Race, rights and the re-forming settler polity in mid-nineteenth century Victoria

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Abstract

The organisation of political rights in nineteenth century British settler colonies seems paradoxical. As the historian and member of the Legislative Council Thomas McCombie proudly wrote of the almost uncontested concession of manhood suffrage in the colony, in the late-1850s Victoria had moved 'from a perfect despotism - to the very opposite point of democracy'. That same year, however, McCombie used his parliamentary position to develop 'protection' legislation that, although stopping short of denying the franchise to Aboriginal men, enabled extraordinary coercive control over Aboriginal lives. Following Victoria's lead, in the decades after 1860, newly formed colonial parliaments and their associated bureaucracies devised legislation that incrementally denied Indigenous peoples political and civil autonomy through systems of 'protection and management'. The democratic miracle of settler politics was mirrored by a firm rejection of the possibility that Aboriginal people could govern their own lives. Here lies the paradox. Australian settler colonies were simultaneously some of the most progressive and repressive polities in the nineteenth century British world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-104
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Australian Colonial History
Volume15
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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