South Australia 1850-1890

Temporary Decline. In 1851 the prosperity of South Australia was

somewhat dimmed by the discovery of gold in Victoria; for, before the

middle of the following year, the colony was deserted by a very large

proportion of its male inhabitants. The copper mines were with

difficulty worked, for want of men; the fields were uncultivated, the

sheep untended, and the colony experienced a short period of rapid

decline. However
the results obtained on the goldfields by most of

these fortune-seekers were hardly to be compared with the steady yield

of the fertile cornfields and rich copper mines of South Australia; and

the majority of those who had thus abandoned the colony returned in a

short time to their families and their former employments.

Governor Young adroitly turned the discovery of gold to the advantage of

his own colony by establishing an escort between Bendigo and Adelaide;

and, as this was remarkably well equipped, many of the diggers sent

their gold by this route rather than to Melbourne, thus giving to South

Australia some of the advantages of a gold-producing country. The crowds

of people rushing to the goldfields had carried with them nearly all the

coins of the colony; and the banks, although they had plenty of rough

gold, were yet unable, from scarcity of coined money, to meet the

demands upon them. In this emergency, Sir Henry Young took the extreme

and somewhat illegal step of instituting a new currency, consisting of

gold cast into small bars or ingots; and, although afterwards mildly

censured by the Home Government for exceeding his powers, yet he could

justly assert that this measure had saved the colony from serious

commercial disaster.

But South Australia was still more benefited by the great market opened

for its flour and wheat among the vast crowds on the goldfields; and,

when the first period of excitement was over, it was found that the

colony was, at any rate, not a loser by the success of its neighbours.

The Real Property Act. In 1858 South Australia took the lead in a

reform which is now being adopted by nearly all the civilised nations of

the world. According to English law, each time an estate was transferred

from one person to another, a deed had to be made out for the purpose;

and if changes in its ownership had been frequent, it would be held by

the last purchaser in virtue of a long series of documents. Now, if any

one wished to buy a piece of land, he was obliged for safety to examine

all the preceding deeds in order to be quite certain that they were

valid; even then, if he bought the land, and another person, for any

reason whatever, laid claim to it, the owner had to prove the validity

of each of a long series of documents, going back, perhaps, for

centuries. A flaw in any one of these would give rise to a contest which

could be settled only after a very tedious investigation; and thus arose

the long and ruinous Chancery suits which were the disgrace of English

law. When a man's title to his estate was disputed, it often happened

that he had to spend a fortune and waste half a lifetime in protracted

litigation before all the antecedent deeds could be proved correct.

Mr. R. Torrens had his attention drawn to this very unsatisfactory state

of things by the ruin of one of his relatives in a Chancery suit. He

thought long and carefully over a scheme to prevent the occurrence of

such injustice, and drafted a bill for a new method of transferring

property. He proposed to lay this before the South Australian

Parliament, but his friends discouraged him by declaring it was

impossible to make so sweeping a change; and the lawyers actively

opposed any innovation. But Torrens brought forward the bill; its

simplicity and justice commended themselves to the people and to the

House of Assembly, and it was carried by a large majority. According to

the new scheme, all transferences of land were to be registered in a

public office called the Lands Titles Office, the purchaser's name was

to be recorded, and a certificate of title given to him; after this

his right to the property was indisputable. If his possession was

challenged, he had simply to go to the Lands Titles Office and produce

his certificate to the officer in charge, who could turn to the register

and at once decide the question of ownership. After this, no dispute was

possible. If he sold his land, his name was cancelled in the public

register, and the buyer's name was inserted instead, when he became

the undisputed owner. Mr. Torrens was appointed to be registrar of the

office, and soon made the new system a great success; it was adopted

one after another in all the colonies of Australia, and must become

eventually the law of all progressive nations.

