Equal Subjects, Unequal Rights: Indigenous Peoples in British Settler Colonies, 1830-1910

By Julie Evans; Patricia Grimshaw et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Australasia: one or two 'honorable
cannibals' in the House?

The first colonies on the Australian continent and the islands of New Zealand in the decades from the late 1830s to 1870 were notable for their swift movement politically from initial Crown colonies to virtual local self-government. As in Canada, the British Government first made arrangements for representative government based on a property franchise for all of these colonies, the already existing and the new, and then conceded responsible government to the colonists. Further, by 1860 the legislatures of the eastern and south-eastern Australian colonies had instituted full manhood suffrage. Formally, the Indigenous peoples of the Australasian colonies, Aborigines and Maori, were included in this rush along the path to self-government and democracy. Closer examination reveals that colonists on the Australian continent could afford to show contemptuous disregard of Aborigines' involvement in political processes. New Zealand settlers, by contrast, would need to surround their initially fragile dominance of the colony with safeguards against Maori potential to influence their political agendas. White Canadians explicitly and consciously enshrined in law that Indigenous political rights were dependent on 'progress' in 'civilisation'. In the Australasian colonies, that agenda also would never be far from the surface, interwoven with urgent settler imperatives grounded in their intensive pursuit of their own economic interests. The means by which colonists could acquire land and their subsequent usage of it would strongly influence Maori and Aborigines' entitlement to political citizenship and the likelihood of their exercising it.1


'The aboriginal inhabitants are all British subjects and
could qualify for the franchise equally with others'

At the time the Select Committee on Aborigines was sitting in Britain, in 1836, the principal British colony of New South Wales (NSW) was a

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