South Australia 1841-1850

Governor Grey. The colonists of South Australia had, in 1841,

received a sharp but salutary lesson, and we have seen that they

profited by it. They had discovered that the land was their only source

of wealth, and many, who had sufficient means to purchase farms or

stations, went out into the country, determined to endure a year or two

of hardship in hopes of prosperity to come. Nor had they very long to

wait; in 1844
they were able to export corn to the extent of L40,000,

and in that year the colony possessed 355,000 sheep and 22,000 cattle.

The new Governor, Captain George Grey, took every care to assist the

colonists in returning to more prudent courses. Many changes were

needed; for in 1840, while the colony had a revenue of only L30,000, it

had spent at the rate of L171,000 per annum. Such imprudence could lead

to nothing but ruin, and the first task of the Governor was to reduce

all expenses as far as possible. In the first year the expenditure was

cut down to L90,000; in the next, to L68,000; and in 1843, to L34,000.

Instead of employing the poorer labourers on costly and unnecessary

public works, he persuaded them to take employment in the country with

the farmers and squatters, who were rapidly opening up the interior

parts of the colony. He settled many on small farms or stations of their

own, but in this he was greatly impeded by the high price of land; for

Wakefield's friends in England were not yet convinced that their

favourite scheme was defective--they attributed every mishap to the

incompetence of Governors Hindmarsh and Gawler. "To lower the price,"

said they, "will be to ruin the colony;" and lest such a thing should

happen, they raised the price of all lands, whether good or bad, to one

pound per acre. But many of those who had bought land in the first days

of the settlement had been so anxious to part with it during the crisis

that they had sold it for much less than it cost them; and thus a great

number of the poorer people became possessed of land at very moderate

prices. In 1839 there were but 440 acres under cultivation; three years

afterwards there were 23,000 acres bearing wheat, and 5,000 acres of

other crops. So rich and fertile was the soil that, in 1845, the

colonists not only raised enough of corn to supply their own wants,

but were able to export about 200,000 bushels at cheap rates to the

neighbouring colonies, and even then were left with 150,000 bushels,

which they could neither sell nor use. So rapid a development of

resources and so sudden an accession of prosperity have probably never

occurred in the history of any other country.

Mineral Wealth. Such was the success attendant upon careful

industry, exercised with prudence, and under favourable circumstances;

but the colony was to owe yet more to accidental good fortune. During

the year 1841, a carrier, while driving his team of bullocks over the

Mount Lofty Range, had been obliged, by the steepness of the road, to

fasten a log to the back of his waggon in order to steady the load and

prevent its descending too quickly. As the log dragged roughly behind on

the road, it tore great furrows in the soil, and in one of these the

carrier noticed a stone which glanced and glittered like a metal. On

looking more closely, he saw that there were large quantities of the

same substance lying near the surface of the earth in all directions.

Having taken some specimens with him, he made inquiries in Adelaide, and

learned that the substance he had discovered was galena, a mineral in

which sulphur is combined with lead and small quantities of silver. The

land on which this valuable ore had been found was soon purchased, and

mines opened upon it. At first there was a large profit obtained from

the enterprise; and though, in after years, the mines became exhausted,

yet they served to call the attention of the colonists to the

possibility of discovering more permanent and lucrative sources of

mineral wealth.

Copper. At the Kapunda Station, about forty miles north-west of

Adelaide, there lived a squatter named Captain Bagot. One day, during

the year 1842, he sent his overseer--Mr. Dutton--to search for a number

of sheep which had strayed into the bush. After spending some time in

fruitless efforts, Mr. Dutton ascended a small hill in order to have a

more extensive view of the country, but still he saw nothing of the lost

sheep. On turning to descend, his attention was attracted by a bright

green rock jutting from the earth. It seemed to him peculiar, so he

broke a small piece off and carried it down to Captain Bagot's house,

where he and the captain examined the specimen, and came to the

conclusion that it consisted of the mineral malachite, containing copper

in combination with water and carbonic dioxide. They let no one know of

the discovery, but proceeded to apply for the land in the usual manner,

without breathing a word as to their purpose. The section of eighty

acres was advertised for a month, and then put up to auction; but as no

one was anxious for this barren piece of ground, they had no

competitors, and the land fell to them for the price of eighty pounds.

As soon as they became possessed of it, they threw off all appearance of

mystery, and commenced operations. During the first year the mines

yielded L4,000; during the next, L10,000; and for several years they

continued to enrich the two proprietors, until each had realised a

handsome fortune, when the land was bought by an English company.

