1817 Macquarie recommends name ‘Australia’

Governor Macquarie

In 1814, Matthew Flinders had suggested that the name ‘Australia’ be adopted for the continent which had, until then, been known as ‘New Holland’.  In December of 1817, Governor Macquarie officially recommended that Flinders’ suggestion be adopted.  Australia remained a geographic, rather than a socio-political entity until 1901 when the various colonies federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia.

Since the second century, there had been legends of an unknown southern land – in Latin “terra australis incognita”. Matthew Flinders, the English navigator who first circumnavigated the continent, adopted the word ‘Australia’ as a convenient short form of Terra Australis, writing:

Had I permitted myself any innovation upon the original term Terra Australis, it would have been to convert it into Australia; as being more agreeable to the ear, and as an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth.

Although Macquarie made his recommendation for the name ‘Australia’ in 1817 it was not accepted by the British Admiralty until 1824.  In 1821, at the end of his term as Governor, prior to his departure for England, Macquarie began his farewell address with “Fellow citizens of Australia”.

In continuing, he referred to the progress the colony had made in becoming self-sufficient.

When I took Charge of this Government, on the 1st of January, 1810, I found the Colony in a state of rapid deterioration; – threatened with a famine; – discord and party spirit prevailing to a great degree; all the public buildings in a state of dilapidation and decay; – very few roads and bridges, and those few very bad; – the inhabitants, generally, very poor; and commerce and public credit at the lowest ebb.

“I now have the happiness to reflect, that I leave it in a very different condition: – the face of the Country generally, and agriculture in particular, greatly improved; – stock, of all kinds, greatly increased; some useful manufactories established…”

The early white inhabitants of the continent would not have referred to themselves as Australians. Their nationality remained tied to their land of origin – for the most part British. Those born in the new colonies became known as ‘currency’ lads and lasses, as compared to the British-born who were ‘sterling’.

Accounts of the time suggest that the Australian-born grew to be physically more robust. At least in part, this could be attributed to a better diet. Later in the 19th century, the promise of ‘meat three times a day” became an important lure for free immigrants.

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