Australia in the 1840s

An artist's view

Samuel Thomas Gill (1818–1880) was born in England but came to South Australia in 1839. He established a studio at Gawler Place in Adelaide, where he painted portraits of people, their dogs, horses and houses. He was an expert draftsperson and had an acute talent for naturalism and the detail of everyday life in the colony. In 1846, he accompanied an expedition led by JA Horrocks (1818–1846), which reached the country at the head of Spencer Gulf. Gill's diary of the expedition was published in the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register. In 1849, he produced a series of 22 lithographic drawings of prominent South Australian citizens called 'Heads of the People'.

John Gould (1804–1881) was an English ornithologist and bird artist who arrived in Australia in 1838. He documented Australian native birds and animals in an effort to publish a major study on them. On return to England, he published The Birds of Australia (1840–48). It consisted of 600 plates over seven volumes, 328 of which were new to science and named by Gould. He also published A Monograph of the Macropodidae, or Family of Kangaroos (1841–42) and the three-volume work The Mammals of Australia (1849–61). Gould had previously worked with Charles Darwin on the Beagle, and documented the species known as Darwin's finches.

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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