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Extract from a letter written by the Aborigines Protection Society to the British government in 1846
(Catalogue ref: CO 201/371)
  • This extract comes from a long letter written in 1846 by the Aborigines Protection Society.
  • 'Aborigines' is a term most commonly applied to the native peoples of Australia. However, in technical terms it can mean any native peoples. This letter actually concentrated more on the poor conditions of native North Americans and Africans. However, this section concentrates on the situation for native Australians.
  • The letter was written to William Gladstone. He was the minister in charge of Britain's colonies in 1846. He later went on to serve as Prime Minister on several occasions.
  • When the British first arrived in Australia there was often open conflict between them and Aborigines. As the settlers became stronger, the Aborigines declined. Disease killed many of them. New farming methods and animals (especially rabbits) caused environmental damage.
  • From the arrival of the British in 1788 to about 1920 the Aborigine population fell by about 90%.
  • The British government did try to set up a scheme in the 1840s which gave 15% of the proceeds of land sales on Aboriginal land to the Aborigines. This was widely seen as a generous gesture. However, it was not always done. Also, Aborigines felt annoyed that they were driven off their land and then offered only 15% of its value.
  • This source is a good example of the controversy stirred up by the issue. Is it evidence that the British showed great concern for the Aborigines? Or is it evidence that British rule brought misery to the Aborigines?
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