History of New South Wales

History of New South Wales

This article describes the history of the Australian state of New South Wales.

Foundation and growth

In 1770 Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook sailed along the east coast of Australia, the first European to do so. On 22 August, at Possession Island in the Torres Strait, Cook wrote in his journal: "I now once more hoisted English Coulers [sic] and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third, took possession of the whole Eastern Coast from the above Latitude [38°S] down to this place by the name of New South Wales." It is unknown whether New South Wales refers to the area being named after South Wales, or a New Wales in the Southern Hemisphere. [ [http://www.goway.com/downunder/australia/nsw/index.html#mystery New South Wales - Goway Travel ] ] Cook's proclamation made the most of Eastern Australia British territory, except for Tasmania (which had been discovered previously by Abel Tasman), small parts of southern Victoria which were below 38°S (unknown to Cook at the time), and the western third, which was still regarded as Dutch New Holland. New South Wales as proclaimed by Cook extended from 38°S (which cuts through present day Victoria just to the south of Melbourne: coord|38|S|145|E) to Cape York, and an unspecified western boundary.

This claim was not made good until January 1788, when Arthur Phillip arrived with the First Fleet to found a convict settlement at what is now Sydney. Phillip, as Governor of New South Wales, exercised nominal authority over all of Australia east of the 135th meridian between the latitudes of 10°37'S and 43°39'S, which included most of New Zealand except for the southern part of South Island.cite web | url = http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/item.asp?dID=35 | title = Governor Phillip's Instructions 25 April 1787 (UK) | work = Documenting a Democracy | publisher = National Archives of Australia | accessdate = 2006-05-28] For the next 40 years the history of New South Wales was identical with the History of Australia, since it was not until 1803 that any settlements were made outside the current boundaries of New South Wales, and these, at Hobart and Launceston in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), were at first dependencies of New South Wales. It was not until 1825 that Van Diemen's Land became a separate colony. Also that year, on 16 July, the border of New South Wales was set further west at the 129th meridian to encompass the short lived settlement on Melville Island. In 1829 this border became the border with Western Australia, which was proclaimed a colony.

The indigenous Australians or Aboriginal people had lived in what is now New South Wales for at least 50,000 years, making their living through hunting, gathering and fishing. The impact of European settlement on these people was immediate and devastating. They had no natural resistance to European diseases, and epidemics of measles and smallpox spread far ahead of the frontier of settlement, radically reducing population and fatally disrupting indigenous society. Although there was some resistance to European occupation, in general the indigenous people were evicted from their lands without difficulty. Dispossession, disease, violence and alcohol reduced them to a remnant within a generation in most areas.

New South Wales struggled in its early days for economic self-sufficiency, since supplies from Britain were few and inadequate. The whaling industry provided some early revenue, but it was the development of the wool industry by John MacArthur and other enterprising settlers that created the colony's first major export industry. For the first half of the 19th century New South Wales was essentially a sheep run, supported by the port of Sydney and a few subsidiary towns such as Newcastle (founded in 1797) and Bathurst (1815). In 1821 there were still only 36,000 Europeans in the country. Although the number of free settlers began to increase rapidly after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, convicts were still 40% of the population in 1820, and it was not until the 1820s that free settlers began to occupy most of what is now rural New South Wales, producing fine wool for export to the knitting mills of industrial Britain. The period from 1820 to 1850 is regarded as the golden age of the squatters.

Constitutionally, New South Wales was founded as an autocracy run by the Governor, although he nearly always exercised his powers within the restraints of British law. In practice the early Governors ruled by consent, with the advice of military officers, officials and leading settlers. The military deposed Governor William Bligh in 1808, but this led to the appointment of Lachlan Macquarie, a strong Governor who re-established the authority of the civil power. In 1825 the New South Wales Legislative Council, Australia's oldest legislative body, was established, as an appointed body to advise the Governor. In the same year trial by jury was introduced, ending the military's judicial power. In 1842 the Council was made partly elective, through the agitation of democrats like William Wentworth. This development was made possible by the abolition of transportation of convicts to New South Wales in 1840, by which time 150,000 convicts had been sent to Australia. After 1840 the settlers saw themselves as a free people and demanded the same rights they would have had in Britain.

