South Australia 1836-1841

Edward Gibbon Wakefield. In 1829 a small book was published in

London which attracted a great deal of attention, not only by reason of

its charming style and the liveliness of its manner, but also on account

of the complete originality of the ideas it contained. It purported to

be a letter written from Sydney, and described the annoyances to be

endured by a man of taste and fortune if he emigrated to Australia. He

d have no intellectual society; he could not enjoy the pleasures of

his library or of his picture gallery; he could hope for none of the

delights of easy retirement, seeing that he had to go forth on his land,

and with his own hands labour for his daily food. For, said Mr.

Wakefield, the author of this little book, you cannot long have free

servants in this country; if a free man arrives in the colony, though he

may for a short time work for you as a servant, yet he is sure to save a

little money, and as land is here so excessively cheap, he soon becomes

a landed proprietor. He settles down on his farm, and, though he may

have a year or two of heavy toil, yet he is almost certain to become

both happy and prosperous. Thus, the colony is an excellent place for a

poor man, but it is a wretched abode for a man of means and of culture.

Wakefield therefore proposed to found in Australia another colony, which

should be better adapted to those who had fortunes sufficient to

maintain them and yet desired to emigrate to a new country. His scheme

for effecting this purpose was to charge a high price for the land, and

so to prevent the poorer people from purchasing it; the money received

from the sale of land he proposed to employ in bringing out young men

and women, as servants and farm labourers, for the service of the

wealthier colonists. Now, said Wakefield, on account of the immense

natural resources of these colonies, their splendid soil, their

magnificent pasture lands, their vast wealth in minerals, and their

widespread forests of valuable timber, which stand ready for the axe, a

gentleman possessed of only L20,000 will obtain as large an income from

it as could be procured from L100,000 in England; yet he will be able to

enjoy his learned and cultured leisure, just as he does at home, because

all the work will be done for him by the servants he employs. For three

or four years this agreeable fallacy made quite a stir in England:

famous authors, distinguished soldiers, learned bishops were deceived by

it; noblemen, members of Parliament, bankers and merchants, all combined

to applaud this novel and excellent idea of Mr. Wakefield.

South Australian Association. in 1831 the first effort was made to

give a practical turn to these theories, and the southern shores of

Australia were selected as a suitable locality for the proposed colony.

A company was formed; but when it applied to the British Government for

a charter, which would have conceded the complete sovereignty of the

whole southern region of Australia, Lord Goderich, the Secretary of

State, replied that it was asking a great deal too much, and abruptly

closed the negotiation. Two years later the South Australian Association

was formed, and as this company asked for nothing beyond the power to

sell waste lands and apply the proceeds to assist immigration, the

British Government gave its consent, and an Act was passed by the

Imperial Parliament to give the association full power to found a

colony. This Act directed that commissioners should be appointed to

frame laws for the colony, to establish courts, and to nominate its

officers; land was to be thrown open for sale at not less than twelve

shillings an acre, and even this comparatively high price was to be

raised, after a short time, to L1 per acre, in order to keep the land in

the hands of the wealthy. It was expressly stated that no convict would

be allowed to land in the new settlement, which, it was hoped, would

become in every respect a model community. The British Government

declined to incur any expense in establishing or in maintaining the

colony, which was to be purely self-supporting. Eleven commissioners

were appointed, of whom Colonel Torrens was chairman in England, and Mr.

Fisher the representative in Australia, where he was to take charge of

the sale of lands and supervise the affairs of the colony. At the same

time, Captain Hindmarsh was appointed Governor, and Colonel Light was

sent out to survey the waste lands preparatory to their being offered

for sale.

In May, 1835, during the very month in which Batman was wandering for

the first time on the banks of the Yarra, these appointments for the

foundation of a fourth Australian colony were being published in the

English Government Gazette. Thus Victoria and South Australia took

their widely different origins at almost the same time; but while the

first actual settlers landed at Port Phillip towards the end of 1835,

the pioneers of South Australia did not reach that colony until the

middle of 1836.

