signpost 1870


The 1870s was a decade in which intrepid explorers such as Ernest Giles (18351897), John Forrest (18471918) and Peter Warburton (18131889) suffered extremely harsh conditions to discover and map viable routes across the centre of Australia. The era is exemplified by the building of railway and telegraph links as more of the continent was explored and settled. In 1872 work was completed on the Australian Overland Telegraph Line, linking Port Augusta in South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory, to provide faster communication.

By 1870, 37 per cent of Australia's population lived in the cities and the majority was Australian-born. It was a time when Australia became one of the most urbanised countries in the world. The Selection Acts had opened up land to small farmers, but as time passed many moved back to the cities in search of work. The gold rushes of the previous decades had brought wealth for many and increased the population and, as a consequence, the population recognised the value of better schooling. For much of the 19th century, school was not compulsory and required payment to attend, which many couldn't afford. Most children attended irregularly and for only a few years. The Education Act 1872 (Vic) introduced a system of government-run schools that were to be 'free, secular and compulsory'. New schools were built, teacher-training colleges were established and teachers' salaries were paid by a new department of education. All funding of non-state schools was withdrawn.

Aboriginal people continued to be dispossessed of their lands and forced from urban areas. During the 1870s, colonial governments created 'Aboriginal reserves', which were sometimes run by missionaries (for example, the Hermannsburg Mission at Finke River in the Northern Territory). The reserves were under the supervision of European managers who were accountable to the Aborigines' Protection Societies. Many Aboriginal people resisted attempts to control their lives and appealed through deputation and petitions to improve their conditions. In some outback areas where Aboriginal people were still living on their own lands, there were many violent clashes with settlers who wanted to farm the land for themselves.

Many sites were re-named with European names. In 1873 surveyor William Gosse saw Uluru and named it 'Ayers Rock' after the chief secretary of South Australia, Henry Ayers. In 1876 Truganini, a Palawa woman from Tasmania, died. At the time, she was wrongly believed to have been the last Tasmanian Aboriginal person.

The National Gallery School was established and artists developed a unique perspective on the Australian landscape and an emerging Australian style. A group of Australian-born artists emerged, including Indigenous artists such as Tommy McRae and Mickey of Ulladulla, who documented, through drawing and painting, their ceremonies and everyday life.

The colonial governments adopted their state flags.


  • Forrest makes two successful overland journeys, from Perth to Adelaide by the south coast.
  • The Franco-Prussian War begins over a diplomatic incident engineered by Bismark.
  • The Prussians defeat the French at Sedan; Napoleon III is taken prisoner.
  • The Third Republic is formed in France; a Government of National Defense is established.
  • French war minister Leon Gambetta escapes from besieged Paris in a balloon.
  • Paraguayan dictator Solano Lopez dies, ending the War of the Triple Alliance.
  • Rome becomes the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.
  • American industrialist John D. Rockefeller founds the Standard Oil Company.
  • German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavates the ancient city of Troy.


  • Trades and Labor Council of Sydney formed.
  • The German Empire is formally proclaimed at the Palace of Versailles.
  • The Franco-Prussian War ends; Alsace and Lorraine are ceded to Germany.
  • The French surrender to Prussia incites the Commune of Paris uprising.
  • The Paris Commune is suppressed by government troops after a 2-month siege.
  • American explorer Henry Morton Stanley finds Dr. Livingston in central Africa.
  • P.T Barnum launches a traveling circus, museum and menagerie.


  • The death of Kamehameha V ends the Kamehameha dynasty of Hawaiian kings.
  • The cities of Buda and Pest unite to form Budapest (the capital of Hungary from 1918).
  • The Challenger Expedition begins the first systematic oceanographic survey.


  • The Panic of 1873 leads to 5 years of economic depression in the U.S.
  • Englishman Maj. Walter Clopton Wingfield invents lawn tennis.
  • French novelist Jules Verne publishes Around the World in Eighty Days.


  • Benjamin Disraeli becomes the Conservative prime minister of Britain.
  • The Greenback party advocates currency reform in the U.S.


  • The Bourbon monarchy is restored in Spain under Alfonso XII.
  • Britain buys Suez Canal shares from the bankrupt Egyptian leader Ismail Pasha.
  • American author Mark Twain publishes Tom Sawyer.


  • Sioux Indians defeat General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
  • Abd al-Hamid II assumes his rule as the last Ottoman sultan.
  • Queen Victoria assumes the title of Empress of India.
  • Japan forces Korea to open up to foreign trade, countering the influence of China.
  • Alexander Graham Bell patents his invention of the telephone.
  • Johann Strauss Jr. composes his waltz The Beautiful Blue Danube.


  • The Japanese army suppresses a samurai revolt led by Saigo Takamori.
  • Britain annexes Transvaal in South Africa.
  • Turkish suppression of Balkan nationalists leads to a new Russo-Turkish War.
  • Thomas Edison invents the phonograph.
  • Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observes canali (channels) on Mars.
  • The All-England lawn tennis championship is played at Wimbledon for the first time.
  • Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.


  • The second Anglo-Afghan War begins.
  • Ismail Pasha presents Cleopatra's Needles to Britain (1878) and the U.S. (1880).
  • The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company performs Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore.


  • Forrest makes a journey from Champion Bay to the telegraph post near modern Oodnadatta in central Australia.
  • Cetewayo's Zulus defeat the British at Isandhlwana, but are beaten at Ulundi.
  • Belgian king Leopold II sponsors Henry Morton Stanley's expedition to the Congo.
  • Charles Stewart Parnell leads the Home Rule for Ireland party.
  • Territorial disputes lead to the War of the Pacific between Chile and Peru.
  • Thomas Edison develops the first workable incandescent lamp (light bulb).

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