South Australia - The Colony
- Centenary of South Australia
- Christmas in South Australia
- Comments on the Colony
- The Constitution and Allied Matters
- Old Colonists' Association and Allied Matters
- Personal Reminiscences
Comments on the Colony
This new colony... perfectly unshackled by prison discipline, by military governors, and by immense civil establishments, and wholly independent and free, threatens to annihilate the other colonies. If it be successfully established, the colony of New South Wales will probably become an inferior, subordinate and subservient appendage to it.
(Sydney Herald, 26 October 1835 - cited in Register, 28 December 1911, page 9c.)
The society of South Australia is peculiar, and unlike any community I have yet read or heard of. The prevailing feeling with a very great majority is ultra-democratic. The standard of intelligence with regard to the entire population is very low. Ignorant political demagogues, utterly unacquainted with the commonest rules of political economy, are likely to gain the ears and work upon the passions of an illiterate mob which, uncontrolled by any educated upper class, is apt to run riot to a fearful degree. Power in such hands is much more likely to be directed to badness than to effecting good... Greedy demagogues at the head of a clamorous mob are not calculated to frame sound fundamental laws for a young country.
(Adelaide Times, 16 July 1851, page 3c.)
Prologue and Epilogue
(Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning's A Colonial Experience)
- It is a strange country... songless birds, scentless flowers, dusky, shadeless trees... Colonists have run up flimsy houses and untidy fences and built pretentious, tasteless and fraudulent Chapels and Town Halls... The State is badly managed, log-rolling and villainy disgust the best men... The Church is not quite awake yet. Swarms of plutocratic sects teach mammon worship and carelessness... speculation in land and mines ousts all mental speculation... [They] have an established Church... It is called the totalisator and is a State betting lottery...
(Register, 12 February 1890, page 6.)
As I commence these memoirs on the eve of the federation of the several Australian colonies, my mind reverts instinctively to the past. There are some striking points of contrast between our history and that of the people of ancient Israel who, like the early colonists, were called upon to emigrate to an unknown land, described later as 'a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees; a land of olive oil, pomegranates and honey;' a land wherein the inhabitants 'would eat bread without scarceness'.
Repeatedly, the Israelites were urged to be retrospective, to review the past in an individual, social and national sense. Instinctively they did so. The same may be said today. Our national history, now in its seventh decade, is an inspiring one. A wise and beneficent Divinity has shaped our ends and today we have a 'goodly heritage'.
The South Australian community today cannot say as the degenerate Israelites did: 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge.' The early colonists laboured long and we are, today, reaping the benefit.
We have erected stately buildings, we have brought under cultivation millions of acres, we have made it a country productive of wool, of corn, of fruit, wine and olive oil. We have made ample provision for educating the people, we have founded hospitals and asylums for the sick, the incurable, the deaf and the dumb and the necessitous poor.
The pioneers made all this and more possible, not by clamouring for an eight hour's day of labour, not by 'downing tools' and engineering strikes, but by intense application, protracted labour, self-reliance and self-denial.
A noble monument they leave behind,
Those brave old men. They meekly pass away.
We miss the gentle hearts, the sturdy mind;
But still their work grows mightier day by day.
Who made the desert bloom, the solitude
Grow tuneful with the voices of men? Twas they,
Those brave old hearts - that noble brotherhood
Who one by one now meekly pass away.
(Register, 28 December 1883, page 5.)
Something of 'the wild freshness of the morning' clings about every great pioneering enterprise, but often the opening of the day is stormy and violent. In South Australia it was the dawn of brighter hopes for all the colonies, the triumph of a great principle and a greater ideal.
When the young province was proclaimed the whole system of British colonisation seemed on trial. Canada was near rebellion, New Zealand in a state of chaos and the other Australian settlements little better than overseas prisons, or unsuccessful experiments like the first Western Australian enterprise.
The success of Wakefield's scheme, with its insistence on the sale of Crown lands to provide funds for suitable emigration, and its emphasis on self government and religious freedom, was to modify, profoundly, the whole attitude of the Colonial Office towards overseas possessions. It had its share in bringing Canada into peaceful relations and in transforming the penal settlements into true colonies; on South Australia's experience, including the mistakes of its administrators, New Zealand was to build her firm foundations.
None of these ends were obtained without conflict and the story of Wakefield's long and fanatical warfare for an ideal had in itself an epic grandeur. That strange genius, with his intermingling of noble and other impulses, first beheld the vision of a South Australia in a prison cell. His curious propensity for eloping with heiresses, which brought him to such a sorry pass for an idealist, was nobly atoned for by his labours in the cause of colonisation which survived years of heart breaking disappointment.
