The continent of Australia has been inhabited for more than 42,000 years by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. After sporadic visits by European explorers and merchants from the 17th century onwards, the eastern half of the continent was claimed by the British in 1770, and officially settled as the penal colony of New South Wales on 26 January 1788. As the population grew and new areas were explored, another five largely self-governing Crown colonies were successively established over the course of the 19th century.
1791 – A party of twenty-one convicts escape from Port Jackson and (with an obviously limited knowledge of Australian geography) attempt to walk to China. Some die in the wilderness, while others are recaptured.
1792 – The Philadelphia becomes the first foreign trading vessel to visit Sydney.