Australia is a continent, albeit the smallest of them and it includes the landmass and the islands that are near its almost 26,000 kilometres of coastline. However, it is still a very large landmass surrounded by oceans and seas, and it is a very great distance from Britain and France; it is almost on the far side of the world. In 1848 it took about 90 to 100 days to sail non-stop from London to the ports in the southeast of Australia. Sixty years after the establishment of the first British colony, those ports of Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney were still the only ports of any size.


Australia had been inhabited by indigenous peoples for some 65,000 years before the British Government sent a fleet of 11 ships to establish a penal colony on the east coast of the continent then named New Holland. The first settlement was on the shore of a small cove in a grand natural harbour. The penal colony was the beginnings of the town of Sydney.


In 1848, there were four colonies in Australia, being Western Australia, Van Dieman’s Land, South Australia, and New South Wales. All were independent of each other and reported separately to the British Government.


The majority of the lacemakers who left Calais for the Australian colonies in 1848 first settled in South Australia and New South Wales. Their destination towns in those two colonies were Adelaide, Sydney, Bathurst and Maitland. 

Western Australia

South Australia

New South Wales

Van Dieman's Land

Colony of New South Wales

In 1788 the Colony of New South Wales was established by the British Government and encompassed the eastern third of the Australian continent. The western portion of the continent was named New Holland and was not under the control of the British Government until 1827. The boundaries of the colony changed during the nineteenth century as other colonies were established.


In 1825 Van Dieman’s Land became a separate colony and in 1829 the Colony of Swan River (later Western Australia) was established in New Holland and the boundary between the colonies moved westward. The area of New South Wales again reduced in 1836 when the Colony of South Australia was established.


Whatever the reasons, New South Wales was established as a penal settlement. The convicts transported there provided a substantial labour force for the government and the free settlers who began to arrive in numbers during the 1820s. Transportation of convicts from Britain to New South Wales ceased in 1840 with a few thousand more arriving until 1850. The cessation of the free work force coincided with a severe economic downturn in New South Wales and the Colony was eager to attract migrants to replace the convicts’ labour.


In 1848 the Colony of New South Wales ranged from the tropical rainforests of Cape York in the north to the sometimes-snow covered peaks and wet forests of Van Dieman’s Land in the south and from the fertile strip along the east coast to the deserts and salt lakes of the inland. The principal towns were mostly on the coast including Moreton Bay (later Brisbane), Sydney and Melbourne. Inland the larger settlements included Parramatta, West Maitland, Bathurst and Goulburn.


Settlers from Britain found the climate to be both warmer in summer and milder in winter than that of England. The climate on the eastern coast was favourable to habitation all year round while that inland beyond the mountain ranges was hotter and cooler.


The Colony of New South Wales in 1848 was for the lacemaker immigrants a new world in so many ways.