The young province broke the heart of gallant Colonel Light and ill-requited the labours of Charles Sturt; its affairs reduced the bluff John Hindmarsh to impotent wrath and brought George Gawler into undeserved disgrace; but its inherent vitality survived all the ills of its infancy, which were nearly all induced by the disastrous ignorance of its guardians in England. No crisis which can face the State today can hold the menace of that first and early disaster which brought it to bankruptcy, and in spite of which it made a recovery unprecedented in Colonial history.
Not its administrators alone found the first years of the settlement trying and dangerous. The would-be settlers, deprived of their country lands because of the survey muddle, had exasperations as well as difficulties to meet. Their first prolonged encampment in tents and huts, with water carrying as a daily toil, was made painful by heat, flies and mosquitoes, and it says much for their spirit that their descriptions of the new country were always full of high enthusiasm.
It cannot be denied that South Australia has struggled through innumerable and immeasurable difficulties - difficulties, I confess, mainly attributable to her own want of prudence and foresight, to say nothing of the loss of her commercial credit by the unfortunate dishonouring of the drafts of her Government; but enhanced in no small degree by the misrepresentations of a core of her by-gone dissappointed 'gentlemen' settlers, and by the jealousies of her rival sister colonies.
How did she surmount those difficulties and live down the calumnies and opposition which were heaped upon her? Neither by paid agents nor puffing; but simply by her colonists leaving off landjobbing and unhealthy trading; and, instead of living upon the vitals of the parent State, or preying upon one another, relying upon their exertions and the natural capabilities of the soil they came out to till.
There were few public services and none of the amenities of life in their new home, but, at first opportunity, they put their hands to the plough undaunted by unfamiliar conditions and without expectation of any help but their own. They were not days of which any South Australian has reason to be ashamed. The new colony had its spiritual ideals and gave notable sanctuary from religious persecution, but its chief virtues were hard work, independence and public spirit.
I have seen the city rise from a village to its present size. The bullock drays have given place to the motor car and the electric tram. Life is swifter, more eager, more tumultuous than in the old days; the people are better off, but I wonder sometimes are they happier than we were in our thatched houses.
I am, indeed, proud to have been an eye-witness and played a small part in the foundation and progress of South Australia and, finally, in a lighter vein may I leave you, the reader, with a visitorís impression of the fair city of Adelaide as published in the Register on 25 April 1901, at the time I commenced these memoirs:
The charm of your city is only equalled by the kindness and hospitality of its inhabitants. But there is one blot upon an otherwise fair picture. Your streets are swimming with, dirty, howling boys, who spend their time loafing around ostensibly selling matches but some really begging... [Off] Hindley Street there are about 20 of them playing pitch and toss, in almost every conceivable state of rags and dirt...
... The river is emptied at stated periods to allow people to search for their missing friends or relatives... There are no cable cars, because under the present system tram horses can be used to feed the animals at the Zoo. Members of Parliament... sit for six months, cackle a good deal but (unlike other fowls) do not hatch much... I like the people... they are so intellectual and took such a deep interest in the leading national events such as the Transvaal crisis, the Fashoda trouble and test matches... [I] will close by quoting the words of Tennyson:
There is a land where summer flies
Come buzzing in your nose and eyes
Blended in witching harmonies
- Australia! Australia!
The Constitution and Allied Matters
The Constitution and Administration of South Australia
(Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning's A Colonial Experience)
There must be here less of Downing-Street regime; more of democratic influence. But to this effort the people must rouse themselves to political action. A false autocracy may sink this colony to perdition, but democratic institutions may elevate it to the very highest point of power and felicity.
(Adelaide Times, 26 June 1851, page 3b.)
An Economic Experiment in Colonisation
The foundation of South Australia, which was due to the labours of a little band of economists, was an event of great Imperial importance. In the 'hungry' 1840s and preceding decades affairs, both in Great Britain and its colonies, were in an unhappy state. In the colonies there was no policy of development, Australia in particular being regarded simply as a huge overseas gaol.
In 1829 a remarkable pamphlet, 'The Letters from Sydney', was published by Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a prisoner confined in Newgate, London, for abduction. In that and other works Wakefield evolved a scientific scheme of colonisation which was to solve the difficulties of the Motherland and the colonies. His main ideas were to sell colonial land instead of giving it away in grants, to use the proceeds, or land fund, to bring immigrants from England, and to give the colonies the right to manage their own internal affairs. Such proposals were revolutionary, but they attracted to Wakefield a body of young economists, politicians and adventurers who were anxious to profit the Empire, or themselves, by the new theory.