A golden age of a new kind began in 1851 with the discovery of gold near Bathurst. In that year New South Wales had about 200,000 people, a third of them within a day's ride of Sydney, the rest scattered along the coast and through the pastoral districts, from the Port Phillip District in the south to Moreton Bay in the north. In 1836 a new colony of South Australia had been established, and its territory separated from New South Wales. The gold rushes of the 1850s brought a huge influx of settlers, although initially the majority of them went to the richest gold fields at Ballarat and Bendigo, in the Port Phillip District, which in 1851 was separated to become the colony of Victoria. Victoria soon had a larger population than New South Wales, and its upstart capital, Melbourne, outgrew Sydney. But the New South Wales gold fields also attracted a flood of prospectors, and by 1857 the colony had more than 300,000 people. In 1858 a new gold rush began in the far north, which led in 1859 to the separation of Queensland as a new colony. New South Wales thus attained its present borders, although what is now the Northern Territory remained part of the colony until 1863, when it was handed over to South Australia.

The separation and rapid growth of Victoria and Queensland mark the real beginning of New South Wales as a political and economic entity distinct from the other Australian colonies. Rivalry between New South Wales and Victoria was intense throughout the second half of the 19th century, and the two colonies developed in radically different directions. Once the easy gold ran out by about 1860, Victoria absorbed the surplus labour force from the gold fields in manufacturing, protected by high tariff walls. Victoria became the Australian stronghold of protectionism, liberalism and radicalism. New South Wales, which was less radically affected demographically by the gold rushes, remained more conservative, still dominated politically by the squatter class and its allies in the Sydney business community. New South Wales, as a trading and exporting colony, remained wedded to free trade.


The end of transportation and the rapid growth of population following the gold rush led to a demand for "British institutions" in New South Wales, which meant an elected parliament and responsible government. In 1851 the franchise for the Legislative Council was expanded, but this did not satisfy the settlers, many of whom (such as the young Henry Parkes) had been Chartists in Britain in the 1840s. Successive Governors warned the Colonial Office of the dangers of republicanism if the demands for self-government were not met. There was, however, a prolonged battle between the conservatives, now led by Wentworth, and the democrats as to what kind of constitution New South Wales would have. The key issue was control of the pastoral lands, which the democrats wanted to take away from the squatters and break up into farms for settlers. Wentworth wanted a hereditary upper house controlled by the squatters to prevent any such possibility. The radicals, led by rising politicians like Parkes and journalists like Daniel Deniehy, ridiculed suggestions of a "bunyip aristocracy."

The result was the New South Wales Constitution Act of 1855, steered through the British Parliament by the veteran radical Lord John Russell, who wanted a constitution which balanced democratic elements against the interests of property, as did the Parliamantary system in Britain at this time. The Act created a bicameral Parliament of New South Wales, with a lower house, the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, consisting of 54 members elected by adult males who met a moderate property qualification (anyone who owned property worth a hundred pounds, or earned a hundred pounds a year, or held a pastoral licence, or who paid ten pounds a year for lodgings, could vote). The Assembly was heavily malapportioned in favour of the rural areas. The Legislative Council was to consist of at least 21 members (but with no upper limit) appointed for life by the Governor, and Council members had to meet a higher property qualification.

These seemed like formidable barriers to democracy, but in practice they did not prove so, because the Constitution Act could be modified by simple majorities of both Houses. In 1858 the property franchise for the Assembly was abolished, and the secret ballot introduced. Since the principle that the Governor should always act on the advice of his ministers was soon established, a Premier whose bills were rejected by the Council could simply advise the Governor to appoint more members until the opposition was "flooded": usually the threat of "flooding" was enough. The ministry of Charles Cowper marked the victory of colonial liberalism, although New South Wales liberals were never as radical as those in Victoria or South Australia. The major battle for the liberals, unlocking the lands from the squatters, was more or less won by John Robertson, five times Premier during the 1860s, who passed the Robertson Land Acts to break up the squatters' estates.

From the 1860s onwards government in New South Wales became increasingly stable and assured. Fears of class conflict faded as the population bulge resulting from the gold rushes was accommodated on the newly available farmlands and in the rapidly growing towns. The last British troops left the colony in 1870, and law and order was maintained by the police and a locally raised militia, which had little to do apart from catching a few bushrangers. The only issue which really excited political passions in this period was education, which was the source of bitter conflict between Catholics, Protestants, and secularists, who all had conflicting views on how schools should be operated, funded and supervised. This was a major preoccupation for Henry Parkes, the dominant politician of the period (he was Premier five times between 1872 and 1889). In 1866 Parkes, as Education Minister, brought in a compromise Schools Act that brought all religious schools under the supervision of public boards, in exchange for state subsidies. But in 1880 the secularists won out when Parkes withdrew all state aid for church schools and established a statewide system of free secular schools.

