How Settlement in South Australia Influenced the Family



This lengthy article looks at the unique circumstances of the founding of the colony of South Australia.  It outlines the demographic and social origins of the colonists that settled here, and how these influenced the lives of the colonists, with a particular emphasis on education and especially girls’ education.


Edward Wakefield’s Idea

In 1829 Edward Gibbon Wakefield, an enterprising former minor diplomat, was at the time in Newgate Gaol for abducting a 16 year old heiress and while incarcerated published a series of articles called “Letters from Sydney.” Wakefield had never been to Australia but in gaol he read widely and became particularly interested in the opening up of new areas of the British Empire – the emigration and organisation of land settlement.

Discussions with fellow inmates including Robert Gouger, later to become the first Colonial Secretary of South Australia (and then in gaol for debt), led Wakefield to evolve a theory of colonisation that had not been considered before. It was based on the seen need to effectively colonise the far flung areas of the British Empire in order to strengthen the Empire, and of course Britain economically and politically. It also addressed the chronic unemployment problems in Britain with the associated poverty due to industrialisation and mechanisation, and soldiers and seamen leaving the forces at the end of a long period of war with France. During the 1820s England was in the grip of the effects of the industrial revolution where country people had flocked to the cities for work. England was still suffering the economic woes of the 1808-1814 Spanish Peninsula War where British soldiers had helped defeat Napoleon. Cities were overloaded with bad sanitation and disease. Poverty, hunger and destitution was the lot of many, and crime was rife.

Wakefield had also considered the problems associated with settlement when land in a new colony was granted freely, or at a nominal price. In such cases, as in New South Wales and later in the Swan River Colony (West Australia), development was hindered by too few people owning too much cheap land, and therefore having to rely on convict labour to make such land productive and hence self-sufficient.

What Wakefield proposed was to try to balance the supply of land with the demand for labour in new colonies. He proposed to restrict the land distribution and to increase the labour supply. This could be done firstly by selling the land at a suitably high price to prevent all labourers becoming land owners easily, and secondly by devoting the proceeds of sales of land to provide assisted passage for a carefully selected young labour force for the yeoman land owners. "The supply of Labourers be as nearly as possible proportioned to the demand for Labour at each settlement; so that Capitalists shall never suffer from an urgent want of Labourers, and that Labourers shall never want for well-paid employment”.The incentive for labourers was that, with an industrious and sober life in the new colony, they would eventually be their own masters and be able to employ labour themselves.

Wakefield could also see this proposal ensuring new opportunities for capital and profit-taking.  Also there would be additional sources of employment for the under-employed and unemployed workers and tradesmen of the economically depressed home country.

With Wakefield’s Quaker and Gouger’s Huguenot heritage, religious freedom and the separation of church and state was an important concern. So they proposed their model settlement should also be free from political and religious patronage and the evils of a privileged church.

The colony was to be opened for settlement by British subjects but under no circumstances were convicts to be admitted or paupers encouraged. There should be no free grants of land as had happened in New South Wales.

Wakefield envisaged compact communities on civilised lines, self-sufficient social economic structures that would include a mixture of class – the capitalists and workers – to make the community functional for the benefit of all.

Considering the plan in greater detail, theoretically an emigrant of moderate means or of the labouring classes could purchase land or set up a business which, with initiative, hard work and industry, could be used to improve their position. The younger sons of landed families, minor gentry and the middle classes could be lured by the prospect of enhanced status, fortune and security. There would be no free land for fortune hunters but, in order to raise capital for the colony without deterring potential investors, all land would be sold at a ‘sufficient price’ – initially 1 pound per acre. This money would be used to bring out more settlers. Poorer emigrants, given a start through cheap fares, would ensure a supply of labour. The emigration of family units was encouraged to ensure a labour supply and settlers were selected for their skills, basic education and good character. Upward social mobility and the promise of steady economic advancement under a capitalist system would be their reward.

The theory was compelling. In all areas of life hard work and respectability were to be the keystones of success. There would be little interference from a government whose laissez faire policies promoted individualism and independence. The individual rose or fell according to talent and industry. These conditions would result in the establishment of a vibrant and ascendant class which would assume a measure of authority in the new society.

Women were also central in Wakefield’s plan, which considered it essential that equal numbers of men and women emigrate in order to ensure a high birth rate and the civilising influence of family life. Young healthy married couples were especially encouraged. Single women were less welcome and only to be admitted for specific purposes, such as domestic services. So in the model colony all women were seen to have an improving effect on Society as agents of moral and mannerly behaviour, culture and religion.