They founded a Colonisation Society and rapidly gained notice and, at the end of 1830, they decided to carry out their experiment on the gulfs of South Australia. Their hands were strengthened immediately by Sturt's discovery that the River Murray reached the sea in that area. From 1830 to 1834 the disciples of Wakefield struggled to found their colony.
They were prevented by the British government from attaining their ends by means of a company largely because, as was really true, most of them meant to make fortunes out of the scheme. In the end they were permitted to pass an act of parliament, which gave them most of South Australia, on terms which made the founding of the colony almost impossible.
Fortunately, the choice of the actual position of the settlement was left to the brilliant and experienced Colonel William Light. His decisions, as discussed in an earlier chapter, counterbalanced many of the worst errors of the foundation and gave the colony some chance of success.
Early Forms of Government
The form of government in South Australia passed through several changes before it assumed the democratic shape which it now presents. Prior to 1857 the community, to a certain extent, was under tutelage, for the British government did not grant the early settlers full legislative control. Indeed, their attitude could well have derived from the scriptures, for the Bible tells us that:
The heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all, but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the father.
This was very much the position of the pioneers. Theirs was a great heritage, but they were not allowed fully to enter upon it.
At the birth of our State its affairs were controlled by a Governor (Captain Hindmarsh) and Resident Commissioner ( James H. Fisher), with a Board of Commissioners residing in the other side of the world. This was a very clumsy arrangement and gave rise to friction and trouble, for the two individuals in South Australia were often at loggerheads.
When Governor Gawler came out a change was made. The office of Resident Commissioner was abolished and the legislative control was placed in the hands of the governor and the board in London. Within the new settlement the governor was assisted by an Executive Council composed of some government officials. When financial disaster overtook the province during the administration of Governors Gawler and Grey the Board of Commissioners in London was dissolved and South Australia became a Crown colony.
This evolutionary process was advanced in 1842 when an Act 'for the better government of South Australia' was passed by the House of Commons and Lords. A legislative council was then formed consisting of eight members, all of whom were nominated by the Crown. This, to a very limited degree, gave the early settlers some voice in the management of their political affairs.
The legislation emanating from this body bore the name 'Orders in Council' and 'Ordinances' and these were obeyed by the colonists as readily as if the law makers had been ten times numerous. However, as the years progressed a general discontent pervaded the community and nomineeism became distasteful and irksome. What the colonists needed and demanded was full legislative control of its affairs and several representatives of the working class put the views of their fellows:
The cause of labour is that of the nation, and the remonstrations of working men must be listened to, and will be all the more likely to be attended to when moderation of language is observed, and when habitual grievances are unfolded without the disturbing influences of personal attacks and class denunciation.
Let the working man register his vote; and the day is not far distant when he will have an opportunity to use it in choosing honest men to represent him... and prevent the public money being squandered away in pensions and unnecessary emigrants. Agitate! Agitate! Without it you will obtain no lasting good.
By 1851, it dawned upon the home authorities that South Australia had outgrown this primitive form of parliamentary institution and, in that year, a Constitution was granted to the colony. However, the full privilege of self-government was not conceded. The legislature established consisted of a single chamber styled the Legislative Council and, of the 24 members constituting it, eight were nominees of the Crown while the remainder were elected by persons holding a property qualification. The Council, however, had no authority over the waste lands which remained a perquisite of the Crown, its administration and disbursement of the revenue derived from sales being entirely in the hands of the Governor.
This body met for the first time in the new chamber on North Terrace on 1 November 1855, when James H. Fisher was elected speaker. In his address to the council, Governor MacDonnell laid before it, as a kind of working model, a Bill providing for two Houses; both to be elective. The franchise for both houses, according to his proposal, was to be alike. His suggestion was cumbrous and, as soon as it was presented, it was condemned; following conferences between the nominated and elected members of the Legislative Council a Bill was passed on 2 January 1856. In proroguing the council the governor said that the last session was the longest and most remarkable of the South Australian legislature. Intelligence came on the White Swan on 24 October 1856 that the Bill had received royal assent, following which the governor nominated the first ministry under responsible government. Elections followed and this is discussed in another chapter.
The Coming of Representative Government
As I write these words in 1906, the 22nd of May will be the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of constitutional government in Australia and the jubilee, with its many interesting associations, is worthy of more than casual notice. The opening of the first elected parliament in New South Wales on 22 May 1856 signalled the dawn of a new era in all the Australian colonies, except Western Australia.
