Australia in the 1850s


In 1850, the British Government passed the Australian Colonies Government Act which allowed the separation of Victoria and the Moreton Bay settlement from New South Wales (NSW) and granted all colonies, including New South Wales, Van Diemen's Land, South Australia and Western Australia, the right to self-government. The Act also allowed the separate colonies to create a representative government based on the NSW model of a bicameral parliament in which the lower house was fully elected. A bicameral parliament is one which has two chambers, for example, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Between 1855 and 1857, the constitutions of each of the colonies were proclaimed and bicameral parliaments opened in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Victoria, formerly known as the Port Phillip district, had become a colony in 1851. Queensland, previously known as the Moreton Bay settlement of Northern NSW, became a separate colony in 1859.

Between 1856 and 1858, three colonies, Victoria, South Australia and NSW, introduced the principal of manhood suffrage at parliamentary elections. Adult males, with the exception of Indigenous men, had to be registered for six months before an election on a district electoral role. This restriction denied the vote to large numbers of miners and itinerant workers. Members of parliament were not paid, allowing only men with a private income to stand for election. In 1856, voting by secret ballot was introduced into Victoria and South Australia.

In 1853, transportation of convicts to Tasmania ended.


A snapshot of 1858

  • January
    • A telephone line opened between the Sydney GPO and South Head.

  • May
    • New South Wales followed the lead of Victoria and South Australia to become the third colony to introduce the principle of manhood suffrage for parliamentary elections.

  • June
    • A huge gold nugget named the Welcome Nugget weighing 68.98 kilograms was found at Ballarat.

  • August
    • The Aborigines' Friends' Association (AFA) was formed at a public meeting in Adelaide in South Australia.

  • September
    • The first recorded game of Australian Rules Football was played between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar.

  • October
    • The first intercolonial electric telegraph line was officially opened between Adelaide and Melbourne.


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