Australia in the 1860s


Bushrangers were a part of life in the 1860s. The gold travelling from the goldfields to the capital cities ensured that there were rich rewards for those who were prepared to take the risk of being caught. The police presence on the goldfields was small and many miners paid for armed guards to accompany their gold being taken by coach to the cities.

During the 1860s, most bushrangers were Australian-born (or 'currency lads'). They were very good horsemen and were well skilled in bushmanship. The stories of daring young men and larrikin exploits have become part of Australian folklore. Many stories present the bushranger as a victim of a corrupt police force. For example, Ben Hall (18371865) did not kill anyone, despite taking part in many robberies. His status became legendary as many people sympathised with his plight and offered him safe haven from the police. In particular, the poor Irish communities who had escaped English oppression in Ireland, or who had previously been transported, were supportive of the bushrangers who defied the police.

In June 1862, Frank Gardiner (18301903?) and his gang robbed the Lachlan Gold Escort of £14,000 in gold and notes and wounded three policemen in the shootout. A year later, having escaped the law, the gang invited the residents of Canowindra to three days of eating and drinking at Robinson's pub.

However, the Felons Apprehension Act 1865 (NSW) was then passed, allowing the shooting on sight of any outlawed bushranger. This law reflected a tougher attitude to bushrangers by both the police and some parts of the public. In 1865, Ben Hall was betrayed by an accomplice and shot by police troopers. As to other members of his gang, John Gilbert (184265) was shot by police and John Dunn (18461866) was hanged.

Captain Thunderbolt (18351870) was another well-known bushranger. His companion was an Aboriginal woman named Yellilong (also known as Mary Ann Bugg) who died in 1868 from pneumonia.


A snapshot of 1868

  • January
    • Transportation of convicts to Western Australia ended.

  • March
    • The Queensland Parliament passed the Polynesian Labourers Act 1868 (Qld) to regulate the employment of Pacific Islanders recruited through 'blackbirding'.
    • The attempted assassination of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, by Henry James O'Farrell at Clontarf, a suburb of Sydney.

  • May
    • An Indigenous Australian cricket team became the first Australian sports team to tour overseas.

  • September
    • John King, the only surviving member of the Burke and Wills exhibition, was found living with an Aboriginal group.
    • Public Schools Act introduced compulsory schooling in Tasmania.


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