Australia in the 1850s


Science and exhibitions


In 1850 the Australian Philosophical Society, later to be called the Philosophical Society of NSW, was established to promote science. In 1859, it was renamed The Royal Society of New South Wales.

In 1851 James Harrison invented the first industrial refrigerator, known as a mechanical ice-making machine. By 1855, his refrigeration machine was producing several tonnes of ice per day. Harrison introduced commercial vapour-compression refrigeration to breweries and meat-packing houses and, by 1861, a dozen of his systems were in operation.

In 1854, the Melbourne Exhibition Building was opened in preparation for Australia's first industrial exhibition. A wide variety of colonial products was displayed at the exhibition, but most were agricultural or industrial products. The exhibition opened on 17 December 1854 and ran for 30 days. About 40,000 people attended, approximately half of Victoria's population.

On 1 February 1858, the first hot air balloon flew from Richmond in Victoria, and landed 25 minutes later in Heidelberg, approximately 17 kilometres away.

The Sydney Observatory was built between 1857 and 1859, enabling regular astronomy observations to be made. The Observatory also had a time-keeping role and so contained a time-ball tower, and at 1.00 pm each day the ball on the top of the tower dropped to signal the correct time. At the same time a cannon was fired to give the correct time to the residents of Sydney and to shipping in the harbour. Its first weather forecast was issued in June 1958.

Science and Exhibitions_1850


A snapshot of 1858

  • January
    • A telephone line opened between the Sydney GPO and South Head.

  • May
    • New South Wales followed the lead of Victoria and South Australia to become the third colony to introduce the principle of manhood suffrage for parliamentary elections.

  • June
    • A huge gold nugget named the Welcome Nugget weighing 68.98 kilograms was found at Ballarat.

  • August
    • The Aborigines' Friends' Association (AFA) was formed at a public meeting in Adelaide in South Australia.

  • September
    • The first recorded game of Australian Rules Football was played between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar.

  • October
    • The first intercolonial electric telegraph line was officially opened between Adelaide and Melbourne.

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