Reign of Queen Victoria - M. B. Synge

Emigrants in Australia and New Zealand

During these years the British colonies were growing rapidly in importance, as well as in size. At the Queen's accession vast tracts of country were yet unexplored, and only a handful of English lived in the scattered homesteads. Though the whole island-continent of Australia was twenty-five times the size of the British Isles, her white population in 1837 numbered only one-fourth of the people in the town of Sydney at the Queen's death.

The story of the early colonization of this far-off land is painful reading, for it was largely peopled by convicts and prisoners sent out from England.

Three sisters, Australia


The first party of settlers, after a terrible voyage of eight months from England, had landed at Port Jackson in 1788, where their eyes were gladdened by the sight of a magnificent harbour, now the pride of the citizens of Sydney. By the time of the Queen's accession, Sydney was a well-planned town with paved streets and fair-sized houses, a church and a hospital. It became the centre of that eastern part known as New South Wales.

Englishmen of daring and high courage made their way across the continent, ever opening up new fields for enterprise. The famous Blue Mountains had been crossed by three intrepid explorers, and a road had been skilfully constructed to the rich plains beyond, where a little settlement called Bathurst had been made. So rapid was the growth of New South Wales that in 1843 the people begged the mother country to grant them a constitution of their own. A Governor was sent from England, and a Legislative Council was formed to represent the wishes of the colonists.

Already a small band of emigrants had landed on the coast of West Australia, at the mouth of the Swan River, which was so called from the number of black swans that swam about on its surface. Under Captain Fremantle this little colony started life. But the port which they named after their leader was exposed to the storms of the open ocean, and the colonists were driven farther up the river, where they began to build the now flourishing town of Perth.

But the colony grew slowly, for the distances were vast and the district was entirely cut off from the rest of the island continent. Indeed, at one time the prospects seemed so gloomy that there was a serious idea of abandoning it altogether, but in course of time, by the aid of convict labour, roads were made, and a settlement formed at Albany, at the head of St. George's Sound.

Australian settlers were almost entirely occupied in sheep farming, and it was by exporting wool that the colonies throve at this time.

Australian Native


By the year 1848 there were six colonies in Australia—New South Wales, including Victoria and Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania (Van Diemen's Land), and South Australia. Colonists in the new districts now began to demand a constitution, similar to that granted already to New South Wales, and after a time a Legislative Council was allowed to each colony, with power to impose and levy duties or customs on imported goods, wares, or merchandise.

Fortunately for Britain, the Prime Minister at this time, Lord John Russell, was one of the few statesmen who saw the value of the colonies, and the importance of giving them self-government, while still maintaining the Imperial connexion.

Lord Russell


"I consider it our bounden duty", he said, "to maintain the colonies, which have been placed under our own charge. The value of our commerce, which penetrates to every part of the globe, all will admit; and many of those colonies give harbours and security to that trade which are most useful in time of war. If our colonies were abandoned by England they would most naturally and justly apply to some other country for protection. Who can doubt that other countries would readily afford the protection so asked?"

These words applied as much to New Zealand as to Australia. These islands, some thousand miles to the south-east of Australia, already had a constitution of their own. When Queen Victoria came to the throne there were some 500 Europeans on the coast, living wild and lawless lives, which even the missionaries were unable to control. Such terrible accounts reached England that a New Zealand Company was formed, and Captain Hobson with a party of colonists sailed out to proclaim the country henceforth a part of the British Empire.

In 1840 a famous gathering took place on the shore of the Bay of Islands, near the mouth of the river Waitangi. The new Governor, who was to be under the Governor of New South Wales, sat on a chair of state, his officers in uniform, the missionaries, sailors, and leading white men standing around. The Maoris had gathered in force to hear the proclamation, which they hoped would bring peace to their land. By this Treaty of Waitangi they were called on to acknowledge Victoria as their sovereign Queen, who promised protection and just dealings with her white subjects in New Zealand. The treaty was signed by 500 native chiefs, and New Zealand was declared to be part of the Empire.

A site for the capital was found at Auckland, emigrants flocked over from Sydney and many hundreds went out from Britain. Many of these started a settlement at Port Nicholson, which they named Wellington, after the famous Iron Duke. They worked with a will at their new homes, for the soil was rich and deep, the scenery was beautiful, and they had visions of peace and plenty.

The native Maoris were willing to sell large tracts of land, and before long some 4,000 people were happily settled at Wellington, and a new settlement on the South Island, called Nelson. So far the Maoris had been friendly, but soon disputes arose over the land, a spirit of unrest grew among both settlers and natives, and the first Maori war definitely broke out in 1845. Help was sent over by the British colonists at Sydney, and after several skirmishes the Maoris were attacked in their stronghold, and defeated by the settlers with considerable loss.

Maori Chiefs


It was a happy day for the disturbed colonists in New Zealand when a young English officer, George Grey, arrived from South Australia, where he had been Governor, to take over the government. Everything was in confusion. There were still open quarrels over the land between colonists and natives. The new Governor assured the Maoris that for the future their land should only be bought at a fair price, and not as heretofore, for a few fire-arms. And soon the war came to a successful end, and just terms of peace were concluded.

All felt the hand of a strong ruler. For the first time the colony felt the blessing of peace; churches and schools arose in the towns; agriculture was encouraged, and settlers went out from Britain in ever-increasing numbers.