Australia in the 1820s


1820s

Summary of the decade


The decade of the 1820s marked a shift in the Colonial Office's view about the purpose of transportation and punishment. This shift occurred partly due to the three reports presented to the House of Commons by John Bigge (1780–1843). He recommended limited constitutional government for the New South Wales Legislative Council, the establishment of Van Diemen's Land as a separate colony, extensive legal reforms and new provisions for the reception of convicts from England. The reports of former convicts receiving grants of land and prospering added additional fuel to the reforms. The English government wanted transportation to be seen by the general population as a terrifying prospect and as a deterrent to crime. During the 1820s, penal settlements such as Moreton Bay, Macquarie Harbour, Port Macquarie and Norfolk Island were established for reoffending convicts or escapees, and gained reputations for harsh punishments and severe cruelty.

In 1823, the newly established Supreme Court of New South Wales and Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land administered justice for both civil and criminal cases. The New South Wales Act 1823 (UK) also made clear that Van Diemen's Land, to be made a separate colony in 1825, was a civil colony despite its penal functions and a military presence. The first Chief Justice was Francis Forbes (1784–1841). The Australian Courts Act 1828 (UK) ensured that the laws of England would be applied in Australia, and that trial by jury would operate in civil cases. From 1825 English currency became the official currency of the colonies, using the imperial system of pounds, shillings and pence.

Indigenous Australians' lore and culture were ignored when English laws were introduced to Australia. As the British established more penal settlements, this expansion exposed a conflict of power, culture and ownership with Indigenous peoples. In the Brisbane area before 1825, initial contact between the Yuggera people and the British was very violent. This situation changed when, in 1824, Captain Peter Bishop was appointed commandant of the settlement. He developed good relationships with the local Yuggera by bartering with them in an effort to find escaped convicts. But in 1826 the relationship reverted to conflict when Captain Patrick Logan (1791–1830) replaced Bishop as commandant. Logan became known as the 'tyrant of Brisbane town' due to the cruel and harsh punishments he handed out to the convicts, with many escaping to live with the Yuggera people. Captain Logan was eventually killed by the Yuggera as he explored the Moreton Bay area in 1830.

The French navigator Dumont d'Urville (1790–1842) explored the Tasman Sea and Australia's north-west, while Hume and Hovell led an expedition to find new grazing land in the south of the colony and to learn where New South Wales's western rivers flowed. Fears of the French claiming colonial territory led to the establishment of military settlements at Western Port Bay in Victoria, King George Sound in Western Australia, Fort Wellington at Raffles Bay on the north coast of Australia and Swan River settlement in Western Australia. Governor Ralph Darling (1772–1858) proclaimed 19 counties in New South Wales and in 1826 limited settlement to a defined area around Sydney. This restriction of land use was unsuccessful as graziers settled beyond the allotted boundaries.

In 1824, the British Admiralty officially adopted the name 'Australia'. Major-General Lachlan Macquarie (1762–1824) was Governor of New South Wales and Colonel William Sorell (1775–1848) was the third Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land.


A snapshot of 1828

  • February
    • The Cape Grim massacre took place in Van Diemen's Land.

  • May
    • Thomas Livingstone Mitchell became Surveyor-General following the death of John Oxley.

  • September
    • Australia's first bank robbery took place. The robbers broke into the vault of the Bank of Australia in Sydney.
    • The holey dollar currency was withdrawn from circulation.

  • November
    • Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur declared martial law against Aboriginal peoples in the settled districts of Van Diemen's Land.
    • The first census was held in New South Wales, showing that 24 per cent of the total population was born in the colony. Children under 12 years comprised only 16 per cent of the total European population. The Indigenous population was not included.

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