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    South Australia - State Boundaries

    The Disputed Victorian Boundary

    (Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning titled "A History of the Lower South East in the 19th Century".)
    By the enabling statute under which South Australia was constituted a province, her eastern boundary was fixed at the 141st degree of east longitude and, for a considerable time, no attempt was made to confirm its exact position. For many years after the establishment of South Australia the River Glenelg was considered the boundary between it and the Portland Bay district of New South Wales. It was the natural line of demarcation, nearest to, and occasionally intersected by, the 141st degree of longitude - the Parliamentary boundary of the province - and the mouth of this river was supposed, at one time, to be within the territory of South Australia.

    Governor Grey addressed Lord Stanley on the point and recommended that the eastern boundary line should, for the future, be defined by natural landmarks, instead of by a degree of longitude and, in 1845, the English authority referred the matter to the NSW government, when Sir Thomas Mitchell put forward another proposal, but mutual agreement could not be reached and a recommendation was forthcoming that the meridian should be established with certainty, to which the Editor of the SA Gazette & Mining Journal proclaimed that:

    Accordingly, before Victoria was constituted a separate province from New South Wales in 1851, Henry Wade from that colony, and an assistant, Edward White, of South Australia, on the recommendation of Captain E.C. Frome, Surveyor-General of South Australia, were appointed by the New South Wales government, with the concurrence of its South Australian counterpart, to fix, as near as practicable, the 141st meridian "between this province and Australia Felix".

    The data on which they proceeded in 1847 were observations as to the longitude of the entrance to the Glenelg River, made previously by Captain Charles J. Tyers, a Royal Navy officer, who was seconded to colonial service in 1839 when he was given the task of ascertaining the precise longitude at the mouth of the Glenelg River so that a distance to the 141st meridian could be measured:

    Tyers was the first to fix the boundary and he did so by triangulation with Melbourne, by chronometric measurement from Sydney and by lunar observations with a sextant near the assumed boundary. These observations were checked by Mr Owen Stanley, commander of HMS Britomart, but within three decades were proved to be incorrect when Charles Todd established that the existing line was too far westward by about 2 miles and this land included the mouth of the Glenelg River. Later, New South Wales acquiesced in the required alteration of its boundary but Victoria declined to cooperate and so started decades of remonstrance that continued into the 20th century.

    Wade and White's survey continued until it reached the 30th parallel of south latitude, when a variety of circumstances, such as lack of water and deep sand, forced them to return to Adelaide for more supplies after completing the work for 124 miles, or about half the distance to the River Murray. The most northerly point of the survey was called "Wade's Termination Point" at a place called Red Bluff, in the Ninety Mile Desert, more of which will be heard later.

    At the outset, the starting point was about a mile west of the mouth of the River Glenelg, from which the line passed through Mr Niel [sic] Black's run, named "Warreanga". The boundary crossed the Mount Gambier Road to Portland about 11 or 12 miles east of the Mount "leaving the premises of a notorious grog seller about six miles within the Port Phillip boundary." North of the road the boundary "crossed the western extremity of the cattle run of Mr Beilby, leaving the stations of Messrs Meredith and Curran in the province of South Australia" - Mr Meredith held the "Mingbool" station at this time and his first hut was near "Dismal Swamp" on the Kaladbro road, but a wet winter compelled him to change his location so he built on a limestone ridge and lived there until he sold out to a Mr Budd about 1852. Northward, it was "expected it [would] skirt the rich country occupied by Mr Charles McKinnon, near Lake Mundy" - named after Lt. Mundy of the 21st Regiment in 1843; he accompanied Joseph Hawdon from Melbourne by way of Charles Bonney's earlier route of 1839:

    In 1849, a year subjected to a severe drought, Edward White set out to continue the line north and so continue the survey:

    He was a determined and conscientious man and, despite all these setbacks, completed the survey in December 1850. Of interest is the fact that he died in 1853, aged 36, and Henry Wade in the following year, at 44 years, and there would appear to be no doubt that the privations of the survey cost them their lives.

