Australia in the 1840s


Indigenous Australians continued to use a range of technologies that had been developed over many thousands of years. They are thought to have been the first to use ground edges on stone cutting tools and among the first to use stone tools to grind seeds.

In 1843, John Ridley (1806–1887) invented a stripper-harvester, which was the world's first mechanical grain harvester, making the reaping process of wheat much faster and also reducing the number of people required for harvesting. This invention was very important in South Australia during the 1840s as there was a severe shortage of labourers. 'The Stripper', as it was known, was exported to other colonies and overseas. Ridley had arrived from England with his family, settling in South Australia as a wheat grower. He set up South Australia's first steam-driven flour mill, having brought from England a James Watt steam engine and milling machinery. In 1843, he built a reaping machine that stripped the grain from the stalks and then threshed them to separate the grain from the ears.

The South Australian Agricultural and Horticultural Society awarded John Ridley a prize of ten pounds and ten shillings for the invention. The following year, he made seven machines, and another 50 over the next five years. His machine harvested wheat with a minimum of labourers and kept it dry, which was important for exporting wheat overseas.

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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