(EMPIRE and OCEANIA to 1900 – continued)

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EMPIRE and OCEANIA (4 of 6)

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The British to Australi, to 1870

In 1770, Captain James Cook sailed to New Zealand and charted its coastline. He claimed the area for King George III, and he missed the French explorer, Jean-François-Marie de Surville, who was anchored at Doubtless Bay. Cook sailed to the eastern coast of Australia, called by the English New Holland, which had been missed by the Dutch explorers in the 1600s. Captain Cook sailed up that coast and landed at Botany Bay. He sailed north and landed at Possession Island. Then he touched the nearby southern coast of New Guinea and headed back home to England. And for the next eighteen years, the British were distracted by a revolt in their American colonies and ignored Australia.

Britain's prisons were overcrowded, and losing what became the United States and no longer able to send its convicts there, Britain began sending some of its convicts to the area in the southeast of the Australian continent they called New South Wales. It put 732 of its more unruly prisoners aboard eleven ships, and on January 26, 1788, these ships unloaded 1,372 people, including the convicts, at a place named after Lord Sydney, secretary of state for Britain's colonies. January 26 was to be celebrated every year in Australia as "Australia Day" – a commemoration of this landing.

Hopes that convict labor would be able to grow sufficient food for the little colony were not realized. A second fleet of ships with convicts arrived in 1790, bringing much needed food and supplies – and disease. This was known as the Death Fleet, 267 convicts and eleven others having died along the way. Three years later a few more settlers arrived. To encourage agriculture, land grants were given to military officers, who were allowed to employ convict labor. In 1794 another settlement was established forty kilometers north of Sidney, alongside the Hawkesbury River. In 1796 a naval dockyard was built at Sydney, and Sydney provided the Royal Navy a good port. Whaling ships, mostly from Britain, had been visiting Sydney, and a robust trade developed. In New Holland the quality of goods and the production of food improved. In 1797, grapes were planted. There was the planting of grains and fruit trees along with the raising of chickens, cattle and sheep. In 1797 coal was found 120 kilometers up the coast from Sydney, on the banks of Hunter River.


In general the Aborigines wanted nothing to do with the white settlers. As early as 1788, Aborigines had killed two British men who had been laboring in a field, and this had hardened the attitude of some settlers toward the Aborigines. Most Aborigines ran from any attempt of friendliness by the British, and the British were disgusted by Aborigine rejection and by what they saw as Aborigine uncleanliness and laziness.

The British were appalled too by more killings. In 1796, Aborigines lured an Aboriginal girl working as a maidservant away from her workplace and hacked her to death. In 1799, in the Hawkesbury region (40 kilometers north of Sydney), and around Parramatta (20 kilometers west of Sydney), Aborigines burned settler houses, which began what became known as the "Black War." Conflict between the British and Aborigines erupted on the colony's Van Diemen's Island – Tasmania – where another penal colony had been founded and where from 2,000 and 4,000 Aborigines lived. By 1806, settlers here and in New South Wales were driving Aborigines away from any area where Aborigine "outrages" had occurred. Some settlers had begun viewing Aborigines as pests and shooting them with little fear of Aborigine military capability.

Economic Progress to the 1840s

The European population in "New Holland" in 1800 was counted at 5,995. They were improving their economy. Convicts were sent to work in the coal mines 120 miles up the coast, at a settlement called Newcastle. In the Hawkesbury area, linen manufacturing had begun, and in 1805 the first whaling ship was launched. A government brewery was established, breaking the monopoly that military officers had held in the trading of rum. The production of beef and mutton developed to an extent that the government began purchasing these from the colony's farmers rather than buying imports. The land was different from what colonists in North America had found, and the typical Australian was raising sheep rather than becoming a farmer. And the wool produced had a greater value by weight than did the wheat that was being grown.

The governors of the colony had been naval officers, the last of whom was William Bligh of Bounty fame. He was followed in 1810 by an army lieutenant-colonel, Lachlan Macquarie, who brought with him his own regiment – the 73rd. He ended a rebellion among officers interested in the rum trade. Macquarie urged the colony's elite to conduct themselves with rectitude, and he urged the lower elements to remain sober. He urged convicts and former convicts (the latter called emancipists) to practice good manners. He urged everyone to attend church services and called on magistrates to prevent all forms of vice and immorality, including what had become the widespread practice of men and women living together without the legal sanction or holy matrimony – the same attempt at Christian virtue that British missionaries were attempting among the Polynesians.

Governor Macquarie opposed mistreatment of Aborigines. And he launched a program to teach Aborigines English values. A school was opened for Aborigines that never had more than twenty students and soon failed. Aborigines in the towns remained a source of amusement and ridicule for some school-age boys and adults. In the town of Parramatta, west of Sydney, men enjoyed getting Aborigine men drunk and setting them against one another.

Macquarie introduced coinage to the New South Wales economy, and he established the colony's first bank in 1817 – the year that the British changed the name of the continent of New Holland to Australia. Macquarie encouraged exploration to expand the colony's pastoral lands, and he launched numerous public works projects, including roads and a public hospital.

