Australian Colonial Days

This section discusses the early days of Victoria and Melbourne as migrants began their new lives down under.

Assisted Migration

Immigration History from Ireland to Victoria
From the Museums Victoria website:

The Irish migrated to Victoria in vast numbers. They were the largest immigrant group after the English from 1854 to World War I. By 1871, when the community numbered 100,468, more than one in four Victorians were born in Ireland.

The Irish famine of the 1840s caused large numbers of people to migrate due to poverty and difficult living conditions. They worked in Victoria as whalers, fishermen and farm hands and in townships as labourers and factory workers. A few became property owners and professionals.

Between 1850 and 1890 most Irish arrivals to Victoria came as assisted immigrants, many escaping cultural repression in Ireland. In contrast to many other groups, they came in equal numbers of men and women. Many sought their fortunes on the goldfields.

The growth of the Catholic Church in Victoria was strongly supported by the Irish community. Nuns and priests came there in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to develop Catholic churches, schools and orphanages, such as St Peter and Paul's Church, South Melbourne. Irish street children and orphans were sent here to be cared for by the nuns.


Beginnings    []

The official foundation of the town [Melbourne, was] by Governor Richard Bourke on 19 May 1837.

Melbourne City Grid   [State Library Victoria]

In 1837, when the Melbourne city street grid was conceived, Surveyor Robert Hoddle and Governor Bourke had a grand vision for the young city. The grid was enormous – much larger than it needed to be for the population of around 4000 people. It was not only large in scale, but its streets were almost 30 metres wide.

Port Phillip's Separation  [State Library Victoria]  []

Following the land sales boom of the late 1830s, Melbourne was the centre of a strong economy. Its inhabitants began to resent the fact that taxes from Melbourne's productivity went to Sydney, instead of funding the development of Melbourne's roads, schools and buildings. The Separation Bill was passed by the British Parliament on 1 August 1850, but it took 14 weeks for the news to reach Melbourne. Extensive celebrations followed. Giant hot-air balloons carried the word ‘Separation', and a fire was lit on Flagstaff Hill.

After Separation was proclaimed on 1 July 1851, the Port Phillip District of New South Wales - in its foundation and early settlement years governed from Sydney - became the Crown Colony of Victoria, named for the reigning British queen and with Melbourne as its legislative capital.

Victorian Gold Rush   []

Gold was the cause of the great expansion of Melbourne from 1850. In just four months in 1852, 619 ships arrived in Hobsons Bay, carrying 55 057 passengers; 1853 saw the arrival of 2594 ships. The population of Melbourne grew from 29 000 in 1851 to 123 061 in 1861. As men rushed out of the city to the goldfields, many commentators noted that Melbourne seemed for a time to be a city of women. Gold facilitated the extraordinarily rapid settlement of Melbourne and its hinterland.

Australian Federation


The Federation of Australia was the process by which the six separate British self-governing colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia agreed to unite and form the Commonwealth of Australia, establishing a system of federalism in Australia. The colonies of Fiji and New Zealand were originally part of this process, but they decided not to join the federation.

The Constitution of Australia came into force, on 1 January 1901. However, the site of a federal capital had been disputed heavily between the two arch-rivals Sydney and Melbourne; the compromise was that a separate territory (the Australian Capital Territory) would be established within New South Wales to hold a new capital, while Parliament would sit in Melbourne until the new city was constructed. The site eventually chosen for the city became Canberra.

The outcome of Sydney's victory was that Melbourne effectively remained the seat of federal government until 1927.