Anarchism and State Violence in Sydney and Melbourne
An argument about Australian labor history.
By Dr Bob James
ITEMS IN THE HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE'S MOVEMENT IN AUSTRALIA.
When the New South Wales Labour Party, shortly after its first advent to Parliament in 1891, threw out the Parkes Ministry on the Coal Mines Regulation Bill, people hoped that a radical improvement would be manifested. The Dibbs Ministry came in by the action of the Labour Party, and would, it was thought, at least administer the affairs of the country with some consideration for labour. The Parkes Ministry had ordered out the troops in the great strike; worse, acting Premier McMillan had actually given orders for Gatling guns to be used to mow down the crowd on Circular Quay - although old Parkes, laid up with a broken leg, sent from his sick room a cancelling order which arrived in time to spare the Ministry that blood-guiltiness.
But the Dibbs Ministry speedily brought in a Reign of Terror compared with which the candid toryism and frank brutality of the former administration were liberty, equality, and fraternity.
Even in the days that preceded Eureka , Victorians have never experienced in their own country anything the recollection of which can give an adequate idea of this Reign of Terror - the most iniquitous attempt ever made in modern history upon the recognised liberties of the people by their elected "servants." Dark intrigue, foul conspiracy and subornation, high-handed lawlessness usurping the mechanism of law, ruthless wanton persecutions - all these wrongs multiplied daily at the will of this execrable gang, headed by the man who, posing as an ardent Republican, went to England a "Mr." and came back a "Sir" as the reward of treason against the people, and who all the time was engaged in an underhand alliance with Machine-gun McMillan, ostensibly [next to Parkes] his chief opponent.
Everything seemed to point to worse yet, worse almost beyond belief, yet indicated almost beyond incredulity's power to doubt. Driven by terror, reform agitators, and working men, conscious of their human dignity, hastened to form groups, unknown one group to another, for self-defence by armed force against the anticipated extreme of Governmental aggression; or, fearing lest it was the very purpose of the Government to drive them into arms in order to have a better pretext against them, devoted themselves strenuously to detective work and strategy. From among such was enlisted the Active Service Brigade, the original object of which was to "assert the right of free speech at public meetings, and prevent the manufacture of bogus public opinion," as required in the following circumstances.
A state of political uncertainty had brought about an anticipatory electoral campaign on the part of the Opposition - Machine-gun McMillan having become the recognised leader. Taking advantage of the general hatred of the Dibbs Ministry, they sought to make it appear that Dibbs was hated for Protection, and that they would be correspondingly beloved on account of Free Trade. In a word, they deliberately and grossly falsified the issue. The wave of indignation at a Russian regime was, in their intention, only to sweep Dibbs from office to enable them in turn to perpetuate a Russian regime; it is notorious that there was an alliance between McMillan and Dibbs, notwithstanding their apparent rivalry for Premiership. In furtherance of this nefarious scheme, they convened so-called public meetings of electors, at which their own previously appointed agents presided; these chairmen, pursuant to a determined policy, refused to allow any questions or amendments indicating the real state of public opinion. Gangs of professional pugilists were hired to attend in the halls and "stoush" anyone who uttered a word of dissent, or who even, not being in the swim, attempted to ask a question. The daily papers reported these packed and gagged meetings as invariably passing the most enthusiastic and unanimous votes of confidence. The situation was serious on that account, as many people were likely to be deluded into the belief that Machinegun McMillan was the Messiah whom a repentant people yearned for to deliver them from the tyranny of Dynamite Dibbs.
It was then that ARTHUR DESMOND - poet, actuary, and revolutionist took counsel with a few kindred spirits, and they set to work to organise an efficient force, of which the first object was the breaking up of the McMillan tactics.
One night McMillan was to address a meeting. That evening there appeared an advertisement convening the "Active Service Brigade" to assemble at a place just over the way from the Protestant Hall. It was the first time that the name had ever appeared before the public; though according to one account it was not new, having been transferred from one of those last-resort groups already mentioned. On the morrow the same name had achieved celebrity.
McMillan's meeting was simply taken possession of by the Brigade, which held its position in a hand-to-hand fight, and refused to allow business to be proceeded with unless the nominee chairman were replaced by one to be chosen by the audience. McMillan refused to concede the point, and the Brigade prevented his address from being delivered. He made other attempts on subsequent evenings, and was beaten every time, in spite of the hired pugilists, and at last he capitulated, and the chairman was elected. As soon as this took place, the brigade preserved rigid order during the meeting; but at the conclusion the traditional "vote of confidence" was rejected, and an amendment of a directly opposite character, embodying social aspirations, carried by a twothirds majority. The humiliation caused McMillan to vow that he would never again contest a city electorate.
The Active Service Brigade continued thereafter to regulate public meetings, and to bring about demonstrations against politicians who had rendered themselves execrable; but, the primary object achieved, it had necessarily to take up something else, or to degenerate into a mere hooting gang, or disband. It took up something else, and thereby became more important than when it was winning its sensational victory a victory that changed the course of political events in New South Wales, and in despoiling Machine--gun McMillan of his prospects of Premiership, cleared the way for the arrival of the Reid Ministry the first Liberal Government in New South Wales, in the sense in which we now use the term Liberal.
Up to this point the most prominent personality in the brigade had been that of Arthur Desmond, whose poems have stirred the hearts of so many Victorians; but from the outset another leader, JOHN DWYER, had been making his way to the front. These two men held somewhat different views for the future of the brigade, and Dwyer's being more compatible with the actual circumstances, prevailed. In particular the victory of the first Liberal Party at the elections of x.894, when Dibbs was definitely defeated and the Reign of Terror brought to a close, left Desmond's policy little scope, and from that time Dwyer became the Chief of the A.S.B., which was to acquire an influence greater than ever, though with less sensational accompaniments.
About the end of 1893, whilst as yet Desmond was the principal public figure in the Brigade, an important move was made, chiefly by Dwyer's initiative. A huge building in Castlereagh-street was taken and converted to the double purpose of a barracks establishment for the Brigade and a cheap shelter for the hard-up. In fact, this combination gave the Brigade an effective force, always on hand, of several hundred men; on and off, scarcely less than a thousand; for, practically, all who came were against the Government, and, moreover, in sympathy with the Brigade, because it was in sympathy with them. Very many of them were enrolled as members.