    As discussed previously, by 1864 it was discovered that the true position of the dividing meridian was 2 miles to the east of the line laid down by Mr Wade and completed by Mr White, and a decade later a correspondent to the Adelaide press opined that:

    Undeterred by this revelation, the South Australian government appropriated funds to extend the Wade-White line to its northern boundary but, foreseeing a possible dispute, the New South Wales government refused to become a party to the scheme. Finally, in 1868 the two governments agreed to utilise the Adelaide to Sydney telegraph line to send accurate time signals, thereby enabling the precise line of the 141st meridian to be established, Accordingly, Charles Todd set up an observatory contiguous to the elusive meridian and:

    Todd's observations brought to light the fact that not only that the territory over which New South Wales had exercised jurisdiction overlapped South Australia to an appreciable extent, but, also, that Victoria had been left in the quiet enjoyment of a strip of land which, according to the Imperial definition of the boundaries of the colonies, properly belonged to her neighbour to the westward.

    No action was taken until November 1869 when the South Australian Chief Secretary, Mr Bagot, learning that the Victorian government intended to lay out roads upon the assumption that the recognised frontier between the two colonies had been delineated correctly. He recommended that a voltaic determination of distances should be made similar to that adopted the previous year in the case of New South Wales. The then Chief Secretary of Victoria, Mr MacPherson, promptly assented to the proposal, but nothing was done until 1873 when Mr Blyth resumed negotiations and his dispatch came before Mr Francis who declined to proceed.

    An impasse still prevailed at the close of the 1870s and this apparent stalemate elicited some forthright statements from the South Australian press:

    The conduct of the Victorian authorities, which during the earlier stages of the controversy was vacillating and calculated to postpone indefinitely a settlement of the dispute, has continued open to the same objections...

    At the same time the Melbourne Argus proclaimed that " South Australia has preferred a claim to no less than 700 square miles of our already diminutive territory and that the value of the improvements, etc., involved is estimated at 800,000." Unmoved, the South Australian government suggested that the matter should be determined by the Privy Council in London, but this suggestion left the Victorians in a similar state of mind:

    The 1880s were barren years in respect of reaching an amicable settlement of the dispute. An agreement was made between Mr Service of Victoria and Mr John Colton in 1885 to the effect that the dispute should be submitted to the Privy Council, Victoria stipulating that she would not be required to account for moneys received prior to the decision being recorded in respect of land sold in the disputed territory. The South Australian government thought this was a fair concession, as Victoria had borne the expense of administering the territory, and as she had met South Australia fairly "by practically stopping the further sale of any lands until the decision of the Privy Council was obtained."

    However, the draft of a joint case to be put to the Home authorities failed to be accepted by the respective parties, while in the following year a despondent editor of Adelaide's morning press said the situation was hopeless and prophesised that a settlement would not occur "in the present century":

    Another confrontation occurred in January 1887 when, in a provocative mood, the Victorian government advised the sale of land at Serviceton which was in the middle of the disputed land, but following a communication from Mr Downer the Victorian Premier, Mr Gillies, withdrew the notice of sale and a correspondent to the Adelaide morning press, under the pseudonym of St. Regulus, said:.

    This confrontation continued into late 1889 when it was said that:

    In 1888, Mr Ebenezer Ward, MP., moved and succeeded in carrying a motion that no further expenditure should be incurred and that the arrangement by which several South Australians lived there was unsatisfactory and should be discontinued. A motion to that effect was submitted to the Victorian legislature but was rejected in a manner "that was highly offensive to this colony."