It is difficult for the present generation of Australians to realise the full significance of the political changes that raised New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland to the status of self-governing States. Indeed, there is a curious sense of quite disproportionate remoteness in the recent past. It somehow or other seems far more alien from present-day thoughts and customs than ages that are far more distant.
In 1852 the Secretary of State for the Colonies authorised the Legislative Council in New South Wales to draft a Constitution for that colony and, during the next three years, similar acts were passed in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia; before the decade ended Queensland also enjoyed the privilege of autonomy. In South Australia, the year 1857 commenced with extensive preparations for the election of members of the first parliament. Statistics appertaining to the colony for the year in which responsible government was granted were as follows:
Acres under cultivation.......................................... 235,965
Cattle................................................................... .. 310,400
On 23 February 1857 the first round of the elections was held, one member being returned unopposed for each of the districts of Victoria, Flinders and Murray; three days later representatives were returned unopposed for three two-member districts - Gumeracha, East Torrens and Light. The voting for the remainder of the Assembly districts, and for the whole of the Council, took place on 9 March.
The events of 22 April 1857 were among the greatest in our national history for, on that day, the province passed on to another order of things. About 1,000 spectators assembled on North Terrace, a guard of honour was drawn up in front of the council chamber and the firing of a Royal salute made for a most impressive event, the opening of the colony's first representative parliament. Summing up the elections the Editor of the Register said:
Responsible government inaugurated this day will henceforth direct, for weal or for woe, the destinies of this Province. We have no fear of the result.
Further afield, the novelty of such a young and small community being granted responsible government led the London Times to write in the following strain:
It must be confessed that it is rather an odd position for a new community of rising tradesmen, farmers, cattle breeders, builders, mechanics, with a sprinkling of doctors and attorneys, to find that it is suddenly called upon to find prime ministers, cabinets, a ministerial side, an opposition side and all the apparatus of a parliamentary government - to awake one fine morning and discover that this is no longer a colony, but a nation saddled with all the rules and traditions of the political life of the Mother Country.
The first parliament was noted for its frequent ministerial changes, the first lasting only four months when, on 15 August 1857, Mr Finniss had to admit that 'the Ministry had ceased to command a majority of the House.' A description of the 'fighting men' in the first ministry (Messrs Hanson, Torrens, Finniss and Bonney) may interest the reader today. It was written by a contemporary who was well acquainted with all the members of the first cabinet:
The Attorney-General (Mr Hanson) seldom makes an altogether unprovoked attack. Unfortunately, however, he frequently carries his rejoinders to an extreme. A casual, and perhaps playful, sarcasm, he meets with a set and crushing retort, and this converts a good-humoured opponent into an exasperated enemy. There are no bounds to the intensity of Mr Hanson's counter attacks within the range of intellectual power. Unfortunately, also, he is not careful as to the weapons he uses. His sole object sems to be to inflict a blow that shall produce the utmost possible effect. The consequence is that his political opponents sometimes find their feelings outraged, rather than their judgement convinced. With the exception of this fault - a fault in policy as well as in temper - perhaps, there is little to complain of in the personal demeanour of Mr Hanson.
Were we able to say as much conscientiously for the Treasurer (Hon R.R. Torrens) our faith in the stability of the Ministry would be much stronger than it now is. The attacks of Mr Torrens are so frequently made with as in self-defence without apparent provocation. If we were to compare him with Apollo instead of Hercules, and to arm him with a bow instead of a club, we should describe him by saying that his arrows are barbed and envenomed and that he shoots them almost at random. He has not the strength of arm of the Attorney-General, but the poison of his weapons causes the wounds he makes to rankle and fester, when those inflicted by his colleagues have been healed and forgotten.
The Chief Secretary (Hon. B.T. Finniss) is ordinarily courteous and conciliatory; he gives respectful attention to suggestions from any quarter and he does not appear to take a savage delight in wounding the feelings of those from whom he differs. The Commissioner of Public Works (Hon. Charles Bonney) by his gentlemanly bearing frequently prevented opposition to the Legislative Council. It would be impossible to find an official with less of the insolence of office pertaining to him. Mr Bonney has scarcely less suavity than the Hon. S. Davenport and his deportment in the House was unexceptionable.
The House of Assembly and the Legislative Council model their proceedings upon the practice of the House of Commons, but, in some respects, the Assembly has struck out an independent course and it is worthy of notice that, in the Standing Orders passed since 1857, a system of cloture is provided for of a less invidious and less objectionable character than that adopted in the Imperial Parliament of late years.
