Lazarus Diary

One of the State Library of Victoria collection treasures is the Lazarus Diary, which contains one of the few eyewitness accounts of the Eureka uprising in December 1854.

Measuring 12cm x 18.5cm, the diary is a vellum-bound octavo stock notebook containing 168 handwritten pages. Lazarus' entries span 16 months, from 24 September 1853 to 21 January 1855. They recount many of the key events associated with the uprising, from the burning of the Eureka Hotel to the bloody aftermath of the storming of the stockade.

Lazarus was an articulate, intelligent and lively diarist, who had strong opinions and a wry turn of phrase. His diary not only provides an important insight into a pivotal moment in Victorian history, but also vividly depicts the life of an enterprising young man during the colony's gold rushes.

The diary was virtually unknown until it came to the attention of a librarian at Cann River in 1982. He pursuaded the family to send it to the Library to be photocopied. The original diary was sold to a private collector in 1996. The Library acquired it in 2006.

Who was Samuel Lazarus?
Samuel Lazarus (c1835-?) was born in Liverpool, England. He emigrated to Victoria as a young man in the 1850s and worked at a number of jobs, including running a confectionary business on Sydney Road, Brunswick. When he began writing his diary, he had just sold this business and, after trying several other enterprises in and around Melbourne, bought a tent big enough to hold 600 people, with the intention of setting up an auction house on the goldfields.

By the end of 1853 the Criterion Auction Mart was well established on Commissioner's Flat directly beneath the miner's camp at Eureka. During this period Lazarus was also a partner in a printing office, and even tried his luck at digging for gold in Avoca. Much later in 1880, Lazarus again witnessed an important moment in Victorian history - as foreman of the jury that convicted Ned Kelly.

Lazarus' diary entries
Lazarus was more often an observer rather than a participant in the events leading up to, and including, the Eureka uprising. Only 19 years' old at the time, he was a meticulous, yet judicious observer. While his sympathies were mostly with the diggers, he was also able to objectively assess both the events and diggers' demands. When writing about a petition demanding the release of men charged over the hotel violence, he states: 'No man in his senses can believe for a moment that the Governor will recognise the word "demand"in a petition - it is easy to guess the result'.

Eureka uprising
During 1853 miners on the Victorian goldfields were becoming increasingly angered by the government's Mining License Fee, and the system by which the fees were collected. In mid-1853 a petition signed by over 5000 Victorian goldfield diggers listing the miners' grievances was presented to Lieutenant-Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe. Most of the grievances were rejected.

In October 1854, tensions were brought to a head when miner James Scobie was beaten to death by a local publican, James Bentley. Despite the strong evidence against him, Bentley was not charged. After an angry mob burnt Bentley's pub down, troops were called in to reassert government authority.

In the ensuing weeks tension between the authorities and the miners continued to increase, culminating in the pre-dawn attack of the Eureka stockade by police and British troops on 3 December 1854. At least 20 miners died, and many more were injured.

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Lazarus Diary

Explore the online version of the diary >

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