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You Are Here: Home > Essay Topics > Sociology Essays and Research Papers > Society & Civilization Research Paper Topics  > Essay on The Gold Rush and Colonial Society

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Essay on The Gold Rush and Colonial Society

While the basic structure of British colonial society in the antipodes seemed to have been set by the mid-nineteenth century, the discovery of gold in both Australia (1851) and New Zealand (1861) had profound effects on both colonies. News of the discoveries triggered a massive influx of settlers eager to try their luck in the gold fields. Among these settlers was a contingent of foreign laborers, many of whom were Chinese, imported by mining companies. As miners began competing for lucrative claims, xenophobia and racism rose dramatically, resulting in violent pogroms against foreign laborers and calls for immigration quotas. In Australia the gold rush was further compounded by an upsurge in violence, vigilantism, and chaos that amounted to a class war between squatters and land prospectors eager to invest their gold profits and secure access to new potential claim sites. Observation of the effects of the Californian and Australian gold rushes prompted the colonial administration in New Zealand to take prompt regulatory action that enabled it to avoid a similar bout of lawlessness.

Overall the gold rushes created wealth, urbanization, limited industrialization, and furthered the impulse to create respectable Victorian societies in both colonies. In Australia this included both the end of its status as a penal colony and new efforts to protect the aborigines from possible conflicts with the growing settler population. The result was an official ideology of protection, segregation, and control that reflected contemporary social Darwinism and its vision of the ''white man's burden.'' Central to this new campaign were efforts to force aborigines onto reservations, ostensibly to provide them with a safe haven free from European interference. In reality the reservation movement, which peaked in the 1890s, pushed the aborigines even further onto the margins of Australian society. Poor conditions on the reservations increasingly forced aborigines to hire themselves out as wage laborers; as such, they faced constant discrimination and had no control over their working conditions.

In New Zealand the gold rush sparked a new population boom as European emigrants flocked to the colony in the hopes of striking it rich. The land hunger of the European population intensified as the new arrivals settled in. Having learned from the New Zealand Wars that armed force only made their plight worse, many Maori chose to retreat into the interior. Others turned toward assimilation and accommodation with the settlers, reasoning that cooperation would give them some protection from loss of their land and rights. This policy quickly paid off in the form of four seats in New Zealand's parliament that were reserved for Maori candidates. The Maori used this parliamentary representation in conjunction with an ongoing series of lawsuits to try to prevent further land seizures and loss of their rights. While they still faced discrimination and hostility at the hands of settlers, who perceived the Maori as annoying obstacles to land development, overall the Maori emerged from the nineteenth century much more independent, affluent, and politically powerful than the Australian aborigines. . . .

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