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Charles Augustus Doudiet

At the age of twenty Charles Doudiet set out from his home in Belle Riviere near Montreal in Canada to try his luck on the Australian gold fields. It was 1852 and from the sketchbook that he made of his journey it is known that he travelled by riverboat and train to join the clipper Magnolia, in New York.

Charles’s father, the Reverend Jacques-Frederic Doudiet, had migrated to Canada from Switzerland in 1844 and worked with the French Canadian Missionary Society seeking converts to Protestantism. His missionary work required him to ravel to the countryside frequently and he kept sketchbooks of his travels.

Charles A. Doudiet
Swearing Allegiance to the Southern Cross
Ballarat 1864
Watercolour, pen and ink on paper
16.7 x 23.2cm
From Australian Sketches
Collection: Ballarat Fine Art Gallery

To supplement the family’s income, Louise, Charles’s mother, ran a school for girls and the family farmed the land around their home. The family also received financial assistance from the Ladies Committee of the French Canadian Mission Society in Montreal.

Perhaps the Reverend Doudiet presented his son with a sketchbook on his departure from home so that Charles could share his adventures with his mother, father and five siblings on his return. Certainly the carefully planned Frontispiece of the Sketchbooks records the highlights of the journey from his home in Belle Riviere to the gold fields at Forest Creek in Victoria, Australia, it was to be an account of a young man’s adventures.

The journey by sea from New York to Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, took four months, the clipper arriving on 24 November 1852. Charles’s fellow passengers on the Magnolia were predominantly other young men in their twenties and thirties also attracted by the possibility of finding their fortune on the Australian gold fields.

The surviving pages of Charles Doudiet’s "Australian Sketchbook" reveal all that is known of his time in Australia. The sketchbook was begun in Melbourne in February 1853 and finished in Ballarat in September 1855. About half of the original book is now in the collection of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. Fortunately, the surviving watercolours include the three most compelling subjects from his "List of Sketches". The are Eureka Riot, Swearing Allegiance to the Southern Cross and Eureka Battle (Eureka Slaughter 3 December).

Charles Doudiet is remember today because his drawings provide us with the only visual accounts by an eyewitness of these pivotal moments in the unfolding of the drama of Eureka events on the Ballarat gold fields.

Doudiet’s sketches are amateurish though enlivened by an exuberant energy. His skill is largely in his choice of the dramatic moment and his ability to tell a narrative in pictorial terms. His involvement with the Eureka cause ensured his detailed approach to these subjects. The first of these subjects, Eureka Riot, shows the burning of James Bentley’s hotel on 17 October 1854 in Ballarat. It was a pivotal event expressing the distrust, disillusionment and frustration of the people against dubious justice, corruption and misrule by insolent officials.

The trouble began as a peaceful protest seeking justice over Bentley’s role in James Scobie’s murder. Doudiet’s watercolour provides the only image extant of this hotel, later described as much grander by the aggrieved Bentley. It shows the flames and billowing dark smoke as the timber hotel rabidly burnt to the cheers of the crowd. The unarmed foot police sent to monitor the meeting stand in formation helpless against the hotel’s inevitable destruction.

The second of Doudiet’s Eureka subjects is Swearing Allegiance to the Southern Cross (The Oath), the most historically significant of his watercolour sketches. It shows a meeting on Bakery Hill where ten thousand men witnessed the unfurling of the Eureka flag and knelt before "the azure folds of the Southern Cross" and swore an oath of allegiance:

We swear by the Southern Cross
To stand truly by each other
And fight to defend
Our rights and liberties

It was defiant action taken in full view of the Government Camp flying a much smaller British flag. It was also quite extraordinary moment where men of many different nationalities swore allegiance to a new flag in a new country; a moment that united them as citizens beneath the Southern Cross. Doudiet’s image shows for the first time how the men at this crucial monster meeting were gather in a circle around the flag as Peter Lalor called them to action.

The accompanying descriptive passage for the sketch has also survived and includes the footnote: "Joyce, Penny and Fletcher along with myself carried Ross to the Star where he died in great pain at about 2am on the 5th".

Ross, a fellow Canadian, is generally believed to have designed the Eureka flag. Fletcher was one of the men arrested after the burning of Bentley’s hotel. With his friends, Doudiet was a part of a defining moment in Australian nationalism.

The third of these watercolours is “Eureka Battle (Eureka Slaughter 3rd December). By the light of the dawn of Sunday 3 December 1854 the ranks of the 12th and 40th regiments are ready to strike against the men behind the flimsy stockade. The battle was brief, the diggers suffering heavy causalities.

At the treason trials, which followed in early 1855 in Melbourne, the diggers’ cause was vindicated by a "not guilty" judgement amidst widespread public rejoicing.

The Australian colonies were soon to boast the most advanced parliamentary democracies in the world. Weston Bate wrote in his history of Ballarat Lucky City, "without Eureka so much could not have been done in so short a time, for the emergency broke the grip of the pre-gold establishment".

Doudiet finished his sketchbook in September 1855. While he appears not to have made his fortune, he had taken part in Australia’s only armed public uprising. He returned to Canada and married in March 1857. He later studied theology at Queen’s College, Kingston Ontario, and was ordained as a minister in Montreal in 1869, subsequently serving several congregations in Canada. He died in Hollowell, Massachusetts, on 13 June 1913.


By Margaret Rich


Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1914
(Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Toronto)

Lovell’s Montreal Directory 1868-1871 (National Library of Canada, Ottawa and Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa)

Mackay’s Montreal Directory, 1858-1868 (National Library of Canada, Ottawa and Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa)

Student Register for the University of Queens College, entry for Charles Augustus Doudiet 1866-1868, (Queens University Archives, Canada)

Typed research notes from the Doudiet family, compiled by archivists Lucie Dorais and Jennifer Trant, (National Archives of Canada).

Bate, W., Lucky City: the first generation at Ballarat 1851-1901, Melbourne University Press, 1978.

Burant J., (Intro.), A Place in History. Twenty Years of Acquiring Paintings, Drawings and Prints at the National Archives of Canada, National Archives of Canada, 1991

Campbell, R., A History of the Scotch Presbyterian Church: St Gabriel Street Church, Montreal, (Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Toronto)

Morgan, H.J., The Canadian Men and Women of Our Time, William Briggs, (Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa), Toronto 1912

Rich M and Sunter, A., Charles Doudiet, Australian Sketches 1852-1855, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery Association, 1997

Scott, H., Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, vol. VII, (Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Toronto), 1928

MacFarlane, I., (Compiled and edited), Eureka: From the Official Records, Public Record Office of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995

Shipping List for Magnolia of the Pioneer Line departing New York 27 July 1852 arriving Port Phillip 24 November 1852, (Public Record Office of Victoria, Melbourne).


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