Australia in the 1890s


Cricket was the most popular summertime sport. It was a perfect pastime for 'native-born' colonists to try to measure themselves against England. Cricket in England was a sport reserved for gentlemen but in the colonies it was sport that could be played by all.

In 1882, Australia celebrated a moment of national triumph when it beat England at the London Oval. After this game the regular competition between the two sides became known as 'the Ashes'. A small terracotta urn containing the ashes of an item of cricket equipment was presented to England captain Ivo Bligh by a group of Melbourne women. It was henceforth referred to as the trophy of the Ashes series.

The first Australian side to tour Britain was an Aboriginal team in 1868. This team comprised thirteen Aboriginal players captained by the ex-English player Charles Lawrence. The team played 47 matches throughout England over a period of six months, winning 14, losing 14 and drawing 19. They also gave exhibitions of spear and boomerang throwing at the end of each day's cricket. However, the Central Board for Aborigines ruled that it was illegal to remove any Aboriginal person from the colony of Victoria without the approval of the government minister. This effectively curtailed the involvement of Aboriginal players in the game.

John McCarthy Blackham, member of the first Australian Test match team to play against England, 1876–77

A snapshot of 1898

  • April
    • The Eighth Intercolonial Trades Union Congress is held in Adelaide.

  • June
    • A referendum is held in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria to approve the draft Constitution of Australia.
    • The constitution is accepted by the required majority in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, but not in New South Wales.

  • October
    • The Perth Zoo opens with two lions and a tiger in its collection.
    • The Queen Victoria Building in Sydney is completed.
    • Hobart is lit by electricity.


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