AUSTRALIA HAS A LONG HISTORY IN THE REALMS OF HUMAN imagination. From the days of Herodotus mankind has had its legends of distant lands, seen for a moment on the horizon, inhabited by strange monsters and rich with the fabulous wealth of Solomon’s Ophir and Tarshish. The wonder-loving age of the sixteenth century delighted in such tales, and men who made the long voyage to the East round the Cape of Good Hope talked mysteriously of Marco Polo’s Malaiur and Locach and the islands of King Solomon. How the ships of the King of Israel in the tenth century before Christ could have reached the South Pacific Ocean is beyond conjecture. But the geographers and navigators of the Renaissance conceived themselves to be inspired by Biblical example. The author of the Declaration of the Indies, presented to Henry VIII, prophesied that if the voyagers to the New World pressed on into the Pacific “there may be discovered divers new lands and kingdoms . . . the richest lands and islands of the world, of gold, precious stones, balms, spices, and other things that we here esteem most, which come out of strange countries.” In 1526 Spaniards had dispatched Sebastian Cabot to search for Ophir and Tarshish by way of Magellan’s Strait. He never reached the Pacific, but the legend persisted, and in the sixteenth-century maps of the Dieppe cartographers a great Southern continent, “Java la Grande,” is marked in the Pacific. In 1568 Alvaro de Mendaña and Pedro Sarmienta de Gamboa discovered what they called the Solomon Islands. The name they gave them shows the strength of the belief. Yet the sixteenth century had ended before landfall was made in Australia by Europeans, and the men who found it were hard-headed, unromantic Dutch traders.

Their voyages to Java and Sumatra brought the Dutch close to the northern shores of the newest continent, but despite Tasman’s great expedition in 1642 they avoided it when they could. They had no intention of settling there, and they knew it as an evil coast on which their vessels crossing the Indian Ocean were too often driven by a lee wind. The extent of the continent was not accurately known until the middle of the eighteenth century, when Captain James Cook made three voyages between 1768 and 1779, in which he circumnavigated New Zealand, sailed inside the Australian Barrier Reef, sighted the great Antarctic icefields, discovered the Friendly Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, and Hawaii, and charted the eastern coastline of Australia. Cook was a surveyor trained in the Royal Navy. His reports were official, accurate, and detailed. His news reached Britain at a timely moment. English convicts had long been transported to America, but since the War of Independence the Government had nowhere to send them and many were now dying of disease in the hulks and gaols of London. Why not send the prisoners to the new continent? The younger Pitt’s administration shrank from colonial ventures after the disasters in North America, but delay was deemed impossible, and in January 1788 717 convicts were anchored in Botany Bay. A hundred and ninety-seven were women. The Bay had been so named by Sir Joseph Banks, a distinguished amateur of science, who accompanied Cook on one of his voyages. There was not much botany about it now. The convicts were soon moved a few miles north to Port Jackson, within the magnificent expanse of Sydney Harbour. Famine crouched above the settlement, and for long the colony could not supply all its own food. Without training, capital, or the desire to work, the forgers and thieves, poachers and Irish rebels, criminals and political exiles, had neither the will not the ability to fit themselves to the new land. “The convict barracks of New South Wales,” wrote an Australian Governor, “remind me of the monasteries of Spain. They contain a population of consumers who produce nothing.” The region had been named by Captain Cook after South Wales. He thought he had detected a resemblance in coastline. But hard-working Wales and its antipodean namesake had very little else in common at the time.

There were of course a few free settlers from the first, but the full migratory wave did not reach Australia till the 1820’s. Even the future Commonwealth’s name was not yet determined. “New Holland” and other titles were bestowed upon it in official documents. Driven by the post-war distress in Great Britain and attracted by the discovery of rich pasture in the hinterland of New South Wales, English-speaking emigrants began to trickle into the empty sub-continent and rapidly transformed the character and life of the early communities. The population changed from about fifteen thousand convicts and twenty-one thousand free settlers in 1828 to twenty-seven thousand convicts and over a hundred thousand free settlers in 1841. Free men soon demanded, and got, free government. Transportation to New South Wales was finally abolished in 1840, and two years later a Legislative Council was set up, most of whose members were elected by popular vote.