New South Wales and Victoria continued to develop along divergent paths. Parkes and his successor as leader of the New South Wales liberals, George Reid, were Gladstonian liberals committed to free trade, which they saw as both economically beneficial and as necessary for the unity of the British Empire. They regarded Victorian protectionism as economically foolish and narrowly parochial. It was this hostility between the two largest colonies, symbolised by Victorian customs posts along the Murray River, which prevented any moves towards uniting the Australian colonies, even after the advent of the railways and the telegraph made travel and communication between the colonies much easier by the 1870s. So long as Victoria was larger and richer than New South Wales, the mother colony (as it liked to see itself) would never agree to surrender its free trade principles to a national or federal government which would be dominated by Victorians.

Gold rush

Later in the mid 19th century saw the gold rush and a huge influx in the New South Wales population. It is estimated that the population rose 33.5 percent or 100 000 people in less than ten years.Fact|date=February 2007

Mid-late 1800s

Soon after the gold rush, settlers demanded a responsible government that could govern itself. The result was the New South Wales Constitution Act of 1855, steered through the British Parliament by the veteran radical Lord John Russell, who wanted a constitution which balanced democratic elements against the interests of property, as did the Parliamentary system in Britain at this time. The Act created a bicameral Parliament of New South Wales, with a lower house, the Legislative Assembly, consisting of 54 members elected by adult males who met a moderate property qualification (anyone who owned property worth a hundred pounds, or earned a hundred pounds a year, or held a pastoral licence, or who paid ten pounds a year for lodgings, could vote). The Assembly districts were heavily malapportioned in favour of the rural areas. The Legislative Council was to consist of at least 21 members (but with no upper limit) appointed for life by the Governor, and Council members had to meet a higher property qualification.Specify|date=December 2006

As the population continued to rise, separate colonies were split of from greater NSW. Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland were formed as self-governing colonies reducing NSW to its present area.

During this period NSW armed forces participated in conflicts in Sudan, New Zealand and South Africa. Fact|date=June 2007 The last of these, the Second Boer War, took place in the last years of the 1800s and into the 1900s. The colonies fought as separate units and the inability of the Australian colonies to provide a strong, united armed force was a catalyst towards federation.

Federation and statehood

By the 1890s, however, several factors began to change this situation. The great land boom in Victoria in the 1880s was followed a prolonged depression, which allowed New South Wales to recover the economic and demographic superiority it had lost in the 1850s. There was a steady rise in imperial sentiment in the 1880s and '90s, which made the creation of united Australian dominion seem an important imperial project. The intrusion of other colonial powers such as France and Germany into the south-west Pacific area made colonial defence an urgent question, which became more urgent with the rise of Japan as an expansionist power. Finally the issue of Chinese and other non-European immigration made federation of the colonies an important issue, with advocates of a White Australia policy arguing the necessity of a national immigration policy.

As a result the movement for federation was initiated by Parkes with his Tenterfield Oration of 1889 (earning him the title "Father of Federation"), and carried forward after Parkes' death by another New South Wales politician, Edmund Barton. Opinion in New South Wales about federation remained divided through the 1890s. The northern and southern border regions, which were most inconvenienced by the colonial borders and the system of intercolonial tariffs, were strongly in favour, while many in the Sydney commercial community were sceptical, fearing that a national Parliament would impose a national tariff (which was indeed what happened). The first attempt at federation in 1891 failed, mainly as a result of the economic crisis of the early '90s. It was the federalists of the border regions who revived the federal movement in the later '90s, leading up to the Constitutional Convention of 1897-98 which adopted a draft Australian Constitution.

When the draft was put to referendum in New South Wales in 1899, Reid (Free Trade Premier from 1894 to 1899), adopted an equivocal position, earning him the nickname "Yes-No Reid." The draft was rejected, mainly because New South Wales voters thought it gave the proposed Senate, which would dominated by the smaller states, too much power. Reid was able to bargain with the other Premiers to modify the draft so that it suited New South Wales interests, and the draft was then approved. On 1 January 1901 New South Wales ceased to be a self-governing colony and became a state of the Commonwealth of Australia. Although the new Governor-General and Prime Minister were sworn in in Sydney, Melbourne was to be the temporary seat of government until the permanent seat of government was established. This was to be in New South Wales, but at least 100 miles (160km) from Sydney. The first Prime Minister (Barton) the first Opposition Leader (Reid) and the first Labor leader (Chris Watson) were all from New South Wales.