The Brigade offered men a dormitory shelter, with stretcher and blanket, and a morning refreshment of tea and bread and butter, for the total sum of threepence, which covered the cost, and even left a margin when dealing with numbers; and nobody was refused on account of inability to pay - a man was in such a case given credit, with the understanding that he would pay if he got in a position to do so. Those, however, who took advantage of this to sponge on the Brigade whilst persistently boozing away what money they got, were blacklisted, and turned out when other men needed the accommodation. They were only a small minority at any time. In numerous cases men stayed on credit for months, and faithfully paid their share when they later on obtained the means. This branch of operations has ever since been maintained.
As the regular garrison was provisioned at the barracks, the kitchen department was necessarily considerable, and it was soon extended to provide dinner and supper at 3d. for all who cared to come. This occasioned the ordinary restaurants to bring down their price from 6d. to 3d., and then the Brigade, simply to ease off its own work, dropped that line of operations. The 3d. restaurants are still in full business in Sydney.
Public demonstrations of the unemployed were organised, and propagandist meetings, both indoors and out of doors, held; also a printing press was established, and a weekly paper, "Justice," was issued.
The Brigade about this time began to suffer from the Reign of Terror. At first the Dibbs Government winked at it, under the impression that what was done against McMillan would react in favour of Dibbs, but the Brigade soon put an end to this impression. Thereafter, the premises were haunted by police pimps, offering to procure dynamite or asking for assistance to burn down the city. They were always tracked to the detectives with whom they consorted.
Unfortunately, a paragraph was supplied to "Justice," and set up by a compositor without having been seen by any of the acting editors, that contained a slight personal libel on Slattery, the Dibbs "Minister of Justice." Thereupon, "the Crown" prosecuted the five registered publishers for criminal libel. About this time it occurred to Slattery that just before then "Justice" had commented on the case of Montgomery and Williams. These were two burglars who were disturbed by the police whilst trying to break into a building. They naturally knocked down the police and ran away. Nobody was killed or very seriously hurt; and it was quite obvious that they had not tried to kill anyone, but simply to save themselves. Yet, on being captured, they were hanged for "attempted murder," in spite of public protests. "Justice" had said that if men were hanged for merely knocking policemen down, they might just as well kill the policemen and so get rid of the risk of being identified by them afterwards; it was for this comment that the publishers were, as part of Slattery's revenge, arrested on a charge of inciting to murder. This charge was kept hanging over their heads for some time, and at length withdrawn, after they had been illegally convicted on the Slattery charge. The withdrawal was due to Edmund Barton, who urged that the libel conviction placed a stigma upon them, whilst the charge of inciting to murder would raise them to the dignity of martyrs. The Slattery conviction was illegal, because although a "proprietor" is civilly responsible for damage occasioned by his servants, he is not criminally responsible for anything they do without his authority; and the law fixes the 'criminal responsibility on the printer and not the owner. A libel in a paper is sold for the profit of the owner, who is therefore liable for damages even if he has not seen it: but he cannot be held criminally guilty unless he has actually and personally caused its insertion. When the Melbourne "Herald" was prosecuted criminally for libel, it was not Winter, the owner (although he was editor as well), but Feigl, the printer, who had to bear the brunt of the accusation. In the "Justice" case, the law was overridden by arbitrary authority, and five members of the Active Service Brigade went to gaol for having lent their names to b e registered as the nominal proprietors of the Brigade's paper.
About this critical time dissentions crept in to the Brigade headquarters' circle. Desmond had already practically withdrawn; and an attempt was made to oust Dwyer. In the upshot, another person obtained possession of the large building in Castlereagh-street and continued to carry on a lodging business in it. Dwyer remained in charge of the organisation, and soon gave it a new impetus. Before long he had three lodging houses going, all centres of propagandist influence and varied activity. Next, he took up the idea of starting a co-operative coal mine.
This was a bold conception which the influence to which the Brigade had attained brought within the scope of practicability. But unfortunately, certain promised assistance was not forthcoming, and having many worries at the time, and nobody associated with him who could aid satisfactorily in organising to overcome this unexpected obstacle, he was forced to let the matter drop. By this time the members of the Brigade were to be counted by thousands.
Membership, however, did not imply such a connection as exists between the members of a company, but rather such as exists between the members of an Order, and the majority had been enrolled when among the Sydney unemployed, and many were by this time scattered all over Australia, and indeed all over the world. The Reign of Terror had, moreover, not yet been recognised as finished, and the apparent exigencies of prudence had occasioned what amounted to a disbanding of the formal organisation, leaving as the only connection the individual's memory of his pledge of faithfulness. Later on, steps were taken to re-establish a formal organisation.
Among other things, the Brigade organised a plan of campaign in connection with a strike in the boot trade, which was carried through successfully.
Both without and with formal organisation, the Brigade continued to justify its name. Some "active service," in the case of the Reform movement, has always been going on, often when the outer world has known the least about it. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name," it can say, "there is activity in the midst of them". Its varied enterprises, whether undertaken collectively or by particular sections, have not been always successful, nor perhaps always the most desirable; but that is an inevitable accompaniment of activity. The inactive never fail, because they never try to succeed; and make only one mistake that of never doing anything. As they do nothing, they can do nothing wrong, except to do nothing when they should be doing something. The Brigade's mistakes and failures have had an educational value, and the greater part of its "failures" have been successes in point of doing some good. And where it has "succeeded," it has succeeded gloriously.
Not the least valuable educational work was done in connection with the coal mine enterprise; every man who was enlisted was thoroughly instructed in the co-operative and Socialist economic principle, and although at the time their comprehension was often superficial, many have since dated from it the foundation of their present understanding of the true nature of capitalism. It was a great pity that this undertaking met with misfortune; it was a splendid thing. The Brigade had organised to supply a large number of men with the necessaries of life (and actually did so) whilst they would have been creating by their labour a valuable asset for themselves.
