Australia in the 1850s

Transport and communications

During the 1850s, travel and communication between the colonies improved with the coming of the railway, road improvements, paddle-steamers and telegraphic links. This improvement enabled increased trade between the colonies.

In 1853, the paddle-steamers Lady Augusta and Mary Ann navigated the Murray River from Swan Hill in Victoria to Goolwa in South Australia, and established the possibility of commercial trade between the two colonies along the river.

Also in 1853, Freeman Cobb formed what would become the stage-coach company Cobb and Co. The first stage-coach service began in 1854 from Melbourne to Bendigo on the Victorian goldfields. The same year Cobb and Co set up a coach service between Melbourne and the Ballarat goldfields carrying the Royal Mail.

In 1854 the first steam railway in Victoria was opened, travelling from Melbourne to Sandridge (Port Melbourne), a distance of 3.6 kilometres. Other passenger routes were soon opened, taking travellers to St Kilda in 1857 and North Brighton in 1859. In 1857 the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company opened the Williamstown-to-Geelong railway line. This was the first railway to connect a major country centre with a metropolis. The first regional railway was built from Melbourne to Sunbury in 1859.

During the 1850s, the first electric telegraph line in Australia began operating between Melbourne and Williamstown, sending the first Australian telegram transmitted by morse code in 1854.

In 1855, the first steam railway in New South Wales began operating between Sydney and Parramatta, a distance of 22.5 kilometres. The steam railway from Adelaide to Port Adelaide opened in 1856.

By 1858 the colonial cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide were linked by electric telegraph, and a telegraph line opened between Hobart Town and Launceston. The first submarine communication cable was laid between Tasmania and Cape Otway in 1859.


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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