Wool founded the prosperity of the country, and in time ousted Spanish and German supplies from the world’s principal markets. In 1797 a retired Army officer, John MacArthur, had obtained a few merino sheep from the Cape of Good Hope, and his breeding experiments in due course established the famous Australian flocks and changed the whole economy of the continent. The turning-point had been the discovery of the Bathurst Plains, beyond the Blue Mountains. Here and to the south of Sydney, and on the Darling Downs to the north, were great sheep-runs, mile after mile of lonely grazing land, open, grassy downs, inhabited only by a few shepherds and thousands upon thousands of silent, soft-footed sheep moving ever farther into the interior. The flocks multiplied swiftly: by 1850 there were more than sixteen million sheep in Australia. This was over sixteen times more sheep than there were men and women. The wool trade for the year was worth nearly two million pounds in sterling.

The British Government however distrusted sheep-farming. Not only did it claim that all land under British rule was Crown property, but the Colonial Office was much influenced by Gibbon Wakefield’s advocacy of systematic and concentrated colonisation. Wakefield maintained that settlement, wherever it took place, should be controlled and planned, and that to allow individuals to spread haphazard into the interior would hinder administration and reduce the value of the land already settled. His theories had much to commend them, but were quite unsuited to Australia. A series of Land Acts, designed to make land more difficult to obtain by enforcing a minimum price, soon broke down. “Squatters,” who needed thousands of acres for their sheep-runs and neither could nor would pay a pound, or even five shillings, for their grazing, struck out into the emptiness and took what they wanted, arguing with force that the land belonged to the people of the colony and that they should be given every facility to occupy it. The Colonial Office surrendered to the pressure of events. The squatters were there to stay, and soon became the most important section of the community. The British Government first compromised by instituting licences which gave them some legal standing, and in 1847 authorised the granting of pastoral leases for a term of years, at the end of which the squatter was to have the first right to purchase the land at its unimproved value.


Long before 1850 the settlement of other parts of Australia had begun. The first to be made from the mother-colony of Port Jackson was in the island of Tasmania, or Van Diemen’s Land as it was then called; at Hobart in 1804; and two years later at Launceston. Like New South Wales, Tasmania at first encountered many difficulties. The penal settlements at Macquarie Harbour and Port Arthur had evil reputations; rule was by terror and the labour-gang, and many convicts escaped and lived by bushranging, attacking lonely houses at night, and raiding stock-farms when the men were away. Unlike the rest of Australia, where the aboriginal inhabitants, few in number, scattered over vast areas, and, very primitive, scarcely resisted the white settlers, Tasmania had aborigines who were fairly numerous and comparatively advanced. Their defeat was inevitable; their end was tragic. The Black Drive of 1830 was a failure. The entire forces of the colony, organised at a cost of £30,000, attempted in vain to pen the natives in a reserve. But the Tasmanian tribes were extinct by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Tasmania developed in much the same way as New South Wales, and had become a separate colony in 1825. Prosperity came from wool and whaling, and brought a solid upsurge in population. In 1820 there were 6,500 settlers, mostly convicts; twenty years later the population numbered 68,000 and was mostly free. An elected Legislative Council was granted in 1850, and the abolition of transportation three years later placed Tasmania on an equal footing with New South Wales, and enabled her to participate in the general grant of responsible government.

From Tasmania a settlement was made at Port Phillip in 1835. At first it was administered by New South Wales, but the settlers quickly demanded independence, and in 1848 they withdrew all other candidates for the Legislative Council and elected Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies, as “Member for Melbourne.” Grey was the son of the Earl Grey of the Reform Bill. The move succeeded: within a few months the Colonial Office agreed to the separation, and in 1851 the new colony of Victoria, complete with representative institutions, was established, with its capital at Melbourne. The young Queen gave her name to this new offshoot of the English-speaking peoples. Its capital commemorates the Whig Prime Minister whom she had found to be the most agreeable of her advisers, and who was now no more.

The third offspring of New South Wales was Queensland. It grew up round the town of Brisbane, but developed more slowly and did not become a separate colony until 1859. By then two other settlements had arisen on the Australian coasts, both independently of New South Wales and the other colonies. In 1834 a body known as “the Colonisation Commissioners for South Australia” had been set up in London, and two years later the first settlers landed near Adelaide. The city was named after William IV’s Queen. South Australia was never a convict settlement. It was organised by a group of men under the influence of Gibbon Wakefield, whose elaborate theories were now put into practice. On the whole they succeeded, though a system of dual control by which responsibility was divided between the Government and the Colonisation, or Land, Commissioners gave so much trouble that the Commissioners were abolished in 1842. Within seven years the colony numbered 52,000 inhabitants, and had been substantially enriched by the discovery of copper deposits. Along with the eastern colonies, it was presently granted representative institutions.