The lodging houses of the Brigade used to be provided with abundance of reform literature, and addresses were given on social subjects to audiences composed of scores of lodgers and such other persons as cared to be present. Of late years this feature has not been preserved; the reason being chiefly that the circumstances of the time are no longer identical. Instead of appealing specially to a crowd that could be regarded as a kind of garrison, those who combine to do propagandist work direct their efforts towards the general public. But every opportunity is taken to induce the lodgers, privately and conversationally, to look on the social question from the proper standpoint, and those who display an interest can obtain the loan of literature which is similarly available to the members of the outside public.
Among the recognised institutions of the Active Service Brigade was in early times a kind of litany which assisted to fix at least the memory of social ideas in the minds of many men; and songs have always played a strong part. The song "Fighting for Liberty," to the air of "God Save the Queen," which appeared in the THE TOCSIN Eight Hours number, is one of them. The special Brigade song, by Dwyer, to the air of "Ring the Bell, Watchman," is good and I will try to obtain it for reproduction. As near as I remember, the chorus runs something like this:"Arise, Australia, from slavish chains set free! The Brigadiers are marching to battle for thee! Wide round our path, whilst the Wrongs of Ages fall, In Truth and Right, by Freedom's might, comes welfare for all!"
After long years of suffering, men will brood
On Revolution; but as yet none dares
Renounce the thoughts and feelings in him bred
By long accustoming - much less to raise
But when they least suspect,
The jealous anger of the tyrant brood
Breaks forth against them, and each man now sees,
Himself a menaced outlaw. In that hour
He feels a sudden joy, that comes to him
From the destruction of that caution's tie
Which held him anciently.
No cause remains
To link him to debasement; prudence now
Has but one counsel -
Frank and desperate war!
When the internal condition of a country is such, that the risks of a revolutionary attempt appear less to the individual than those to which he is exposed without it, and from which its success may relieve him: then as a matter of course, revolutionary projects will begin to be organised.
The prevailing superstition of the uninitiated with regard to working class and radical sedition has been, that conspiracies are formed with the ambitious purpose of seizing the wealth and political power, but in the truth of history they have always been formed under the influence of terror, for defensive purposes, and looking forward to social gains not as the attracting motives, but as a side issue of success in defeating the enemy, whose malignity was so feared as to inspire the attempts from the simple motive of self-preservation.
The calling out of the troops almost all over Australia in the Great Strike was a direct menace to the liberties of the workers, and in consequence called forth talk, and in some quarters more than talk, of preparing to answer force by force. Although civil war was not brought about, yet it was missed by so little that, looking back, one must wonder at the escape from it. Breaking out in any place, conflict must have spread with rapid infection over the whole continent; and in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland it was so close to happening that its non commencement in the whole area seems little short of a predestination.
The greatest likelihood of its outbreak in Victoria was on the day of the call out, when, being without the latest news from the city, some people concluded at once that a struggle had already been started there, which was the occasion for calling all the country troops to the spot. In one instance it was downright folly (though in looking back not regretted) on the part of the present writer that prevented war from declaring itself instanteously. I had access to the local printing office, and the first thing that came into my head was to rush down there and print a manifesto! The whole equipment of the local troops was in that office; and just when it was too late I thought of it. If it had been promptly removed before the troops began to come for it, a battle might very probably have occurred that night, or early morning rather, but whether so or not there must have been serious consequences. There were some determined men about that locality, and, at a later stage, had the occasion appeared, the outcome would not have depended upon one man's ideas.
But the situation was very much more serious in New South Wales and Queensland. In Sydney, as mentioned in a previous article, the order had been actually given for troops to go and open fire with machine guns upon the crowd at Circular Quay, but it was countermanded in time. In Queensland the troops were before long riding about the country harassing the shearers, who had a strike of their own; and in some instances arms were actually presented against the troopers by the shearers whose strike camps they were employed to break up; the cowardice, or discretion, of the troopers caused these incidents to pass unobserved and without developing into positive war. But the greater acuteness of the trouble produced larger and more serious efforts towards readiness to resist military oppression. One movement in this direction took the form of a project for smuggling arms over the border from New South Wales. It was not proceeded with, as a matter of fact; but some months after it had been definitely abandoned, the Queensland Government got wind of it, and sent a large force to patrol the border, in pure waste of time. The worst of this and similar undertakings was that some vague rumours of them getting about after their abandonment, encouraged the Government to treat strike prisoners who were not implicated in anything of the sort as seditious conspirators, and everything connected with the strike as seditious conspiracy. This naturally inspired the victims and others with a continual fear of persecution by bogus charges and false convictions, which would probably have found vent in renewed efforts towards deliverance by insurrection had not the New Australia movement given pent-up feeling a different outlet.
In New South Wales, the acute phase which elsewhere gradually dwindled away was kept alive and made yet more acute by several causes. First there came the Broken Hill strike and persecution of the strikers, against whom troops were sent, and charges of conspiracy levelled. This matter was the cause of great excitement in Sydney, and we had the spectacle of the "Sovereign People" humbly and vainly beseeching their alleged servants to release the strike prisoners. Consequently, when the great depression came a little later, public discontent was more associated with bitter feeling against the Government than elsewhere. But besides this, there were other causes which brought civil war nearer than, at the narrowest of all narrow escapes, it had ever been before. Four times at least the issue hung in the balance. In one case George Black, then Labour M.P., saved the bloodshed that would have resulted. In the second, the situation was changed by tactics, based on information received from persons who, traitors to the Labour and Social movement, took part in a plutocratic conspiracy to force on hostilities but who, whilst doing so, betrayed the conspiracy to me; and on other information gained by members of the reform movement by continual vigilance. In the third case, the outcome hinged upon my own advice with regard to a proposed movement, in which our side would have taken the aggressive; and in the fourth, peace or war - and if war, war that very hour - hung upon the issue of a prosecution, shrouded with strange circumstances, in which one of our men was falsely accused with a farreaching intent. The four crises are intimately connected with each other, and with the Dynamite Period of the Reign of Terror - so called because plutocratic agents sought to bring about dynamite outrages, and to falsely fix the guilt upon reformers, as a means to get the whole Labour movement attacked by martial law. Probably the plot - for which at the time we held (and some still hold) the Government directly responsible - was due to European financiers who have used such tactics elsewhere, and who no doubt wanted a panic to precipitate the bank smashes, which, however, did not need that encouragement to occur.
