History of British colonization of South Australia

The Proclamation of South Australia 1836, Charles Hill.

British colonization of South Australia represents the establishment and planning of the colony of South Australia by the British administration, including the period from 1829, when the plan was raised by the then detained Edward Gibbon Wakefield, to 1842, when the South Australia Act 1842 developed the form of government to a Crown colony.

Ideas adopted and published by Wakefield since 1829 led to the development of the South Australian Land Company in 1831 CE. Still, this initial attempt failed to accomplish its goals, and the firm folded.

The South Australian Association was established in 1833 by Wakefield, Robert Gouger, and other sponsors, which put forward a plan less drastic than previous ones, which was finally approved and a Bill proposed in Parliament.

South Australia’s British Province was established by the South Australia Act 1834 in August 1834. The South Australian Company was formed on 9 October 1835 to fulfill the Act’s goals by creating a new colony funded by land sales. The first settlers landed on Kangaroo Island in July 1836, with all of the boats later sailing north soon afterward to anchor in Holdfast Bay on the recommendation of Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light. The establishment of South Australia is usually considered the new Province’s Proclamation by Governor Hindmarsh at Glenelg on 28 December in 1836.

However, after the administration under the Colonisation Commission set up by the 1834 Act failed to accomplish financial self-sufficiency, the South Australia Act 1842 was established in July 1842, abolishing the earlier Act, making South Australia a Crown colony, contributing to the development of an appointed Legislative Assembly and passing more extraordinary powers to the Governor of South Australia.

There were moves towards elected self-government in the nineteenth century, and South Australia finally became a self-governing colony in the October of 1856.


The British Matthew Flinders and The French Nicolas Baudin had both made exploratory tours around the central southern coastline, a range earlier ignored by Captain Cook and others. The two travelers met at what is now Encounter Bay in South Australia on 8 April 1802, and each gave names to different places around Kangaroo Island and the two gulfs (Spencer’s Gulf and Gulf of St Vincent). The British government, not desiring to be pre-empted by the French, sent out new voyages to northern Tasmania and Port Phillip and set up the first free settlement, the Swan River Colony, in 1829.


Inspired by prison reformer Elizabeth Fry while himself laboring a term in prison for kidnapping, Wakefield changed his mind to social problems created by over-population. In 1829, he wrote a bunch of anonymous “Letters from Sydney” to a London newspaper, The Morning Chronicle, in which he indicated to write about his own struggles as a gentleman settler in New South Wales (entirely fictitious), describing his various ideas as a new theory of colonization.

He suggested an “Emigration Fund” payable by and landlords and sales’ taxes, which would support the colonies’ labor. Gouger, an avid supporter, wrote the letters as a book, edited by himself, and distributed Wakefield’s document.

Wakefield saw the colonists as “extensions of an old society”; all states would be served among the settlers. Also, the colonies would be more or less completely self-governing. His thoughts were not original, but Wakefield was the one who synthesized several theories into one plan of systematic colonization, and who spread the arguments among the British public and prompted the Colonial Office to move forward with such a project. After his release from jail in 1830, he financed the National Colonization Society, with Gouger as secretary and many interested members. Wakefield’s ideas generated much discussion in Parliament.

After Charles Sturt “found” the River Murray in 1830, more attention to Wakefield’s scheme followed. One key element of the Wakefield Scheme was that the land price should be set expensive enough to prevent land grabbing.

In 1831 CE a “Proposal to His Majesty’s Government for establishing a colony on the Southern Coast of Australia” was developed under the auspices of Jeremy Bentham, Anthony Bacon, Gouger, and Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, but its reports and ideas were deemed too radical, and it was unable to attract the needed investment.

South Australian Association (1833)

In 1833 the South Australian Association was founded and began to lobby the government to establish a new colony in South Australia, with Crown-appointed governance.

Robert Gouger started fixing up the South Australian Association in November 1933. Between that period and August 1834, he communicated with Sir Edward Smith-Stanley, George Grote, Earl of Derby, William Wolryche-Whitmore, Liberal MP Sir William Clay, Joseph Hume, and Charles Shaw-Lefevre.

The association aimed to bring to success the idea of “systematic colonization”, as proposed by Edward Gibbon Wakefield, to create a new colony in South Australia by the British administration. The proposal was for a territory that belonged to the Crown but with its government run by trustees.

South Australian Colonization Commission

The South Australia Act 1834 brought out the new colony’s governance by a new body known as the South Australian Colonization Commission, also recognized as the Colonization Commissioners for South Australia, which would be based in Britain’s London. However, the Act gave complete control of the new colony to the Colonial Office as well as the local commissioners, which led to tension between the two and caused issues later.

The Act provided that three or more people could be designated as Commissioners to be known as Colonization Commissioners for South Australia, to carry out some parts of the Act. The Commissioners formed a Board, which had obligations for:

  • an Emigration Fund for transfering poor emigrants from Great Britain and Ireland to South Australia;
  • the disposal of land; and
  • appointing assistant surveyors, a treasurer, and other officers necessary to bring the Act into execution.

First settlers and Proclamation

Under the relocation scheme, “worthy” laborers and their children received free passage. They had to be within 15 and 30 years of age, married and needed two references. Steerage passengers paid £15-20, cabin class £70, and middle berth £35-40. Kids under 14 years were charged £3 while those under one year were free.

Lt-Col Palmer and Montefiore helped Colonel Light to prepare two of the ships, Cygnet and Rapid. They introduced a new code for refugee ships carrying more than 100 passengers, which meant having a minimum deck height and incorporating a medical practitioner on board. These reforms reduced deaths and were later adopted by all British ships.

Four ships approved by the South Australia Company set sail for South Australia in early 1836:

  1. On 22 February in 1836, just days after the Letters Patent had been adopted, the ship John Pirie set sail with two dozen passengers on board;
  2. The ship Duke of York set sail with just over 40 passengers on 24 February.
  3. On 30 March, the boat Lady Mary Pelham left London with 29 passengers.
  4. The fourth ship was the Emma, which departed from London with 22 passengers on 21 April.

All four South Australia Company ships appeared 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 vessels left in the coming months, making at least nine, which for convenience can be considered the First Fleet of South Australia. Apart from the last one, HMS Buffalo, all went to Nepean Bay first.

At Kingscote, a town was commenced at Reeves Point on Kangaroo Island, on 27 July 1836, but this was soon discarded in favor of a settlement on the mainland. Some of the first ships sailed on to Holdfast Bay in November and December, with Gouger, now Colonial Secretary and Chief Magistrate, appearing on the Africaine on 8 November 1836. The settlers set up camp, to be followed by the Buffalo on 28 December.

South Australia’s foundation is usually considered to be Governor Hindmarsh’s Proclamation of South Australia at Glenelg on 28 December 1836.

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