The other colony, Western Australia, had a very different history. Founded in 1829, it nearly died at birth. With much less fertile soil than the eastern colonies and separated from them by vast and uninhabitable desert, it suffered greatly from lack of labour. Convicts, which the other colonies deemed an obstacle to progress, seemed the only solution, and the British Government, once again encumbered with prisoners, eagerly accepted an invitation to send some out to Perth. In 1849 a penal settlement was established, with much money to finance it. Thus resuscitated, the population trebled within the next ten years, but Western Australia did not obtain representative institutions until 1870, after the convict settlement had been abolished, nor full self-government till 1890.


In 1848 gold had been discovered in California, and among the prospectors who crossed the Pacific to try their luck was a certain Edward Hargraves. A few months of digging brought him small success, but he noticed that the gold-bearing rocks of California resembled those near Bathurst, in New South Wales. He returned to Australia early in 1851 to test his theory. The first pans of earth proved him right. News of the discovery leaked out, and within a few weeks the Australian Gold Rush had begun.

The gold fever swept the eastern colonies. The whole of Australia seemed to be on the move, marching out to Bathurst, Ballarat, or Bendigo, with picks and shovels on their shoulders, pots and basins round their waists, an excited, feverish crowd, pouring into mining towns that had sprung up overnight, fully equipped with gambling saloons, bars, and brothels. The Victorian goldfields soon had a population of nearly 100,000. Not all were “diggers,” as the miners came to be called, and the hotel-keepers, store-keepers, prostitutes, and other toilers usually fared best. A penniless lollipop-seller made £6,000 a year by opening a public-house on the road to Ballarat. When the miners flocked back to Melbourne or Sydney their money vanished in crazy extravagance and ostentation. Horses were shod with golden shoes, men lit their pipes with banknotes, so the stories ran, and a bridal party attended a wedding in bright pink velvet. When fortunes could be made and lost overnight there seemed no point in steady employment. Squatters lost their shepherds, business houses their clerks, ships their crews. Early in 1852 there were only two policemen left in Melbourne; more than fifty had gone off to the goldfields. Wages doubled and trebled; prices rose fantastically, and the values of land changed with bewildering rapidity. The other colonies, including New Zealand, lost great numbers of men to the goldfields. In a single year 95,000 immigrants entered Victoria; in five months 4,000 men out of a total population, including women and children, of 50,000 left Tasmania for Victoria.

Keeping the peace, settling disputed claims, providing transport, housing, and enough food to stop famine was a grievous burden for the new administration at Melbourne, most of whose staff had also deserted to the goldfields. For some time there were no more than forty-four soldiers in the whole of Victoria, and in 1853 fifty policemen had to be sent out from London. The diggers probably enjoyed the turbulence they created in the mining towns, but they had a serious grievance against the Government. As with the squatters, the Crown claimed ownership of the land, and demanded a licence fee. The fee was fiercely resented and very difficult to collect, and after many threats the diggers exploded into violence.

On October 6, 1854, a digger was killed in a fight near the Eureka Hotel in Ballarat. The hotel-keeper, Bentley, his wife, and a man named Farrell were accused, but acquitted in spite of the evidence. Ten days later the diggers burned down the hotel, and four of their leaders were arrested. The diggers were now in dangerous mood. They formed the Ballarat Reform League, and issued a political programme which demanded the abolition of licence fees and contained four of the six points of the English Chartists. On November 30 a search for unlicensed miners caused a riot. Led by one Peter Lalor, the diggers began to drill and build a stockade. The local military commander, Captain Thomas, acted with speed and wisdom. He determined to attack before the movement spread. With three hundred men, mainly soldiers, he carried the stockade with a bayonet charge, killing thirty rebels and capturing over a hundred and twenty.

Thus ended what might have become a serious rebellion. Licence fees were soon afterwards abolished and replaced by an export duty on gold. The miners were given the franchise and peace was restored. In the next few years independent diggers were replaced by mining companies, which alone had the resources to carry on underground work. Much the same happened in New South Wales, the only other colony where gold was discovered at this time. Between 1851 and 1861 £124,000,000 worth of it was raised. A more permanent enrichment was the increase in Australian population, which now rose to over a million.

