1880s Summary

The decade of the 1880s saw a generation of children of gold rush migrants grow up, get married and start having families of their own. This time in Australia's colonial history brought about the dream for many non-Indigenous Australians of owning their own home on land that they could either farm or grow their own food on. But, realising this dream of home ownership had unexpected consequences for many settlers. The land boom led to a great 'speculative mania', as thousands of workers and investors took their money and placed it in high-return building societies, investment companies and new banking institutions. Investment returns, profits and wages became higher and higher.

Migrants came to the colonies in the hope of making a fortune, whether from gold discoveries or in new businesses. People flocked to the cities in search of work thus creating an available labour force, and new manufacturing industries blossomed.

The society that emerged in this era was a relatively open and fluid one, in which new possibilities emerged, such as women's suffrage, the trade union movement and an electoral party for the workers. Indigenous people were being dispossessed of their land and removed from their country to reserves or missions as the land was opened up for the settlers.

In 1886, the Board for the Protection of Aborigines was given powers to make decisions governing Indigenous children's lives, removing them from their families, apprenticing 13-year-old Indigenous children and granting or denying permission to visit their families. Most of these children never saw their families again after being taken away, hence becoming known as the 'Stolen Generations'. 



  • Australian bushranger Ned Kelly is hanged for murder.
  • Boer (Afrikaner) uprisings begin against the British in Transvaal, South Africa.
  • Gladstone succeeds Disraeli as British prime minister.
  • France annexes the Pacific island of Tahiti.
  • Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky writes the 1812 Overture.



  • President Garfield is assassinated by Charles J. Guiteau.
  • Alexander II is assassinated by narodniki revolutionaries in Russia.
  • The Sudanese under Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad overthrow Egyptian rule.
  • Ferdinand de Lesseps begins an abortive attempt to build the Panama Canal.
  • Lillie Langtry, mistress of the Prince of Wales, makes her acting debut.



  • A Triple Alliance is established between Austria, Italy and Germany.
  • The British take control of Egypt, suppressing uprisings against Tawfiq Pasha.
  • The U.S. begins to restrict immigration with the Chinese Exclusion Acts.
  • Edison's New York plant begins supplying 59 customers with electricity.



  • Paul Kruger becomes president of the Boer republic of the Transvaal in South Africa.
  • The Fabian Society is founded in London to spread socialist ideas.
  • The Island volcano of Krakatoa explodes in Indonesia, causing 36,000 deaths.
  • The first skyscraper (10 stories) is built in Chicago by William LeBaron Jenney.
  • Russian scientist Tsiolkovsky proves that a rocket could work in the vacuum of space.



  • Germany occupies South West Africa (Namibia).
  • Belva Lockwood becomes the first woman nominated as a U.S. presidential candidate.
  • Lewis E. Waterman invents the first fountain pen with an ink reservoir.
  • American author Mark Twain publishes the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.



  • General Gordon is killed by Mahdist forces at the siege of Khartoum in Sudan.
  • The Indian National Congress movement is founded in Bombay.
  • The Congo Free State (Zaire) becomes the possession of King Leopold II of Belgium.
  • French chemist Louis Pasteur develops a vaccine for rabies.
  • Gottlieb Daimler develops the first motorcycle.
  • J. K. Stanley introduces his safety cycle, the basic model for the modern bicycle.



  • British prime minister Gladstone introduces an unsuccessful Home Rule bill for Ireland.
  • Britain makes Burma a province of India after winning the Anglo-Burma War.
  • The Anglo-German Agreement recognizes German control over Tanganyika (Tanzania).
  • Gold is discovered in Transvaal, South Africa.
  • Samuel Gompers organizes the American Federation of Labor.



  • France creates the Union of Indochina (most of modern day Vietnam and Kampuchea).
  • Arthur Conan Doyle publishes the first Sherlock Holmes story.



  • Britain unites its Caribbean colonies of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • A patent is issued to American inventor John H. Loud for the first ball-point pen.
  • The National Geographic Magazine is published for the first time.
  • Japan's first prime minister Ito Hirobumi introduces the Meiji Constitution.



  • 1889 Gustave Eiffel designs the Eiffel Tower for the Paris Exposition.

Latest News

S5 Box