Australia in the 1850s

Cities and population

In the 1850s, the cities of each colony began a period of dramatic change. This transformation was due to an increased population, wealth from the gold rushes in New South Wales and Victoria and new ideas generated by a culturally diverse population. By the end of the decade, public structures and housing in Sydney and Melbourne had multiplied. Many elegant and ornate civic buildings with attractive tree-lined and paved streetscapes were built. Commercial business centres and Italianate, Gothic revival and neo-Classical style townhouses were erected in newly established suburbs. Art galleries, museums, zoos and universities were constructed. By the end of the decade the streets of Melbourne and Hobart Town were lit by gas lamps.

During this decade, the wealth from gold transformed Melbourne into one of the world's largest and wealthiest cities and funded many grand new civic buildings such as the Parliament House, the Treasury Building, the Free Public Library, the National Museum and The University of Melbourne. In 1858 the National Bank of Australasia opened its doors in response to the wealth of the gold rushes.

Edmund Blacket (18171883) arrived from England in 1842 and established himself as colonial architect during the 1850s. Blacket became a pioneer of the revival styles of architecture, in particular Victorian Gothic. He is most well known for designing the main buildings of Sydney University and St Paul's College.

Between 1851 and 1854, the population of Victoria grew from about 77,000 to more than 200,000. The estimated population of Australia in 1850 was approximately 400,000, but had increased to 1 million by 1860.

Entertainment in the 1850s revolved around attending dances, music halls for burlesque and theatre, and horseracing. The Age newspaper began publication in Melbourne during 1854.

Cities and population_1850

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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