Australia in the 1840s


Until the 1840s, the Church of England was the only officially recognised religion of the colonies, but in 1836 Governor Bourke (1777–1855) sanctioned the Church Act 1836, which established legal equality for Anglicans, Catholics and Presbyterians and provided funds to support them. He later extended the same support to Methodists.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney was established in 1842 with Archbishop John Bede Polding (1794–1877) as the first Catholic archbishop. He was recognised by the British Government and granted the same privileges as the Anglican bishop. More than 2,000 people, mostly Irish Catholics, greeted his arrival at Sydney Cove. Polding urged his congregation to leave the quarrels and prejudices of the old world behind and begin as 'One people – Australians', popularising the use of the word 'Australian'. Despite the religious pluralism that existed in legislation, sectarianism was a feature of life in the colonies, with hostility ongoing between Protestants and Catholics.

During the 1840s, many churches were built, including the Holy Trinity Church at Miller's Point in Sydney, and the Wesley Church, the Independent Church, the Scots' Church and St Francis' Church in Melbourne. In 1845 work began on All Saints' Church in Bathurst. In 1844, the first synagogue in New South Wales opened in Sydney on York Street. In 1846, a Benedictine monk, Rosendo Salvado (1814–1900), opened an Aboriginal mission in Western Australia called New Norcia. He established a farm and he taught the local Aboriginal population about farming and Christianity. He was made a bishop in 1849.

Christianity first came to Indigenous Australians around this time, with the establishment of settlements through missionary societies. The early Aboriginal missions were established around the south coast and pastoral districts, and conditions were generally harsh. They attempted to eliminate Indigenous knowledge and practices, and most initially only lasted between 3 and 15 years as the Aboriginal population declined.


A snapshot of 1848

  • March
    • The Melbourne Hospital, the first public hospital, opened. It was renamed a century later as The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

  • April
    • An expedition headed by Ludwig Leichhardt (1813–48) set out from the Darling Downs to cross the continent of Australia travelling through its centre, but he and his expedition died en route, never to be found.
    • The first detachment of Native Police was transferred from New South Wales to Queensland under the command of Lieutenant Frederick Walker.

  • June
    • 120 Chinese migrants arrived from Amoy under an indenture system to work as shepherds in New South Wales.

  • August
    • The Cape Otway Lighthouse in Victoria was lit for the first time.
    • The Native Police Force in Queensland (sometimes called the Native Mounted Police) was formed.

  • December
    • John Roe (1797–1878) and Augustus Charles Gregory (1819–1905) explored the north-eastern areas of Western Australia.
    • German and Hungarian refugees arrived in the colony having fled political upheaval in Europe. They were known as the 'forty-eighters' as they supported the 1848 revolutions.


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