These aspects of Wakefield’s plan – the importance of women and the ideal of attracting honest, sober, God-fearing and socially ambitious emigrants, were significant in the development of attitudes and behaviour in South Australian life.

Implementing Wakefield’s Ideas in South Australia – The Migrant Catchment

The discovery by the explorer Charles Sturt of the River Murray in 1830, and the subsequent publication in 1833 of Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia, gave new impetus to Wakefield's plans for a "Colony on the Southern Coast of Australia".

From 1831 onwards political radicals and reformers like Wakefield, Gouger, Bentham, Grey, Bacon and later on Grote, Whitmore, Hutt and Pottinger, sought Government assent and support for a number of proposals to establish a colony along Wakefield’s ideas in South Australia. Eventually the South Australian Association had introduced to Parliament “a bill to erect South Australia into a British Province and to provide for the colonisation and government thereof.” The Bill passed through the House of Commons,and under the Duke of Wellington's patronage, also the House of Lords, before being signed into law by William IV on 15 August 1834.

The new Act was a compromise measure, but in concurrence with Wakefield's system of colonisation it made provision:

  •  for a minimum land price, with money raised to be used to transport poor emigrants to the colony;
  •  that no poor person shall be transported to the colony without their husband or wife and children also being transported;
  •  for the creation of local government once the population reached fifty thousand, and
  •  that no convicts would under any circumstances be transported to the colony.

However the Act also contained a clause allowing for the appointment of chaplains and clergy of the Established Church. This had been a last minute addition, when fears were raised in Parliament about the lack of a defined Christian basis in the proposed colony.

The Act stated that 802,511 square kilometres would be allotted to the colony and to be convict-free. The plan for the colony was to be the ideal embodiment of the best qualities of British society, that is, no religious discrimination or unemployment. The province and its capital were named prior to settlement. The Act further specified that it was to be self-sufficient; £20,000 surety had to be created and £35,000 worth of land had to be sold in the new colony before any settlement was permitted. These conditions were fulfilled by the close of 1835.

With the passing of the Bill pressure to implement the Act came from those who had applied to become colonists, as they had spent much of the previous year preparing to sail to the new colony

On 5 May 1835 the Colonization Commissioners for South Australia; Robert Torrens, Rowland Hill, George Fife Angas, George Palmer, Joseph Montefiore, William Hutt, John Wright, Samuel Mills, and William Mackinnon were appointed, along with Edward Barnard and John LeFevre representing the Colonial Office. Robert Gouger was appointed Colonial Secretary, John Hindmarsh as Governor, James Hurtle Fisher as Resident Commissioner and William Light as Surveyor General of the new colony.

The control of the land fund and the emigration was given to a Board of Commissioners in London with representatives in SA including the Surveyor General and Resident Commissioner.

Soon posters appeared in England extolling the virtues of this new colony, where the climate was superb, almost anything would grow, and where Jack could rise to be as good as his master. Many, discontented with their lot in Britain and unable to see a better way of life for their children, took up the offer.

The Migrant Catchment

In planning a new order where civil liberty, social opportunity and equality of denominational religion were promised, certain British patterns were unavoidably adopted, including a society structured by class. But whereas the English class system was rigidly defined, affording little upwards movement, the new society offered the possibility of relocation up or down depending on personal initiative, industry and circumstances. Although notions of patronage and inherited superiority were firmly rejected, the emigrants also brought with them other social beliefs including the centrality of religion and family life, the notion of the separate spheres of male and female existence, the ideology of domesticity and the concept of the “Ideal Woman”

In Victorian Britain class was defined by a combination of occupation, income and values. Deprecating the privileged inherited position of the landed gentry, the emerging British middle class challenged aristocratic political power and ethical standards, validating its stance by forging new distinctive values. Rather than living off rents and the emoluments of office, actively seeking income, personal industry and hard work were now to be the linchpins of success. Manhood was legitimised through ability in the market and the professions. Work was elevated into a serious and dignified generally masculine business, a Christian undertaking of God’s duty in the world.

In Britain the concepts of obedience and knowing one’s place were important habits instilled in the children of middle class families at the earliest age. Girls were taught to obey their parents and to prepare themselves for the dictates of a husband. As the middle class became confident and more firmly established, belief in personal salvation was replaced by a wider domestic morality linked with good taste and the recognition and rejection of vulgarity.

In Britain the standards of taste and refinement, the lineaments of a genteel lifestyle, were increasingly set by women. Middle class society set exacting standards of appearance and behaviour with elaborate codes of etiquette and gentility, and “ladies’ were expected to live by well-defined rules of social and moral behaviour.

