British colonisation of South Australia

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British colonisation of South Australia describes the planning and establishment of the colony of South Australia by the British government, covering the period from 1829, when the idea was raised by the then imprisoned Edward Gibbon Wakefield, to 1842, when the South Australia Act 1842 changed the form of government to a Crown colony.

Ideas espoused and promulgated by Wakefield since 1829 led to the formation of the South Australian Land Company (SALC) in 1831, but this first attempt failed to achieve its goals and the company folded.

The South Australian Association was formed in 1833 by Wakefield, Robert Gouger and other supporters, which put forward a proposal less radical than previous ones, which was finally supported and a Bill proposed in Parliament.

The British Province of South Australia was established by the South Australia Act 1834 in August 1834, and the South Australian Company formed on 9 October 1835 to fulfil the purposes of the Act by forming a new colony financed by land sales. The first settlers arrived on Kangaroo Island in July 1836, with all of the ships later sailing north soon afterwards to anchor in Holdfast Bay on the advice of Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light. The foundation of South Australia is usually considered to be the Proclamation of the new Province by Governor Hindmarsh at Glenelg on 28 December 1836.

However, after the government under the Colonisation Commission set up by the 1834 Act failed to achieve financial self-sufficiency, the South Australia Act 1842 was passed in July 1842, repealing the earlier Act, making South Australia a Crown colony, providing for the formation of an appointed Legislative Assembly and passing greater powers to the Governor of South Australia (then Sir George Grey).


The French Nicolas Baudin and the British Matthew Flinders had both done exploratory voyages around the central southern coastline, an area previously ignored by Captain Cook and others. The two explorers met at what is now Encounter Bay in South Australia on 8 April 1802, and each gave names to various places around Kangaroo Island and the two gulfs (Gulf of St Vincent and Spencer's Gulf). The British Government, not wanting to be pre-empted by the French, sent out new expeditions to Port Phillip and northern Tasmania, and set up the first[clarification needed] free settlement, the Swan River Colony, in 1829.[1]

Historian Geoffrey Dutton suggests three clear phases in the foundation of the colony: first, the practical men, with their discoveries; second, the theorists, in particular Wakefield and Gouger (who had not seen Australia); and lastly the settlers, who had to marry fact with ideals.[1]



Influenced by prison reformer Elizabeth Fry while himself serving a term in prison for abduction of a minor, Wakefield turned his mind to social problems caused by over-population. In 1829, he wrote a series of anonymous "Letters from Sydney" to a London newspaper, The Morning Chronicle, in which he purported to write about his own experiences as a gentleman settler in New South Wales (completely fictitious), outlining his various ideas as a new theory of colonisation.[1] He proposed an "Emigration Fund" payable by landlords' taxes and land sales, which would fund labour for the colonies. Gouger, an enthusiastic supporter, published the letters as a book, edited by himself,[1] helping to distribute Wakefield's document.[2]

Wakefield saw the colonies as "extensions of an old society"; all classes would be represented among the settlers. In addition, the colonies would be more or less self-governing. His ideas were not original, but Wakefield was the one who synthesised a number of theories into one plan of systematic colonisation, and who spread the ideas among the British public and urged the Colonial Office to push forward with such a plan. After his release from gaol in 1830, he funded the National Colonization Society, with Gouger as secretary and a large number of enthusiastic members.[1] Wakefield's ideas caused much debate in the English parliament.[2]

After Charles Sturt "discovered" the River Murray in 1830, more interest in Wakefield's scheme followed. In 1831 a "Proposal to His Majesty's Government for founding a colony on the Southern Coast of Australia" was prepared under the auspices of Gouger, Anthony Bacon, Jeremy Bentham and Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, but its ideas were considered too radical, and it was unable to attract the required investment.[2]

South Australian Land Company[edit]

After the failure of this proposal, Wakefield published his "Plan of a company to be established for the purpose of founding a colony in Southern Australia, purchasing land therein and preparing the land so purchased for the Reception of Immigrants", and the South Australian Land Company (SALC) was formed in 1831 to establish a new colony in the area of South Australia.[2] The SALC sought a Royal Charter for the purchase of land for colonisation, which would raise funding for the transport of immigrants, and for the governance of the new colony to be administered by the SALC. The company anticipated that the centre of government would be on Kangaroo Island or at Port Lincoln on the western side of Spencer Gulf, based on reports from Matthew Flinders.[3][4]

However, the scheme, which included free trade, self-government and the power to select the Governor, was not approved as these ideas were considered too radical and republican.[2]


South Australian Association (1833)[edit]

In 1833 the South Australian Association was established and began to lobby the government for the establishment of a colony in South Australia, with Crown-appointed governance.[5]

South Australia Act 1834[edit]

