Australia in the 1860s

Sporting events

Sporting events increased in the colonies during the 1860s partly due to increased wealth and better transport and communications. In 1861 the Melbourne Cup, a 3.2-kilometre horserace, was held for the first time at Flemington. There were 17 starters and a prize of £170 and a gold watch. A Sydney horse named Archer won the race and won again in 1862. The horse had walked to Melbourne from its stable in Nowra, New South Wales, a distance of 800 kilometres. The race has since been run every year on the first Tuesday in November.

From the early 1860s, cricket matches between Aboriginal and European players had been held in the Western District of Victoria. In December 1866 a team of Aboriginal cricketers played a match against the Melbourne Cricket Club, attracting 8,000 spectators. In 1868, the first Australian cricket team to tour England was an all-Aboriginal team. International sporting contact did not occur very often at the time. The cricketers came mainly from the Western District of Victoria. They attracted a lot of attention when they arrived in England, and at the end of the tour they had 14 wins, 14 losses and 19 draws. Some of the players became ill during the tour due to the bad weather. The best player was Johnny Mullagh (18411891), a legendary all rounder who scored nearly 1,700 runs and took a total of 245 wickets. He was described by one of the English bowlers as one of the finest batsmen he had ever seen. In addition to playing cricket, the Aboriginal cricketers demonstrated their skills at boomerang and spear throwing.


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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