The War for Independence (1836-1840)
The year of 1836 began with a great upheaval in the British Empire. Australia, not Britain’s most economically valuable colony but certainly one of its most strategically important and also its third largest by land area, had declared independence.
The move followed the government in Westminster continued policy of raising taxes, and its continued refusal to grant the vote to most of the Australian continents inhabitants. In response the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke, led a campaign to free the embattled colony from what he, and many other Australians viewed as the tyranny of the British.
Sir Richard Bourke, the man who would lead Australia to independence.
On January 1st, he proved successful - gaining the support of the Governor of Western Australia and the public, he declared the country independent. While the Governor of Van Diemen’s Land refused to support him, but that was a minor hurdle as more than three quarters of the population of in Van Diemen’s Land was behind Bourke’s cause.
Britain responded by issuing a declaration war on the newly founded Republic of Australia, and ordering some half of its Indian garrison to sail for Australia. The British high-society laughed at the idea that the rebellious Australia could dare hold up before Britain’s mighty armies but they were to be proved wrong, as it would turn out.
Newly sworn in, President Richard Bourke set about preparing for Australia’s defence. However, even before that the first act he took as President of Australia was to fire the current Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, and replaced him with the first Premier of Tasmania, Adam Jones - also the 1st Bishop of Tasmania.
In the following week while taking stock of the realm, Bourke was to discover things in a horrible state. Australia had only 3,000 soldiers and three ships to its name, and a national population of only ninety nine thousand and six hundred adult males - of which only 24,000 were Australians. In addition they were at war with the United Kingdom, which was presumably already shipping troops in from India, and to top it off, Australia had no non-colonial territories.
The first session of the Australian parliament - held in the newly christened Presidential Palace (originally the Governor of New South Wales’s residence) - took place the next day.
Just six representatives were appointed at the time - One each from Tasmania, the newly created territories of Western Australia, Victoria and Northern Territory, and two from New South Wales. In their first seating, the parliament assessed the nation’s technological capacity, and found it well advanced; having acquired all technological knowledge that Great Britain possessed, they were well positioned for their new existence. They added to this good start by assigning government funds to research muzzle-loaded rifles.
The budget was the second thing to receive a review by the new parliament, and it was found to be well on its way to bringing Australia riches. And so parliament turned to more domestic matters, letting the President deal with the war - satisfied that he had everything he needed to wage war.
By April the Australian War of Independence was well underway, with Australian troops disembarking onto the shores of New Zealand with no opposition.
In June of 1836, gold was discovered in Kalgoorlie, an event that would eventually lead to the great Australian gold rush. The following month, the gold rush continued to run its course with the discovery of the precious metal in Broome. This came as great news for the Australian population, which traditionally had sparse employment prospects, since Australia possessed no major factories.
November 1836 was the month when the British invasion force finally managed to reach Australia, months late despite the fact that a large piece of New Zealand was already under Australian control by this time. What followed was a race to see who could capture more of the others territory, in order to be the one who came out on top in the war. No actual battles took place for the first year and a half of the war.
The Vice-President of Australia, Lord Edward Harris, left the country for a visit with the United States of America around this time, hoping to curry favour and gain an alliance with the USA - a nation who was the third most powerful nation on the planet at the time. He is believed to have been successful in increasing the close relations between America and Australia, although no account of the events of his trip is known to have survived to this day.
The first battle between British and Australian forces took place on June 16th, 1837 in the New Zealand province of Tauranga. 3,000 defending Australians were pitted again 8,000 British attackers. The Australians were inevitably slaughtered, and fled to Wellington - what followed has become known as the Wellington Massacre, as more than 1500 men were killed, having been given no chance to surrender.
Strangely, just after this event - in a move historians do not understand to this day - the United Kingdom requested a peaceful end to the war, despite having already taken out the entire Australian military. But Australia certainly would never say no, and so the Treaty of Sydney was signed in effect the same day. Australia left the room as an independent nation, with the British having signed over all claims to the Australian continent in return for peace.
Australia made great leaps and bounds in the following months, with the welcoming of Australia’s first non-colonial, civilized state into the fold; New South Wales. This was followed by the passing of the Bill to Establish Subsidiaries for the Unemployed 1837
, which the Australian parliament passed swiftly and which created one of the world’s first unemployment benefits programs.
Muzzle-loaded rifles entered production in Australia near the end of October 1838, and the research money that the government regularly put aside for such projects was diverted to fund an improvement to steam engine technology.
Victoria and Tasmania were converted into the newest state(s) of Australia in December, giving them each 2 seats each in parliament instead of the original one and rapidly pushing the parliament’s size up. It was on this event that plans for a new specifically built Parliament House were proposed; legislation was soon passed to provide the funding to construct such a structure. Also passed was legislation to build fortifications in Hobart, and a major trading port in Port Lincoln, South Australia.
January 1840 was the month that brought with it Australia’s first democratic elections. The Protectionist Party asked President Bourke to run for the position again, while the Free Trade Party nominated one of the two Tasmanian Senators, prominent business man Samuel Collins. The Nationalist Party refrained from running a candidate, and instead cast its preference behind the Protectionist Party candidate Sir Richard Bourke.
A heated race for the Presidential position followed, with both candidates taking every opportunity to try and get an advantage over the other. But Bourke had the winning position from the beginning, being the man who freed the nation and then convinced the mighty British Empire to concede defeat. Bourke urged wariness but not total exclusion for foreign companies, and called on the patriotic spirit of Australia’s - something that gained him the support of both local capitalists and the patriotic lower class. .
By July, he had won the race. 41.17% of the vote went to him directly as the Protectionist Party candidate, and another 27.46% was his on behalf of the voters of the Nationalist Party. The Free Trade Party had a good showing of 31.36%, but it wasn’t enough and Bourke rode to victory.
A trail of liberal ideals broke out in the world at this time, not least Australia. The first occasional for this ideal to surface was when school youth began demanding further voting franchise expansion. It spelled ill for any nation less liberal than Australia, but as the grand Republic of Australia was built on such freedoms, it wasn’t going to ever be more than a nuisance to the government.