Pioneering Families of Australia


Early Adelaide


early adelaide1

Such my friends is Adelaide,

A child in its career;

But time, no doubt, will paddle it

Into manhood, year by year

And kindly governor's swaddle it

Till that manhood doth appear;

May never a mortal saddle it

With taxes on its beer.



The Register 12 December, 1860

Adealide - tree north tce adelaide

After problems in other Australian colonies arising from existing settlement methods, the time was right to form a more methodical approach to establishing a colony.  A group in Britain led by Edward Gibbon Wakefield were looking to start a colony based on free settlement rather than convict labour.


He suggested that instead of granting free land to settlers as had happened in other colonies, the land should be sold. The money from land purchases would be used solely to transport labourers to the colony free of charge.


Robert Gouger, Wakefield's secretary promoted Wakefield's theories and organised societies of people interested in the scheme. In 1834 the South Australian Association, with the aid of such figures as George Grote, William Molesworth and the Duke of Wellington persuaded British Parliament to pass the South Australian Colonisation act.


Free passage was given to "suitable" labourers, generally men and women under 30 years of age who were healthy and of good character, expected to carry out a promise of working for wages until they had saved enough to buy land of their own and employ others, a process taking at least 3 or 4 years.


The British government appointed a Board of Commissioners from people nominated by the South Australian Association, with the task of organising the new colony and meeting the condition of selling at least £3,500 worth of land. The province and its capital were named, planned, advertised and largely sold before a single settler had set foot in their new home.


With the government's conditions met, King William IV signed the Letters Patent and the first settlers and officials set sail in early 1836.  

Adelaide is unusual in that it was settled by free people - the city has no convict history.

The colony promised settlers civil and religious liberty and by 1839 Lutherans fleeing religious persecution were arriving from Prussia. In 1840, 6557 Europeans lived in Adelaide; by 1851 the European population was 14,577. By the early 1840s the town had about 30 satellite villages, including the German settlements of Hahndorf, Klemzig and Lobethal, where the state's wine industry was founded.


The discovery of silver in the Adelaide Hills in 1841, and copper, near Kapunda in 1842, and a massive lode at Burra in 1845, saw the beginnings of a turn-around in the economy. Hard working German immigrants who settled at Hahndorf and in the Barossa Valley, were turning the soil to good use and there was an adequate supply of fresh fruit, vegetables, and dairy products. The discovery of gold in New South Wales in 1851, and in Victoria shortly after, affected the new colony in many ways. Firstly, there was a mass exodus of the male population to the goldfields. Some 20,000 men headed east to seek their fortune amid stories of gold nuggets the size of a mans hand lying around for the picking.  Ballarat and Bathurst became the catch-cry, and the streets of Adelaide were often deserted. In his book, 'Adelaide, A sense of difference', author Derek Whitelock reports


" For a period, the situation was critical, There were only three active men left in the town of Gawler. The Burra mine was forced to close as the Cornish miners decamped..."


Those who remained however, prospered. Demand from the goldfields for grain and other produce forced prices up, and the price of grain and basics soared. As miners returned flush with cash and gold from the diggings, business confidence returned and Adelaide's future was secure.


After inspection and rejecting several areas, the site for Adelaide was chosen in December 1836 by the colony's far-sighted Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light, who created its remarkable design. The site was well-drained, had fertile soil and straddled the Torrens River, which guaranteed a ready water supply.


The early settlers used stone, constructing a solid, dignified city that is civilised and calm in a way that no other Australian state capital can match.

The Proclamation Tree