Why were rabbits introduced into Australia and from where did they come?

Rabbits were brought to Australia on the First Fleet but, for whatever reason, they did not breed prolifically or cause any problems for the first few years of the colony's settlement. There is absence of any evidence that they were either eaten or hunted for sport in the Sydney area. Rabbits were popular as pets and for sport around Sydney in the 1840s, but again, there is no evidence that their population proliferated. It is believed that the carnivorous marsupials of the mainland, such as quolls, were able to keep rabbit numbers down.

Rabbits were also introduced into the Tasmanian colony where, by 1827, they were noted to be in their thousands.

The rabbit plague that now exists in Australia is largely due to the actions of one man. A farmer named Thomas Austin who had a property in Winchelsea, Victoria, is credited with introducing rabbits into Australia, leading to their current plague proportions. Austin was a member of the Acclimatisation Society, a group which believed in introducing exotic species into new locations around the world. In October 1859, Austin imported 21 European rabbits for hunting, releasing them on Christmas Day that year. Within a short period of time, it became evident that Victoria provided the ideal climate for the rabbits to breed and become a national pest. Rabbits have since spread throughout Australia.