Australia in the 1840s

The perils of the sea

Travelling time for sailing to Australia decreased, but the journey still entailed many dangers and the possibility of shipwreck. The voyage between Liverpool and Melbourne was incrementally reduced from 100 days to just 64 days. The advent of the fast cutters and clipper ships improved the passenger services between England and Australia, and on the return journey the ships carried wool cargoes. In 1845, the cutter ship America was wrecked off the Queensland coast. A 16-year-old Scottish girl, Barbara Thomson, was the only survivor. She was rescued by Aboriginal people of the area. One of the men believed her to be the reincarnation of his daughter Gia-Om and she became known by that name. An Elder of the group took her as his wife and she took part in the daily life of the people.

During storms the sailing ships were in danger of being blown onto reefs and rocks. In 1845 the Cataraqui, a migrant ship, sailed from Liverpool with about 370 migrants, including 73 children and a crew of about 41. One day out from Melbourne, a big storm in Bass Strait with gale-force winds and big seas drove the ship onto reefs on the west coast of King Island. The ship broke up and water swept those who had rushed onto the deck overboard. Eight seamen and one migrant survived by clinging to wreckage.

Sailing and boating were the most effective means of transport over long distances, especially for travel between the colonies and for interior expeditions. Riverboats carried passengers as well as stores, timber and agricultural produce. In 1840, the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company's ship the Clonmel arrived in Melbourne. It was the first steamship to deliver mail from Sydney to Melbourne. Unfortunately, it was shipwrecked the following year on its second voyage, but was replaced by the iron paddle-steamer Rose. This was followed in 1841 by the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company's vessel that began service between Sydney, Melbourne and Launceston. Passenger ferry services in Sydney began on Sydney Harbour between Dawes Point and Blues Point in 1842.

A snapshot of 1848

  • March
    • The Melbourne Hospital, the first public hospital, opened. It was renamed a century later as The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

  • April
    • An expedition headed by Ludwig Leichhardt (1813–48) set out from the Darling Downs to cross the continent of Australia travelling through its centre, but he and his expedition died en route, never to be found.
    • The first detachment of Native Police was transferred from New South Wales to Queensland under the command of Lieutenant Frederick Walker.

  • June
    • 120 Chinese migrants arrived from Amoy under an indenture system to work as shepherds in New South Wales.

  • August
    • The Cape Otway Lighthouse in Victoria was lit for the first time.
    • The Native Police Force in Queensland (sometimes called the Native Mounted Police) was formed.

  • December
    • John Roe (1797–1878) and Augustus Charles Gregory (1819–1905) explored the north-eastern areas of Western Australia.
    • German and Hungarian refugees arrived in the colony having fled political upheaval in Europe. They were known as the 'forty-eighters' as they supported the 1848 revolutions.


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