Success in the middle class depended on hard work and respectability. As the middle class paid increasing attention to education and self-improvement as a means of social advance, one avenue by which the newly rich families could join the middle class was through public boys’ schools, which were eagerly patronised, helping to bring about their reform and spectacular proliferation. Not only did they receive some variation of a liberal education, but they could also make useful contacts for their future in the competitive outside world.

Middle class families also sought education for their daughters, in the hope that improved social knowledge would make them more attractive in the marriage stakes.

Class in the New Colony

So, rejecting the traditional land owning aristocracy of Britain, the majority of independent migrants of the ‘middling classes’ came to the colony in search of ‘elbow room.’ With only modest capital men of initiative sought to improve their position.

The creation of wealth involved country and city people alike. Families had to survive in competitive and often austere conditions but religious teaching and altruism provided mutual help and a sharing of resources. Serious minded men and women were determined to have evangelical, utilitarian and liberal principles predominating in their new home and in the absence of privilege, men of enterprise assumed leadership. Better educated migrants? brought with them the European traditions and standards of art, music and thought which they deemed important in constructing an exalted moral climate in the new society.

Those determined to better themselves nurtured the consistent hope of improving their position within the existing social structure. This ensured that the stratification of Society was in continual flux. Not only was the lure of climbing up the social ladder ever present but the fear of slipping was continually in the minds of families and individuals. Marriage prospects of course hindered or enhanced one’s chances of climbing the ladder.

Having acquired a measure of wealth, colonists built substantial houses and established a style of living that demonstrated their industry and foresight and forged a shrewd and pragmatic society that believed the highest destiny of a woman was to reside in the new home as a living symbol of success.

The undisputed leader of South Australian Society was the governor and his wife, followed by pastoralists, judges, army officers, higher clergy, ‘gentlemen professionals’ prominent merchants and successful businessmen and their families, gentlemen or ladies who possessed qualities – honesty, dignity, courtesy, consideration and social ease – which were developed by education and religious affiliations. In the ’middling group’ were farmers, small shopkeepers, artisans and clerks, many of whom constantly attempted by hard work and respectability to join the higher rank. At the bottom was the motley collection of labourers, domestics and unskilled workers referred to as the ‘working classes.’

Adelaide was effectively established without any rural population or produce to support it. As the supply of goods and food dwindled in the colony shortages developed and prices rose. There was an urgent need for tradesmen and agriculturalists. The German settlers arriving from 1838, staunch Lutherans fleeing Prussian repression and principally farmers in hard-working rural communities, were largely responsible for redressing the balance. By 1870 German migrants totalled nearly 10% of the population.

Members of the ruling and middle classes in the new Colony exhibited identifiable standards based on respectability. They were the inheritors of the ideals of evangelical Christianity, a tradition of humanitarianism, utilitarianism and high standards of personal morality. They believed in progress and cautious liberalism and clung to family, church and representative institutions, reconstructing the middle class lives with which they were familiar. Virtues were the capacity for hard work, honesty, thrift and a concern for the community.

In families who wished to be known as reputable, all members were encouraged to demonstrate respectability. High moral principles and the ethical values of honesty, industry, love of neighbour and tolerance were expected to be adhered to

The separation of the work of men and women, particularly in urban life, resulted in the evolution of discrete spheres of influence. As in England the distinguishing feature of the middle or upper class colonial family was the moral superiority of women. Their mission was to be the guardians of moral, spiritual and domestic values, the agents of the highest values in civilisation, the creators of stability and peace in their sphere, the home. There, women were the primary educators of children, the nurses and the purveyors of benevolence and reassurance. Through this they retained a measure of the power and authority which their contribution towards domestic economic survival had given them in the early days of settlement. As the primary shaping force of the personalities of children, mothers had the potential to guide the moral direction of society.  In addition their position of moral supremacy endowed women with unique power and authority to guide and oversee the behavioural choices of their men. South Australian women were central to the campaigns for combating social turpitude and raising the awareness of economic inequities in Society.


Education in the Colony

A principal aim of most migrants to South Australia was to better their position and that of their children. A crucial determinant of future success in an increasingly complex society was education.

Education in the first twenty years or so of the Colony was haphazard. Much education, as it was, took place in the home. Anybody could “keep school”. No certificate of proficiency was required; all that was needed was a sufficient number of scholars, some kind of building in which to house them, and basic educational rudiments like slates to write on. Initially the great handicap was that governments spent nothing on the education of the masses and people on low incomes struggled to pay private school fees.