    An ominous silence prevailed for the next five years until January 1893 when the question of South Australian citizens living in Serviceton was again raised in parliament and it was declared that "the South Australian staff [there has] to pay duty to Victoria upon everything they introduced from South Australia although the station stands upon the area included in the disputed boundary." At this juncture it is worth a mention that the value of "no man's land" was calculated to be between 450,000 and 500,000. Of the 600 square miles "about 23,000 acres valued at 60,000 had been sold by Victoria at that time (1887)."

    Seven months later Mr Ash suggested in parliament that a South Australian official should be sent to the disputed territory to "sell goods without a licence or to introduce articles without paying Customs duty to Victoria." Thus, the Melbourne authorities would be led to take legal proceedings against the officer and that his case would eventually be carried by appeal to the Privy Council. This remedy was not accepted but, strangely, a similar move in the 20th century was to bring the Victorian government before the High Court of Australia.

    In 1894, the Premier, Mr C.C. Kingston, advised the Premier of Victoria that in the opinion of his government the question of the disputed boundary had been trifled with long enough and that he had brought matters to a head by the issue of a proclamation in the Government Gazette declaring the invalidity of Governor Robe's proclamation with reference to the Wade survey.

    A response from his counterpart in Victoria did nothing towards achieving a reasonable solution to the problem:

    The Premier then advised that he was seeking advice from the Imperial Government as to the manner in which he could proceed and, in due course, was disturbed when informed that South Australia "could not do so without the cooperation of Victoria". Later, Kingston opined that Victoria "has meanly taken advantage of this condition."

    There was little humour attached to this ongoing saga but an event in 1899 provided a little comic relief to those who had grown weary and short tempered during preceding decades:

    In a conciliatory gesture, in April 1906 the Victorian Premier agreed that if South Australia would state a case for the opinion of the Privy Council in a friendly suit he would consider it and to this suggestion a pessimistic newspaper Editor in Adelaide said that "industrious statisticians might well yearn to know how many similar promises have been made by Victorian representatives during the last generation."

    Later, Premier Bent acquiesced when he and a representative from South Australia signed a memorandum of agreement that the latter would abandon all claims over the disputed territory in consideration of receiving from Victoria the sum of 107,500:

    At this time the principal Victorian newspapers, apparently annoyed by the avoidance of long-pending litigation between the states, seemed to go "mad with disappointment and chagrin" and in a conciliatory gesture an Adelaide counterpart said:

    The "agreement" in question was never submitted to the Victorian parliament because, in January 1909, an incoming Premier declared that he had no intention of seeking its ratification.

    The matter was finally brought to a head when South Australia informed Victoria that it proposed to survey for allotment a portion of the disputed territory and the response was that it would treat our surveyors as trespassers and protested against the attempt to "exercise jurisdiction of any kind over what [we] allege ha[s] for upwards of 60 years been Victorian territory." This survey was not commenced but steps were taken to have the dispute settled by the High Court of Australia and, accordingly, a writ was issued in February 1909.

    The hearing began on 20 February 1910 and, upon losing its case, the South Australian government appealed to the Privy Council where it suffered a similar fate. In layman's terms the final adverse judgment of 1914 was based on three main points:

    However, this was not the end of the bitter dispute that soured inter-colonial relationships over a period of five decades, for we turn our attention now to the fencing of the border that began rapidly in the south but ended at the edge of the Ninety Mile Desert. The history of the agitation for the erection of a dividing fence between South Australia and Victoria to prevent the rabbit pest from spreading from either of the two colonies is a rather curious one. In the 1880s the South Australain government invited the Victorian authorities to join with them in the work, but the neighbours were not willing. The mallee country was infested with vermin and formed a sort of recruitng ground for the growing army of rabbits in the south eastern district of South Australia.

    But, as Victoria was not then doing a great deal to promote the settlement of her western lands she was not ready to go to the great expense for the benefit, as it seemed, of South Australia. However, by 1886 the situation had changed, for the rabbit had practically annexed a large part of the Wimmera and Tatiara districts and, with the growth of settlement in the western district of Victoria, the settlers forced a new and different policy on the government of that colony.