The Northern Territory. In 1864 the Northern Territory was added

to the dominion of South Australia, and from Adelaide an expedition was

despatched by sea to the shores of Van Diemen's Gulf, in order to form a

new settlement. After many difficulties, caused chiefly by the disputes

between the first Government Resident, or Superintendent, and the

officers under him, a branch colony was successfully founded at Port

Darwin, opposite to Melville Island. This settlement has become a

prosperous one: all the fruits and grains of tropical countries flourish

and thrive to perfection; gold has been discovered; and it is asserted

that there exist in the neighbourhood rich mines of other metals, which

will, in the future, yield great wealth, while the stations that are now

being formed are peculiarly favourable to the rearing of cattle and of

horses. Yet the number of people who settle there continues small on

account of the very hot climate; Palmerston, the capital, is as yet a

town of only a few hundred inhabitants, and all the really hard work of

the district is done by Chinese.

Overland Telegraph. In a previous chapter it has been described how

M'Douall Stuart, after two unsuccessful efforts, managed to cross the

continent from Adelaide to Van Diemen's Gulf. Along the route which he

then took, the people of South Australia resolved to construct a

telegraph line. A gentleman named Charles Todd had frequently urged the

desirability of such a line, and in 1869 his representations led to the

formation of the British Australian Telegraph Company, which engaged to

lay a submarine cable from Singapore to Van Diemen's Gulf, whilst the

South Australian Government pledged itself to connect Port Darwin with

Adelaide by an overland line, and undertook to have the work finished by

the 1st of January, 1872. Mr. Todd was appointed superintendent, and

divided the whole length into three sections, reserving the central

portion for his own immediate direction, and entrusting the sections at

the two ends to contractors. It was a daring undertaking for so young a

colony. For thirteen hundred miles the line would have to be carried

through country which never before had been traversed by any white men

but Stuart's party. Great tracts of this land were utterly destitute of

trees, and all the posts required for the line had to be carted through

rocky deserts and over treacherous sand-hills. Todd had, with wonderful

skill and energy, completed his difficult portion of the task, and the

part nearest to Adelaide had also been finished before the time agreed

upon; but it fared differently with those who had undertaken to

construct the northern section. Their horses died, their provisions

failed, and the whole attempt proved a miserable collapse. The

Government sent a party to the north, in order to make a fresh effort.

Wells were dug, at intervals, along the route, and great teams of

bullocks were employed to carry the necessary provisions and materials

to the stations; and yet, in spite of every precaution, the result was a

failure. Meanwhile the cable had been laid, and the first message sent

from Port Darwin to England announced that the overland telegraph was

not nearly finished. The 1st of January, 1872, being now close at hand,

Mr. Todd was hastily sent to complete the work. But the time agreed upon

had expired before he had even made a commencement, and the company

threatened to sue the South Australian Government for damages, on

account of the losses sustained by its failure to perform its share of

the contract. For the next eight months the work was energetically

carried forward; Mr. Todd rode all along the line to see that its

construction was satisfactory throughout. He was at Central Mount Stuart

in the month of August, when the two ends of the wire were joined, and

the first telegraphic message flashed across the Australian Continent.

But, meantime, a flaw had occurred in the submarine cable, and it was

not until October that communication was established with England. On

the second day of that month, the Lord Mayor of London, standing at one

end of the line, sent his hearty congratulations through twelve thousand

five hundred miles of wire to the Mayor of Adelaide, who conversed

with him at the other extremity. The whole work was undertaken and

accomplished within two years; and already not only South Australia,

but all the colonies, are reaping the greatest benefits from this

enterprising effort. Another undertaking of a similar character has been

completed by the efforts of both South and West Australia; along the

barren coast on which Eyre so nearly perished there stretches a long

line of posts, which carries a telegraph wire from Perth to Adelaide.

A period of depression began in South Australia after 1882. For a time

everything was against the colony. Long droughts killed its sheep and

ruined its crops; while the copper mines were found to be worked out.

But fortune began to smile again after a few years of dull times, and

when in 1887 an exhibition was held in Adelaide to commemorate the

jubilee of the colony, it was also the commemoration of the return of

brighter prospects. In the growth of wheat and fruits as well as in the

making of wine South Australia has great openings for future prosperity.