The Course of Settlement
South Australia was a theory before it became a place. The theory owed most to Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the choice of place to Captain Charles Sturt. The gestation of the settlement in the seven years before the first colonists landed involved a blend of idealism and philanthropy, commercial speculation, comprise and muddle. The initial impetus of ideas came from Wakefield, whose theory of 'systematic colonisation' offered a partial solution to the perplexing economic and social conditions of Britain at the time. Wakefield's views were not new, but he expressed them persuasively and they were well propagated by Robert Gouger who visited Wakefield in London's Newgate Gaol in 1829 and discussed his theory of colonisation. In essence, 'systematic colonisation' required that all land should be sold at or above a fixed price and the proceeds should be used to provide free passage for a carefully selected labour force consisting of the young adult poor. The pace of emigration should depend on the volume of land sales, and a large degree of self government should be granted to the colonists in matters of land sales, emigration and revenue. As no convicts were to be admitted, no garrison troops would be needed; above all, such a colony should 'be respectable' and self-supporting.
The notion of concentration of settlement was added to the stock of theoretical ideals by an eighty year old radical political philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. He argued that the settlement should be founded on an entirely new principle entitled the vicinity-maximising-or-dispersion-preventing principle.
The arrival in London late in 1830 of Charles Sturt's glowing account of the land along the lower reaches of the River Murray fortuitously provided a location for the theorists' dreams. Sturt later gave testimony in person and joined with Robert Torrens, Gouger and many other enthusiasts in the South Australian Association to achieve the passage through the British Parliament of the South Australian Colonisation Act in 1834. Although the Act was a compromise between the caution of government and the enthusiasm of idealist, at least some of Wakefield's principles were to be put to the test in a virtually unknown land. While sales proceeded in London of land yet to be located and surveyed, intensive preparations were beginning for the actual colonisation.
South Australia became a legal and political entity on 19 February 1836 when letters patent were sealed which proclaimed its boundaries. The 12,000 or so Aborigines whose ancestors had occupied the land for at least 25,000 years were unaware of their forthcoming dispossession. That same year, an Aborigines Protection Society was formed in London with many Members of Parliament among its members. The society was to act as the conscience of the home government and encourage colonial officials to provide for the physical and spiritual welfare of the Aborigines. In official intent, at least, the colonisation of South Australia was to have greater regard for the native peoples than in the earlier Australian colonies.
South Australia was to be no ordinary colony, but an outlying British province - description that was retained in some official documents until the end of the nineteenth century, although the distinction ceased to have special meaning after 1842. Three organisations played sometimes conflicting roles in the preparation and establishment of the settlement. The first organisation was the Colonial Office, which through the government controlled all matters except emigration and land sales. The second was a Board of Commissioners in London, with Torrens as Chairman. The board represented the interests of the colonising enthusiasts and had control of land sales and emigration until its abolition in 1842. The third organisation was the South Australian Company, a commercial venture formed by a number of wealthy Londoners including George Fife Angas. Its assets comprised a large stock of town and rural land orders, some whaling ships, and the determination of a number of sound professional men to profit from the company's proposed mercantile and land interests.