The description of these trying times in Sydney will be proceeded with in the next article.
During the latter part of 1892 there were held many public meetings in favour of the Broken Hill strike prisoners - at which the people persistently carried resolutions, with as much effect as many sheep bleating in a slaughteryard. And that was what they were, more literally than they knew.
A certain person pretending to be a zealous reformer, took advantage of this agitation for a diabolical purpose. The authorities were first insidiously tutored into the belief that a sanguinary revolutionary conspiracy was going on, and then this man set to work to inveigle other persons into a deadly trap. He proposed to such of the Radicals as were most inclined to be led by rashness, or by vanity, to enter into a plot for forming a Provisional Government. The outline of the project as told to the intended dupes, was this:- At the meeting which was to be held at the Queen's Statue, a deputation would be appointed to go up to Parliament House to ask for the release of the Broken Hill men. The crowd would accompany the deputation. Then, as the temper of the crowd would have been kindled by fiery speeches, the intended conspirators were invited to have in view, instead of proceeding with the business of deputationising, to call the crowd after them and make a rush into the building, eject the Members of Parliament, and instal themselves in place as a Provisional Government.
It was not necessary that any of the persons to whom this was suggested should agree to it; proof that it had been suggested to them would have been quite enough, in the then existing state of "justice" to establish their guilt! For meanwhile, troops with machine guns were secreted behind the Parliamentary buildings, ready for use whenever the crowd should move that way. The inflammatory agent himself, who of course would have escaped conviction, no matter how prominent his share in the affair, by merely describing his conduct as a detective ruse, made a violent harangue from the foot of the Statue, and the proposal was already made for the crowd to go up in mass with the deputation and "demonstrate" in front of the House. In a few minutes it would have been acted upon.
George Black, Labor M.P., being at the time in Parliament-house, was approached with the question of whether he would take part in the Provisional Government; and almost at the same time, his attention was called by a fellowmember to the presence of the troops behind the House. Putting two and two together very quickly, Black rushed to the Statue and spoke, spoke with the issue of life or death for hundreds hanging on the effect of his words, to calm the crowd, to keep them on the spot; to stonewall the danger without exciting them by revealing it to them. And he succeeded. For this, New South Wales owes him a debt of gratitude that, as is too often the case with such debts, remains unpaid.
But for him, a tumultuous crowd would have swarmed up to the House to be butchered with machine guns; and afterwards it would have been alleged that the crowd was a seditious one, following conspiring leaders for a violent purpose, and all labour and reform movements would have been declared permeated with conspiracy, and placed under martial law. As a matter of fact there was no revolutionary conspiracy, unless in the sense that two or three persons 14AY have been induced to believe that they would be given seats in the Provisional Government, by the inflammatory agent who posed as a ringleader. But there was a horrible and fiendish plutocratic conspiracy, the authors and agents of which stalk unpunished.
I was not aware of these things at the time; I heard of them later, piecemeal, at a stage when I was following up information received affecting myself. A certain person who had posed as a socialist, but who had since denounced the whole social movement, warned me privately in these words: "There is a conspiracy to work up a bogus dynamite plot, and I think they are going to involve you in it". Having confided this to me, he wrote an article in one of the two Sunday gutter newspapers of Sydney, alluding plainly to me, in which the upmost scurrility of abuse was coupled with the insinuation or almost allegation that I had been giving instruction in bomb-making. It was also asserted positively that bombs had been made, and hinted that they would be used shortly; whilst a further personal reference I interpreted as impossible to mean anyone but Larry Petrie. It was made out that the trades unions were honeycombed with this alleged dynamite plot. Now, according to my-information, the paper that published these dastardly lies was virtually owned in the police office so what could I infer but that the Government had the primary responsibility for the "capitalist conspiracy" of which this poisoning the public mind in advance formed part?
Before that article appeared I got another warning, from the editor of the rival paper, who said, "If you keep on speaking in the Domain, you will fall in with the rest." He took me aside privately, and added, "I mean what I say; it will not be Chicago this time, it will be Sydney. The reference was to the Pinkerton plot for bursting up the Chicago labor movement, when a Pinkerton detective threw a bomb, for which a number of Anarchists who were proved absolutely innocent were hanged (the survivors were released from prison on the ground of the innocence of all, in 1893).
When the article mentioned appeared, I warned Larry Petrie, but he laughed and thought I was following a mere fancy of the imagination; nevertheless, he found out that it was not, for before many months he was accused of the Aramac explosion. I was able to gain information from which I surmised as follows:
A strike occurred at a boot factory, and the pickets were arrested. That was not unusual; but it was a new thing for them to be arrested as pickets - ordinarily, frivolous charges of assault, etc., used to be availed of, but now a blow was struck directly at the right of picketing. That should have caused a vast indignation meeting of trade unionists and, in anticipation, a Governmental ukase was issued making meetings at the Queen's Statue - the customary place illegal. Well, the public had been surfeited with fruitless indignation meetings over the Broken Hill men, and the unionists didn't propose to hold another. So the samb inflammatory agent went round to try and stir them up; but he failed to move the Trades Hall people. At last he got the directors of the "Australian Workman" to undertake calling a meeting, and having it at the Statue by way of protest against the prohibition of meetings there. He also induced them to agree to invite me to speak, so they told me afterwards - it is to be kept in mind that I was the intended victim selected by the plutocratic or Governmental conspirators or their agents (as evidenced by the Sunday paper article) to suffer in the role of arch-dynamiter. [I may remark here that I have never so much as seen any dynamite, nor favoured any other physical force than straightforward manly disobedience to tyranny; but of course that did not matter.] I was meanwhile doing all that I could to find out whether any such meeting had been proposed; and when I learned that the "Workman" people had been approached, and that they had been induced to agree to ask me to speak (obviously that they might be incriminated through me), I laid my information before them, and urged them to abandon the idea of holding the meeting. They professed to think nothing of my fears, but when the time came, the meeting was not held. That day I walked round and found a barricade of tram cars placed by the authorities to hem the people in so that they could be shot down - not to prevent them from reaching the Parliament House, but to let them get so far (apparently assuming that they would desire to) and whilst those in front were hemmed in by those behind, to prevent them from escaping when the crowd should be fired into. And another man went a different way, and saw the machine guns near Parliament House.
