The first discoverers of Australia, other than the aboriginal settlers of prehistoric times, were probably Chinese or Malayan. The Chinese may have reached northern Australia in the 15 th century, and Malayan culture is believed to have influenced the aborigines of northwestern Australia. With the exception of Antarctica, Australia was the last of the world's landmasses to be explored by Europeans. Although Portuguese and Spanish traders sailing in the Indian and Pacific oceans in the 16 th century heard tales of a landmass to the south of Asia and the Malaysian archipelago, they seemingly never visited it. On 16-century maps the landmass was vaguely labeled Terra Australis (“southern land”).
British settlement in Australia might never have taken place but for the American Revolution. Before 1775, Britain had transported many convicts to the American colonies. When the Revolution made it impossible to do so any longer, the British began to consider the possibility of founding penal settlements in Australia. In 1788 the first convict ships arrived at Botany Bay, under the leadership of Governor Arthur Phillip. Within a few days they moved to a better site at Port Jackson, or Sydney harbor. Convicts, officers, and marines numbered about 1,500 people. More convicts followed, and the need for farmers grew as free settlers joined the convict colonists.
In the middle of the 19 th century a new economic factor was introduced that was to greatly influence the course of history in Australia. In 1851, gold was discovered in large quantities, first in the Bathurst district west of Sydney, and then in the hills around Melbourne. Hordes of prospectors and miners were soon pouring into Australia from all over the world. From 1850 to 1860 the population of the continent more than doubled. Other gold rushes occurred in Western Australia, beginning in 1892, when gold was discovered at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie.
The early settlements in Australia were governed by Great Britain as a number of separate colonies. Demands for self-government were first voiced about 1820, and they grew stronger as time went on. Representative government was granted to New South Wales in 1842, shortly after the transportation of convicts to that colony was ended.
Currently Indexing Over 75 'BluePages' Covering 1,000+ topics!