Federation to World War II

At the time of federation the New South Wales economy was still heavily based on agriculture, particularly wool growing, although mining - coal from the Hunter Valley and silver, lead and zinc from Broken Hill - was also important. Federation was followed by the imposition of protective tariffs just as the Sydney Free Traders had feared, and this boosted domestic manufacturing. Farmers, however, suffered from increased costs, as well as from the prolonged drought that afflicted the state at the turn of the century. A further boost to both manufacturing and farming came from the increased demand during World War I. By the 1920s New South Wales was overtaking Victoria as the centre of Australian heavy industry, symbolised by the Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) steelworks at Newcastle, opened in 1915, and another steel mill at Port Kembla in 1928.

The growth of manufacturing and mining brought with it the growth of an industrial working class. Trade unions had been formed in New South Wales as early as the 1850s, but it was great labour struggles of the 1890s that led them to move into politics. The most important was the Australian Workers' Union (AWU), formed from earlier unions by William Spence and others in 1894. The defeat of the great shearers' and maritime strikes in the 1890s led the AWU to reject direct action and to take the lead in forming the Labor Party. Labor had its first great success in 1891, when it won 35 seats in the Legislative Assembly, mainly in the pastoral and mining areas. This first parliamentary Labor Party, led by Joseph Cook, supported Reid's Free Trade government, but broke up over the issue of free trade versus protection, and also over the "pledge" which the unions required Labor members to take always to vote in accordance with majority decisions. After federation, Labor, led by James McGowen, soon recovered, and won its first majority in the Assembly in 1910, when McGowen became the state's first Labor Premier.

This early experience of government, plus the social base of New South Wales party in the rural areas rather than in the militant industrial working class of the cities, made New South Wales Labor notably more moderate than its counterparts in other states, and this in turn made it more successful at winning elections. The growth of the coal, iron, steel and shipbuilding industries gave Labor new "safe" areas in Newcastle and Wollongong, while the mining towns of Broken Hill and the Hunter also became Labor strongholds. As a result of these factors, Labor has ruled New South Wales for 59 of the 96 years since 1910, and every leader of the New South Wales Labor Party except one has become Premier of the state.

But Labor came to grief in New South Wales as elsewhere during World War I, when the Premier, William Holman, supported the Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes in his drive to introduce conscription. New South Wales voters rejected both attempts by Hughes to pass a referendum authorising conscription, and in 1916 Hughes, Holman, Watson, McGowen, Spence and many other founders of the party were expelled, forming the Nationalist Party under Hughes and Holman. Federal Labor did not recover from this split for many years, but New South Wales Labor was back in power by 1920, although this government lasted only 18 months, and again from 1925 under Jack Lang.

In the years after World War I it was the farmers rather than the workers who were the most discontented and militant class in New South Wales. The high prices enjoyed during the war fell with the resumption of international trade, and farmers became increasingly discontented with the fixed prices paid by the compulsory marketing authorities set up as a wartime measure by the Hughes government. In 1919 the farmers formed the Country Party, led at national level by Earle Page, a doctor from Grafton, and at state level by Michael Bruxner, a small farmer from Tenterfield. The Country Party used its reliable voting base to make demands on successive non-Labor governments, mainly to extract subsidies and other benefits for farmers, as well as public works in rural areas.

The Great Depression which began in 1929 ushered a period of unprecedented political and class conflict in New South Wales. The mass unemployment and collapse of commodity prices brought ruin to both city workers and to farmers. The beneficiary of the resultant discontent was not the Communist Party, which remained small and weak, but Jack Lang's Labor populism. Lang's second government was elected in November 1930 on a policy of repudiating New South Wales' debt to British bondholders and using the money instead to help the unemployed through public works. This was denounced as illegal by conservatives, and also by James Scullin's federal Labor government. The result was that Lang's supporters in the federal Caucus brought down Scullin's government, causing a second bitter split in the Labor Party. in May 1932 the Governor, Sir Philip Game, convinced that Lang was acting illegally, dismissed his government, and Labor spent the rest of the 1930s in opposition.

By the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the differences between New South Wales and the other states that had emerged in the 19th century had faded as a result of federation and economic development behind a wall of protective tariffs. New South Wales continued to outstrip Victoria as the centre of industry, and increasingly of finance and trade as well. The radicalism of the Lang period subsided as the Depression eased, and his removal as Labor Leader in 1939 marked the permanent (as it turned out) defeat of the left of the New South Wales Labor Party. Labor returned to office under the moderate leadership of William McKell in 1941 and stayed in power for 24 years. World War II saw another surge in industrial development to meet the needs of a war economy, and also the elimination of unemployment. When Ben Chifley, a railwayman from Bathurst, became Prime Minister in 1945, New South Wales Labor assumed what it saw as its rightful position of national leadership. The Cowra Breakout in 1944 was the only fighting within New South Wales during the war.