    Victoria, strange to say, became the suppliant for cooperation with her neighbour in erecting a vermin proof fence along the border, but South Australia became unwilling, as once she was eager, to join in the work. The result was that Victoria undertook, at her own cost, the estimated outlay being 8,000, the erection of a fence from the 36th parallel of latitude northward to the River Murray.

    In September 1886 the South Australia government relented and placed 3,000 on the Estimates for an exension of some 30 miles to the north eastern corner of the Hundred of Binnum. This work was carried out by Mr John Weymouth and completed by the close of 1887. Southward from this place, where the land was in private hands, the owners erected such fences at their own expense.

    It was not until an invasion of rabbits from Victoria across the unfenced section that, in 1888, Anthony Kelly commenced to honour a contract with the South Australian government to continue the fence northwards. At this juncture it must be remembered that, by this time, Edward White's line of 1849-1850 had reverted to its natural state and recut in the 1880s on account of the selection of pastoral leases.

    Therefore, when fencing commenced, the contractor found that the line came to an abrupt end at Red Bluff, because it had been surveyed for that purpose and not to define the border!. Thus, those who were attempting to erect a fence along the line of the border had no idea where it was located! At the same time, on the other side, a Victorian surveyor, Mr Thomas Turner, had "cleared a line due north from the 36th parallel" and it was approximately 400 metres east of a point contiguous to Red Bluff, where the pastoral survey had ended:

    Therefore, it can be seen that a portion of the border line that exists today is approximately 600 metres to the west of the fence for a portion of its length northward through the desert and beyond:

    And so, in the 21st century, Edward White's line has been denied its rightful place as the official border with Victoria and the words of Bob Dunn in his book on the subject are, perhaps, a fitting close to this chapter on the saga that has surrounded "White's Line" since the mid-1860s:

    General Notes

    "The First Governor - His Original Commission" is in the Express,
    15 March 1907, page 4d.

    "Enlargement of the Province" is in the Register,
    2 and 23 October 1841, pages 2c and 2d; also see
    23 November 1844, page 2f.

    An article on the Victorian boundary is in the South Australian,
    9 February 1847, page 4c; also see
    2 June 1847, page 3b,
    SA Gazette & Mining Journal,
    13 February 1847, page 2c,
    17 April 1847, page 3e,
    21 August 1847, page 2d,
    13 December 1849, page 3c,
    Adelaide Times,
    10 January 1850, page 3f.

    A request from Gov. MacDonnell to extend the western boundary of the province is in the Register,
    28 August 1858, page 3a; also see
    Parliamentary Papers
    27/1858 and
    11 May 1921, page 7c,
    15 June 1921, page 6g,
    3 September 1921, page 7b,
    19 July 1926, page 8f,
    18 January 1928, page 8e,
    29 May 1926, page 37a.
    A photograph is in the Observer,
    10 September 1921, page 23.

    An editorial on colonial boundaries is in the Register,
    1 October 1866, page 2c and
    a letter re the eastern boundary appears on
    11 October 1867, page 2e; also see
    Parliamentary Papers
    182/1868-69 and
    72/1874 for correspondence on the Victorian boundary.

    "South Australia's Boundaries" is in the Observer,
    13 August 1870, page 4d.

    "The Boundary Line Between the Colonies" is in the Chronicle,
    17 April 1869, page 12a.

    "The Eastern Boundary of South Australia" is in the Observer,
    13 June 1868, page 4e.
    An editorial "Our Eastern Boundary" is in the Register,
    10 April 1869, page 2e; also see
    17 May 1869, page 2h,
    10 January 1874, page 6d,
    10 June 1874, page 4d,
    1 July 1874, page 5b,
    7 August 1874, page 4e,
    5 May 1869. page 2,
    15 August 1874, pages 12c-13f,
    6 June 1874, page 4,
    Farmers Weekly Messenger,
    19 and 26 June 1874, pages 8a and 9a,
    1 January 1875, page 2d,
    31 July 1877, page 6e.

