Peter Lalor was an activist turned politician who rose to fame for his leading role in the Eureka Rebellion, an event controversially identified with the ‘birth of democracy’ in Australia. He is famous for being the only outlaw to make it to parliament.
Peter Lalor was born in the family home of Tenakill/Tinnakill at Raheen, Co Laois, the son of Patrick ‘Patt’ Lalor, a landowner and supporter of the abolition of tithes who held a seat in the House of Commons from 1832 to 1835. He was the first Catholic MP for Queens County, since the reign of James II. His mother was Ann, née Dillon. They had 11 sons and daughters of whom Peter Fintan Lalor was the youngest. His eldest brother was the Irish revolutionary James Fintan Lalor. Another brother, Richard Lalor, served as a Parnellite nationalist in the British House of Commons. His mother died on 4 June 1835 and his father then married Ellen Mary Anne Loughnan with whom he had no children. Lalor was educated at Carlow College and then trained as a civil engineer at Trinity College, Dublin.
Three of the Lalor brothers migrated to America and fought on both sides of the Civil War. However, Peter and his brother Richard decided to go to Australia, arriving in Victoria in October 1852.
Lalor along with thousands of others got involved in gold mining, an occupation that often suffered harassment from the authorities. The 1854 Eureka Rebellion occurred (in Lalor’s words to his fiancée) ‘the diggers … in self-defence, have taken up arms and are resolved to use them … I am one amongst them. You must not be unhappy on this account. I would be unworthy of being called a man, I would be unworthy of myself, and, above all, I would be unworthy of you and of your love, were I base enough to desert my companions in danger’.
Over 1,500 men took up arms against the authorities who eventually killed over thirty miners during an attack on their barricades. Lalor, who had been elected leader by the miners, lost an arm during the violence. Once things calmed down Lalor entered politics. He was elected to the legislature in 1856 and held his seat until 1871.
Photo: Statue of Peter Lalor in Ballarat’s Sturt Street Gardens, Australia