The settlement of South Australia [chapter 45 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 45 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 5 May 1935.]

The story of Australia — XLV

The settlement of South Australia

Little was known of the interior of South Australia until 1829, when Charles Sturt made his memorable voyage down the Murray to Lake Alexandrina. On his return he urged Governor Darling to send an expedition to make a complete survey of the district surrounding Encounter Bay.

Matthew Flinders, in 1809, had made a detailed study of the coast from Fowler’s Bay to Encounter Bay, and Robert Brown, the botanist who had accompanied him, had mode a valuable report of the coastal flora. Governor Darling saw the value of Sturt’s suggestion, and in 1831 he gave instructions for a complete examination of the Encounter Bay district.

Wakefield’s letters

The publicity given to Southern Australia by these events attracted the attention of Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his associates, who were anxious to obtain a site for experiments in scientific colonisation. Wakefield was born in London in 1796 and received a good education. In 1826 he had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for abduction, and it was while serving his sentence that he conceived a scheme of systematic colonisation which, he was convinced, could not fail if put into practice.

While in prison he wrote and published eleven Letters from Sydney in one of the London papers, and before the end of the year he republished them in book form, under the title, “A Letter From Sydney,” and included in the volume was an outline of a system of colonisation. This book attracted a great deal of attention not only by reason of its charming style, but on account of the complete originality of the ideas it contained. The apparent accuracy of detail deceived many into believing that it was the work of an Australian colonist.

The book described in vivid style the annoyances to be endured by a man of taste and fortune if he emigrated to Australia. He could not enjoy the pleasures of his library or of his picture gallery. He could have no intellectual society: he could hope for none of the delights of easy retirement, seeing that he had to labour for his daily bread. Free servants he could not keep for any length of time, for as soon as they had saved sufficient money they bought land and became owners themselves.

Thus, the colony is an excellent place for a poor man, but a poor place for a man of means and culture. Wakefield proposed to alter this by founding a new colony in Australia which should be better adapted to those who had sufficient money to maintain them, and yet were anxious to emigrate to a new colony.

Colony of capitalists

His scheme for effecting this purpose was a remarkable one. He proposed that the land in a colony should be sold at a “sufficient price,” that is, one high enough to prevent poorer people from buying it. This would compel farm labourers to work for landowners for two or three years, because the savings from their wages would not be sufficient to buy land of their own until they had got enough to pay the “sufficient price.” The high cost of land would induce capitalists to migrate and become landowners, since there would be no difficulty in finding labour to work the land.

The money received from the sale of land would be spent in paying the passages of labouring men and women, carefully selected for their ability to succeed in a new country. The presence of these two classes would attract others, so that colonisation would mean transplanting society from an old to a new country.

The landowner would enjoy his learned and cultured leisure, just as he did at home, because all the work would be done for him by the servants he employed.

It was in 1831 that the first effort was made to carry out Wakefield’s theories, and the southern shores of Australia were selected as a suitable locality for the proposed colony. A company was formed, but this did not meet with the approval of the Colonial Office. At the end of 1833 a body, the South Australian Association, was organised to promote the formation of a settlement. As this company asked for nothing beyond the power to sell waste lands and apply the proceeds to assist immigration the British Government gave its consent, and an Act was passed to give the association full power to found a colony. Public lands might be purchased at a uniform price — not less than 12 shillings an acre — and the proceeds used for immigration. No convicts were to be allowed in the new colony.

Site of Adelaide

The task of settling the new comers in the colony now rested with the company. Colonel Charles Napier was offered the Governorship, but he foresaw financial difficulties and in 1885 John Hindmarsh was appointed.

Two shiploads of colonists left England in 1836, and arrived at Kangaroo Island in July. This proved most unsuitable and when the surveyors, under William Light, arrived, he saw at once it would never do. He, therefore, looked round for a suitable situation for the capital, and fixed upon the present site of Adelaide, on the Lower Torrens. It was, therefore, at Holdfast Bay that the Governor landed on December 28, on which day the colony was proclaimed. The city was named Adelaide, after the Queen, at the express wish of Willam IV.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 5 May 1935, p. 27

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