The attempted assassination of Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, in March 1868 has featured in Australian historiography. It has done so, however, principally as a spark that lit a ‘Fenian panic’ and both underlined and intensified sectarian tensions within the colonies. This article is based on the reports of approximately 250 ‘indignation meetings’ held across the different colonies in the weeks following the attempted assassination. It argues that by examining these sources a different interpretation of the significance of the event is possible. As a ‘cultural trauma’, which initiated a widespread discussion of the nature of the political community, the attempted assassination not only uncovered latent divisions within colonial society, but also acted as a powerful stimulus to the articulation of commonalities. While the article pays attention to the divisions – sectarian ones, but also tensions inflected with class, ethnicity and gender – its principal focus is on identifying the common themes of the responses. Foremost among these was a complex vision of the Australian ‘nation’ and its relationship to Britain in the second half of the nineteenth century. Colonial elites were faced with the challenge of redefining loyalty within the context of responsible government and the indignation meetings provide a powerful example of the ways in which this was done.