The South Australian Association succeeded in the passing on 15 August of the South Australia Act 1834, which gave provision for the settlement as the Province of South Australia, for the sale of lands, and for funding of the venture, in addition to detailing the governance by the Colonization Commissioners for South Australia.[6][5] However, the Act gave control of the new colony to the Colonial Office as well as the Commissioners, which led to tension between the two and caused problems later.[1] On 5 May 1835 eleven commissioners were appointed to control sales of land and the administration of revenue. Colonel Robert Torrens was appointed as chairman and Rowland Hill was appointed secretary.[7] Gouger was appointed Colonial Secretary of South Australia at the same time.[5]

South Australian Company (1835)[edit]

Sales of land had proved difficult; buyers did not rush to buy an acre of wild land for 20 shillings. It was left to the South Australian Company (formed on 15 October 1835, after talented businessman George Fife Angas resigned as Commissioner[1]) to purchase the remaining portion of the £35,000 worth of land that was required for settlement to proceed.[8][9] The South Australian Company acted as a "third power" in the control of the colony and the one which saved it.[10]

Official appointments[edit]

The appointment of Governor of South Australia, as the most well-paid position and the most important one, proved complex. Sir Charles Napier (who had written a book about the colonisation of South Australia in 1835) was first approached by a group of emigrants, while the Colonial Office was considering Sir John Franklin. Franklin withdrew in favour of Napier, but Napier quarrelled with the emigrants and made two requests (for access to Treasury funds, and for troops to act as police) which were not met, and he resigned.[10]

Napier favoured Light as Governor; however, the ambitious John Hindmarsh had got wind of the forthcoming appointment, and set out first to see Napier, then woo some powerful supporters in London, including the Lords of the Admiralty before approaching the Colonial Secretary (Gouger). Light was appointed Surveyor-General on 14 December 1935, and on 21 January 1836 Captain Hindmarsh was appointed the first Governor of South Australia.[7][10] Hindmarsh was rewarded handsomely, while the salaries for the other men were small. Hindmarsh reported to the Colonial Office, while James Hurtle Fisher, Resident Commissioner, was paid far less, despite having practical control of the colony. Not only did Fisher head up the board of Commissioners, but the Treasurer, Emigration Agent, the Surveyor-General and the storekeeper were responsible to him.[10]


Letters Patent and the Order-in-Council[edit]

The procedure for the founding of the South Australian province was unclear to the Board of Commissioners, so Letters Patent, specifically Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom erecting and establishing the Province of South Australia and fixing the boundaries thereof, were presented to the government on 19 February 1836, and with its adoption along with an Order-in-Council on 23 February 1836 the foundation of the South Australian province was achieved.[11]

The main changes in the Letters Patent were to amend the wording in the 1834 document which referred to the land as "unoccupied", and to recognise the rights of the "Aboriginal Natives" to live unhindered within the lands of the Province of South Australia. The first migrant ship, the John Pirie, set sail for the colony three days later. An amendment to the 1834 Act (the South Australia Government Act 1838, 1 & 2 Vic, c. 60, passed 31 July 1838) incorporated the changes.[11]

First settlers and Proclamation[edit]

Four ships chartered by the South Australia Company set sail for South Australia in early 1836:[12]

  • On 22 February, just days after the Letters Patent had been adopted, the ship John Pirie set sail with 24 passengers on board;
  • The ship Duke of York set sail with 42 passengers on 24 February.
  • On 30 March the ship Lady Mary Pelham departed London with 29 passengers.
  • The fourth ship was the Emma, which left London with 22 passengers on 21 April.

All four ships of the South Australia Company arrived at Nepean Bay on Kangaroo Island: the Duke of York on 27 July, Lady Mary Pelham on 30 July, John Pirie on 16 August and Emma on 5 October. More ships left in the coming months, making a total of at least nine, which for convenience can be regarded as the First Fleet of South Australia. Apart from the last one, HMS Buffalo, all went to Nepean Bay first.[12]

A settlement was started at Kingscote, at Reeves Point on Kangaroo Island (now a heritage-listed site, as earliest formal European settlement in South Australia),[13] on 27 July 1836, but this was soon abandoned in favour of a settlement on the mainland. Some of the original ships sailed on to Holdfast Bay in November and December, with Gouger, now Colonial Secretary and Chief Magistrate, arriving on the Africaine on 8 November 1836. The settlers set up camp, to be joined by the Buffalo on 28 December.[12][14]

The foundation of South Australia is usually considered to be Governor Hindmarsh's Proclamation of South Australia at Glenelg on 28 December 1836.[15]

Colonel Light was given two months to locate the most advantageous location for the main colony. He was required to find a site with a harbour, arable land, fresh water, ready internal and external communications, building materials and drainage. Light rejected potential locations for the new main settlement, including Kangaroo Island, Port Lincoln and Encounter Bay. Light decided that the Adelaide plains were the best location for settlement.[14]

The River Torrens was discovered to the south and Light and his team set about determining the city's precise location and layout. The survey was completed on 11 March 1837. Light's poorly paid and ill-equipped surveying team were expected to begin another massive task of surveying at least 405 square kilometres (156 sq mi) of rural land. Light, despite slowly succumbing to tuberculosis,[14] managed to survey 605.7 square kilometres (233.9 sq mi) (or 150,000 acres (61,000 ha)) by June 1838.[16]


