The British Government initiated European settlement of the Australian continent by establishing a penal settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. Between then and 1852, about 100,000 convicts (mostly tried in England) were transported to eastern Australia. Scotland and Wales contributed relatively few convicts. The convicts were augmented by free settlers, including large numbers who arrived during the gold-rush in the 1850s. As late as 1861, people born in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland outnumbered even the Australia-born population. The number of settlers in Australia who were born in the United Kingdom peaked at 825,000 in 1891, from which point the proportion of British among all immigrants to Australia steadily declined.
From the beginning of the colonial era until the mid-20th century, the vast majority of settlers to Australia were from the British Isles, with the English being the dominant group, followed by the Irish and Scottish. Among the leading ancestries, increases in Australian, Irish, and German ancestries and decreases in English, Scottish, and Welsh ancestries appear to reflect such shifts in perception or reporting. These reporting shifts at least partly resulted from changes in the design of the census question, in particular the introduction of a tick box format in 2001.
Until 1859, 2.2 million (73%) of the free settlers who immigrated were British. Those born in the United Kingdom were the largest foreign group throughout the 20th century. Prior to the last quarter of the century, the United Kingdom was strongly favoured as a source country by immigrant selection policies and remained the largest single component of the annual immigration intake until 1995–96, when immigrants from New Zealand surpassed it in number. However, their share of the total immigrant population is in decline. Those from the United Kingdom comprised 58 per cent of the total overseas-born population in 1901, compared to 27 per cent in 1996. An even greater decline has occurred for those born in Ireland. In 1901, those born in Ireland comprised 22 per cent of all immigrants, while in 1996 the Ireland-born represented just 1 per cent of the immigrant population.
While those born in England have formed the largest component of the British immigrant population, Australia has also received significant numbers of immigrants from Ireland ( both from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), Scotland, and Wales. Up until the First World War the Irish were, in their own right, the second largest immigrant population.
The most dramatic increase in the British immigrant population occurred between 1961 and 1971. The number of British-born people living in Australia exceeded one million at the 1971 Census and has remained above one million to this day. The United Kingdom-born population in Australia reached a peak of 1,107,119 in 1991, but at the 1996 Census, this figure had declined to 1,072,514, a decrease of 3 per cent.
The latest Census in 2011 recorded 1,101,082 United Kingdom-born people in Australia, an increase of 6.1 per cent from the 2006 Census. The 2011 distribution by state and territory showed New South Wales had the largest number with 274,821 followed by Western Australia (230,418), Queensland (214,329) and Victoria (213,377).
Anglo-Celtic is not a category in the Australian census. At the 2006 Census of Australia respondents could nominate up to two ancestries (although 65% of respondents nominated just one). Out of a total of 19,855,288 responses, 6,283,647 (31.6%) responses indicated English ancestry, 1,803,740 (9.1%) indicated Irish ancestry, 1,501,204 (7.6%) indicated Scottish ancestry, 113,242 (0.7%) indicated Welsh ancestry, 1,864 (0.01%) indicated Manx ancestry, and 5,686 (0.3%) indicated British ancestry.
The United Kingdom remains the leading source of immigrants to Australia. In 2005–06 22,143 persons born in the United Kingdom settled in Australia, representing 21.4% of all migrants. At the 2006 Census (excluding overseas visitors) 1,038,165 persons identified themselves as having been born in the United Kingdom (5.2% of the Australian population), while 50,251 identified themselves as Irish born. The Anglo-Celtic element in the population is expected to drop to 62 percent by 2025.
Between 1987 and 1999, the Anglo-Celtic component of Australia's population declined from 75 per cent to 70 per cent. In 1999, the Anglo-Celtic share of the Australian population was calculated as 69.9%.
A 1996 study of the ethnic origins of the Australian people shows:12,438,600 people had English origins.
5,454,200 people had Irish origins.
5,393,800 people had Scottish origins.
768,100 people had Cornish origins.
727,800 people had Welsh origins.
46,600 people had Manx origins.