Wool and agriculture at first were deeply smitten by the rush for gold, and squatters who lost their shepherds cursed its discovery. But Australia gained in the end. The squatter prospered by the establishment of better roads and more railways. Food was needed, and over a million acres were soon under cultivation. The economy of the country, hitherto far too dependent on wool, thus achieved a balance.

The political repercussions were far-reaching. The increase of population, trade, and revenue made it imperative to reform the makeshift constitutions of 1850, and after long discussion in the colonies a number of schemes were laid before the Colonial Office and approved by the home Government. Between 1855 and 1859 two-chamber Parliaments, elected by popular vote and with Ministers responsible to the Lower House, were introduced in all the antipodean states except Western Australia, where, as already related, self-government came later.

Great changes were still to unroll, and Australia as we now know it was born in 1901 by the association of the colonies in a Commonwealth, with a new capital at Canberra. Federation came late and slowly to the southern continent, for the lively, various, widely separated settlements cherished their own self-rule. No threat or pressure had yet arisen from Asia to the north which would generate an overriding sense of unity. This was to come. Even to-day most of the Australian population dwells in the settlements founded in the nineteenth century. The heart of the country, over a million square miles in extent, has attracted delvers after metals and ranchers of cattle, but it remains largely uninhabited. The silence of the bush and the loneliness of the desert are only disturbed by the passing of some transcontinental express, the whirr of a boomerang, or the drone of a pilotless missile.


Twelve hundred miles to the east of Australia lie the islands of New Zealand. Here, long before they were discovered by Europeans, a Polynesian warrior race, the Maoris, had sailed across the Pacific from the north-east and established a civilisation notable for the brilliance of its art and the strength of its military system. When Captain Cook visited them towards the end of the eighteenth century he judged that they numbered about a hundred thousand. This was probably an overestimate, but here nevertheless was a first formidable obstacle to European colonisation, a cultured people long in possession of the land, independent in spirit and skilled in warfare. Soon after Cook’s discovery a small English community gained a footing in the Bay of Islands in the far north, but they were mostly whalers and sealers, shipwrecked mariners, and a few escaped convicts from Australia, enduring a lonely, precarious, and somewhat disreputable existence. They were tolerated by the Maori chiefs, whom they supplied with firearms. They constituted no great threat to Maori life or lands. Resistance to English colonisation was fortified by the arrival of Christian missionaries. In 1814 the Reverend Samuel Marsden set up a mission station in this same Bay of Islands. He was joined by other clerics, and Christianity quickly gained a large ascendancy over the Maoris, many of whom became proselytisers. The missionaries struggled to defeat the power of the traders, and for many years they opposed, in the interests of the Maoris, all schemes for admitting English immigrants. For a time they succeeded, and the Australian colonies had been established for half a century before the first official English settlement was founded. A move to colonise the islands had nevertheless long been afoot in London, impelled by a group of men around Gibbon Wakefield, who had already so markedly influenced the future of Canada and Australia. Wakefield and his friends had founded a New Zealand Association, of which Lord Durham was a member. But the Government was hostile. The missionaries denounced the project as disastrous to the natives, and the Colonial Office refused to sanction its plans.

Wakefield however was resolute, and in 1838 his Association formed a private joint-stock company for the colonisation of New Zealand, and a year later dispatched an expedition under his younger brother. Over a thousand settlers went with them, and they founded the site of Wellington in the North Island. News that France was contemplating the annexation of New Zealand compelled the British Government to act. Instead of sanctioning Wakefield’s expedition they sent out a man-of-war, under the command of Captain Hobson, to treat with the Maoris for the recognition of British sovereignty. In February 1840 Hobson concluded the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori chiefs. By this the Maoris ceded to Great Britain all the rights and powers of sovereignty in return for confirmation in “the full and exclusive possession of their lands and estates.”

Then, but not till then, the company received official recognition. Two powers were thus established, the Governor at Auckland at the top of the North Island, which Hobson had chosen as the capital, and the company at Wellington. They championed different interests and opposing policies. The company wanted land, as much and as soon as possible. The treaty and the Colonial Office said it belonged to the Maoris. The two authorities struggled and bickered throughout the forties. The treaty was bitterly denounced by the company’s settlers, and in 1843 Joseph Somes, Governor of the company, wrote to the Colonial Secretary: “We have always had very serious doubts whether the Treaty of Waitangi, made with naked savages by a consul invested with no plenipotentiary powers, without ratification by the Crown, could be treated by lawyers as anything but a praiseworthy device for amusing and pacifying savages for the moment.” The “naked savages” however were not to be caught. The treaty with Hobson clearly distinguished between the shadow of sovereignty, which they surrendered, and the substance of property, which they retained. The land was their life-blood. “By woman and land are men lost” ran the Maori proverb, and the older chiefs realised that if they lost their land their tribal life would be extinguished. The ingenuity of their laws exasperated settlers who had innocently purchased land for hard cash and found themselves denied possession because the tribe’s inalienable rights over the soil were unaffected by private bargains. Nevertheless by 1859 the settlers had occupied seven million acres in the North Island and over thirty-two million acres in the South, where the Maoris were fewer.