Indeed, it must be said that the proceedings of our parliament have always been free from the discreditable scenes and offensive interchanges of personalities which have been so common in the legislative assemblies of other colonies.
A history of the constitution is in the Register,
21 June 1887, page 4g (supp.).
"Responsible Government - Great Public Meeting" is in the Observer,
22 December 1849, page 2e,
"A Constitution for South Australia" in the Register,
1 June 1850, pages 2d-3b; also see
3, 10, 11, 19 and 25 June 1850, pages 2c, 3b, 2e, 2c and 2d,
15, 17 and 23 July 1850, pages 2d, 2e and 2e,
26 September 1850, page 2e,
8 October 1850, page 3b,
30 January 1851, page 3a.
"The Constitution of South Australia" is in the Observer,
5 December 1896, page 16c,
"How Our Constitution Was Delivered" on
16 June 1900, page 33d.
"The New Constitution" is in the Observer,
25 June 1853, page 6,
"The Proposed Constitution" on
25 August 1855, page 6a,
"Colonial Constitutions" on
21 March 1857, page 6a.
"Our Correspondents and the New Constitution" is discussed in the Register,
27, 28, 29 and 30 June 1853, pages 3a, 2e-3c, 3d and 2c-3d,
16 and 20 July 1853, pages 2f and 2e,
2, 4 and 11 August 1853, pages 3e, 2d and 2d.
"The Constitution of Australian Colonies" is in the Observer,
8 December 1855, page 5d.
"Amendment of the Constitution" is in the Observer,
12 December 1857, page 5g,
23 January 1858, page 5b.
"The Constitution" is in the Observer,
11 and 18 August 1860, pages 5a and 6d,
"The Constitution Bill" on
24 May 1862, page 5f,
"The Parliament and the Constitution" on
4 November 1865, page 5g,
"Amending the Constitution" on
11 November 1865, page 6a,
"The Constitution" on
9 December 1865,, page 2g (supp.).
"The Constitution Bubble" is in the Register,
7 march 1866, page 2c,
"New Constitution Bill" is in the Observer,
8 September 1866, page 6c-d,
6 October 1866, page 6a,
"Constitutional Reform" on
21 and 28 August 1869, pages 13b and 13c,
"The Constitutional Bill" on
30 July 1870, page 13a.
"The Constitution Act" is in the Chronicle,
14 August 1869, page 12a,
2 October 1869, page 11f.
"Amending the Constitution" is in the Observer,
9 September 1871, page 12a,
29 June 1872, page 13c,
1 November 1873, page 3a.
"Constitutional Reform" is in the Farmers Weekly Messenger,
10 and 17 December 1875, pages 9c and 8d-9b,
12 and 26 July 1879, pages 2g and 10a,
23 August 1879, page 12a,
6 September 1879, page 13b.
"Mr Hay's Constitution Bill" is in the Register,
19 and 21 August 1879, pages 6f and 6g.
"Amending the Constitution Act" is in the Register,
26 July 1881, page 4d; also see
24 October 1890, page 4e.
"The Constitution Bill" is in the Register,
19 September 1881, page 4e,
15 October 1881, page 14c,
"State Constitutional Reform" is in the Weekly Herald,
24 March 1900, page 8a; also see
27 October 1900, page 4b.
"Reforming the Constitution" is in the Observer,
12 September 1891, page 24c.
"Tampering With the Constitution" is in the Observer,
18 August 1894, page 24d,
27 July 1895, page 49a,
22 July 1895, page 4e.
"Constitutional Reform" is in the Register,
15 and 23 October 1901, pages 4c and 4c,
6, 19, 20 and 27 November 1901, pages 4c, 4c, 6f and 6c, Observer,
15 October 1901, page 24e,
2, 9 and 23 November 1901, pages 24d, 24d and 24e,
"Hold Fast That Which is Good" on
20 May 1905, page 27d.
"Who Killed the Constitution Bill" is in the Register,
6, 13 and 18 December 1901, pages 4d, 4d and 6d.
"Hold Fast That Which is Good" is in the Register,
17 May 1905, page 4d.
"Constitution Tinkering" is in the Register,
29 August 1905, page 4d.
"Constitutional Changes" is in the Observer,
6 and 13 September 1913, pages 39a and 33d,
11 October 1913, page 33c.
"The Constitution Bill" is in the Register,
10 and 16 December 1913, pages 13d and 13f.
"Honour the Constitution" is in the Register,
11 July 1917, page 6b.
"Transforming the Constitution" is in the Register,
22 August 1924, page 8d.
"The New Constitution" is in the Chronicle,
30 January 1936, page 49.