Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Unemployed Riots in Adelaide

Unemployed Riots in Adelaide

March 1st 1870, the usually quiet City of Adelaide was thrown into turmoil when a riot broke out in Victoria Square at the front of the Treasury Building.
 South Australia was in the midst of a recession with high unemployment and unrest amongst Adelaide’s unemployed had been growing for some time. 

 To alleviate the problem, the Government offered unemployed men positions working on public works projects. Men were offered positions digging trenches near the Adelaide Asylum at a rate of 1s 10d per 5 meters of trench, which meant a hardworking man could possible earn around 3 shilling in one day. The men considered this wage insulting and not enough recompense for the work being done, nor was it enough for the men with families to support their household. 

 (Note: 12d equals 1s (Shilling) - 6d is equivalent to approximately 5c in today’s currency– the average wage for a Housemaid in 1861 was 21 pounds. 20 Shillings equalled One Australian Pound)

 The men, gathered on Tuesday the first of March out the front of the Town Hall, but were dispersed by the Police, only to return a few hours later in greater numbers.
 The now much larger group of disgruntled men decided to march to the treasury building and voice their anger.
 Anger and frustration soon boiled over, and some of the men stormed the Treasury Building demanding to have an audience with the Premier and other Government dignitaries. The situation soon got out of hand and erupted into a full blown riot.
 20 Policemen were sent to eject the protestors from the Treasury Building. They cleared the halls and ejected the men onto the street, then they themselves entered the street, with clerks bolting the doors behind them.

 Mounted police who had been watching the crowd all day, intercepted the rioters and all hell broke loose. Mounted Police rode straight into the rioters, and those officers on the ground, drew their swords and began to defend themselves from the unruly mob, who had taken up weapons and were striking back.
Officers were struck with stones, and the rioters tried to pull them from their horses. Peaceable spectators became involved, trying to calm the riot and assist police but to no avail. The rioters began to mash shop fronts on King William Street, but it didn’t last long.
 A lone rioter was standing on an empty lot opposite the Town Hall, shouting out a sermon to his fellow rioters. The men gathered around and listened to their fellow rioter as he harangued the Government about their 18 cent a day labor wage.
 The men were once again whipped into a frenzy, picking up their shovels and picks, they once again marched to the Treasury building, only to meet the mounted troops who rushed them and broke them up. Another smaller fracas occurred outside the Post Office, but this was also put down by the ever growing contingent of Police. Arrests began to be made, and soon the disgruntled men began to disperse, but that wasn’t the end of it.
 Court cases followed, but very few men were sentenced. The Government came under much scrutiny, as did the police force, who were accused of inciting the riot by their show of force in the first instance.

© 2016, Written and researched by Allen Tiller

1870 'LAW AND CRIMINAL COURTS.', Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904), 28 May, p. 4. , viewed 13 Sep 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article158940155

1870 'THE UNEMPLOYED DISTURBANCE IN KING WILLIAM-STREET.', Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912), 2 March, p. 3. (THIRD EDITION), viewed 13 Sep 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196729362

Alison Painter. 2016. 1 March 1870 Riot in Adelaide (Celebrating South Australia). [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.sahistorians.org.au/175/chronology/march/1-march-1870-riot-in-adelaide.shtml. [Accessed 13 September 2016].

Manning, Geoffrey H 2001, A colonial experience, 1838-1910 : a woman's story of life in Adelaide, the District of Kensington and Norwood together with reminiscences of colonial life, Gillingham Printers, Underdale, S. Aust

What people used to earn - What it used to cost - Research Guides at State Library of Victoria. 2016. What people used to earn - What it used to cost - Research Guides at State Library of Victoria. [ONLINE] Available at: http://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/c.php?g=245232&p=1633038. [Accessed 13 September 2016].