The result was the Maori wars, a series of intermittent local conflicts lasting from 1843 to 1869. The scene of the fighting moved from place to place. By the middle of the sixties twenty thousand troops were engaged. The fanatical cult of the Hauhans and the skill of Te Kooti, a guerrilla leader of genius, taxed all the resources of the colony. The Maoris fought magnificently, and the admiration of the Regular officers for their opponents sharpened their dislike of the settlers. But by 1869 the force of the movement was spent and the risings were defeated. Thereafter the enlightened policy of Sir Donald MacLean, the Minister for Native Affairs, produced a great improvement. The settlers gained some security of tenure. The Maoris realised that the British had come to stay. A series of Native Land Acts, passed in the sixties, protected them against extermination; in 1867 they secured direct representation in the New Zealand legislature, and after declining to 37,000 souls in 1871 by the 1951 census they numbered nearly 100,000.

Despite these years of strife the colony continued to expand. Wakefield, anxious to overcome the opposition of the missionaries, ingeniously persuaded both the Free Church of Scotland and the Church of England to co-operate in establishing two new settlements. These, at Otago and Canterbury, were remarkable applications of his theories. Both were in the South Island, and from 1860 until 1906 it was the South Island, prosperous and comparatively immune from the Maori wars, which contained most of the population. By 1868 the British numbered only about a quarter of a million; twelve years later there were nearly twice as many.

Peace brought prosperity. Great flocks of sheep were reared on the famous Canterbury Plains of the South Island, and a native Corriedale cross-breed was evolved. In the eighteen-sixties gold was found in Otago and Canterbury and there was a temporary boom. The Australian gold discoveries and the swift rise in prices in Melbourne and Sydney gave agriculture a flying start. Despite a depression in the eighties, the prosperity of New Zealand has continued to grow ever since. The invention of the refrigerator enabled the colony to compete with European and English producers thirteen thousand miles away. The co-operative movement, especially in dairy-farming, helped small farmers with little capital to build up an industry of remarkable magnitude, and the Dominion of New Zealand soon possessed the highest external trade in proportion to its numbers of any nation in the world.


New Zealand’s political development was no less rapid. Founded in the days of the Durham Report and the first experiments with colonial self-government in Canada, she obtained by the Constitution Act of 1852 a broad measure of independence. Her problems did not, as in the older colonies, centre on the demand for responsible government, but on relations between the central and provincial administrations. Inland travel was so difficult that until late in the nineteenth century the colony remained a number of small, scattered settlements, all differing in the circumstances of their foundation and the character of their interests. This was recognised in the Constitution Act, which set up a number of provincial councils on a democratic basis, each to a considerable extent independent of the General Assembly.

Conflict between the provincial assemblies and the central administration troubled New Zealand politics for twenty years. Some provinces were wealthy, others less so. Otago and Canterbury, stimulated by the discovery of gold, became rich and prosperous, while the settlers in the North Island, harassed by the Maori wars, grew more and more impoverished. At one time Otago and Canterbury wanted to secede. Reform came in 1875, when the constitution was modified, the provinces were abolished, local administration was placed in the hands of county councils, and the powers of the central Government were greatly increased. Thus, on a smaller scale, New Zealand faced and mastered all the problems of federal government thirty years before Australia. Indeed her political vitality is no less astonishing than her economic vigour. The tradition and prejudices of the past weighed less heavily than in the older countries. Many of the reforms introduced into Great Britain by the Liberal Government of 1906, and then regarded as extreme innovations, had already been accepted by New Zealand. Industrial arbitration, old-age pensions, factory legislation, State insurance and medical service, housing Acts, all achieved between 1890 and the outbreak of the First World War, and State support for co-operative production, testified to the survival and fertility, even in the remote and unfamiliar islands of the Pacific, of the British political genius.

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