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Gold in Victoria

Frederick Vern

| Carboni on Vern | Vern - spying for Governor Hotham? | Vern - hunter of bushrangers |
| Germans on Victoria's goldfields |

Friedrich Wern of Hannover came to Victoria as a sailor; he was a ship's mate. He escaped from the Stockade at the Eureka rebellion at Ballarat; a 500 reward for his capture was offered by the Victorian government on 11th December 1854. This was the highest reward offered for a Eureka rebel.
See the Frederick Vern wanted-poster (PDF logo PDF file, 271Kb).

He ran off from the stockade when he saw it was hopeless, and is said to have escaped from the area disguised as a woman. A few days later, a group of miners outside of Ballarat were visited at their tent by police. Vern was hiding under a bed while the police were there. He later spread the false rumour that he had escaped to America (see the letter below).

Raffaello Carboni's opinion of Frederick Vern

The Italian revolutionary Raffaello Carboni who tried his luck on the Victorian goldfields was a close associate of the leader of the Eureka rebellion, Peter Lalor. He was an educated man and with his knowledge of languages played an important role for Peter Lalor in liaising with miners from a variety of European countries. Carboni survived the storming of the Eureka Stockade and wrote an account of his experiences, "The Eureka Stockade". He doesn't seem to have thought much of Frederick Vern. Carboni writes of Vern "blathering" speeches in the days before the building of the stockade; "No one could make anything out of his blabberdom". Carboni writes that Vern's physical appearance attracted the ladies (though Carboni himself describes "long-legged" Vern as having "the eyes of an opossum"). When he mentions Vern, he usually makes sarcastic comments about the length of Vern's legs. Vern ran off from the Stockade when the attack started.

Raffaello Carboni reproduces an article that appeared in The Age of Melbourne on Monday 15th January 1855. The italicised pieces of text (presented here [thus]) are Carboni's inserted commentary on statements in Vern's letter. Vern sent the letter as a red herring, to make the authorities think that he had left Australia.

VERN'S LAST LETTER

The following letter - the last written in these colonies by the now celebrated Vern - has been sent to us for publication. Our readers may rely on its authenticity.

Ship __________, Sydney Heads,
Dec. 24th, 1854

Farewell to thee, Australia! A few moments more, and then Australia, land of my adoption, adieu! adieu!

Thy rocky shores
Fade o'er the waters blue.

The ship that bears me to exile has spread her wings; but Australia, and you my late companions in arms, I cannot leave you without bidding you (it may be my last) farewell. I part from you, perhaps for ever; but wherever fickle fortune may banish me to, your memory will help to beguile the dreary hours of exile; and I hope that a name once so familiar to you, now an outlaw from injustice and tyranny, may be kindly remembered by you.

Oh, that a kind fate had laid me low in the midst of you, and given me a final resting-place, Australia, in thy bosom. But no! Fate denied me a warrior's death, a patriot's grave, and decreed that I should languish in banishment. [Fate? be d----d: the immoderate length of your legs was fatal to your not getting a "warrior's grave".]

There was a time when I fought for freedom's cause, under a banner made and wrought by English ladies - [Ah, ah, I thought you would soon bring in the ladies - where, please?]

Victoria! thy future is bright - [sweet and smart if Vern be the operator.] I confidently predict a Bunker's Hill, or an Alma - [Great works!] as the issue of your next insurrection. [No more truck with your legs, though; let's see your signature and be off.]

Farewell, Australians!
Yours, truly, and for ever,
C.harles H.otham's F.ootman DE LA VERN.

Hold hard, leave us the address where you got your soap last. I want to shampoo my red hair, so as to make my head worth 500. Yankee speculation I guess.

(Raffaello Carboni: The Eureka Stockade. Edition published by Lloyd O'Neil Pty Ltd, Windsor, Victoria 1980)

Vern stayed in Australia. After the Eureka trials in Melbourne were over and all the diggers were found not guilty, it was safer for people associated with the rebellion to come out into the open. After the trials Vern returned to Ballarat. In 1856 he was sentenced to three months imprisonment at Ballarat for rioting.

Frederick Vern - a spy for Governor Hotham?

In his book Massacre at Eureka - The Untold Story, (The Sovereign Hill Museums Association, 1998) Bob O'Brien suggests evidence that Vern was a spy for Governor Hotham. He suggests that Governor Hotham wanted to stir up trouble on the Ballarat goldfields in order to have an excuse to send in troops and teach the protesting miners a lesson. O'Brien claims that Vern's movements between Ballarat and Melbourne show possible communication between Hotham and Vern, and believes that the Victorian Government, despite offering a large reward for Vern's capture, did not try very hard to capture him. Notice the way that Raffaello Carboni gives Vern's signature at the end of the letter above (C.harles H.otham's F.ootman DE LA VERN).

Frederick Vern - hunter of bushrangers?

On 19th October 1863 a Mr Charles H. F. De la Vern wrote from Forbes (New South Wales) to the Chief Secretary of the Government of NSW. He volunteered to help in getting rid of the bushrangers (outlaws) that were causing great problems for the police in the west of the colony. He wrote that his military service in Hungary and America had given him experience of bush warfare that would be useful in Australia.

At that time the Government of NSW was receiving many such letters offering help in catching the bushrangers such as Ben Hall. Most of the offers were turned down. The Inspector-General of Police, John McLerie, advised the Government not to accept Vern's offer, as a man of the same name had been involved in the Eureka Stockade rebellion at Ballarat (Victoria), and that a reward of 500 was being offered by the Victorian Government for his capture, and that he thought the letter had been written by the same man. It seems the Government did not reply to Vern's letter, as he wrote again, saying that as he was leaving Forbes for Queensland he would like the Secretary to return to him by mail the letters of reference which he had originally sent. Some of these letters were supposed to be from parliamentarians in Melbourne, the Prime Minister of the Sandwich Islands, General Wool of the USA, and the Police Magistrate of Forbes, Mr W Farrand. This second letter to the Government from the man named Vern was signed F. Vern.

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