Historical Atlas of the British Empire
Click on the gallery of maps below of the British Empire in Australasia to enlarge them.
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The British claim their first colony in Australia and first raise the Union Jack at Botany Bay, New South Wales in 1778.
In Australia, claimed for the British by Captain James Cook, colonization began with the desire to find a place for penal settlement after the loss of the original American colonies. The first shipload of British convicts landed in Australia in 1788 on the site of the future city of Sydney. The expedition of the Endeavour under command of British Royal Navy Lieutenant James Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia, making first landfall at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. Cook continued northwards and before leaving put ashore on Possession Island in the Torres Strait off Cape York on 22 August 1770. Here he formally claimed the eastern coastline he had discovered for the Crown, naming it New South Wales. Given that Cook was a British explorer and his discoveries would lead to the British settlement of Australia, he is often popularly considered its European discoverer, although he had been preceded by many—and by Janszoon in particular—more than 160 years prior. The favourable reports of these lands relayed by Cook's expedition upon their return to England generated interest in its offered solution to the problem of penal overcrowding in Britain, which had been exacerbated by the loss of its American colonies. Accordingly, on 13 May 1787, the 11 ships of the First Fleet set sail from Portsmouth, England, bound for Botany Bay. The British Crown Colony of New South Wales started with the establishment of a settlement at Sydney Cove by Captain Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788. This date later became Australia's national day, Australia Day. These islands included the current islands of New Zealand, which was administered as part of New South Wales. Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825. New South Wales was opened to free settlers in 1819. Britain formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1829.
Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, New Zealand in 1840, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory was founded in 1863 as part of the Province of South Australia. In 1829, the Swan River Colony was declared by Charles Fremantle for Britain, which later became Western Australia, with Albany coming under the authority of the governor at Perth. Western Australia was founded as a free colony but later accepted transported convicts because of an acute labour shortage. The transportation of convicts to Australia was phased out between 1840 and 1868. In 1853 transportation of convicts was abolished. A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s, and the Eureka Stockade rebellion in 1854 was an early expression of nationalist sentiment; the flag that was used to represent it has been seriously considered by some as an alternative to the Australian flag. The gold rushes brought many immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Europe, North America and China. Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs, defence and international shipping. The gold led to a period of great prosperity, but eventually the economic expansion came to an end, and the 1890s were a period of economic depression. Before the end of the century five Australian colonies - New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland - and the island colony of Tasmania had each achieved self-government; an act of the Imperial Parliament at Westminster created the federal Commonwealth of Australia, a self-governing Dominion, in 1901. New Zealand, annexed in 1840, was at first a dependency of New South Wales.
In 1788, the colony of New South Wales had been founded. According to Captain Phillip's amended Commission, dated 25 April 1787, the colony included all the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean within the latitudes of 10°37'S and 43°39'S which included most of New Zealand except for the southern half of the South Island. In 1825 with Van Diemen's Land becoming a separate colony, the southern boundary of New South Wales was alteredto the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean with a southern boundary of 39°12'S which included only the northern half of the North Island. However, these boundaries had no real impact as the New South Wales administration had little interest in New Zealand. In response to complaints about lawless white sailors and adventurers in New Zealand, the British government appointed James Busby as Official Resident in 1832. In 1834 he encouraged Maori chiefs to assert their sovereignty with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1835. This was acknowledged by King William IV. Busby was provided with neither legal authority nor military support and was thus ineffective in controlling the European population.
In 1839, the New Zealand Company announced its plans to establish colonies in New Zealand. This, and the continuing lawlessness of many of the established settlers, spurred the British to take stronger action. Captain William Hobson was sent to New Zealand to persuade Maori to cede their sovereignty to the British Crown. On 6 February 1840, Hobson and about forty Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. Copies of the Treaty were subsequently taken around the country to be signed by other chiefs. A significant number refused to sign or were not asked but, in total, more than five hundred Maori eventually signed. The Treaty gave Maori control over their lands and possessions and all of the rights of British citizens. Britain was motivated by the desire to forestall other European powers (France established a very small settlement at Akaroa in the South Island later in 1840), to facilitate settlement by British subjects and, possibly, to end the lawlessness of European (predominantly British and American) whalers, sealers and traders. Officials and missionaries had their own positions and reputations to protect. Maori chiefs were motivated by a desire for protection from foreign powers, the establishment of governorship over European settlers and traders in New Zealand, and to allow for wider settlement that would increase trade and prosperity for Maori. The practical effect of the Treaty was, in the beginning, only gradually felt, especially in predominantly Maori regions. Having been administered, through 1840 when the treaty was signed, as a part of the Australian colony of New South Wales, New Zealand became a colony in its own right on 3 May1841. It was divided into provinces that were reorganised in 1846 and in 1853, when they acquired their own legislatures, and then abolished in 1876. The country rapidly gained some measure of self-government through the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, which established central and provincial government. Autonomous dominion status as the Dominion of New Zealand was achieved in 1907.
After the annexation of Australia and New Zealand, Britain proceeds to expand the empire further in the Pacific region. Captain George Vancouver established a UK-Hawaii friendship in 1793-4 and obtained a "cession" of the Islands to the UK, but the British government apparently never took notice of it. From 1794 to 1816, Hawaii flew the British Union Jack as its National Flag. From 1816 to 1843, Hawaii flew an early version of its present flag, containing the Union Jack. British troops occupied the Hawaiian Islands from 25 February to 31 July 1843. A Hawaiian "revolt" led to a British withdrawal in July 1843. The "revolt" consisted of the total ignoring of the presence of the British by the Hawaiians. No talking, no notice, nothing. Actually, the occupation was not sanctioned by London, and February to July is how long it took word to go to London and back again. But the Hawaiians say they defeated the British by ignoring them! Hawaii was occupied by the United States in 1893 and became a state of the United States in 1959. Today, it continues to use a flag containing the Union Jack to honour its original friendship agreement with the UK.
The Fiji Islands were ceded to the British Crown by their Great Council of Chiefs in 1874. In 1906, a condominium between Britain and France was established for the New Hebrides islands. British New Guinea was established in 1884, becoming the Territory of Papua, governed by Australia, in 1904. German New Guinea was mandated by the League of Nations to Australia in 1919, while the island of Nauru was mandated jointly to Britain, Australia and New Zealand, also in 1919. German Samoa was mandated to New Zealand in 1919 also. Most of the British islands were administered by a single Western Pacific High Commissioner.