The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 3

By William Roger Louis; Andrew Porter et al. | Go to book overview

24
Australia and the Western Pacific

DONALD DENOON WITH MARIVIC WYNDHAM

After 1770 Captain James Cook and his publicists revealed to politicians, entrepreneurs, and missionaries a new oceanic world to conquer. The slow beginnings of that process have been sketched in the previous volume.1 Even by 1815, while Britannia might claim to rule the Pacific waves, Imperial authority was still frail, especially on land. Few Western Pacific islanders and fewer indigenous Australians were yet aware of Britain, and most of the few British settlers had arrived involuntarily, as transportees. In every respect, however, the nineteenth century witnessed the complete overturning of this picture. By the 1860s, both in the islands and on the mainland, indigenous peoples were decimated and outnumbered by new, expanding societies of free British migrants; colonial authority, and Imperial naval power were firmly anchored in continental Australia (Map 24.1).

This transformation involved settlers' adaptation to the pastoral and farming opportunities of a dry continent. Their original beach settlements gradually became thriving entrepôts, sending wheat and wool from the countryside to Britain, and handling the migrants and the capital attracted by this new production. Gold and base metals, then railways, intensified the social and economic pattern whereby each hinterland was served by its port and each was largely independent of the others. Sydney (for New South Wales) and Hobart (for Tasmania) were the templates for parallel developments in Melbourne (for Victoria), Brisbane (for Queensland), Perth (for Western Australia), and Adelaide (for South Australia). Uniform culture and settlement experience failed to arrest the fragmentation of a continent into six distinct colonies.

The evolution of settler societies everywhere generated internal tensions, such as those between workers and employers, or in gender relations, irresolvable by simple application of metropolitan models. Political innovation was therefore essential. From the 1850s, in Australia as elsewhere, the major colonies enjoyed Responsible Government, which conferred great autonomy on recently created Assemblies elected by a broad manhood suffrage. The colonies subsequently

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1
In Vol. III, see chap. by Glyndwr Williams.

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