    Also see Register,
    7 and 8 January 1875, pages 4e and 6a and
    Parliamentary Papers
    123/1880 - also see
    9 January 1875, page 13a,
    29 June 1877, page 4e,
    27 and 31 July 1877, pages 5c and 5a,
    7 and 23 August 1877, pages 5b and 4g-5b,
    6 September 1878, page 5c,
    5 and 7 August 1880, pages 5d and 4c.

    Also see Register,
    20 September 1880, page 5c,
    22 February 1881, page 5d,
    20 and 22 December 1881, pages 5c and 4d,
    18 September 1884, page 4h,
    4 October 1884, page 4f,
    12 February 1885, page 5b,
    24 October 1885, page 4f,
    9 December 1885, pages 4h-5b,
    1 December 1886, page 5a-h.

    Also see Advertiser,
    6 December 1886, page 4e,
    11 December 1886, page 5a,
    22 and 26 January 1887, pages 5b and 4h,
    2 August 1887, page 7h,
    13 August 1887, page 5b,
    28 October 1887, pages 4g-5h,
    22 November 1889, page 5b,
    20 February 1890, page 4f,
    19 November 1891, page 4g,
    4, 6, 11 and 21 January 1893, pages 4e, 4f-5a-6a, 5c and 5a,
    10 August 1893, page 4f,
    21 September 1893, page 5b-c,
    1 July 1899, page 10,
    20 January 1893, page 3d,
    25 September 1893, page 2g.

    "Serviceton Station and the Disputed Boundary" is in the Observer,
    7 January 1893, page 24d.
    "The Serviceton Railway Station" in the Register,
    3 January 1903, page 7c,
    "The Serviceton Railway Works - A History Outline" on 23 June 1909, page 11a.

    Also see Register,
    30 October 1893, page 6d,
    3 August 1894, page 6c,
    29 August 1894, page 5f,
    5 November 1894, page 4e-g,
    18 December 1895, page 3g,
    25 April 1906, page 4c,
    17, 20 and 27 November 1906, pages 7d, 6i and 5h,
    17, 18 and 23 January 1908, pages 4c, 6e-7d and 4c,
    11 June 1909, page 4c,
    1 December 1910, page 8g,
    24 and 25 January 1911, pages 6b and 9b,
    14 and 15 February 1911, pages 6e and 7b,
    20 March 1911, page 6f,
    23 May 1911, pages 4d and 5b.
    Photographs are in the Observer,
    11 March 1911, page 30B.

    A cartoon is in The Critic,
    8 February 1902, page 17.

    "The End of Boundary Dispute" is the subject of editorial comment in the Register,
    30 January 1914, pages 6e-7i,
    4 March 1914, page 7g; also see
    2 March 1914, page 18a.

    A trip along the boundary fence from Serviceton to the River Murray is related in the Register,
    5 May 1890, page 6h.

    The question of the boundary with Queensland is explored in the Register,
    12 August 1870, page 5b and
    12 February 1878, page 5c,
    12 July 1879, page 7g; also see
    RGS volume 20, pages 56-65.

    Photographs of scenes on "the interstate boundary" are in the Chronicle,
    29 January 1921, page 24.

    "Fixing a Boundary - South Australia and Western Australia" is in the Advertiser,
    19 January 1922, page 8e; also see
    27 May 1926, page 13b.
    A photograph of and information on "A Notable Landmark" is in the Chronicle,
    24 July 1926, page 47,
    "On the Border Line" on
    28 February 1935, page 33.

    The reminiscences of the surveyor, J.H. Packard, are in the Register,
    25 and 29 December 1926, pages 11e and 7a.

    "State Borders - Where They Count and Where They Don't" is in the Advertiser
    6 March 1937, page 11g.