Australia in the 1840s


Colonial politics


Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney all became incorporated towns in the 1840s. Adelaide was the first municipal government in Australia with James Fisher (1790–1875) elected the first mayor in 1840. Melbourne became incorporated as a town to administer its own affairs. Non-Indigenous males who occupied property in the town of Melbourne or lived within 11 kilometres of it could vote to elect town councillors in the first election held on 1 December 1842. Five years later, in 1847, Queen Victoria raised the town of Melbourne to the status of a city. Sydney too had become an incorporated city in 1842 and about 3,000 adult males were eligible to vote. Local businessmen were generally chosen at the first elections to administer local affairs. 

In 1842, an Act for the Government of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, also called the New South Wales Constitution Act 1842 (UK), was passed by the British Parliament. This Act gave permission for the formation of the New South Wales Legislative Council and for Governor George Gipps (1791–1847) to divide the colony into electoral districts. Initially there were 36 members of the Legislative Council: 24 elected and 12 nominated by the governor. The Port Phillip District was allowed six representatives. The ultimate decision making still rested with the governor, whose assent was required before Bills could be ratified by the Council. The first elections took place in 1843. Those standing for election and those voting had to be male and own property up to the value of £200 freehold in the rural areas, and earning £10 per year for householders in the towns. This stipulation excluded about two-thirds of the adult male population. William Charles Wentworth (1790–1872), who had made the first non-Indigenous crossing of the Blue Mountains, was elected a member at the 1843 election. 

In 1840, Henry Fyshe Gisborne (1813–1841) drafted a petition requesting the separation of the Port Phillip District from New South Wales and presented it to Governor George Gipps, who rejected it. Lobbying over the next few years continued until a dispatch from Earl Grey (1802–1894), Secretary of State for the Colonies, to the New South Wales Governor, Sir Charles Fitzroy (1796–1858), dated 31 July 1847, announced the decision to separate Victoria from New South Wales.

William Charles Wentworth_1840


A snapshot of 1848

  • March
    • The Melbourne Hospital, the first public hospital, opened. It was renamed a century later as The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

  • April
    • An expedition headed by Ludwig Leichhardt (1813–48) set out from the Darling Downs to cross the continent of Australia travelling through its centre, but he and his expedition died en route, never to be found.
    • The first detachment of Native Police was transferred from New South Wales to Queensland under the command of Lieutenant Frederick Walker.

  • June
    • 120 Chinese migrants arrived from Amoy under an indenture system to work as shepherds in New South Wales.

  • August
    • The Cape Otway Lighthouse in Victoria was lit for the first time.
    • The Native Police Force in Queensland (sometimes called the Native Mounted Police) was formed.

  • December
    • John Roe (1797–1878) and Augustus Charles Gregory (1819–1905) explored the north-eastern areas of Western Australia.
    • German and Hungarian refugees arrived in the colony having fled political upheaval in Europe. They were known as the 'forty-eighters' as they supported the 1848 revolutions.

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