1890s Summary

The 1890s were dominated by class conflict. The end of the long economic boom that had sustained Australia's rise and prosperity for many settlers since the gold strikes of the early 1850s resulted in a market collapse that tore at the social fabric and fractured the unity of colonial society.

The Australian Labor Party was formed in the 1890s. The great workers' strikes of the early 1880s had been resolved in the employers' favour with the assistance of government, police and soldiers. In the aftermath of these strikes, the labour movement agreed that the best thing to do for workers was to form an electoral party, take government and change the laws to make them fairer for everyone.

Another direct response to workers' rights was a movement for federating the colonies into an independent and united nation. This had first been suggested in the 1840s, and recurred at different times in the decades that followed, but never got beyond debate and argument in different colonial parliaments. Now, however, there seemed to have been a heightened emotional need for the recognition of a new nation.


  • John Forrest is first premier of Western Australia from 1890 to 1901, he initiates a water pipeline from Perth to the Coolgardie gold fields.
  • Gold discovered at Kalgoorlie.
  • German chancellor Otto von Bismarck is dismissed by Emperor William II.
  • Zanzibar becomes a British protectorate.
  • Cecil Rhodes becomes prime minister of the Cape Colony in South Africa.
  • The British South Africa Company occupies Zimbabwe; conflicts begin with the Ndebele.



  • The American Express Company introduces the first traveler's checks.
  • Anglo-Irish author Oscar Wilde publishes his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.



  • The San Francisco Examiner begins printing the first newspaper comic strip.



  • The Ivory Coast becomes a French colony.
  • Gladstone's second Irish Home Rule Bill is vetoed by the House of Lords in Britain.
  • France adds Laos to the Union of Indochina.



  • Rebellion in Korea begins the First Sino-Japanese War.
  • The arrest of army captain Albert Dreyfus creates a political crisis in France.
  • Percival Lowell builds an observatory to study the Martian canals.



  • The Jameson Raid on the Boer republic of Transvaal increases anti-British hostility.
  • Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilich Lenin is exiled to Siberia.
  • Japan defeats China; the Shimonoseki Treaty establishes Korean independence.
  • X rays are discovered by German physicist Wilhelm C. Roentgen.



  • The first modern Olympic Games are held at Athens in Greece; 13 countries compete.





  • The Spanish-American War begins with a declaration of war by Congress.
  • U.S. troops land on Cuba; Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders are in action.
  • The Spanish fleet is destroyed off Cuba; Spain sues for peace.
  • Britain obtains a 99-year lease for Hong Kong from the Chinese.
  • The Boxer Uprising begins in China; Empress Tz'u-hsi imprisons the emperor.



  • The South African War begins between the Boers (Afrikaners) and the British.
  • Journalist and future statesman Winston Churchill escapes from Boer captivity.

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