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Foundation of the Province

1836proclamationSouth Australia was born out of the ideas of a prisoner, Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862), serving three years in Newgate Gaol. He was convicted on a charge relating to the abduction and unlawful marriage at Gretna Green in 1826 of 15 year old heiress Ellen Turner.

As the son of Quakers, Wakefield was part of a long history of working for prison reform. His family was related to Elizabeth Fry, the famous prison reformer, who visited him in Newgate. Wakefield's experience of the English penal system caused him to consider the social problems of over population and the remedy of emigration to the colonies. In 1829, while in Newgate Wakefield wrote A letter from Sydney in which he outlined his 'System of Colonization'. Wakefield addressed the problem of balancing the supply of land with the demand for labour in new colonies. He proposed an 'Emigration Fund' raised through a rent tax payable by the landlord that would see labourers conveyed to the new colony free of cost. "The supply of Labourers be as nearly as possible proportioned to the demand for Labour at each settlement; so that Capitalists shall never suffer from an urgent want of Labourers, and that Labourers shall never want well-paid employment." [Wakefield, Edward Gibbon, Outline of a system of colonization, in Letter from Sydney, Appendix, London 1829, pp. viii - ix.]

Robert Gouger (1802-1846), was an early supporter of Wakefield and later became South Australia's first Colonial Secretary. He arranged for the distribution and publication of A letter from Sydney, naming himself as editor.

Much debate regarding Wakefield's theory occurred within the English Parliament, the press and among his own associates over the years that followed. The concept of 'concentration', whereby land and labour would be balanced by concentrating the supply of labour, by limiting the availability of land, was seen by Wakefield as central to his plan. Others however, such as Robert Torrens, considered this inflexible, resigning from the National Colonisation Society in protest, only to return in 1831.

The discovery by the explorer Charles Sturt of the River Murray in 1830, and the subsequent publication in 1833 of Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia, gave new impetus to Wakefield's plans for a "Colony on the Southern Coast of Australia".

In 1831 a  Proposal to His Majesty's Government for founding a colony on the Southern Coast of Australia was prepared under the guidance of political radicals and reformers, Robert Gouger, Anthony Bacon, Jeremy Bentham and Charles Grey. The document allowed for a private company that would be able to remove the governor, despite the appointment being made by the king. It also proposed free trade, a Legislative Assembly - once the adult male population reached 10,000 - and a circulating library of such works of moral, political and general knowledge as would fit the colonists for self-government.

The proposal failed when it was unable to attract the investment required by the Colonial Office before it would grant approval and Anthony Bacon attempted to force the government's hand by misleading potential investors.

The failure of the proposal led to the formation of the South Australian Land Company and the publication of Plan of a company to be established for the purpose of founding a colony in Southern Australia, purchasing land therein and preparing the land so purchased for the Reception of Immigrants, by Edward Gibbon Wakefield. This document varied little from its predecessor, and the Colonial Office was no more enthralled by it. Proposals of free trade, self-government and the power to select the governor were all seen as radical and republican. Once again the grand plans fell through.

In 1833 changes in the Colonial Office prompted Gouger and the South Australian Land Company to submit another proposal, greatly reduced in its expectations, placing power in the hands of a governor and officers appointed by the king. The Colonial Office raised objections about the failure to make provision for the support of religion. With Wakefield's Quaker and Gouger's Huguenot heritage religious freedom and the separation of church and state had been an important concern for them. Gouger objected to the Colonial Office concerns, stating, "if one particular form of worship is to be established, the unfairness to all those who do not agree with that particular creed or form of church discipline is apparent." [Pike, Douglas, Paradise of dissent, Halstead Press, 1967, pg. 64]

For a third time the plans came to nothing, and the South Australian Land Company folded. It was not until late in 1833 following the publication in October of England and America by Wakefield that the tide against his plans for South Australia finally began to turn. In December Gouger, in association with George Grote, William Whitmore, Charles Pottinger, William Hutt and Edward Wakefield, formed the South Australian Association. The Association drafted new plans considerably different from the radical plans of previous years. No longer did they propose a commercial venture. This would be a colony of the crown, administered by commissioners with the authority to frame regulations and laws. [ibid, pg. 65]

As they had run up against concerns raised by the previous Colonial Secretary, Viscount Goderich, so also with Edward Stanley, the longstanding conflict between perceived radicalism and crown interests continued to create distrust and animosity. It was not until Stanley resigned to be replaced by Thomas Spring Rice that the delays came to an end. A bill to erect South Australia into a British Province and to provide for the colonisation and government thereof was introduced into Parliament. It passed through the House of Commons, and under the Duke of Wellington's patronage, also the House of Lords, before being signed into law by William IV on 15 August 1834.

The new Act was a compromise measure, but in concurrence with Wakefield's system of colonisation it made provision for a minimum land price, With money raised to be used to transport poor emigrants to the colony, that no poor person shall be transported to the colony without their husband or wife and children also being transported, that provision be made for the creation of local government once the population reached fifty thousand, and that no convicts would under any circumstances be transported to the colony. However the Act also contained a clause allowing for the appointment of chaplains and clergy of the Established Church. This had been a last minute addition, when fears were raised in Parliament about the lack of a defined Christian basis in the proposed colony.

With the passing of the Bill pressure to implement the Act came from those who had applied to become colonists, as they had spent much of the previous year preparing to sail to the new colony. [ibid, pg. 96]
On 5 May 1835 the Colonization Commissioners for South Australia; Robert Torrens, Rowland Hill, George Fife Angas, George Palmer, Joseph Montefiore, William Hutt, John Wright, Samuel Mills, and William Mackinnon, were appointed along with Edward Barnard and John Lefevre representing the Colonial Office. Robert Gouger was appointed Colonial Secretary, John Hindmarsh as Governor, James Hurtle Fisher as Resident Commissioner and William Light as Surveyor General of the new colony.

In April 1836 the three masted barque, Duke of York, the first ship bound for the new colony departed from London with 27 crew and 20 passengers.

Further Reading:

Wakefield, Edward Gibbon, A letter from Sydney, the principal town of Australasia / edited by Robert Gouger. Together with the Outline of a system of colonization.
Pike, Douglas, Paradise of Dissent, South Australia 1829-1857
Dickey, Brian and Howell, Peter (Eds) South Australia's foundation : select documents


South Australia Act, 1834
Letters Patent establishing the Province of South Australia, 1836

Robert Torrens and Sir Robert Richard Torrens
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