New South Wales 1851-1860

Effects of Gold Discovery. For some years after 1851 the colony of

New South Wales passed through a severe ordeal. The separation of Port

Phillip had reduced her population by one-fourth and decreased her

wealth by fully a third; the discoveries of gold at Ballarat and Bendigo

had deprived her of many of her most desirable colonists. But the

resources of the colony were too vast to allow of more than a merely

check, and, after a year or two, her progress was steady and

marked. The gloomy anticipations with which the gold discoveries had

been regarded by the squatters and employers of labour were by no means

realised; for though men were for a time scarce, and wages exceedingly

high, yet, when the real nature of a gold-digger's life and the

meagreness of the average earnings became apparent, the great majority

of the miners returned to their ordinary employments and the colony

resumed its former career of steady progress, though with this

difference, that the population was greater, and business consequently

brisker than it had ever been before.

Fortune, however, had given to Victoria so great an impetus in 1851,

that the firm prosperity of New South Wales was completely lost sight of

in the brilliant success of its younger neighbour. The yield of gold in

New South Wales was never great as compared with that of Victoria; for,

with the exception of 1852, no year produced more than two million

pounds worth. But the older colony learnt more and more to utilise its

immense area in the growth of wool, an industry which yielded greater

and more permanent wealth than has ever been gained from gold mining.

Governor Denison. Governor Fitzroy, who had been appointed in 1847,

remained eight years in office, and thus was present during the events

which made so great a change in the prospects of the colonies. In 1855

he returned to England, and his place was taken by Sir William Denison,

who had previously been Governor of Tasmania. In 1854 great excitement

had been caused in Sydney by the outbreak of the Crimean War, and the

people, in their fear lest they might suddenly receive an unwelcome

visit from Russian cruisers, hastened to complete a system of

fortifications for the harbour. The new Governor, who had in youth been

trained as an officer of the Royal Engineers in England, took a warm

interest in the operations. He built a small fortress on an islet in the

middle of the harbour, and placed batteries of guns at suitable spots

along the shores. The advance of the science of warfare in recent times

has left these little fortifications but sorry defences against modern

ironclads; but they have since been replaced by some of those

improvements in defence which have accompanied the invention of new

methods of attack.

Constitutional Changes. The Constitutions which had been framed for

the colonies by the Imperial Parliament in 1850 were not expected to be

more than temporary. The British Government had wisely determined to

allow each of the colonies to frame for itself the Constitution which it

deemed most suitable to its requirements, and had instructed the

Legislative Councils which were elected in 1851 to report as to the

wishes of their respective colonies. In Sydney the Council entrusted the

framing of the new Constitution to a committee, which decided to adopt

the English system of government by two Houses--the one to represent the

people as a whole, the other to watch over the interests of those who,

by their superior wealth, might be supposed to have more than an

ordinary stake in the welfare of the country. It was very quickly

arranged that the popular House should consist of not less than

fifty-four members, to be elected by men who paid a small rental, or

possessed property of a certain annual value. But with regard to the

nature of the Upper House, it was much more difficult to come to a

decision. Wentworth proposed that the Queen should establish a colonial

peerage to form a small House of Lords, holding their seats by

hereditary right; but this idea raised so great an outcry that he made

haste to abandon it. Several of the committee were in favour of the

scheme, afterwards adopted in Victoria, of making the Upper House

elective, while limiting the choice of members to those who possessed at

least L5,000 worth of real property. After much discussion, however, it

was decided to give to the Governor the power of nominating the members

of this chamber, which was to consist of not less than twenty-one


The Legislative Council adopted this scheme, and sent it to England for

the assent of the Queen; they also requested that their Constitution

might be still further assimilated to that of Great Britain by the

introduction of responsible government, so that the Ministers who

controlled the affairs of the colony should be no longer officials

appointed or dismissed by the Governor and Secretary of State, but

should, in future, be chosen by the Parliament to advise the Governor on

all matters of public interest, and should be liable to dismissal from

office so soon as the Parliament lost confidence in their ability or

prudence. The British Government at once gave its assent to this

Constitution, which was accordingly inaugurated in 1856; and from that

date the political management of New South Wales has been an imitation

of that of the British Empire. In 1858 two small modifications were

introduced: the Lower House was increased in numbers to sixty-eight

members, and the privilege of voting for it was extended to every male

person over twenty-one years of age who had dwelt not less than six

months in the colony.