The liberty which South Australia had promised to protect in both religion and civil affairs was guarded by a strict adherence to the voluntaryist principle that argues that each individual had the personal responsibility of providing what was needed, with no recourse to charity or financial help from the community. Migrants were expected to pay for any personal services required, be they religious, medical, legal or educational. So from the start of the colony, in accord with voluntaryist principles and under the capitalist system, schooling became a commodity which could be purchased in the market place, subject to the pressures of supply and demand. An important part of the curriculum offering of the private schools which emerged was an education in moral and religious ideas

The Education Act of 1851 provided government assistance for private schools granted a licence by the Education Board. However the Board was only authorised by the Act to grant a licence and pay stipends to teachers at private schools once (i.e. after) they had been established. The Board “though unable to initiate schools, are anxious to afford every encouragement in their power to residents to establish them in localities where they are required.” Often the local District Council took initial responsibility to establish a school.

The passing of the Education Act in 1875 made attendance compulsory for children between the ages of seven and thirteen, with fees ranging from fourpence to sixpence a week to part cover operating costs. In time opposition to compulsory education from poor and illiterate or semi-literate parents diminished. These people were usually eager for their children to have an advantage they themselves had missed. The great opponents were some employers of labour who feared reduced availability of cheap uneducated labour.

The early schooling options for middle class boys shows that their education was primarily utilitarian. After ensuring a degree of literacy and numeracy, its principal aim was to procure an advantage in employment

Ambitious parents who could afford the fees for the ‘higher education’ offered by the emergent boys schools were giving their sons the advantage of practical specialised knowledge.  This could lead to employment that commanded a higher salary return than might be expected by landholders from the frequently unreliable seasons on a small property. There was the added benefit of an introduction to boys from families of similar enterprise and ideals, an effective positive reinforcement of their aspirations for social and economic advancement

The nexus between religious practise and education was evident from the outset. Working class congregations were found in Methodism, particularly the Primitive Methodists and Bible Christians and in Roman Catholicism. By contrast, the Congregational, Baptist, Presbyterian and more especially the Anglican churches were dominated by men of capital and social standing who also wielded political power.

Methodist numbers were strong, especially in agricultural districts, and were increased by influxes of mining immigrants. In the 1880s they became the majority and wielded power in public office, for example in primary education, which was reorganised with emphasis on the Methodist attributes of discipline, obedience and efficiency.

Within denominations there were gradations to which those keen on advancement would consider. Particular churches, usually in more affluent areas, developed shades of superiority which drew adherents from neighbouring districts and deflected attendance by more lowly families. For instance, the Kent Town Methodist Church had a social cachet which drew together Wesleyans of assured means. In time, this group was instrumental in establishing Prince Alfred College in 1869 and Miss Shuttleworth’s Hardwicke House.

In 1847 the Church of England, with its links to Government House, appointed an Oxford educated bishop whose interests in education and the hope of training clerics locally led to the foundation of the Collegiate School of St Peter that year. This was to be a central focus for promoting Anglicanism and for producing gentlemanly leaders of Society. But by the 1870s, following the establishment of Prince Alfred College, the Reverend E K Miller was able to state that ‘Dissent was decidedly in the ascendant”


Girls Education and Emancipation

In the early years, preparing girls for the role of perfect wife and mother usually involved education by parents or governess within a familial domestic setting. Girls might also attend a small “ladies school’, usually managed by middle class women, where their education was less scholarly than the boys and more ‘ornamental and social’. These establishments were sometimes advertised as ‘ladies academies’.

Initially a girl’s education was not directed towards useful subjects relating to the building of knowledge which she might use to gain paid employment. Rather than developing her reasoning power a girl’s education enhanced her emotional, moral and instinctive nature. The accomplishments she acquired were not easily translated into skills that could be exchanged for income, unless as a teacher. Their very nature meant they were home and leisure activities useful only in the domestic sphere, where their presentation gave little encouragement to the growth of original creativity. Rather, this decorative education was designed to show girls to advantage and, by demonstrating their gentility and refinement to suitors, to secure an advantageous marriage.

Music was one means by which an upwardly mobile family could display its relative position and social pretensions

Some class conscious parents sent their girls to boarding schools ‘to finish’ and to achieve social confidence and polish, particularly where the mother lacked social skills and wished her daughter to marry well. In a society where bridegrooms were in short supply parents eagerly supported those schools which offered the best prospects of advancement in Society.

Middle class girls were nurtured and educated so that in time, each could become an Ideal Woman, with marriage as her objective for the economic and emotional security which could be further enhanced by motherhood. To be a man’s helpmate, companionable wife, careful and frugal housekeeper and caring mother was her ultimate destiny. The keeper of a family home would be doubly honoured. There were exceptions, but there was little incentive for the development of personal autonomy.

