Australia in the 1810s


Summary of the decade

From 1810 to 1821, Lachlan Macquarie (1762–1824) ruled the New South Wales colony as the last autocratic governor. Macquarie replaced Governor William Bligh (1754–1817), and was the first military governor. He was assisted by his own regiment, which had replaced the rebellious New South Wales Corps. His vision for the colony involved transforming it from a penal convict establishment to a society more reflective of British lifestyles. Macquarie believed that, through reforming convicts, implementing a public works program and establishing legal and commercial institutions, the New South Wales colony and in particular Sydney would become more like European cities. On 1 February 1811 he appointed John Oxley (1784–1828) as surveyor-general of New South Wales and requested that surveyed tracts of land be used for farming by free settlers.

In 1818, Macquarie was the first governor to give official recognition to Anniversary Day (now known as Australia Day) marking the 30th anniversary of the arrival of the British. He decreed it a public holiday. Governor Macquarie ordered a salute of 30 guns to be fired from the Battery at Dawes Point, and in the evening gave a dinner at Government House for civil and military officers. His wife, Elizabeth Macquarie, hosted a ball that followed the dinner. This day became known later as Foundation Day. Indigenous Australians saw the British migrating to their country as an invading army taking over their land and many refer to this day as 'Survival Day' or 'Invasion Day'.

In 1814 Matthew Flinders (1774–1814) published his book, A Voyage to Terra Australis, which suggested that the continent be called 'Australia' rather than New Holland. Governor Macqurie supported this change of name and recommended it to the Colonial Office.

Between 1810 and 1820 the European population of the colony increased after the Napoleonic Wars (1804–1815) when many of the troops returning from the wars were unemployed and turned to crime to survive. Once charged and sentenced for somewhat petty crimes, they were transported to New South Wales, as the English prisons were overflowing. During this time the number of free settlers tripled, and by the end of the decade the free settlers had outnumbered the convicts. However, the majority of the Australian population was still Indigenous.

The decade saw the first attempts at assimilating Indigenous people into the European population. Indigenous people were moved to mission stations and institutions to be taught European ways and to be used as cheap labour.

During the decade Van Diemen's Land was administered by three officers: Lieutenant-Governor David Collins (1756–1810), Major Thomas Davey (1758–1823), and Colonel William Sorrell (1775–1848). In 1810 the Derwent Star and Van Diemen's Land Intelligencer, Australia's second newspaper and the first in Van Diemen's Land, began publication. In 1813 the settlement of Hobart began. Captain James Kelly set out to circumnavigate Van Diemen's Land and made important observations about the resources of the west coast.

When Governor Macquarie left the colony in 1821, Sydney was a well-laid out town of fine buildings with named streets, the Royal Botanical Gardens and a post office. He had overseen the crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813 by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth. This exploration opened up vast pastoral lands for sheep, cattle and agriculture. The colony began to export commercial shipments of wool to England and this commodity would dominate and enrich the country in monetary terms for decades to come.

A snapshot of 1818

  • January
    • Celebrations were held on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the colony.

  • March
    • Samuel Marsden resigned from the magistracy, and in the Gazette of 28 March 1818 it was announced that his services had been dispensed with.

  • May
    • A regular mail service started operating between Hobart Town and Launceston.

  • June
    • The Benevolent Society of New South Wales was formed under Government Macquarie's patronage.

  • November
    • A lantern was lit for the first time at the Macquarie Tower lighthouse at South Head.
    • John Oxley names Castlereagh, the Liverpool Plains and the Peel River, and crossed the Great Dividing Range to reach Port Macquarie.
    • The legendary Aboriginal tracker Bundle and another Aboriginal man, Broughton, accompanied Charles Throsby on an expedition south.


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