Just over three-quarters of the Australian ancestry group stated no other ancestries. Among the 24% who did report another ancestry, the ancestries most commonly stated were English (reported by 13% of the total Australian ancestry group), Irish (3%), Scottish (1%), German (1%) and Italian (1%). The number of people reporting Australian ancestry in 2001 was almost double the 3.4 million (24% of the population) who gave Australian as their ancestry in the 1986 Census. This reflected a shift to reporting Australian ancestry among Australian-born people with Australian-born parents. Among these people, the proportion stating Australian ancestry increased from 33% to 56%, making this the group most likely to state Australian ancestry in 2001. There was also a substantial increase in reporting of Australian ancestry among Australian-born people with one parent born in Australia and one born overseas. Of this group, 33% stated Australian ancestry in 1986 and 49% in 2001. The explicit inclusion of Australian as an ancestry response in the 2001 Census (through its inclusion among the tick box answers) seems likely to have influenced this change. However, a real change in cultural affiliations may also have contributed. Compared with 1986, some people may have placed more value or relevance on their Australian affiliations and less on historic ties to England.
Tasmania could have the nation's highest proportion of citizens of Anglo-Celtic origin, possibly as high as 85 percent. On the evidence of statistics of ethnic derivation Tasmania could also be considered more British than New Zealand (where the Anglo-Celtic majority has fallen below 75 percent).
Ancestry was first included as a question in the 1986 Census. The aim of the question was to measure the ethnic composition of the population as a whole. Very little use was made of the ancestry data from the 1986 Census. As a consequence, ancestry was not included in either the 1991 or 1996 Censuses. In the 2011 Census, the top ancestry responses* that United Kingdom-born people reported were English (866,717), Scottish (173,804), Irish (98,728) and Welsh (36,364).
The number of people reporting "Australian" ancestry has increased with a large amount of these people having Anglo-Celtic or British origins with ancestors being in Australia for generations. In 2001 the figure almost doubled the 3.4 million (21.8% of the population) who gave Australian as their ancestry in the 1986 Census.
Some have argued that the term is entirely a product of multiculturalism that ignores the history of sectarianism in Australia. For example, historian John Hirst wrote in 1994: "Mainstream Australian society was reduced to an ethnic group and given an ethnic name: Anglo-Celt."
According to Hirst:
In the eyes of multiculturalists, Australian society of the 1940s, 150 years after first settlement, is adequately described as Anglo-Celtic. At least this acknowledges that the people of Australia were Irish and Scots as well as English, but it has nothing more substantial than a hyphen joining them. In fact a distinct new culture had been formed. English, Scots and Irish had formed a common identity - first of all British and then gradually Australian as well. In the 1930s the historian W.K. Hancock could aptly describe them as Independent Australian Britons.
The Australian journalist Siobhan McHugh has argued that the term "Anglo-Celtic" is "an insidious distortion of our past and a galling denial of the struggle by an earlier minority group", Irish Australians, "against oppression and demonisation... In what we now cosily term "Anglo-Celtic" Australia, a virtual social apartheid existed at times between [Irish] Catholics and [British] Protestants", which did not end until the 1960s.
The term was also criticised by the historian Patrick O'Farrell as "a grossly misleading, false, and patronising convenience, one crassly present-oriented. Its use removes from consciousness and recognition a major conflict fundamental to any comprehension not only of Australian history but of our present core culture."
In 1967, British migrants in Australia formed an association to represent their special interests: the United Kingdom Settlers' Association, which subsequently became the British Australian Community.
There are many places in Australia named after people and places in the United Kingdom and Ireland as a result of the many British and Irish settlers and explorers; in addition, some places were named after the English royal family. These include the state of New South Wales and some of the following:
New South Wales - Cook first named the land "New Wales", named after Wales. However, in the copy held by the Admiralty, he "revised the wording" to "New South Wales".Hyde Park - was named after the original Hyde Park in London, England and is the oldest public parkland in Australia
Newcastle, New South Wales - is named after Newcastle, England
Queensland - The state was named in honour of Queen Victoria, who on 6 June 1859 signed Letters Patent separating the colony from New South Wales. The date 6 June is now celebrated statewide as Queensland Day. Queensland achieved statehood with the Federation of Australia on 1 January 1901.Brisbane - is named after Scotsman Thomas Brisbane
Victoria - like Queensland, was named after Queen Victoria, who had been on the British throne for 14 years when the colony was established in 1851.Melbourne - was named in honour of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, Queen Victoria's first Prime Minister, and thus indirectly takes its name from the village of Melbourne, Derbyshire, England.
Perth - The city is named after Perth, Scotland, by influence of Sir George Murray, then British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. in Murray's honour.
Norfolk Island - Captain James Cook named it after Mary Howard, Duchess of Norfolk (c. 1712 – 1773).