An agitator who was disappointed at the non-holding of the meeting called a scratch gathering of unemployed at the Queen's Statue. There were only about forty present. I was of opinion that this gathering was in no danger, being so small and having no official connection with the Labour Movement; but I had not been told that the originally projected meeting had been abandoned, so I had to come down to do the last thing possible, namely, to organise a force of scouts, to give timely warning of any approaching body of troops or police, and enable the people to disperse; and I got several scouts posted and kept a look-out myself, till the gathering dispersed. I had already printed a warning, and done all in my power to induce the public, beforehand, to stop away.
After the terrible anxiety of that day and night I had a brief respite, and then the ominous signs began to gather anew. It was getting towards May, as I remembered. I was visited from time to time by strangers, who professed to have become interested by hearing me speak in the Domain on Sundays. They were all Frenchmen, and some of them said they were Anarchists, and intimate friends of Kropotkine or of Jean Grave. I suspected that they were more likely intimate friends of some capitalistic or Government fizgig, but I did not like to condemn them on suspicion. So I treat them as if they were what they professed to be; but some I found out from time to time, and then it was my turn to play a game. Not to conceal anything from them or deceive them in any way, but to make use of them.
The first really striking case was this. Detective Rochaix, whom I did not know, found a pretext for introducing himself to me, to ask, as he pretended, on behalf of a stranger he had just met, who was a German and spoke no English, the whereabouts of any office that could print some mathematical calculations. He knew German, and was thus fortunately able to interpret the stranger's requirements. My suspicion was awakened by hearing the two talk together, for instead of German they used French. I heard them proceed to determine upon questions to put to me, to the effect that the stranger was looking for a very cheap lodging did I know of any? Now, I lived in a cheap lodging house; I guessed at once the drift on the inquiry, and on the question being put, replied that I lived where there were cheap rooms to let, and would be glad to show them mine, so that they need not trouble the landlord unless the style suited. We went there. Rochaix remained below, and I noticed that he talked familiarly with the landlord's manager; the place was, then, well known to him, and he could have himself told the "stranger" of it - proof that I was right in considering I had to do with detectives whose purpose was to supervise my domicile. The other man I led into my room, and at once showed him "Freiheit," the German Anarchist paper. He did not understand it; which I affected not to notice, showing him then "La Revolte," the French organ edited by Jean Grave. Forthwith he went into ecstasies of delight, and confidentially told me that he knew how to make a beatiful little infernal machine. When I told him that I didn't approve of such things he seemed sad, and made an appointment to meet me about the printing question next day, which of course he didn't keep, and as I knew he wouldn't I didn't either. I may remark that our conversation was in French, but if I hadn't thought fit to make the pair uneasy as to what I had overheard, by - when I could get no more to overhear - addressing them in that language, no doubt he would have forgotten that he knew no English. I was told afterwards that he was a Melbourne detective. I never saw him again to my knowledge, but Rochaix I saw a lot of.
The other man, whilst in my room, had taken notice of some type that I had there; so I was not surprised when a week or so later, Rochaix asked the landlord's manager to tell me that one of the Frenchmen who had lately come to see me was desirous of getting a specimen of type - each letter of the alphabet in three sorts; and that if I could get them for him he would return them in a week.
The three sorts were indicated, two from a book for which similar type occurred, and one by a pencil imitation. They happened to be the the sorts that I had and used in my home-printed leaflets, and a heading that I used, which was not type at all, but a wood-cut. My inference was, that it was expected I would not "obtain" the specimens, but supply them out of my own type; and that the purpose was to procure precisely similar type for the forging of spurious manifestos, to be attributed to me. What did I do? Well, I gave just what I thought was wanted. I ran no risk thereby, because if the self-same type had been used in the ordinary way, it would not have given the same kind of printing; a regular printer would not have known how to produce an identical effect.
What I was most afraid of about this time was that the New Australia movement would be victimised by being falsely made out to be a veiled revolutionary conspiracy. Lane's young brother was being constantly shadowed by pimps and fizgigs, and worked upon by the beforementioned inflammatory agent, who aimed to induce him to seriously compromise himself.
One thing that this agent did was to prepare a manifesto, declaring that dynamite would emancipate the human race. He got a person believed to have been his accomplice, and two hot-headed young men, to assist in producing the copies. Then each of the four was to lay some of the copies about in the Domain. All took an oath of secrecy. The two dupes faithfully observed it, but the day before the distribution in the Domain copies were circulated by one or both of the other two, with the information that the dupes - no mention of others - were the authors. When I told one of the duped young men about his rashness, he was astounded at my knowing about it, and sustained a nervous shock that nearly prostrated him. It may be asked, Why was not this agent brought to justice? The answer is, that legal proof could not have been given without sacrificing his dupes, and even if this latter could have been avoided, of what use would it have been to prosecute one agent, when the official State itself was supposed to be privy to the whole affair?
I left that lodging, and had not been a week in a new one when a Frenchman took lodgings there. For a week he dwelt there without seeing me; then he inquired of the landlady whether she knew my address, as he had been recommended to me for lessons in English. This man was also a "personal and intimate acquaintance of Kropotkine," but he didn't rush the announcement. He waited to take two or three lessons in English, and then cautiously edged the conversation towards the social question. I studiously avoided it, so as to make him force the subject, which he did at last by means of a broken window that afforded an opening for reflections on the landlords and their prey. Then I set the pace by taking him to my room, and showing him "La Revolte," when the old performance was gone through. He became very friendly, and as a communist and a comrade, insisted on supplying me with a chair and table and blankets - for he perceived that I had none.
Subsequently he said that he wanted to make some experiments on the production of explosives - for commercial purposes only, I was to understand - and as he did not know the English names of the chemicals, if he told me them in French would I write down the same for him in English? Of course I said that I would. I was in the street and had no writing materials handy, and I was in a hurry to go somewhere, I would do it, certainly - another time, when it was a convenient; and it hasn't been convenient yet. This man was employed as a servant by Detective Rochaix.
