Australia in the 1820s


The Great North Road


One of the engineering feats of early 19th century Australia was the construction of the Great North Road from Sydney to the Hunter Valley and Newcastle. By 1825, the Hunter Valley region had grown considerably and its fertile land was open to colonists, especially after the penal colony at Newcastle was shifted in 1822 to Port Macquarie. The only access to the Hunter Valley was by sea and this route was difficult and expensive for the settlers who wanted to bring in livestock and goods. In 1826, the colonists sent petitions to the governor requesting a road be constructed between Sydney and Newcastle. Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor-General of New South Wales, also urged the building of a road to the northern areas. Governor Darling believed in the importance of expansion and the economic development of the colony and laid the foundations for an extensive road system between Sydney and settlements to the north. The terrain that the road would pass through was difficult and included sandstone mountains with deep gorges.

Construction of the Great North Road began in 1826 and was completed in 1836. It was 250 kilometres long, built using hand tools with the assistance of a few bullocks, and comprised stone retaining walls, culverts, bridges and buttresses. Several thousand convicts were involved over the ten years of construction in the building of the road. Many of them were reoffenders who worked in leg irons, lived on rations of meat, flour and cornmeal food and were supervised by assistant surveyors.

The Great North Road_1820


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    • The holey dollar currency was withdrawn from circulation.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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