Australia in the 1860s


In 1863, the Melbourne Observatory opened with Robert Ellery as Director. It established correct Melbourne time by using the stars as a guide. Gradually the observatory took on other tasks, such as mapping the southern sky. The Great Melbourne Telescope was built in Ireland in 1868 and erected at the Melbourne Observatory in 1869. For more than 20 years it was the largest telescope in the world, having been primarily employed to revise the map of the southern nebulae by detecting any changes since observations had originally been taken between 1834 and 1838. The telescope was operated in its first year by Albert Le Sueur.

The Intercolonial Exhibition opened in Melbourne in October 1866 to showcase advancements in technology, the most up-to-date manufacturing techniques and locally made products. It also included more than 3,000 exhibits representing a broad display from science and the arts, and was attended by more than 100,000 people. The aim of the exhibition was to increase intercolonial trade and to enable inventors, manufacturers, merchants and financiers to meet and talk. Charles Horsley (1822–1876), a pianist and composer, organised a music festival for the Intercolonial Exhibition.


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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