Australia in the 1860s


Summary of the decade

The 1860s was dominated by the struggles of 'selectors' (small-scale land holders) and goldminers to persuade the government to wrest control of land from the squatters, people who had occupied large areas of Crown land under license or lease, and to make Crown land available for farming. The selectors faced continued resistance from the squatters who found ways to retain the best and most fertile lands for themselves. This demand for land ignited interest in expeditions to explore the regional and remote parts of the continent in order to find rich pastures for farming, clean and fast-flowing waters for the establishment of the Overland Telegraph Line, and better routes between the colonies. Explorers such as John McDouall Stuart (18151866) and Burke and Wills led expeditions to discover arable land and to map routes between settlements. The crossing of the continent for the first time was a dangerous and at times fatal quest.

There was a steady flow of immigrants during the decade. The free settler migrants were matched by the forced slavery of South Pacific Islanders, Torres Strait Islanders and Papua New Guineans, who were collectively referred to as 'Kanakas' in the 19th century. (The term 'Kanaka' is no longer used.) They were often kidnapped from their homes to work on the sugarcane farms in northern Queensland. Robert Towns (17941873), after whom Townsville was named, was a trader who used the South Pacific Islanders to clear the rainforests and establish agricultural industries, especially sugar cane in Queensland. Cameleers from areas such as India, Iran, Egypt and Turkey came voluntarily to work in the Northern Territory and South Australia, delivering stores and equipment to some of the remotest parts of the continent.

As a legacy of the troubles on the goldfields in the 1850s, each colony introduced legislation limiting the number of Chinese people entering their colony.

The Victorian Parliament passed the Aboriginal Protection Act in1869 to establish the Aboriginal Protection Board. Victoria became the first colony to legislate for a comprehensive scheme to regulate the lives of Aboriginal people.

Sporting events such as the Melbourne Cup were established. An Indigenous cricket team was the very first sporting team to tour overseas, performing well against the English cricket team.

New industries such as pearling began in Western Australia and a centre in Broome was established. The cities in all colonies grew and the arts flourished with the publication of books and poems about Australia by native-born Australians; artists born overseas and the native-born drew the Australian landscape and colonial personalities. Theatres, music concerts and dance were part of colonial life in the cities and towns.

John Young (18071876) was appointed as governor of New South Wales from 1860 to 1868.

A snapshot of 1868

  • January
    • Transportation of convicts to Western Australia ended.

  • March
    • The Queensland Parliament passed the Polynesian Labourers Act 1868 (Qld) to regulate the employment of Pacific Islanders recruited through 'blackbirding'.
    • The attempted assassination of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, by Henry James O'Farrell at Clontarf, a suburb of Sydney.

  • May
    • An Indigenous Australian cricket team became the first Australian sports team to tour overseas.

  • September
    • John King, the only surviving member of the Burke and Wills exhibition, was found living with an Aboriginal group.
    • Public Schools Act introduced compulsory schooling in Tasmania.


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