Australia in the 1850s

Indigenous events

While the non-Indigenous population grew in the 1850s, the population of Aboriginal people gradually contracted. European diseases such as smallpox decimated Aboriginal communities across the country. The pressure of urbanisation meant that more land was needed and Aboriginal people were pushed from their lands. At the same time, many Aboriginal people resisted dispossession and sought ways to maintain their own culture.

Aboriginal men sought work opportunities with the Port Phillip Native Police Corps (184252) as trackers and bush guides, and in employment on pastoral properties. Bellibellary (c17991846), an Elder of the Kulin nation, and his nephew William Barak (18241903) joined the Native Police Corps in 1851 and served under Captain Henry Dana, the first government authority on the goldfields at Mount Alexander. The Native Police troopers also escorted the first packhorse convoys that carried gold from the diggings to Melbourne.

In 1851, the development of a system of pastoral leases in South Australia began. Governor Young insisted that these include reservations where Aboriginal people could access pastoral lands. Later, in 1858, the Aborigines' Friends' Association (AFA) was formed in South Australia. The following year the Reverend George Taplin established a mission on Point McLeay (renamed Raukkan in 1982) for Aboriginal people of the Lower Lakes area.

In 1858, the Report of the Select Committee of the Victorian Legislative Council on Aborigines recommended that a system of reserves be established in remote areas of the colony to 'protect' Aboriginal people from further injustices and to place greater controls over their lives. In 1859 a small delegation of Aboriginal people from the Goulburn and Yarra regions requested that land on the Acheron river be set aside for them. The Land Board granted their request and 80 people settled and began to fence the land and cultivate crops.


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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