Immigrant Influences - Australian Gold Fields

Immigration By Ship To Australian Goldfields

The Australian gold rush days brought Immigrants from all over the world to Australia, which up until then had been a penal settlement with heavy reliance on wheat and wool as other industry.

Australia became a popular destination for free settlers and convicts were no longer the major source of new arrivals to the colonies. With the discovery of gold in 1851 and a booming economy, people began coming to Australia by choice. People came from many countries, the majority from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, America, China and Germany as can be seen from the first Australian census.

Australian Immigration Policy

In the nineteenth century the Australian immigration policy was controlled primarily by the British Parliament. Legislation, such as the 1855 Passengers Act, attempted to establish uniform controls for migration throughout the British Empire and to ensure the safe passage of migrants.

In 1855 the Colony of Victoria passed Australia's first immigration act: the Act to Regulate the Residence of the Chinese Population in Victoria. This was the first of many acts to restrict the Chinese people.

Transportation To The Australian Goldfields

The rush to the goldfields created competition amongst the ship builders of the day. As an example, consider the brief but heady impact that American clipper ships made on trade and immigration to Australia in the mid 19th century. 

Built for speed by entrepreneurs keen to capitalize on the gold rush and lucrative trade routes, the clippers established America as the world leader in sailing ship design through the 1840s and 1850s.

The Yankee clipper was long and lean, with a revolutionary design of narrow hull, sharp bow and acres of canvas sails.  It could reach speeds of 20 knots or more and average more than 400 nautical miles a day.  Larger clipper ships carried 2400 tonnes of cargo and 500 passengers.

Donald McKay of Boston America was a ship builder keen to make an impact. Between 1850 and 1853, McKay built eight large clippers including the record-breaking Flying Cloud which in 1854 sailed from New York around Cape Horn to San Francisco in 89 days – a journey that had previously taken more than 200 days. The time wasn’t bettered until 1989.

Several of McKay’s ships sailed the fiercely competitive England to Australia route, reducing the voyage time to just 64 days and encouraging major migration during the 1860s.

Further Reading