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Female political activism and economic engagement in the Australian colonies are usually located within the last decades of the nineteenth century, yet a reexamination of the 1850s reveals that the twin issues of women’s political rights and activities within the public sphere were raised much earlier. This article shows that as the Australian colonies achieved self-government and manhood suffrage and experienced the upheaval of successive gold rushes around the Pacific, there were heated debates about women’s roles within the public sphere. Evidence drawn from the law, trade directories, passenger lists, newspapers, and contemporary fiction reveals the extent of both women’s work and the debate. The participation of women in business and the articulation of demands for political rights were part of a transnational midcentury phenomenon but had distinctive Australian qualities, preparing the ground for later suffrage success.