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Expanding Colonization, New Settlements

Captain James Stirling, John Batman, terra nullius, lowland Scots, Australian colonies

As a prelude to increased British interest, Captain James Stirling explored the Swan River on the western coast in 1827 and led a group of British investors in the establishment of Western Australia in 1829. Underfinanced, Stirling’s new settlement of free settlers at Perth stagnated. In 1850 the colony requested convicts to increase its labor supply and received about 10,000 by 1868. Only with the discovery of gold in the 1890s, however, was the fortune of Western Australia reversed.

In 1829 a convict outpost was established in the far north of New South Wales at Moreton Bay. The settlement later moved to a more favorable site on the Brisbane River, where the town of Brisbane was established. This was to become the capital of the new colony of Queensland, which separated from New South Wales in 1859.

By the 1830s settlers had taken up the best grazing land in Van Diemen’s Land. In 1835 rival syndicates of land-hungry speculators ventured across Bass Strait and took preemptive possession of land on the Yarra River at the head of Port Phillip Bay. The leader of one party, John Batman, negotiated unofficially with the Aboriginal people for possession of some 243,000 hectares (600,000 acres) of land. The bargain was considered fraudulent and not ratified by the colonial government, which followed the practice elsewhere on the continent of assuming possession of land for the British crown by declaring it a terra nullius (“no one’s land”). This practice was based on the assumption that Aboriginal people were nomads with no fixed place of abode. Government officials from Sydney arrived later and laid out the town of Melbourne, which soon received a steady flow of sheep and settlers, particularly lowland Scots.

South Australia, with its capital of Adelaide, was established in 1836. It was founded, under British government supervision, by the South Australian Company, a band of colonizers inspired by the writings of Edward Wakefield. Under Wakefield’s theory of systematic colonization, they endeavored to create a colony that avoided the use of convict labor. Wakefield believed that by selling land at a “sufficient price,” rather than giving it away as had been the British colonial practice, colonies could generate enough income to sponsor the immigration of laborers, who would then work the land for the colonial investors. By controlling land prices, Wakefield assumed he could also regulate the supply of labor, and reproduce, in an ideal form, the class and family structure of British society. South Australia was the only colony that never received convicts from Britain. It became a more urbanized and less deferential society than its founders had planned, but the Congregationalists, Methodists, and Baptists of the South Australian Company helped to make it the most respectable of the Australian colonies. Wheat farming and tin and copper mining became its principal industries.



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