So time passed, until May Day was long gone by, and according to what had been foreseen, there was a dynamite affair remote from Sydney, introduced on board the steamer Aramac, bound for Brisbane. Larry Petrie - he who had laughed at the warning - was accused of being the author. About the same time there would have been a dynamite affair in Sydney with, I imagine, myself accused as the author, but for a woman. A few yards away from where I lived was a wharf. On that wharf one Sunday morning early, a woman found a package of dynamite. She showed it to some working men, who rightly judged that it had been put there by some enemy of labour. They destroyed it, and about dinner time detectives came down to search the wharf for something that was not there.
Was anything more needed to convince me of the unlimited criminality of the Government, which I understood to be at the bottom of the whole foul intrigue? It was evident that someone, and as I thought the Government, had on hand a dastardly scheme for murdering me and others on a false charge, by forged crimes, as a step towards using our conviction to justify the next step of forcibly suppressing all radical agitation, all labour organisation - although since then I have thought that this was not the aim, but that the conspirators were financiers who desired to produce a panic to react on money matters. These financiers probably instilled fears into the Government and the local capitalists. The former gave instructions to official detectives, the latter to private detectives, and the detectives employed fizgigs who plotted to make it seem that they had really something to be paid for watching. Thus, as one of the judges remarked in a company swindle case, conspiracies grow up without anyone concerned in them having intended or even understood them to be all that they are.
At that time I began seriously to consider whether, being so apparently doomed in spite of myself, I should not find greater safety in the forlorn hope of an appeal to force; and others, as it soon became evident, were thinking somewhat similarly. Yet so preternaturally suspicious had we become under the terrible strain of that time that we were almost unanimously restrained by the fear that the whole business had been engineered for the very purpose of goading us to that desperate conclusion.
It is not to be supposed that this feeling of being driven to seek safety in revolution affected only those of us who were directly menaced by the dynamite plots of the fizgigs, or who saw beyond it a menace of military violence far other than the mere parading of troops. Everything else tended in the same direction. From the call-out of the military in the Great Strike onward - three years together - the attitude of the capitalists and of the Government towards Labour had become more and more aggressive. That of the Government to every radical movement was conspicuously criminal. In this year (1893) occurred the bank smashes. A paper called "Hard Cash" was criticising the rotten institutions and their swindling methods. "Hard Cash" was therefore to be suppressed. Pretext was found in the fact that it denounced the Savings Bank for re-banking the deposits which people were preferring to place with fit; a prosecution for criminal libel was brought against some of the news agents who sold it. Those alone were selected for prosecution who were regarded as prominent socialists; but the detectives were sent round to the others with the criminal threat that if they sold any more of "Hard Cash" of any issue, containing "libel" or not, they, too, would be prosecuted. The authorities "knew" who ran the paper, but they did not know how to prove it, for they could not discover where it was printed. They suspected me for some time, and with more reason than there was for their other attentions to me. Not that I even knew where "Hard Cash" was printed; but long before it appeared I engraved the heading, as a purely business operation, and the style of the cutting was recognised. Although I knew less about the matter than they did, I prevented them from discovering where it was printed; a person whom I knew asked me if they had yet searched such and such an office, in a tone that betrayed an idea on his part that it was printed there, and I forthwith went to the manager, to warn him that such anxious inquiries might find their way to the detectives and lead them to the office. Now as it afterwards turned out, the paper was really printed there, although the manager did not know it; and my visit led to the actual printer declining to print any more issues.
The partiality of the Government towards the banks exasperated the workers who were thrown into destitution by the smash, and who saw, on the other hand, their own movements persecuted. It wanted but little to provoke a rising. In fact, many members of the commercial classes ardently longed for such; and one prominent merchant offered two hundred pounds to the man who brought me most of my information, to start an insurrection. But of course nobody was going to be catspaw for a man who only wanted to rectify his own grievance against the bank reconstructors, and who would no doubt have paid two thousand to prevent the insurrection had it occurred - from going far enough to interfere with his own particular capitalistic interests.
Meanwhile, the "Aramac" accusation had fizzled out. A move was now made to make it appear that the lack of evidence was due to organised intimidation on the part of conspirators in Sydney. A gaolbird who had given false evidence against Petrie came over, and preferred a false accusation against a man who was actively connected with social reform agitation, to the effect that this man threatened his life. There was to be one witness, and that witness did not appear. The case was remanded. Immediately afterwards, the witness came up and asked what he was required to say, as he did not know anything about the matter. Our "shallower," who was concealed behind a pillar, at once jumped forward and pinned him to the statement, before witnesses.
Our "shadower" also overheard a detective say to the magistrate, whilst our man was being bailed, that the Queensland police were desirous of a conviction in this case, as it would help them with the "Aramac" affair. This news struck us all with evil foreboding. It seemed as if the grasp of the conspiracy was settling about us, and its deadly blow would be struck without further delay. The fulfilment of our previous forecasts; the unscrupulous and fizgig character of the attempts against us; the nature of the present case as an attempt to link by downright subornation of perjury, the "Aramac" affair with our parties, the unblushing conspiracy with the Queensland police - all made us feel that now, indeed, the time had come when the only hope of personal safety from death or lifelong imprisonment, from which absolute innocence could not protect us, lay on the battlefield.
Some of us agreed to wait no longer than the conclusion of the case; we would know then, by our man being falsely convicted, that the Government intended to stick at no crime to accomplish its purpose. To our surprise, however, the case was dismissed - which was the first cause to imagine that the complicity of the Government was not such as we had up till then believed. We had been prepared for a different issue.
One man, who was more inclined to view an insurrection as desirable than as a last resort, was sadly disappointed. It appeared that he had ruined himself financially to place an armed force ready for action. Later on, about the time when the Active Service Brigade was commencing its operations, the same man thought that in the excitement thus being occasioned, it would be easy to start a revolution, and so it would have been. He laid a plan before me, by which some hundreds of thousands of pounds could have been undoubtedly secured for the "sinews of war," but I advised decidedly against it. Had I known as much about the circumstances as I knew later on, I could not honestly have said that the scheme was likely to fail; however, I doubted some parts of it at that time, and he attached some weight to my opinion.
