Henry Christopher Wise and the ‘Ballarat Memorial’


…and Henry Wise’s sword (1854) takes pride of place in the new Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka!

Have you ever read carefully the prominent memorial in All Saints Church which begins: “SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF HENRY CHRISTOPHER WISE ESQ.”? Simon and I recently made a pilgrimage to Ballarat near Melbourne in Australia to find out more. Ballarat made its name in the 1850s when gold was first discovered nearby and to cut a long story short, Captain Henry Christopher Wise aged 25 from Woodcote, Leek Wootton lost his life in the line of duty whilst putting down an armed rebellion by the gold diggers at the Eureka Stockade.

Capt H C Wise's grave, Ballarat
Capt H C Wise’s grave, Ballarat

We managed to find Henry’s tomb in the Ballarat Old Cemetery where he was laid to rest with the three privates who also lost their lives in the skirmish in 1854. Henry was leading the assault and was badly injured with a flesh wound on his right thigh and a gunshot wound through the leg. He continued to urge his men forward until he was hit by another shot. He was taken to the (makeshift) hospital where his legs were amputated and he died two weeks later. The inscription on the memorial to Henry and the soldiers makes it plain that doing one’s duty in the cause of the British Empire was of importance to many citizens. On the afternoon of our visit to the cemetery we were delighted to see the Union Flag flying near the memorial.

The Irish leader of the rebel miners who was shot in the arm survived, eventually becoming Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1880. The miners who lost their lives are also commemorated with a memorial and the inscription speaks of the “unconstitutional proceedings” of the Government of Victoria.

We discovered at the new Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka that Henry had attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, coming first in the 1847 public examination and was offered a commission in the Army, becoming an Ensign in 1847, Captain in 1853, and arriving in Melbourne in November 1854. His sword is prominently displayed in the permanent exhibition.

This new Museum, situated in the Eureka Stockade Memorial Park, proudly displays the story of the rebellion. Some say that Eureka is the birth place of Australian democracy: the effect “Eureka” had on the mining laws, of equality within society, the legislative administration and the influence upon subsequent generations of Australians has been profound. We found it moving to discover so much about an event which occurred over 150 years ago and so far away, but which had a devastating effect on the history of the Wise family of Woodcote.

Jane Pain, April 2016

The above article was published in our parish magazine in 2016, written by a former member of Leek Wootton History Group, and tells the story of Henry Christopher Wise, whose memorial is on the south wall of the nave.