Postwar New South Wales

The postwar years, however, saw renewed industrial conflict, culminating in the 1949 coal strike, largely fomented by the Communist Party, which crippled the state's industry. This contributed to the defeat of Chifley's government at the 1949 elections and the beginning of the long rule of Robert Menzies, a Victorian Liberal. The postwar years also saw massive immigration to Australia, begun by Chifley's Immigration Minister, Arthur Calwell, and continued under the Liberals. Sydney, hitherto an almost entirely British and Irish city by origin (apart from a small Chinese community), became increasingly multi-cultural, with many immigrants from Italy, Greece, Malta and eastern Europe (including many Jews), and later from Lebanon and Vietnam, permanently changing its character.

Labor stayed in power until 1965, growing increasingly conservative and (according to its critics) lazy and even corrupt in office. In 1965 a vigorous Liberal leader, Robert Askin, finally broke Labor's long grip on power, and stayed in office for ten years. During these years Sydney began its transformation into a world city and a centre of the arts, with the building of the Sydney Opera House as the great symbol of the period. The rest of the state, however, began a gradual decline, demographically and economically, as Australia lost some of its traditional export markets for primary products in Britain and as New South Wales' iron, steel and shipbuilding industries became increasingly uncompetitive in the face of competition from Japan and other new entrants. Sydney's share of the state's population and wealth grew steadily. One consequence of this was a strong secessionist movement in the New England region of northern New South Wales, which for a time looked as though it might succeed in forming a new state, but which faded away in the late 1960s.

Since the 1970s New South Wales has undergone an increasingly rapid economic and social transformation. Old industries such as steel and shipbuilding have largely disappeared, and although agriculture remains important its share of the state's income is smaller than ever before. New industries such as information technology, education, financial services and the arts, largely centred in Sydney, have risen to take their place. Coal exports to China are increasingly important to the state's economy. Tourism has also become hugely important, with Sydney as its centre but also stimulating growth on the North Coast, around Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay. As aviation has replaced shipping, most new migrants to Australia have arrived in Sydney by air rather than in Melbourne by ship, and Sydney now gets the lion's share of new arrivals, mostly from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

In recent years Sydney has also undergone a major social liberalisation, with huge entertainment and gambling industries. There has been a sharp decline in religious practice, despite the best efforts of Sydney's two outspoken Archbishops, George Pell (Catholic) and Peter Jensen (Anglican), although an evangelical Christian "bible belt" has developed in the north-western suburbs. Another contrary trend has been the emergence of a large Muslim community. Sydney has gained a reputation for secularism and hedonism, with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras becoming a world-famous event.

Sydney's increasing dominance of Australian life has been marked by the fact that for 15 years it has provided Australia's Prime Minister (first Paul Keating and since 1996 John Howard), and by its hosting of the 2000 Olympic Games. Despite Howard's domination of Australian politics, Labor has retained its grip on New South Wales, holding power under Neville Wran and Barrie Unsworth from 1976 to 1988 and again under Bob Carr and Morris Iemma since 1995. Two recent Premiers have been of non-British background: Nick Greiner (Liberal 1988-92), who is of Hungarian descent, and Iemma, the current Premier, whose parents are Italian. The current Governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir, is of Lebanese origin.

Most commentators predict that Sydney and the coast areas of northern New South Wales will continue to grow in the coming decades, although Bob Carr and others have argued that Sydney (which by 2006 had over 4 million people) cannot grow any bigger without putting intolerable strain on its environment and infrastructure. The southern coastal areas around Canberra are also expected to grow, although less rapidly. The rest of the state, however, is expected to continue to decline, as traditional industries disappear. Already many small towns in western New South Wales have lost so many services and businesses that they are no longer viable, causing population to consolidate in regional centres like Dubbo and Wagga Wagga. This trend will become even more pronounced if global warming makes the inland areas more arid than they already are.

Notes and References

*Graham Freudenberg, "Cause for Power: The Official History of the New South Wales Labor Party", Pluto Press 1991
*Gordon Greenwood, "Australia: A Social and Political History", Angus and Robertson 1955
*A.C.V. Melbourne, "Early Constitutional Development in Australia", University of Queensland Press 1963
*Edward Shann, "An Economic History of Australia", Georgian House 1930

ee also

* Governors of New South Wales

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