Australia in the 1820s


The Bigge Report


John Thomas Bigge (1780–1843) was appointed to investigate the effectiveness of convict transportation in deterring crime. In his report titled Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry into the State of the Colony of New South Wales, Bigge criticised Governor Lachlan Macquarie's administration of the colony, in particular his liberal policies towards former convicts (known as emancipists), his active public works program and his seemingly lenient treatment of convicts. Three reports, submitted by Bigge between 1822 and 1823, changed the way in which the colony of New South Wales was administered.

In 1824, a Legislative Council of New South Wales was established with five appointed advisers to the governor. A second Legislative Council was granted for Van Diemen's Land in 1828. The council's members, mainly made up from the wealthy landowners, were chosen by the governor and endorsed by the British Parliament. The governor could choose not to accept the council's advice.

Bigge also recommended a change in convict policy to assist the economic development of the colony. The assignment system would lease male convicts to existing landowners and to new farmers with the purpose of providing them with the agricultural labour they needed to establish a farm. Small numbers of convicts skilled in particular trades would be sent to the colony as required to further assist landowners. Convict women were assigned as domestic servants. At the same time, there was an increase in the severity of punishments meted out to convicts who would not work. These punishments included floggings, working in chain gangs, starvation rations, solitary confinement and banishment to the harshest penal settlements at Norfolk Island and Moreton Bay.

The British Colonial Government wanted the penal settlements to provide wool for the textile factories in England. By 1822, free settlers and men with independent means started to arrive in Van Diemen's Land with the intention of sheep farming. These men included many officers who had fought in the Napoleonic wars and were on half pay. They had sold their commissions and came with enough money to receive the maximum grant of 2,600 acres.

The Bigge Report_1820


A snapshot of 1828

  • February
    • The Cape Grim massacre took place in Van Diemen's Land.

  • May
    • Thomas Livingstone Mitchell became Surveyor-General following the death of John Oxley.

  • September
    • Australia's first bank robbery took place. The robbers broke into the vault of the Bank of Australia in Sydney.
    • The holey dollar currency was withdrawn from circulation.

  • November
    • Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur declared martial law against Aboriginal peoples in the settled districts of Van Diemen's Land.
    • The first census was held in New South Wales, showing that 24 per cent of the total population was born in the colony. Children under 12 years comprised only 16 per cent of the total European population. The Indigenous population was not included.

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