Adelaide. The first emigrants to South Australia landed on Kangaroo

Island, of which Flinders had given a most attractive account; but

though the place was beautifully wooded, and of the most picturesque

aspect, it was found to be in many respects unsuitable for the

foundation of a city; and when Colonel Light shortly afterwards arrived

with his staff of surveyors, he at once decided to remove the settlement

to St. Vincent's Gulf. Here, about six miles from the shores of the

gulf, he selected a broad plain between the sea and the pleasant hills

of the Mount Lofty Range; and on the bank of a small stream, which he

called the Torrens, he marked out the lines of the infant city. Queen

Adelaide was the wife of the reigning King of England, and, as she was

exceedingly popular, the colonists, with enthusiasm, adopted her name

for their capital. A harbour was found seven miles distant from the

city, and on it a town was established, to which the name Port Adelaide

was given.

Governor Hindmarsh. In December, 1836, Governor Hindmarsh landed,

and beneath a spreading gum tree near the beach he read his commission

to a small audience of emigrants and officials; but when he proceeded to

examine what had been done, he was filled with disgust and indignation.

The only landing-place for vessels was in the midst of a mangrove swamp

at the mouth of a muddy little creek; and all goods would have to be

carried six or seven miles inland to the city. To a sailor's eye, it

seemed the most reckless folly to make so unusual a choice, and he at

once determined to remove the settlement to Encounter Bay; but neither

Colonel Light nor Mr. Fisher would permit any change to be made, and a

violent quarrel took place. As resident commissioner, Mr. Fisher had

powers equal to those of the Governor, and was thus enabled to prolong

the contest. Of the settlers, some sided with the Governor; others gave

their support to the commissioner, and the colony was quickly divided

into two noisy factions. After fourteen months of constant wrangling,

the English Government interfered. Mr. Fisher was dismissed and Governor

Hindmarsh recalled, while the offices of both were conferred on Colonel

Gawler, who arrived in the colony during the year 1838.

Early Failures. The Wakefield system could not possibly realise the

hopeful anticipations which had been formed of it; for the foundation of

a new colony and the reclaiming of the lonely forest wilds are not to be

accomplished by merely looking on at the exertions of hired servants.

Ladies and gentlemen who had, in England, paid for land they had never

seen, were, on their arrival, greatly disgusted at the sight of the

toils before them. They had to pull their luggage through the dismal

swamp, for there were neither porters nor cabs in waiting; they had to

settle down in canvas tents, on a grassy plain, which was called a city,

but where a few painted boards here and there, fastened to the trunks of

gum trees, were the only indications of streets. Then, when they went

out to see their estates, and beheld great stretches of rude and

unpromising wilderness--when they considered how many years must pass

away before there could possibly arise the terraces and gardens, the

orchards and grassy lawns, which make an English country-house

delightful--their courage failed them, and, instead of going forth upon

the land, they clustered together in Adelaide. Every one wished to

settle down in the city, and as it was expected that, with the growth of

population, the value of town allotments would rapidly increase, the

idea became prevalent that to buy land in the city and keep it for sale

in future years would be a profitable investment. But there were so many

who entertained the same astute design that, when they all came to put

it in practice, there was little gain to any one; and the only result

was that Adelaide was turned into a scene of reckless speculation and

gambling in land.

Governor Gawler. Meantime poorer emigrants were arriving in

expectation of obtaining employment from their wealthier predecessors,

who had been able to pay the high price demanded for land. They found

that those whom they expected to be their employers had abandoned the

idea of going out into the country to cultivate the soil. There was,

therefore, nothing for them to do; they had no money with which to

speculate in town allotments, they had no land on which to commence

farming for themselves, and they were in a wretched plight. Provisions

had rapidly increased in price, so that flour rose from L20 to L80 per

ton; no food was being produced from the land, and nothing whatever was

being done to develop the resources of the colony, whilst the money

which the settlers had brought with them was rapidly being spent in

importing shiploads of provisions from other countries.