Personally, I did not want to see even a successful revolt if it could be done without, as I was convinced that the only result would be to place power in the hands of designing demagogues, who would be worse enemies to liberty than the capitalists or the Dibbs Government; but that was not the point just then. A few months afterwards he quitted Australia in disgust, and, according to one report, went to South Africa to enlist under Cecil Rhodes, who was then intent on founding a new Republic.
Desmond left the Active Service Brigade and assisted to start a paper called "The New Order," with which the present N.S.W. Labour-members Hughes and Holman were also associated. I went to Mudgee. Dwyer was achieving great things with the Brigade. Then its paper, "Justice," was prosecuted, as mentioned in a former article, whilst yet another "Hard Cash" prosecution took place. I returned to Sydney, and was very soon in prison, like the "Hard Cash" and "Justice" victims; for my offence, it was having omitted to place my imprint on the front of a pamphlet as well as at the back - I had it at the back only. Three months. Two -others went with me for assisting to sell the pamphlet.
But I was well pleased; for in gaol I could rest from the anxieties that had so long beset me. Whilst I was in, I got some important information; which relieved my mind by showing that, criminally as the Government had acted, it had not conducted such a suborned conspiracy as it was at first held guilty of, and but for that information would have remained suspected of. Also, a trick was done which caused the authorities some uneasiness, and which I do not mind now explaining. A long letter from me appeared in the "New Order," dated from Biloela Gaol; the M.S. was in my handwriting. What wonderful organisation enabled me to write it and send it out? That troubled the police. But I wrote it and gave it to Desmond before I was prosecuted, and that was the whole mystery, except that my address was added at the time of publication.
During my incarceration the Dibbs Government went out of office, and though the prosecutions did not cease till after the Reid Administration had become firmly seated, the Reign of Terror was in fact ended and the colony was on the verge of revolution no longer.
But it was not generally understood as yet that such was the case; after their long experience of persecution the people expected it from the new administration almost as much as from the old, and the police, etc., continued for a while in their accustomed ways. The arrests of shearers continued up country, where the change of regime was longest, perhaps, in making itself felt, and the detectives remained on duty in the city watching Domain meetings, and buying copies of every reform publication to see if it could be prosecuted; the inflammatory agents and dynamite pimps had been withdrawn, but as yet we only looked for new ones in their place, and now the entire movement became permeated with mutual suspicion, every man suspecting everyone else since the disappearance of the former rightful objects of suspicion.
In the course of sentencing some shearers, Chief Justice Darley made some remarks to the effect that the country was in a state of virtual civil war. Men, he said, were actually dictating to honest workers the terms on which they should work; now a man had the God-given right to work as he pleased, and was entitled to resist all attacks upon that liberty - even unto death.
Darley meant by the honest workers whose liberty was invaded - the blacklegs; but I took up the text and applied it to the union men who were being dictated to and coerced by the squatters, backed up by the forces of the State. I did this in a speech in the Domain, in the course of which I was interrupted by Detective Clough, who forbade me to proceed. I finished my speech, however, and as I understood that I was to be prosecuted for it, determined to lay a trap for the authorities.
You will quite understand in view of the circumstances of the time that my belief was, if I were prosecuted for a speech, witnesses would be brought forward to swear to a distorted statement of what I had said. Therefore I would print the substance of my speech. The authorities would probably decide to prosecute on the printed matter instead of the spoken matter, as being in their opinion easier to "fix" me upon. At the same time I would thus tie them down to what it pleased me to print. They fell into the trap accordingly. Strenuous efforts were made by the Crown prosecutor to get the case tried by the notorious Judge Windeyer, but it was tried by one who had evinced his impartiality before being appointed to the Bench, and, thanks to him, notwithstanding a carefully packed jury, I was acquitted on the main point - a charge of inciting to murder, incendiarism, pillage, and assault; but got a term of imprisonment on minor charges, amounting to "stirring up discontent and dissatisfaction among her Majesty's liege subjects."
The Crown prosecutor applied for an order to confiscate my printing plant, which had been seized at the time of my arrest. This the judge peremptorily refused, consequently after my release I demanded the restoration of the plant. The police, however, resting on their power above the law, refused to return it, and when I wanted to know the reason why, one of the principal officers of the detective branch said:-
"I'm a Britisher, I am! I suppose you're an Australian!"
That accounted for everything. It was the last word of the Terrorists.
In the year 1889 in Melbourne the liberty of open-air meeting was in danger. The habitual place both for the regular stump speakers and also for special gatherings was then Queen's Wharf. In consequence of the measures taken by interested parties to suppress these meetings, it was decided to form a Go-To-Gaol League for the purpose of holding the wharf against the authorities. The maximum term of imprisonment to which the defenders were liable being reckoned at three months, a minimum of at least thirteen leagued speakers was required to be enlisted, each to conduct a meeting one Sunday in his turn. It was agreed that the fines imposed should not be paid, and that the speakers prosecuted would go to gaol; but the amount of the fines should be collected and paid to them. Unfortunately for this arrangement, the first man prosecuted was a "temperance lecturer" - chosen as first victim simply to make it appear that the attempt at suppressing the meetings was not directed, as it really was, against the radical social agitations that had latterly been conducted at the wharf - who was at once guilty of paying the fine. This disgusted everybody, and broke up the league. The alternative policy was adopted of technically abandoning the wharf, but practically holding it as before by speaking from boxes placed close to it, instead of from the actual wharf which had till then served as platform.
That year great "unemployed" agitation occurred. The first meeting was to be held at the foot of the statue in Spring street, at the junction of Nicholson-street, opposite the Parliamentary Gardens, but when Fleming essayed to speak the police prevented him. A message was sent to me asking me to speak at the next meeting, on the following day. This meeting was to be opened by somebody else, and he failed to open it, so though I had never opened a meeting before - I felt that it devolved upon me to do so. But the statue was guarded by a strong force of police, intent on preventing the meeting.
About 800 persons were looking on from the footpath - waiting, first, for some one to start the meeting, and then to see what would happen. I saw that the position at the statue could not be used, and passed word among the crowd to go over, all together, to the Parliamentary Gardens. This was done with a rush, and the police, suspecting nothing of the plan, braced themselves round the statue, and so wasted their time, and gave us the opportunity to take up a position in the gardens, before they realized what was happening. Of course, as soon as they did realise it they came over to hunt us out, but the difference was that we were now in possession and they were not, instead of vice versa.