Floods and Droughts. From the very commencement of its existence,

New South Wales has been subject to the two extremes of heavy floods and

dreary periods of drought. The mountains are so near to the coast that

the rivers have but short courses, and the descent is so steep that,

during rainy seasons, the rush of waters deluges the plains near the

sea, causing floods of fatal suddenness. At the same time, the waters

are carried off so rapidly that there are no supplies of moisture left

to serve for those seasons in which but little rain falls. The

districts along the banks of the Hunter, Hawkesbury, and Shoalhaven

Rivers have been especially liable to destructive inundations; and,

from time to time, the people of Sydney have been obliged to send up

lifeboats for the purpose of releasing the unfortunate settlers from the

roofs and chimneys of their houses, where they have been forced to seek

refuge from the rising waters. The Murrumbidgee also used occasionally

to spread out into a great sea, carrying off houses and crops, cattle,

and, oftentimes, the people themselves. In 1852 a flood of this

description completely destroyed the town of Gundagai, and no less than

eighty persons perished, either from drowning or from being exposed to

the storm as they clung to the branches of trees.

The Dunbar. A great gloom was cast over the colony in 1857 by the

loss of a fine ship within seven miles of the centre of Sydney. The

Dunbar sailed from Plymouth in that year with about a hundred and

twenty people on board, many of them well-known colonists who had

visited England, and were now on their way homewards. As the vessel

approached the coast, a heavy gale came down from the north-east, and,

ere they could reach the entrance to Port Jackson, night had closed

around them. In the deep and stormy gloom they beat to and fro for some

time, but at length the captain thought it safer to make for Sydney

Heads than to toss about on so wild a sea. He brought the vessel close

in to the shore in order to search for the entrance, and when against

the stormy sky he perceived a break in the black cliff's he steered for

the opening. This, however, was not the entrance, but only a hollow in

the cliffs, called by the Sydney people the "Gap". The vessel was

standing straight in for the rocks, when a mass of boiling surf was

observed in the place where they thought the opening was, and ere she

could be put about she crashed violently upon the foot of a cliff that

frowned ninety feet above; there was a shriek, and then the surf rolled

back the fragments and the drowning men. At daybreak the word was given

that a ship had been wrecked at the Gap, and during the day thousands of

people poured forth from Sydney to view the scene of the disaster. On

the following morning it was discovered that there was a solitary

survivor, who, having been washed into a hollow in the face of the

rock, lay concealed in his place of refuge throughout that dreadful

night and all the succeeding day. A young man was found who volunteered

to let himself down by a rope and rescue the half-dead seaman.

To prevent the repetition of so sad an occurrence, lighthouses were

erected for the guidance of ship captains entering the harbour.

In 1852 the people of Sydney had the satisfaction of inaugurating the

first Australian University--a structure whose noble front, magnificent

halls, and splendid appointments for the furtherance of science will

always do credit to the liberality and high aspirations of the colony.

In 1857 the "Australian Museum" was opened, and formed the nucleus of

the present excellent collection of specimens. During this period

several newspapers sprang into existence, railways began to stretch out

from the metropolis, and lines of telegraph united Sydney with the

leading cities of the other colonies. In August, 1853, the first mail

steamer from England, named the Chusan, arrived in Port Jackson, and

helped to make the settlers of Australia feel less exiled, as they now

could have regular news of their friends and of European events little

more than two months old.