2016 marks the 150th anniversary of Brisbane’s Bread or Blood Riot which occurred on the evening of September 11, 1866. The riot stemmed from a period of economic and political turmoil leading to high unemployment.
During a meeting convened outside the Treasury Hotel one of the ringleaders of the riot gave the following speech to the 500 protesters present –
“We did not come here to be paupers, nor to accept of charity, but to work and work we cannot get, and bread we cannot do without – and bread we will have – if we don’t get bread we will have blood. And bread or blood we will have tonight -let us do it now.”
During the chaos, protesters threw stones and attempted to break down the doors of the Government Stores. The Riot Act was read and the police led a charge at the protesters which eventually saw them disperse.
A detailed account of the Brisbane riot of September 1866 by Paul D. Wilson, which was published in a 1971 edition of John Oxley Library’s Queensland Heritage magazine can be viewed online through Text Queensland.
A personal account of events surrounding the riot can be found in the dairy of Eliza O’Connell (later Lady O’Connell) held by State Library of Queensland. Eliza was the wife of Maurice Charles O’Connell, who at that time was a member of the Queensland Legislative Council.
Below is an abridged account from Eliza O’Connell’s 1866 diary as she briefly describes events and her husband’s role in the protection of Old Goverment House.
Sunday, September 9, 1866
“…We were not able to go to church on account of the threatened disturbances – dear Maurice had to attend the Ministry about the massing arrangements in case of an attack.”
Monday, September 10, 1866
“…The unemployed threaten to do all manner of things if the Government will not come into their terms, which they are determined not to do – the Volunteer Artillery are on guard at Government House today and dear Maurice with them, making arrangements this evening in case of an outbreak as the unemployed have threatened to rush on Government House and burn the town…”
Tuesday, September 11, 1866
“The Volunteer Artillery are at Government House still… They are in a state of great excitement as they fully expect an attack from the mob tonight if they are bold enough to put their threats into execution… The firing of the signal guns alarmed us at first – dear Maurice was at Government House as he was out immediately after dinner to see his Volunteers placed. Sir George [Bowen] sent Mr Limpriere to ask if I would go to Government House, but I remained to defend my own castle in case of an attack, which fortunately did not take place – all ended in a slight shemozzle with the police and was soon put down.”
Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland