Australian History: Colonies

The arrival of additional convicts made necessary the establishment of convict outposts in Van Diemen's Land, at Newcastle, at Brisbane, and on Norfolk Island. The expiration of prison sentences and retirements from the military force also created a free population interested in establishing homes in the new land. Business enterprises arose, and expanding opportunities in agricultural and pastoral pursuits were recognized. In due time free citizens came to outnumber the convicts, and efforts were made to prohibit the arrival of more convicts. A total of about 160,000 persons was transported to Australia during a period of 80 years for major and minor offenses.

Convict shipments to the east coast ceased before 1850. Van Diemen's Land received no convicts after 1853, at which time its name was changed to Tasmania in an effort to remove the stigma attached to the former name as a major convict center.


Without any well-defined plan, the original penal establishments at Sydney, Hobart, Newcastle, and Brisbane were thus gradually transformed into centers of normal settlement, trade, and industry. The separate colony of Van Diemen's Land was proclaimed in 1825, being the first separation from the eastern half of the continent that was annexed by Cook in 1770. Settlement pushed beyond the prisoncamp confines largely under the stimulus of the pastoral industry. Autocratic rule under the military governors was replaced by democratic process.


Not all the principal centers of population in Australia were initiated under the penal system. In 1829 a shipload of British settlers arrived at Perth to insure control of that strategic and promising corner of the continent. Progress was discouragingly slow during the next 20 years, which led to the request in 1849 for convicts to provide a labor force.

The late establishment of colonies in the vicinity of Melbourne is most surprising. After an unsuccessful attempt in 1803 to establish a colony at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, more than 30 years intervened before the establishment of settlements at Portland in 1834 and at Melbourne in 1835. Discovery of the rich pastoral resources in Southeast Australia thereafter led to the rapid colonizing of the territory between Sydney and Melbourne. In 1850 Victoria was recognized as a colony separate from the Mother Colony of New South Wales.

In 1836 two shiploads of settlers arrived at Kangaroo Island off the south coast of Australia to establish a colony based on the Wakefield idea of introducing both a land-owning aristocracy and a worker group. Finding the island unsatisfactory, the colony moved to the near-by mainland and established the town of Adelaide. Years of struggle to make a living from the soil were followed by the successful establishment of the pastoral industry by the "overlanders" from New South Wales.

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