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South Australian Company

History of the South Australian Company (BRG 42)

South Australian Company: Collection description | South Australian Company: Mapping

The records of the South Australian Company deposited with the State Library of South Australia, Archival collections (BRG 42 or Business Record Group 42) provide historians and researchers with a useful perspective of the early development of an Australian colonial economy. The South Australian Company made a significant contribution to the foundation and settlement of South Australia. For over a century it continued to play and important part in the commercial affairs of Adelaide and its surrounding regions. The volume of material contained in the record group is quite substantial, comprising fifty major separate series of records which occupy close to nineteen metres of repository shelving. Most of the papers were deposited in the Archival collections in 1937-1938 and came from both the London and Adelaide Offices of the Company. Other records of the South Australian Company are held by the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.

The South Australian Company was formed in London on 9 October 1835 by George Fife Angas and other wealthy British merchants. Angas was a pious, influential merchant banker and philanthropist. He had been a member of the Board of Commissioners responsible for establishing the new colony of South Australia but resigned to form the South Australian Company. This was created as both a philanthropic and business venture. Its immediate purpose was to encourage the purchase, in advance, of land in the planned colony of South Australia.

The formation of South Australia followed considerable lobbying by the South Australian Association, a group consisting of philanthropists, radical thinkers, dissenters and merchants. Its influential members included Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Robert Gouger, Robert Torrens and George Fife Angas. After a years of negotiation, false starts, changes and amendments to suggested charters, the British Parliament finally gave approval for the colonizing venture. It passed the South Australian (Foundation) Act on 15 August 1834.

Although the South Australian Association had wanted a virtually independent colony, parliament insisted that the new settlement was to be jointly run. Authority was divided between the British Crown, represented by a Governor, and the London based Board of the South Australian Colonization Commission. This Board of Commissioners would be represented in the new colony by a Resident Commissioner, Surveyor-General, an Emigration Agent and other officers.

Parliament also made its support for the colonization venture conditional on the advanced sale of land in the new colony, i.e. "no emigration (would) be permitted until land in the colony to the value of 35,000 pounds had been sold and a loan raised of 80,000 pounds, this being the estimated cost of ten years' government." (Pike, Douglas, Paradise of Dissent, P 68). However only half the land required to be sold, was sold, even after the initial price of two pounds* (40 shillings) per acre was dropped to 12 shillings per acre. Land in existing Australian colonies at this time was only five shillings per acre.

George Fife Angas then offered to form a joint stock company to take up the remaining unsold land at twelve shillings per acre. The Board of the Colonization Commission agreed, on condition that the proposed South Australian Company refrain from seeking any monopolies in the colony. Angas, having resigned from the South Australian Association and its Board of Commissioners, then set up the South Australian Company. He purchased and transferred to it, 102 lots of land of 135 acres. This included prime town and country sections totalling 13,770 acres, with the right to rent a further 220,160 acres of pasturage. This was sufficient to enable emigration to begin. The South Australian Company, as a business venture, was not officially connected to the government or the Board of Commissioners but its intervention saved the colonization plan.

In January 1836, Angas equipped and dispatched a fleet of four ships on behalf of the company. This was in advance of the commission's own official expedition. A small settlement was established at Kingscote on Kangaroo Island in July 1836 but this location proved unsuitable for farming. Most of the company's operations were soon transferred to the mainland settlement.

During this early period in South Australia's development, the company displayed great energy and enterprise in building the new settlement. Roads and bridges were built. Mills, wharfs and warehouses were erected. Local whaling, fishing and shipbuilding industries were established and mineral exploration was promoted. The Depression of the 1840s led to a period of very tight financial management. Dividends could not really begin to be paid properly until 1848 with the Burra (Koorunga) copper discovery.

The South Australian Company continued to play an influential role in the commercial affairs of Adelaide and rural regions for more than a century. The company wound up on 17 March 1949 and the management of its affairs was transferred to Elders Trustee & Executor Company Ltd.

* Prior to 1966 Australia used the British currency system which was based on pounds sterling. A pound equalled 20 British shillings. The Australian pound equalled 20 Australian shillings. When decimal currency was introduced, ten Australian shillings was equal to one Australian dollar.

Further Reading

Diamond, Arthur Ian, Problems in the South Australian Company's Settlement of Kangaroo Island, Thesis [(B.A.(Hons.)) -- University of Adelaide, 1952?] [See also D 6215(T) for an index to the thesis].

Gee, Lionel C. E. (Lionel Carley Egremont) and Brown, H. Y. L. (Henry Yorke Lyell), Record of the Mines of South Australia, 4th edtion, Adelaide, 1908.

Price, A. Grenfell, Founders & Pioneers of South Australia, Adelaide, 1929

Sutherland, George, The South Australian Company; a study in colonisation, London; New York: Longmans, Green, 1898.

State Library of South Australia factsheets online South Australian Company


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