By 1821, Australia's wool industry was attracting the attention of British investors. New South Wales had a population of around 30,000 – a fourth of whom had served time as a convict. Officially it was still a penal colony, and Britain's legislators considered the colony not yet ready for representative government. But in 1823 they passed the New South Wales Act. This established Tasmania (called Van Diemen's island until 1853) as a colony separate from New South Wales. The Act authorized both Tasmania and New South Wales their own Supreme Court. And the Act authorized for New South Wales a Legislative Council to advise the colony's governor on the passage of laws and taxation.

Seventy-five percent of the whites in the colony could read. The women ex-convicts had been marrying and becoming mothers and productive workers, helping in what was the colony's chronic labor shortage. Immigration was not keeping up the demand for labor. Sailing from Britain to Canada took about twelve weeks and cost about five British pounds. The trip to New South Wales took between four and five months and cost four times as much.

In 1829 the first soccer (football) game was played in Australia. And in 1829 the Swan River colony was begun on the continent's southwest shore, where the city of Perth would rise. In the 1830s sheep raising was spreading south, west and north into unsettled areas of the continent, the expanding wool industry benefiting from the demand for wool by Britain's textile industry.

Settlers spread to South Australia, and ships began making regular stops at Port Adelaide, and in 1834 South Australia became a separate colony. By the late thirties at Brisbane (700 kilometers north of Sydney), where coal and limestone were being mined, settlers were arriving, and the penal colony there was closed and most of its convicts returned to Sidney.

By 1836 the town of Melbourne, on the south coast, had a population of 142 males and 35 females. By 1840, the whites in Australian numbered around 140,000.

The booming economy crashed in 1840. There had been too much speculation in land, sheep and cattle. Prices had inflated and bad lending had occurred. The crisis accompanied economic depression elsewhere, including the United States. The depth of the downturn came in 1843. Wool and meat were not selling. A few made the old accusations that God was punishing people for their sins, but a new secular view of economic dynamics had spread among intellectuals and was taken more seriously.

The Gold Rush

The economic crisis worked itself out by 1847. Gold was discovered at Bathurst, in the mountains 160 kilometers west of Sydney, and held secret until 1851 – two years after the gold rush to California. Gold was discovered also to the south, across the Murray River and halfway to the coast, at Ballarat and Bendigo. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people per month passed through Melbourne on their way to Ballarat and Bendigo. In 1852 the population of Melbourne was counted as 168,231. And with the prospectors in this area were many Chinese some of whom were to stay and add to the cultural diversity in that part of southern Australia. 

Tent cities with populations as large as 40,000, arose near the gold fields of New South Wales. Prospectors arrived from California, and with them came four-wheeled carriages that proved able in crossing Australia's rough terrain. Violence was not uncommon, but after a couple of years not enough gold was available to make the work worthwhile. Finding alternative work for the new migrants was difficult, and unemployment became widespread.

The gold rush had provided food growers with a greater market for their produce. A mechanical harvester, called Ridley's stripper, had been invented in South Australia and was cutting the cost of labor during harvests to one-tenth, and Australia was exporting more food than it was minerals.

Rabbits and Self-Government

In the years before the Crimean War (1853-56), colonists in New South Wales shared with people in Britain a dislike for Russia, and they feared a Russian attack on New South Wales. Instead, the attack that came was in the form of rabbits. A landowner, Thomas Austin, imported two dozen rabbits in the hope they would breed and supply New South Wales with meat and skins. Lacking enemy predators, the rabbits began to multiply without restriction.

The colonists had gained some control, however, in politics. In 1851, people south of Murray River were freed from control by Sydney. The area was made a colony separate from New South Wales, called Victoria. Britain's parliament allowed each of the Australian colonies its own Legislative Council – a body that was given jurisdiction over all but crown lands and was free to pass any legislation that did not conflict with English law. This included the colony at Tasmania. In 1856, New South Wales drafted its own constitution, and the secret ballot was introduced – a first. The parliament of New South Wales was to have an upper house elected by professionals who met property qualifications, and a lower house elected by universal manhood suffrage. 

In 1859, the area around Brisbane was separated from New South Wales, creating Queensland. Western Australia remained a penal colony. 

In the 1860s railways were being built with government help, so that wool and wheat could be transported cheaply to ports. By 1870 Australia had 1,000 miles of railway track. But a government program to expand farming failed.

In 1868, the shipping of convict to Australia had ended. By 1870 the population of white Australia was a little more than 2 million, and forty-six percent female. Australia now had a substantial number of Germans and Catholic Irish who worshiped freely. The Irish were suspicious of authority, but they found Australia to be without the oppressions they had known in Ireland.

The Aborigine population had dwindled to perhaps 150,000, considered to be about half their number in 1800. The Aborigines in Tasmania in 1800 is said to have been 2,000 or 4,000. This number fell to 44 by 1847. And by 1876 their number was zero, some of them said to have died from disease.


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