State Library of South Australia logoThe Foundation of South Australia 1852 - 1883
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future

Introduction to responsible government

According to a newspaper report in The Adelaide Observer, Saturday 25 April 1857, it was a very confident and hopeful time for South Australia, which had the viability of its future fortified by a marked political and legal move towards the acceptance of a Bill. The Bill for a revised constitution for the State had been drafted in the 1850s and was approved by the British government in 1856. It signified the opening of Parliament in South Australia, and meant 'The community entered publicly and formally into the position of a free self governed, constitutional State';

"We enter upon a new political career - with a financial position sound and elastic - with a rapidly augmenting population - with commerce in a safe and improving condition - with agricultural, pastoral and mining enterprise extending operations in each of these departments of industry steadily and vigorously..... The disturbances and the distress which from various causes marked the history of our past half-dozen years are now removed..." The Adelaide Observer, Saturday 25 April 1857.

According to the South Australian Parliamentary website, 'To allow for self-government, the Legislative Council passed a Bill to revise the Constitution of South Australia, in the session of 1855-56. The new Constitution Bill was laid upon the table of both Houses of the Imperial Parliament in England on 19 May 1856. It was assented to by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on 24 June 1856. On 24 October 1856 the Bill was proclaimed in South Australia by the Governor, Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell' (Parliament of South Australia, 1857 Inauguration of Responsible Government).

According to the South Australian Parliamentary website, 'Under the new Constitution, the personnel of the first Government was announced by the Governor on the same day. Led by the Hon. B. T. Finniss, the first bicameral Parliament of South Australia met on Wednesday, 22 April 1857. South Australia was now governed by a bicameral Parliament consisting of a Legislative Council of eighteen Members, elected by the entire colony voting as one district; and a House of Assembly of thirty-six Members, composed of seventeen districts, varying in representation from one to six Members' (Parliament of South Australia, 1857 Inauguration of Responsible Government).

According to the South Australian Parliamentary website,

"Voting at Parliamentary elections was by secret ballot. All adult males were entitled to vote at House of Assembly elections, but the franchise of the Legislative Council was based on a property qualification. A man who possessed: freehold of the value of fifty pounds; leasehold of the annual value of twenty pounds having three years to run or a right of pre-emption; or occupation of a house of the annual value of twenty-five pounds, was eligible to vote for the Legislative Council" (Parliament of South Australia, 1857 Inauguration of Responsible Government).

Further information: 

On 4 July 1894 Chief Secretary John Hannah Gordon MLC introduced the Adult Suffrage Bill to the Legislative Council, in the process describing the history of previous attempts. In 1886 Dr. Stirling MHA had 'introduced a Bill in the House of Assembly giving the suffrage to unmarried women with property, which was lost owing to its not receiving the votes of an absolute majority. In 1885 Mr Caldwell MHA introduced a Bill allowing women of 25 years of age to vote, which again failed to secure the necessary statutory majority for an alteration to the Constitution. In 1890 Mr Caldwell MHA brought in another Bill, this one providing for women of property to vote for the Legislative Council. That Bill reached the Council in charge of Mr Warren MLC, and like its predecessor in another place failed to find the necessary statutory support'. [John Gordon, MLC, 10 July 1894, Hansard pp.435-436 ] (SA Memory: Radical dream, Women's movement.)

Aboriginal Australians were not given the right to vote until 1962 (SA Memory: Radical dream, Aboriginal rights).


See South Australiana: Sources a comprehensive list of websites, published and non-published sources for South Australiana materials, see especially Kwan, K. Living in South Australia: A social history [2 vol], 1987, Vol. 1, pp. 76-77. See also SA Memory: Radical Dream, Union movement, SA Memory: Radical dream, Aboriginal rights, SA Memory: Radical dream, Women's movement.



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