Friday, March 12, 2021

South Australia: In the beginning

Colonel William Light
 Firm steps to establish the province of South Australia were taken in August 1834, by the Imperial Government when Colonisation Commissioners were appointed. Captain (afterwards Rear-Admiral Sir) John Hindmarsh became first Governor and Colonel William Light first Surveyor-General.

The instructions issued by the Commissioners concerning the selection of a site for the capital of the new province were as follows:

When you have determined the site of the first town, you will proceed to lay it out in accordance with the regulations. You will make the streets of ample width, and arrange them with reference to the convenience of the inhabitants, and the beauty and salubrity of the town; and you will make the necessary reserves for squares, public walks and quays.

The following letter dated 13 July 1836 (the original of which is in the possession of the Adelaide City Council) from Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Taylor, Private Secretary to King William IV, to Governor Hindmarsh, communicated the command of the Monarch that the capital of South Australia should be named after his consort, Queen Adelaide.

My Dear Sir,

I have not delayed to submit to the King your wish to give to the principal town and capital of South Australia the name of His Majesty or the Queen, and I beg to acquaint you that His Majesty received the communication very kindly and desired that the capital be named Adelaide.

Believe me to be, my Dear Sir, Yours Very Truly,

H. Taylor.

Colonel Light arrived in the brig 'Rapid' in August 1836, and after first examining Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island, as well as the eastern shores of Spencer Gulf, decided to fix the chief town at the site on which it now stands. The Surveyor-General met with considerable opposition over his choice, and the Governor would approve of the site chosen only on condition that Colonel Light would lay out a secondary town at the Port. This point was eventually conceded.

In Colonel Light's journal, the following will be found:

'From this time (3 January 1837 to 11 January), I was employed in looking repeatedly over the ground and devising in my mind the town according to the course of the river and the nature of the ground. It may be asked then, 'Why choose it?' I answer, 'Because it was on a beautiful and gently rising ground and formed altogether a better connection with the river than any other place'.

Division of the capital into South Adelaide and North Adelaide resulted from this decision and gave it an eventual diversity of character with regard to the development of business and residential areas. The survey of Adelaide began on 11 January 1837, at the north-western corner of South Adelaide at the junction of North and West Terraces.

Near this point were the first government offices (destroyed by fire in 1839). The work was finished on 10 March, thus occupying exactly two months. A granite obelisk bearing an inscription that thereabouts the survey of the city began and there, also were the first public offices of the province of South Australia, was erected near this point and unveiled by the Lord Mayor on 16 July 1929.

Although there have been assertions that Colonel Light used the basic layout of other cities for his master plan of Adelaide, there is little to support those views other than conjecture. For instance, the plan of South Adelaide strongly resembles the Roman town of Turin in Italy, and Light visited that place during his European travels. The original plan of Philadelphia in the United States also bears a striking resemblance to that of South Adelaide.

The Proclamation of South Australia 1836 by Charles Hill

Again it is suggested that the layout of the principal square in Catania, Sicily, of which the Surveyor-General commented most favourably in his book Sicilian Scenery', published in London in 1823, influenced his thinking on the original plan of Adelaide. Whether or not this was the case, Dr C A. E. Fenner in his book 'Adelaide, South Australia', states:

"... it is reasonable to assume that memories of other cities played a part ...", and ".. the general plan of the present city was determined by a wise and thoughtful man...," - a view shared by residents and visitors alike over the years.

The first Council was elected on 31 October 1840, and shortly afterwards obtained possession of town acre Number 203 (the site of the present Town Hall) for twelve shillings. Today's unimproved value of this acre is well in excess of one million dollars.

Because of insufficient rating powers and considerable liabilities in connection with public works, the Council's early years were extremely difficult, so difficult in fact, that in June 1843, the furniture belonging to the Corporation was seized in payment of outstanding rent in respect of temporary Council Chambers in Hindley Street. In September of the same year, the Corporation became legally defunct, and its business was managed by the government until 1849 when Commissioners were appointed to control city affairs. The city Corporation was re-established in 1852 at an election cost of £173, three times that of the original election in 1841.

The parkland area designated by Colonel Light formed the boundaries of the city, beyond which the inner metropolitan area began gradually to grow. Council boundaries were laid down, roads were pushed out through the parklands and public transport systems began operating. Growth was steady rather than spectacular for a century, but following the 1939-45 War, immigration from the United Kingdom and other European countries quickly expanded the population of the Adelaide metropolitan area from an estimated 372,000 to is present figure of well in excess of 800,000.

But to get back to the beginning. . Because contemporary South Australian history dates back only to 1836, prior to which the land was occupied by nomadic Aborigines who left their mark in artistic rather than substantial form, no ruins exist which can be judged as other architectural or domestic merit. Such ruins are signs of more settled communities where the supply of local and natural materials enabled the building of permanent structures to the design of men with the time and available labour to ensure that what they built remained as a mark to their passing.

The South Australian pioneers were concerned only with shelter. Little remains of the first buildings erected, 'wattle and daub' or 'pug' huts, which were so much a part of those early times, As the colony became established, local stone and brick were used in the construction of walls. resulting in buildings of a more permanent nature.

Far too many of our early buildings, however, have been allowed to deteriorate to the point of decay, or have been demolished in the name of progress, with scant regard by the authorities or the public to the fact that what little of historical value we possessed was slowly being eroded away.

Bank of South Australia Building, c1885 (SLSA)

Fortunately, in recent years, there has been an awakening to this and the National Trust, conservation bodies, historical societies and similar organisations have aroused and stimulated interest to such an extent that public outcry was instrumental in 1972 in saving the graceful A.N.Z. Bank Building in King William Street (formerly the Bank of South Australia), from the hands of the wreckers.

Many old terrace houses in North Adelaide have been restored, and there is now some appreciation of the way of life of the pioneers of this State and a determination that some of their buildings should be preserved.

The villages recreated at Hackham and Loxton allow us to step back in time and wonder at the toughness and fortitude of the early settlers, when refrigerators, washing machines, motor cars, electricity, gas, radio and television were not even thought of. What person, with the imagination to recreate for himself the conditions under which those pioneers existed, can fail to be moved by the hardships and privations they must have suffered, particularly those who went into the arid areas to the north. However, this booklet is concerned with the relatively kinder climate of the Adelaide plains and near hills, though to newcomers from more temperate zones, the extreme conditions experienced even in these areas must have been almost unbearable. Once Adelaide was established as the capital city of the new colony. intrepid groups of people began spreading out through the bush-covered hills, looking for places in which to set up home. We can have little comprehension of their struggles, or of a journey to say, Hahndorf, which took months, when good roads now make the journey possible in thirty minutes.

The birth of a nation, or a colony, is reflected in the way of life of its people, their culture and the buildings in which they lived and worked. 

Source: Touring Adelaide's History. RAA. 1974 ISBN 0 909697 02 7

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