The Burra Mines. The discovery of copper at Kapunda caused much

excitement in the colony. Every one who possessed land examined it

carefully for the trace of any minerals it might contain; and soon it

was rumoured that, at a place about one hundred miles north of Adelaide,

a shepherd had found exceedingly rich specimens of copper ore. The land

on which these were discovered had not yet been sold by the Government,

and in great haste a company was formed to purchase it. This company

consisted of the merchants, professional men, and officials of Adelaide;

but a rival company was immediately started, consisting of shopkeepers

and tradesmen, together with the farmers of the country districts. The

former always maintained a haughty air, and soon came to be known

throughout the colony as the "nobs"; while they, in their turn, fixed on

their rivals the nickname of the "snobs". For a week or two the

jealousies of the companies ran high, but they were soon forced to make

a temporary union; for, according to the land laws of the colony, if any

one wished to buy a piece of land, he had to apply for it and have it

advertised for a month; it was then put up for auction, and he who

offered the highest price became the purchaser. But a month was a long

time to wait, and it was rumoured that a number of speculators were on

their way from Sydney to offer a large sum for the land, as soon as it

should be put up to auction. It was, therefore, necessary to take

immediate action. There was another regulation in the land laws,

according to which, if a person applied for 20,000 acres, and paid down

L20,000 in cash, he became at once the proprietor of the land. The

"nobs" determined to avail themselves of this arrangement; but when they

put their money together, they found they had not enough to pay so large

a sum. They therefore asked the "snobs" to join them, on the

understanding that, after the land had been purchased, the two companies

would make a fair division. By uniting their funds they raised the

required amount, and proceeded with great exultation to lodge the money.

But part of it was in the form of bills on the Adelaide banks; and as

the Governor refused to accept anything but cash, the companies were

almost in despair, until a few active members hunted up their friends in

Adelaide, and succeeded in borrowing the number of sovereigns required

to make up the deficiency. The money was paid into the Treasury, the two

companies were the possessors of the land, and the Sydney speculators

arrived a few days too late.

Now came the division of the 20,000 acres. A line was drawn across the

middle; a coin was tossed up to decide which of the two should have the

first choice, and fortune favoured the "snobs," who selected the

northern half, called by the natives Burra Burra. To the southern part

the "nobs" gave the name of "Princess Royal". The companies soon began

operations; but though the two districts appeared on the surface to be

of almost equal promise, yet, on being laid open, the Princess Royal was

soon found to be in reality poor, while the Burra Burra mines provided

fortunes for each of the fortunate "snobs". During the three years after

their discovery they yielded copper to the value of L700,000. Miners

were brought from England, and a town of about 5,000 inhabitants

rapidly sprang into existence. The houses of the Cornish miners were of

a peculiar kind. A creek runs through the district, with high

precipitous banks of solid rock; into the face of these cliffs the

miners cut large chambers to serve for dwellings; holes bored through

the rock, and emerging upon the surface of the ground above, formed the

chimneys, which were capped by small beer barrels instead of

chimney-pots. The fronts of the houses were of weatherboard, in which

doors were left; and for two miles along each side of the stream these

primitive dwellings looked out upon the almost dry bed of the creek,

which formed the main street of the village. Here the miners dwelt for

years, until the waters rose one night into a foaming flood, which

destroyed the houses and swept away several of their inhabitants.

In 1845 Burra Burra was a lonely moor; in 1850 it was bustling with men,

and noisy with the sounds of engines, pumps and forges. Acres of land

were covered with the company's warehouses and offices, and the handsome

residences of its officers; behind these there rose great mounds of

blue, green, and dark-red ores of copper, worth enormous sums of money.

Along the roads eight hundred teams, each consisting of eight bullocks,

passed constantly to and fro, whilst scores of ships were employed in

conveying the ore to England. From this great activity the whole

community could not but derive the utmost benefit, and for a time South

Australia had every prospect of taking the foremost place among the


Governor Robe. In 1841 Governor Grey had been of the greatest

service to the colony in changing the state of its prospects, but he was

not permitted to see more than the commencement of its great prosperity;

for, in 1845, he was sent to govern New Zealand, where troubles had

arisen similar to those which he had helped to cure in South Australia.

His place was filled by Colonel Robe, a military gentleman, of what is

called the old school, honourable and upright, but inclined to think

that everything ought always to be as it has been. He disliked all

innovation, and did what he could to prevent it, much to the discontent

of the young and thriving colony, which was of necessity the scene of

constant and rapid changes. He passed a very troublous time for three

years, and in 1848 was heartily glad to be recalled.

Governor Young. The colony was then placed under the care of Sir

Henry Young, whose policy was completely the reverse. He sought by every

means in his power to encourage the ceaseless activity of the people.

His failing was, perhaps, an injudicious zeal for progress. For

instance, in his desire to open up the river Murray to navigation, he

wasted large sums of money in schemes that proved altogether useless. He

made an effort to remove the bar at the mouth of the river, but fresh

deposits of sand were constantly being brought down by the current, and

lashed up into a new bar by the waves that rolled ceaselessly in from

the Southern Ocean. He spent about L20,000 in trying to construct a

harbour called Port Elliot, near the entrance to the Murray; but there

are now only a few surf-beaten stones to indicate the scene of his

fruitless attempt. He offered a bonus of L4,000 to the first person who

should ascend the Murray in an iron steamer as far as the river Darling.

A gentleman called Cadell made the effort, and succeeded; he obtained

the reward, but it was not enough to pay his heavy expenses, and when he

endeavoured afterwards to carry on a trade, by transporting wool to the

sea in flat-bottomed steamers, he found that the traffic on the river

was not sufficiently great to repay his heavy outlay, and in a short

time he was almost ruined. The attempt was premature; and though, in our

time, the navigation of the Murray is successfully carried on, and is,

undoubtedly, of immense advantage not only to South Australia, but also

to New South Wales and Victoria, yet, at the time when the first efforts

were made, it led to nothing but loss, if not ruin to the pioneers.