Monday, December 3, 2012

Queensland at separation from NSW in 1859

Queensland achieved separation from the colony of New South Wales on 10 December 1859, when the inaugural governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen, was sworn in.[1]  The new colony included the Darling Downs district, which Douglas had represented in the New South Wales parliament.  However, John Douglas did not initially seek office in Queensland, content to forge a political career in New South Wales while residing in Sydney.  The first sitting of the new bicameral parliament in Brisbane took place on 22 May 1860, comprising 26 members from 16 electoral districts in the legislative assembly and 15 members in the legislative council.[2]  Bowen’s private secretary, Robert George Wyndham Herbert, then aged just 28 and fresh from England, was the colony’s first premier and colonial secretary.[3]
Queensland, in the early years of the colony following separation from New South Wales, was a remote and sparsely populated territory.[4]  Much of it was unexplored and there were few urban centres outside of Ipswich, Brisbane and the Darling Downs in the southeast corner.  There were no railways, no industry of note, and its vast mineral wealth[5] had yet to be discovered.  Land was the one commodity Queensland had in abundance, and pastoralism, chiefly on the Darling Downs, was the only activity that was established and generating revenue.[6] At the time of separation, the pastoral industry provided 71 per cent of the new colony’s revenue and 94 per cent of its export earnings.  From 1860-67, following separation, the pastoral industry further expanded.  The colony’s progress was due to this ongoing development, coupled with an initial economic boom based on rail and construction activity.[7]

Politics in Queensland were conducted on similar lines to that of colonial parliaments elsewhere in Australia, based on the principles and ideals of British liberalism.[8]  Because the squatters were the dominant group in the new colony, its parliament tended to be largely composed of property owners of different kinds, and “behind most of the major conflicts were issues concerning the dominance of special kinds of property.”[9]  Politics were parochial, with Governor Bowen remarking, “ministries are upset in Australia not so much on great principles of policy, but rather on the wrangles about the distribution of the general revenue among public works.”[10]

The inhabitants of Queensland, along with those in the other British colonies, believed they were duty bound to develop their country and environment in order to achieve economic progress, and this could best be expedited through large-scale immigration and railway-building directed towards more intensive land settlement.[11] 

[1] Fitzgerald, p. 112
[2] Fitzgerald, p. 112; Our First Half-Century: A Review of Queensland Progress Based upon Official Information, p. 164.
[3] Fitzgerald, p. 113; Our First Half-Century: A Review of Queensland Progress Based upon Official Information, p. 164
[4] In 1861, the European population of Queensland was only 30,059 people, comprising 27,133 in the south, 2,840 in the centre, and 86 in the north.  (Glen Lewis.  A History of the Ports of Queensland:  A Study in Economic Nationalism.  Brisbane, University of Queensland Press, 1973, p. 282)
[5] There had been a gold strike at Canoona, north of Rockhampton, in 1858, but it soon petered out.  (Lorna McDonald.  “The Rockhampton Delusion: a Brief History of the Canoona Rush.”  Queensland Heritage vol 3 no 10, May 1970, pp. 28-35)
[6] Agriculture was insignificant, with only 3,353 acres under cultivation in 1860.  (Fitzgerald, p. 126; Our First Half-Century:  A Review of Queensland Progress Based Upon Official Information, p. 16)
[7] Noel Loos.  Frontier Conflict in the Bowen District, 1861-1874.  MA thesis. James Cook University of North Queensland, 1970, p. 69; Lewis, pp. 25 & 28
[8] Ibid., p. 30.  Queensland was the only Australian colony to begin with two houses of parliament.  (Fitzgerald, p. 113)
[9] A. A. Morrison.  “Colonial Society 1860-1890.”  Queensland Heritage no 1, 1966, p. 21, quoted in Lewis, p. 30
[10] Lewis, p. 31
[11] Ibid.