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Australian History

Saturday, December 3, 1831. :   Controversial reformer Major-General Sir Richard Bourke is appointed as Governor of New South Wales.

     Major-General Sir Richard Bourke was born in Dublin on 4 May 1777. He succeeded Lieutenant General Sir Ralph Darling, and was appointed Governor on 3 December 1831, to become the eighth Governor of New South Wales. Bourke was a major reformer in the colony of New South Wales. He had significant influence in bringing to an end the transportation of convicts to New South Wales, although that did not happen during his tenure. He was an advocate of emancipation and integration of convicts into civilian life, and his concern for the convicts was not appreciated by the conservative elements in the colony. Raising the ire of local magistrates who abused their powers, he set a punishment limit of fifty lashes where no previous limit had existed, and granted more rights to the emancipists, or freed convicts.

Bourke was a proponent of the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’, or ‘empty land’, which declared that the continent of Australia belonged to no-one, and therefore Britain had the right to claim it if they occupied it. This doctrine had been in effect since James Cook charted the east coast, and was unable to find any indigenous personnel who could read or write, to sign any treaty for land. In 1835, he issued a proclamation stating that the original inhabitants, indigenous Australians, could not sell or assign land. He declared John Batman’s agreement to offer supplies to the indigenous people of Port Phillip in exchange for land to be invalid on this basis. Despite this, the new settlement thrived, and Bourke eventually named it Melbourne, in honour of Lord Melbourne, Prime Minister of Great Britain.

One of Bourke’s major reforms was in the allocation of public funds for religious purposes. Although nominally Anglican himself, he did not agree with the Church of England being the state church of New South Wales. On 29 July 1836, he enacted the Church Act. This Act allowed for public funds to be given to the three major denominations present in the colony, Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian, based on the number of adherents. It was later extended also to the Jewish, Wesleyan and Baptist churches. The Act diminished the power and dominance of the Anglican Church. A direct result was the great increase in numbers of new churches and clergy throughout the colony, while allowing better access for convicts and emancipists to religious communities.

Today in History

Thought For Today
When I am afraid, O Lord Almighty, I put my trust in you.
Psalms 56:3 (c) GNB
Never doubt that your Heavenly Father has your eternal care in mind.

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