Settlement growth[edit]

The settlement grew steadily. In 1836 the South Australian Company imported pure merinos from the German region of Saxony, and cows and goats were also shipped over. Sheep and other livestock were brought in from Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales. The wool industry was the basis of South Australia's economy for the first few years, with the first wool auction held in Adelaide in 1840.[17][18]

The settlers were mostly British, but some German settlers, mainly "Old Lutherans", also emigrated in the early years. The first large group of Germans arrived in 1838, with the financial assistance of the Emigration Fund. Most moved out of Adelaide and to the Barossa Valley and settlements in the Adelaide Hills such as Hahndorf, living in socially closed communities, by 1842, and did not participate in government until responsible government was granted 15 years later in 1857.[19]

1840: Adelaide City Council[edit]

Established in 1840, with its first meeting held on 4 November 1840,[20] the City of Adelaide Municipal Corporation was the first municipal authority in Australia. At its time of establishment, Adelaide's (and Australia's) first mayor, James Hurtle Fisher, was elected.[21] However, the new corporation suffered financial woes, after several of its actions were unauthorised or reversed by the British government, leading to considerable debt and, so it wound up as insolvent in 1843.[20]

South Australia Act 1842: Crown colony[edit]

The South Australia Act 1842 (5 & 6 Vict c. 61) is the short title of an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom with the long title "An Act to provide for the better Government of South Australia".

The Act was passed on 30 July 1842. It repealed the South Australia Act 1834 and the amendments made to that Act, and instituted a different form of Government over the colony. The Act was introduced as a result of recommendations by a British Parliamentary Enquiry into the failure of the colonial administration which had brought the province of South Australia near bankruptcy in 1840,[22] and gave the British Government full control of South Australia as a Crown Colony.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Dutton, Geoffrey (1984). Founder of a city: the life of Colonel William Light, first Surveyor-General of the colony of South Australia, founder of Adelaide, 1786-1839 ([New] ed.). Rigby. pp. 146–149. ISBN 978-0-7270-1913-4.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Foundation of the Province". SA Memory. State Library of South Australia. 5 February 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  3. ^ South Australian Land Company (1831). Proposal to His Majesty's Government for Founding a Colony on the Southern Coast of Australia. OL 20440157M.
  4. ^ South Australian Land Company (1831), Plan of a company to be established for the purpose of founding a colony in Southern Australia : purchasing land therein, and preparing the land so purchased for the reception of immigrants, Ridgway and Sons, retrieved 21 December 2016
  5. ^ a b c "Foundation of the Province". SA Memory. State Library of South Australia. 5 February 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  6. ^ a b "South Australian Colonization Commission". Bound for South Australia. Creative Commons 3.0. History Trust of South Australia. Retrieved 5 November 2019.CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ a b "Majority of the Colony of South Australia". South Australian Register. XXII (3509). South Australia. 5 January 1858. p. 3. Retrieved 6 December 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ "History of the South Australian Company". SA Memory. State Library of South Australia. 29 October 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  9. ^ "The South Australian Company". South Australian Gazette And Colonial Register. South Australia. 18 June 1836. p. 6. Retrieved 6 December 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ a b c d Dutton, Geoffrey (1984). Founder of a city: the life of Colonel William Light, first Surveyor-General of the colony of South Australia, founder of Adelaide, 1786-1839 ([New] ed.). Rigby. pp. 149–152. ISBN 978-0-7270-1913-4.
  11. ^ a b Paul, Mandy (9 December 2013). "Letters Patent". Adelaidia. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  12. ^ a b c "The infancy of South Australian settlement". South Australian Register. LI (2, 387). South Australia. 27 July 1886. p. 6. Retrieved 6 December 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ "Reeves Point Settlement Site, Seaview Rd, Kingscote, SA, Australia". Australian Heritage Database. Australian Government. Dept of the Environment and Energy. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  14. ^ a b c Steuart, Archibald Francis (1901). A short sketch of the lives of Francis and William Light: the founders of Penang and Adelaide, with extracts from their journals. Sampson Low, Marston & Co.
  15. ^ "Order-in-Council Establishing Government 23 February 1836 (UK)". Museum of Australian Democracy. Documenting a democracy. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  16. ^ Elder, David F. Light, William (1786–1839). Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 6 December 2019. This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967
  17. ^ "Wool". SA History Hub. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  18. ^ "The Early South Australian Pastoral Industry: An Overview". Flinders Ranges Research. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  19. ^ Harmstorf, Ian (5 June 2015). "Germans". Adelaidia. "First published in The Wakefield companion to South Australian history, edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly and references updated". Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  20. ^ a b Ball, Corinne. "Adelaide City Council". Adelaide. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  21. ^ "History". Adelaide Council. Archived from the original on 28 February 2011.
  22. ^ "South Australia Act 1842 (UK)". Museum of Australian Democracy. Documenting a democracy. Retrieved 19 November 2019.

Further reading[edit]