Investigation 2

What were Victorians like in the late 1800s?

In the 1890s, Australian-born Victorians became the dominant group in the colony. Before this time, the population had been mainly made up of people who had come to the colony from Britain. Although Indigenous Australians had lived in Victoria for thousands of years, their population began to fall with the arrival of European settlers in the 1830s. For the 1901 census, the Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia recorded that the number of Indigenous people remaining in Victoria ‘was only 271’. Records related to Indigenous Australians’ place of birth, where they lived or their occupations were not recorded in official figures collected by the Commonwealth of Australia.

Your Task

Examine where the Victorians of 1901 were born, where they lived and how they were employed.


  1. As a class, examine the data about people living in Victoria in 1901.
    • Make a list of the most striking or surprising things that you notice when you look at the graphs.
    • Why do the things on the list surprise you?
    • Was there any data contained in the graphs that did not surprise you?
  2. Form small groups. Discuss the following questions about Victorians in 1901, and record your answers.
    • Where were most Victorians born?
    • Where were most Victorians living? What percentage of the population was living outside Melbourne?
    • How were Victorians employed in 1901? What were the most common occupations? What were the least common?
  3. In your small groups, use evidence to support your hypotheses when discussing the following questions.
    • Would communication among the people of Victoria have been easy? Consider the languages spoken by people born in Australia and overseas.
    • Would the types of occupations that people had be influenced by where they lived?
    • Would the people of Victoria have been connected by one or more common interests? What might those interests have been? Consider where Victorians were born, where they lived and what they did for a living.
  4. Reflect upon the census data you have just examined. These characteristics will help you to build up an image of the typical Victorian in the late 1800s. Select one of the following options for depicting the typical Victorian:
    • a drawing
    • a song
    • a diary entry
    • a figurine
    • a poem
    • a short story
    When deciding how to depict the typical Victorian from the 1800s, think about which characteristics will be clearly stated and which ones will be implied through written or visual symbolism.