Australia in the 1830s

Travel by steamship

Sea transport was the commonest form of transport in early colonial life, and was essential for communication between the colonies and for transporting goods such as crops, wool, timber, coal and supplies. Overseas and coastal shipping was the means by which towns such as Melbourne were able to survive, as it provided both immigrants and the essential imports necessary for economic growth. The advent of steam-powered travel was seen within the colony as a great advance. It would speed up travel, improve communication, offer more comfort and improve the colony's image abroad.

The first steamship to arrive in Australia was a paddle-wheeler called the Sophia Jane. It arrived in Sydney on 14 May 1831, and commenced work in the coastal trade between Sydney and Newcastle in mid-June 1831 with 80 passengers on board. Before she could have her paddles fitted, another smaller steamer, the Surprise, completed her maiden voyage from Sydney to Parramatta, which became her regular route. The Sophia Jane was considered very fast and could travel the 100 kilometres between Sydney and Newcastle in eight hours. The Sophia Jane was a dual-powered ship, able to travel by both sail and steam.

By the end of 1832, more steam-powered vessels such as the William the Fourth and the Karuah were working the colonial waters. William the Fourth was built in Deptford yards in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales for Joseph Grose (1788?–1849), and was the first ocean-going wooden steamship built in Australia. Grose controlled a large part of the Hunter River steam trade during the 1830s. In 1837, he imported the steamer James Watt and, in 1838, added the fast steamer King William the Fourth to his fleet. During this period, Morpeth became Australia's second largest port and travelling to Sydney from the upper Hunter region became an overnight journey.

Sophia Jane_1830

A snapshot of 1838

  • January
    • John Pascoe Fawkner (1792–1869) founded the Melbourne Advertiser, the first weekly newspaper published in Melbourne. It was originally handwritten on four pages until a press and type arrived from Tasmania.
    • The 50th anniversary of the colony of New South Wales was held.

  • June
    • The Myall Creek massacre of 28 Aboriginal men, women and children occurred.

  • November
    • Pastor Kavel brought about 200 German dissenters escaping religious persecution in their own country to South Australia.
    • The Melbourne Cricket Club was founded.

  • December
    • Melbourne's first school opened at Batman's Hill.
    • The Jenolan Caves were discovered.


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