make any headway. The following year, digger anger was further fuelled when a Ballarat publican accused of the murder of a miner was acquitted. At a meeting of miners led by Lalor, in a simple slab enclosure that became known as the 'Stockade', the miners pledged 'We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly to each other, and to fight to defend our rights and liberties'. At 4.30am on 3 December 1854 they were attacked by the military. At least 20 miners died, and scores more were injured.

Lalor was badly wounded in the Eureka uprising, eventually losing his left arm. He and 13 others were charged with treason but were later acquitted. In November 1855, Peter Lalor was elected to represent Ballarat in parliament – a position he held for 32 years.