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This chapter addresses early European migration to Australia, specifically between 1832 and 1850. It explains the reasons why Australia required migrants and the schemes which were implemented to encourage them. The chapter also outlines the economic and social factors in England, Scotland and Ireland which influenced many citizens of those countries to migrate to Australia.

The first British migrants

In 1770, English explorer Captain James Cook claimed the eastern portion of the Australian continent in the name of King George III. Captain Cook named the land New South Wales. Eight years later, the British went ahead with their plans to establish a penal colony in New South Wales. In 1788, a total of 1023 people from all over England arrived in Sydney Cove on the First Fleet, which was led by Captain Arthur Phillip. Of these people, 751 were convicts or children of convicts. The remainder of the First Fleet comprised marines and their families, and a small number of officials.

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Early free settlers

In 1788, the only way to travel from England to Australia was by ship, which usually took eight months. The inability to expeditiously (promptly and efficiently) transport people and goods from England to Australia required the new colony to be self-sufficient. The convicts were forced to provide enough food to support the population as well as to build roads, bridges, houses and factories. The problem was that very few of the convicts had any skills or experience in farming. To exacerbate (worsen) the situation, the rocky, hard land and arid climate were completely unfamiliar to the British.

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With the colony facing starvation, New South Wales Governor Phillip wrote to the British Government to persuade them to send farmers. In exchange for land grants and the promise of government-subsidised labour (free convict labourers and servants), a few thousand British settlers migrated to New South Wales. The number of free settlers, however, was inconsequential in comparison with the number of convicts who migrated with them.

Assisted migration

By 1800 the settlement in the Colony of New South Wales was no longer at immediate risk of starvation. There were still concerns, however, about having enough skilled labourers to sustain the growing population. In addition to this, the British Government was eager to colonise other areas of the continent before their French enemies were able to. There was also a desire to make money from agricultural exports. These factors contributed to the need for more free settlers, particularly skilled workers, to migrate to Australia.

Since many could not afford the expense of travelling to Australia, in 1830 the assisted passage scheme was initiated for British migrants. Rather than giving Australian land away to ex-soldiers (whose period of service had finished) and emancipists (convicts who had finished serving a sentence or been granted a pardon before their sentence had expired), this scheme required the purchase of colonial land. The proceeds from land sales were then used to pay for the passage of poorer migrants to Australia. By 1850 around 187000 free settlers had migrated to Australia, most of whom had arrived under the assisted passage scheme.

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While the assisted passage scheme enabled the migration of many poor, male workers, there were concerns about the disproportionate ratio of men to women in New South Wales. In 1938, women were still outnumbered by men at a ratio of one to four. This increased to a ratio of one to twenty in rural areas. To solve this problem, in 1835 the bounty scheme was introduced. Designed to attract young couples and young single women, the bounty scheme involved the colonial government of New South Wales paying shipping agents a bounty (reward) for each suitably skilled migrant that they were able to secure for employers. Shipping agents, however, were criticised for overloading their ships in a greedy attempt to make a greater profit. The bounty scheme was abandoned six years later.

Why did they migrate?

While the increase of migrants to Australia was largely attributed to the assisted passage scheme, it was also partly due to events in Britain. The Industrial Revolution (late 18th century to the early 19th century) was the period when industries based on steam power and powered machinery replaced an economy dependent on manual labour. These changes were severely detrimental to the working class, leaving thousands of people either out of work or working in overcrowded and disease-ridden slums. Many English workers decided to migrate to Australia, among other places, for the opportunity of a better life.

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Around the same time, mass migration was also forced upon many Scottish people. The Highland Clearances (late 18th century to early 19th century) saw many crofters (farmers) and their families evicted from their farms, sometimes by brute force, to make way for large-scale sheep farming. Those crofters who did stay to farm the few remaining small plots, experienced further financial and emotional hardship when a fungus caused potato crops to fail. Since potatoes were one of the only crops which would grow on the small plots the crofters had been allowed to access, the fungus led to widespread starvation and disease. The period between 1846 and 1857 in Scotland became known as the Highland Potato Famine.

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A year before the outbreak of the potato fungus in Scotland, Ireland had already been devastated by the disease and was consequently suffering from its own potato famine (1845-1849). As a result of the Scottish and Irish potato famines, large-scale migration occurred. Australia, which had a scheme of assisted migration, was the first preference for many farming families who were left with nothing after their crops had been destroyed.

New migration trends

By 1830 the number of emancipists and working migrants had increased to such an extent that the number of free settlers exceeded the number of convicts. In 1836, South Australia became the first colony of Australia to be settled entirely by free settlers.

During the 1840s and the following decades, this trend towards a free society continued. British convicts no longer comprised the majority demographic of migrants to Australia. In 1840, transportation of convicts to New South Wales was completely abolished. Van Diemen's Land (now known as Tasmania) and Western Australia followed New South Wales's lead in 1853 and 1868, respectively.

Australia had begun to shed its penal colony image, appealing to a wider demographic of migrants. The discovery of gold in Australia in 1851 sparked a gold rush, particularly in Victoria, prompting tens of thousands of miners to flock to Australia from countries including China, France, Germany and America.

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