US bestows honour on African American co-leader of Eureka Stockade

An African American man who was the first person tried and acquitted for the Eureka Rebellion will be memorialised in central Victoria on Monday morning.

The US ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, is set to unveil a plaque at White Hills Cemetery in Bendigo to honour John Joseph’s life.

John Joseph (sixth from right) was one of the 13 men charged with treason for their part in the Eureka Rebellion.Credit:Samuel Calvert

Joseph was the first of the 13 Eureka Stockade leaders to be put on trial, facing a charge of high treason, according to The Herald in 1889.

After tensions rose and protests grew on the diggings in 1854, the Eureka Rebellion occurred in Ballarat after those mining in Victoria’s goldfields became disgruntled by exorbitant license fees imposed by the colonial government.

There were 22 diggers and six soldiers killed in the rebellion, which lasted around 15 minutes.

According to the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House in Canberra, once all 13 men on trial following the stockade were acquitted by the jury, Joseph was carried at shoulder height through the 10,000-strong gathering outside the Melbourne court.

US ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, will pay tribute to John Joseph.Credit:Brook Mitchell

When he died four years later, Joseph was buried in an unmarked grave in Bendigo.

Raffaello Carboni, an Italian writer on the goldfields who chronicled the Eureka Stockade, described Joseph as a “kind cheerful heart” who possessed a “sober, plain, matter of fact, contented mind”.

In a press release, the US ambassador’s office said recognising Joseph’s contribution to Australian history exemplified its “commitment to racial equity and recognising historical injustice”.

Kennedy will be joined at the commemoration in Bendigo by the Melbourne US Consul General, Kathleen Lively.

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