1854 - the First Census
Immigrants disembark at Queen's Wharf,
Melbourne, 1863. Artist - Frederick Grosse.
Source - National Library of Australia
In 1854, when the first census of Victorians was conducted, 236,798 people
lived in the colony. The largest community was English-born, with 97,943 people,
followed by the Irish and Scottish communities.
The year 1854 marked a pivotal point in Victoria's history. Victoria had only been separated from New South Wales for three
years, and the gold rushes saw thousands of prospectors from every continent
arriving on ships each month. Melbourne became a significant thoroughfare and
supply point. Temporary accommodation sprang up in places such as Canvas Town
in South Melbourne and the Melbourne Immigrants' Home near the future site of
Several major institutions were founded in 1854, including the University of Melbourne, the State Library and the National
Museum of Victoria. The Age newspaper was established, and a major
international exhibition was held in Melbourne in a purpose-built hall at the
corner of William and LaTrobe Streets. The first steam-powered passenger
railway in Australia ran from Sandridge (South Melbourne) to Flinders Street,
and Railway Pier, later to become Station Pier, commenced its role as the
arrival point for many thousands of immigrants.
In the nineteenth century 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 immigrants from specific countries. The act was
repealed when Chinese arrivals abated, although restrictions were reintroduced
at the end of the nineteenth century.
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