Investigation 3

How did the people of the colonies feel about being part of the British empire?

Australia had been claimed for Britain in 1788, when the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove. The convict settlement of New South Wales would, over the following 70 years, be split into self-governing colonies. Each was linked to Britain through language, cultural heritage, political, legal and economic systems. The British monarch was represented in the colonies by British governors.

The colonists were proud and loyal members of the British Empire. Britain was seen as the ‘mother country’, the great protector of their security and interests. In return, the colonies felt a duty to defend the Empire wherever it was threatened.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, commemorating 60 years of her reign, was celebrated enthusiastically on 22 June 1897. It took place at the same time as leaders of the Australian colonies were drafting an Australian Constitution and working towards Federation. Nonetheless, the Premiers of all the colonies travelled to London to be part of the celebrations.

The people of the colonies considered themselves to be both Australian and members of the British Empire.

Your Task

Discover how the people of Australia felt about being part of the British Empire


  1. As a class, study the map of the British Empire in 1886.
    • List as many colonies of the Empire as you can.
    • Examine the many pictures around the map. Each represents a place in the British Empire. Match as many images as you can to the part of the world they refer to.
    • Look at how Britain is represented and where it is located on the map’s border. Discuss why it is represented in this way.
  2. In small groups, read the newspaper extracts about the Jubilee celebrations in London in 1897. Discuss the following questions and then share your responses with the class.
    • How many different countries of the British Empire were represented?
    • Why would the colonies send representatives to the celebrations?
    • What did the crowds appreciate about the representatives from the colonies?
    • How do you think people felt about being part of such celebrations?
  3. In your groups, look at the photographs and read the newspaper extracts about Jubilee celebrations in Australia. Write a slogan or newspaper headline to convey how people felt about belonging to the British Empire. Share them with the class.
  4. As a class, examine the board game. Discuss the following questions:
    • Which country is likely to be at the centre?
    • What do you think would be the objective of the game?
    • What would a child in 1800s Australia learn from playing it?
  5. In groups, think of how you could play the game. Write the rules, and include a dice and counters in your instructions. Reproduce the board on A3 paper. Have fun touring the colonies!