1856 in Australia
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- Governor of New South Wales — Sir William Denison
- Governor of South Australia — Sir Richard MacDonnell
- Governor of Tasmania — Sir Henry Young
- Governor of Victoria — Sir Henry Barkly
- Governor of Western Australia as a Crown Colony — Captain Charles Fitzgerald
- Premier of New South Wales — Stuart Donaldson from 6 June to 25 August then Charles Cowper to 2 October then Henry Parker
- Premier of Queensland — office not created until 1859
- Premier of South Australia — Boyle Travers Finniss from 24 October
- Premier of Tasmania — William Champ from 1 November
- Premier of Victoria — Dr William Haines
- Premier of Western Australia — office not created until 1890
- 6 January – French musician and composer Nicolas-Charles Bochsa dies in Sydney.
- 7 February – Tasmanian Electoral Act introduced the secret ballot, which was known elsewhere, in particular in the United States as the "Australian ballot"
- 19 March – The Electoral Act 1856 introduced the secret ballot in Victoria
- 2 April – South Australia introduced the secret ballot
- 11 April – At a public meeting in Melbourne, Dr Thomas Embling repeated the slogan "eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest".
- 22 May – First Parliament of New South Wales opened by the governor, Sir William Denison
- 24 June – Queen Victoria makes Norfolk Island a separate settlement from Tasmania to be administered by the Governor of New South Wales.
- 23 September – The town of Perth, Western Australia is proclaimed a City by letters patent from Queen Victoria.
- 25 November – The first Parliament of Victoria is officially opened by the Acting Governor Edward Macarthur.
Exploration and settlement
- 1 January – The name Tasmania officially adopted to replace Van Diemen's Land which was felt to have too many convict connotations.
- 8 June – Pitcairn Islanders arrived on Norfolk Island; the last convict had left and the island was no longer a penal colony. Queen Victoria granted the island to the Pitcairners as a home. Bounty Day is celebrated each year in Norfolk Island to commemorate the event.
- Suburb of Goodna founded in Queensland, Australia – Originally part of NSW, its 150-year anniversary was celebrated in 2006.
- 8 March — Tom Roberts, artist (died 1931)
- 3 August — Alfred Deakin, Prime Minister of Australia (died 1919)
- 19 September — Arthur Morgan, Premier of Queensland (died 1916)
- 3 December — George Leake, Premier of Western Australia (died 1902)
- 1 January — Convict William Buckley dies near Hobart, aged 75.
- 3 May – John Wollaston, Western Australian settler and Anglican clergyman (b. 1790)
- 17 October – William Allen, joint founder of St Peter's College, Adelaide (b. 1790)