In order to give employment to those of the settlers who were really

destitute, Governor Gawler commenced a series of Government works. He

constructed a good road between Adelaide and its port. He formed

wharves, and reclaimed the unwholesome swamp; he built a Custom House,

with warehouses and many other costly buildings, the Government House

alone costing L20,000. Now, these were all in themselves very desirable

things; but it was difficult to see how they were to be paid for.

Colonel Gawler spent nearly the whole of his own private fortune in

paying the wages of the unfortunate persons he employed, but that could

not long support so great a concourse of people. He persuaded merchants

in England to send out provisions and clothing for the famished people;

but the only means he had of paying for these goods was by drafts on the

British Treasury, which were accepted at first as equivalent to money,

for it was believed that, whenever they were presented in London,

payment would immediately be made by the British Government. But this

was a serious mistake: though the first series of drafts were paid

readily enough, yet when the authorities in England found that others,

for larger and larger amounts, continued to pour in, they refused to

pay, and reminded the colony that, by the terms of its charter, it was

to be entirely self-supporting. A series of drafts, to the amount of

L69,000, were therefore dishonoured; and the merchants, finding the

drafts to be worth no more than so much paper, demanded their money from

the Governor; but he had nothing with which to pay, and the colony had

to be declared insolvent, having debts to the amount of about L400,000

which it could not meet.

The Collapse. Matters were now in a very gloomy condition. Most of

the colonists became anxious to return to England, and therefore sought

to sell their land. But when nearly all wished to sell, and scarcely any

wished to buy, the price went down to a trifle, and men who had invested

fortunes in town allotments, realised no more than enough to pay their

passage home. In the meantime the English merchants declined to send

out any further supplies, and those who had not the means of leaving

Adelaide seemed in great danger of starving. But as land could now be

bought very cheaply, many industrious people of the poorer class settled

down to clear the country for farming. This was what should have been

done at the very beginning; for no colony can be prosperous, or look for

anything but bankruptcy, until it commences to produce grain, or wool,

or minerals, or some other commodity with which it can purchase from

other lands the goods which they produce. The lands of South Australia

are admirably adapted for the growth of wheat; and, after a time,

success attended the efforts of the farmers, who thus laid the

foundations of future prosperity.

Another industry was also added about this time. The young squatters of

New South Wales, attracted by the high prices given for sheep in the

early days of Adelaide, had been daring enough, in spite of the blacks

and of the toilsome journey, to drive their flocks overland; and the

new-comers soon gave quite a wool-growing tone to the community. These

"overlanders," as they were called, affected a bandit style of dress; in

their scarlet shirts and broad-brimmed hats, their belts filled with

pistols, and their horses gaily caparisoned, they caused a sensation in

the streets in Adelaide, which rang all evening with their merriment

and dissipation. But as they brought about fifty thousand sheep into the

colony during the course of only a year or so, they were of essential

benefit to it. Many of them settled down and taught the new arrivals how

to manage flocks and prepare the wool, and thus they assisted in raising

Adelaide from the state of despondency and distress into which it had


Recall of Governor Gawler. The British Government eventually decided

to lend the colony a sufficient sum of money to pay its debts; but it

was resolved to make certain changes. The eleven commissioners were

abolished, Captain George Grey, a young officer, was appointed Governor;

and one day in May, 1841, he walked into the Government House at

Adelaide, presented his commission to Governor Gawler, and at once took

the control of affairs into his own hands. This summary mode of

dismissing Governor Gawler must now be regarded as somewhat harsh; for

he had laboured hard and spent his money freely in trying to benefit the

colony, and the mistakes which were made during his administration were

not so much due to his incapacity as to the impracticable nature of the

theory on which the colony had been founded. In 1841 he sailed for

England, deeply regretted by many who had experienced his kindness and

generosity in their time of trouble.