Up they came dashing against the circle that had been formed round me, and trying to break through; but the Melbourne crowd was not of a sort to give way to them. Quite spontaneously the crowd had locked hands, every first and third man behind the back of the second, and so on, forming a living rope against which the police butted as vainly as a goat against a wire fence; and so the meeting held its ground till its business was over. Prior to the end the police had given up the task of trying to disperse us, and their leader was permitted to come in a quiet manner to me to convey the information that we could not be allowed to remain. "Go anywhere else," he said.
"Well," was my reply, "if we go anywhere else we shall be told just the same to move on from there."
He said we could go to the Richmond Paddock, and I then asked the crowd if they felt inclined to go there. If so, I would come with them; if not, I would remain where I was with them and finish my speech. They all cried out "We will stay!" which I considered greatly to their credit, as it seemed quite to be expected that a further force would be brought against the meeting for such a refusal to disperse.
This spirit was not maintained the following year, when the wharf agitators consented to abandon the wharf site in return for "permission" to address the meetings in the out-of-the way and inconvenient Flinders Park, and thereby bartered away the liberty of the public in exchange for a valueless servile leave.
At Sydney a few years later one of the means of agitation was bill sticking, and this was performed secretly, because anyone caught in the act would, during the Reign of Terror, undoubtedly have been arrested, and very probably he would have received a heavy sentence on some sensational charge of conspiracy, sedition, or that favourite pretext of the Dibbs Government, "inciting to murder." The operations were nevertheless carried on upon an extensive scale, so that when we had a bill-sticking campaign nobody could very easily fail next day to see plenty of out posters, which usually caused a great sensation, and were reported on in the daily papers.
I mentioned in the article on the Reign of Terror - "The Verge of Revolution" - how a fizgig (or "police pimp") issued, in a way designed to implicate a couple of young men, a manifesto in favour of dynamite. It will be understood that this made our work very dangerous, because all issuers of manifestos by stealth would have been condemned as dynamiters.
A good deal of cunning, as well as a good deal of audacity, was necessary, therefore, to carry on the secret bill-sticking, so as to placard, not so much the hoardings as the most prominent doorposts and plate-glass windows, the doors or walls of banks, etc., throughout the city and about its main approaches as well; the more so as many hands were not available, and two or, at most, three had to get through the whole job "in one act," every time. But in no instance was anyone detected either by the police or by any private person; although once (and once only) there was a very close shave.
Two of us had been on a big bill sticking expedition, and had just one bill left. "This is a house of robbery," with which we were preparing to adorn a bank building; for which purpose we had gone to the doorway of a shoeing forge in a side street, to paste the bill, before taking it near the bank. As we were thus engaged, a policeman came on us unawares, and seemed to think that we were trying to break in to the shoeing forge. He demanded what we did there at that time (it was about four in the morning), to which my companion replied, evasively, that there lots of people who had nowhere to go. The policeman then wanted to know what we had with us. "A billy." I had rolled up the pasted bill in my hand, and he did not perceive what it was, so he wanted to know what was in the billy, and put his finger in to find out. He pulled the finger out with an appearance of perplexity, which was scarcely relieved when my companion said "Boiled flour." "What do you do with it?" "Why," replied my companion humbly, "we eat it!" At that, the policeman left us, being convinced that we were some of the unemployed, of whom some hundreds were then camping in the public parks, and that we had been indulging in a banquet of boiled flour with the aid of a shaving brush wrapped in paper to serve as a spoon, and in Sydney a man is not "run in" as in Melbourne for being homeless and hungry, so being supposed to be of that sort we were allowed to depart in peace. But next day, or rather that day after it became light, when all our handiwork was visible all over the city, I happened to pass the same policeman, and he looked at me very suspiciously. I thought he was not quite sure that I was one of the two he had interviewed a few hours previously, or he would have stopped me.
As to those unemployed for a couple of whom we had the good fortune to pass ourselves off, they gave me the saddest experience of my life. The incident was this. I was making a round on some business or other at an hour when I was most days indoors. Suddenly, as I came into Georgestreet, there passed along it, towards the same corner, a melancholy procession of men with downcast faces, accompanied by others who held forth collection boxes to the people on the footpaths, and whined cringingly in a monotonous draw "Please pity the poor unemployed!". The abject degradation of the spectacle simply staggered me. I thought of the Melbourne unemployed who had formed that living rope to hold back the police - of the doings of the Salvage Corps in Melbourne since I had left there - and here were these! I feel now the agony of the recollection too acutely to attempt to write eloquently about it. I can only say that I saw and heard such and such a thing. But these men, or many of them, formed later on the main part of the garrison force of the Active Service Brigade when it was fighting for the right of free speech at public meetings, so that they were not sunk absolutely beyond hope, albeit I cannot but think that if it had had a better population to work on, it would have achieved more real success in its splendid efforts at reform organisation. It was in that moment that my heart turned back to my own native country, which I had not learned to love till that sight taught me to hate another with a hatred that calmer reason and the gaining of friends, and the knowledge of better things germinating there in that other, and the admiration of much splendid work done in it, and all the force of reasoned will, have since but barely prevailed to efface.
Some of the revolutionists used, when appealed to by such unemployed for the price of a feed, or on a wet night, a bed - and it was by the dozen that one met these implorers in the evenings and late at night - to say to them curtly, "Are you not ashamed of yourself? Is there not plenty in the banks, and the shops, and the houses of the rich? If you did fail and get sent to gaol you could not be worse off than you are; yet, instead of having the manliness to try and recover a little from those who rob you, you beg!" I could not treat them in that way, and especially I could not advise even a crowd,let alone individuals, to do something - even if I would certainly do it in their circumstances - that I was not prepared to do along with them, and first, in no matter what might be my circumstances; and I think that if a man needs help it is even his duty towards those who are at all in sympathy with him to ask them to help him if they can; but for a crowd - a crowd - to gather together in unison, and in that unity and mass feel no inspiration but to unitedly pitifully beseech alms! surely woe to that nation out of whose blood such things can come to pass!