Although marriage was the key to a girl’s future, some girls felt forced into marriage by circumstances, unwilling to remain a burden to their family and with mothers insensitive to the indignities of their daughters’ position. Some spirited thinking girls derided social duties as futility for an intelligent girl. Some declared that their parents had never thought of them as independent beings but only as appendages of themselves, with few inklings of the humiliation of dependence and the deprivation of self.

An imperative of early feminist thinking then was to change the nature of girl’s education, a challenge enthusiastically accepted by reformers intent on alleviating the disadvantages women faced, particularly as independent wage earners. Education would widen choices and employment opportunities for unmarried women and, with better education, no longer would they have to ‘suffer and be still.’

In South Australia different historical and economic determinants resulted in the creation of substantial church schools for girls in the other Australian colonies earlier than in South Australia, where their origin dates from the 1890s. Up until then the private venture schools flourished in the upwardly mobile South Australian society.  Parents sought to educate their girls with the trappings of gentility where a decorative bias overrode academic endeavours. The secluded nature of girl’s schools appealed to ambitious parents and ladies schools gained an enviable position until the colonial government improved educational chances.

The first government high school for girls in South Australia - the Advanced School for Girls – opened in Adelaide in 1879. This influential school offered direct competition to the privileged position enjoyed by the private venture schools. By holding scholastic achievement paramount, the Advanced School offered a ‘serious academic education’ with the possibility of University education and entry into the professions, manifesting aims not dissimilar to the North London Collegiate School on which it was possibly modelled.

Of the private schools for girls established without institutional backing in colonial South Australia, four were comparatively enduring, including Hardwicke College (1873-1910), a predominantly Methodist establishment.

Women’s strong moral role may have helped impress on their men the inherited legal inequities they bore and may have assisted them in achieving legislative and policy changes with particular benefits to their position and that of their children. Throughout the 19th Century legislation was passed to improve the position of women in South Australia. These dealt with the private concerns of marriage and its breakdown, with property and custodianship of children and with the more public domain of voting rights, political representation, prostitution and employment. Their gradual implementation reduced women’s dependence on men. Indeed the first 80 years of South Australian settlement may be viewed as a progressive climb towards economic and political independence for women. The education of girls may only be appreciated by considering women’s political and economic standing in the society which they were helping to form.


What about the Sullivans?

Timothy Sullivan was aspirational, as demonstrated by working his way up to be a ship’s mate. That he was willing to seek a better life for himself and his family by emigrating from England further illustrates his desire to better himself. Wife Ellen was undoubtedly the typical wife and mother of the times, taking responsibility for her children’s development, upbringing and education whilst her husband was at sea.

Of the children, sons John and Samuel Grose typified the aspirational colonist.

John, despite leaving South Australia early, progressed to become farmer and landowner. In fact the family history suggests that eventually the family employed servants at the Dunbulbulane property, and that his wife Mary was disappointed when son Arthur married “below the stairs”.

Samuel was a typical aspirational South Australian. He changed careers early in life from boot-maker to teacher and ultimately head master of a prestigious Adelaide Public School. He married well, his first wife being the daughter of a respected local government official and his second wife, Hannah, was also educated sufficiently herself to be a teacher. Samuel was aspirational for most of his children, sending all but one to prestigious private schools for further education once their compulsory public schooling had been completed. He too became a property owner near the end of his life, building a comfortable house in the eastern suburbs of Adelaide.

Even Timothy’s daughter Ellen, who married a blacksmith, progressed in life, eventually owning with her husband a comfortable residence in Croydon.

Many of Timothy’s grandchildren advanced their social standing through education and marriage.

  • Lucy May Watters had a degree in music, lived in an elegantly furnished house in Shepparton and whose “gentleman” husband is reported to have been Mayor of Shepparton.
  • Charles Frederick Sullivan had become a teacher and was progressing further through tertiary education when is life was cut short by the War.
  • Cecil Arthur Edgar Sullivan went on to become a well-known accountant
  • Ernest Sullivan became a respected assayer and mineralogist
  • Wilf Sullivan became a pharmacist
  • Hilda Marion Sullivan was being educated in all the facets of the “Ideal Woman” in Adelaide at Hardwicke College when her life was prematurely cut short at age 19.

A review of most of the articles for the individual descendants in this Family History show progression in Society, generally with better lives than their parents, closely associated with education. Very few descendants, if any, slipped back in Society towards the “Working Class.”

See also the article on “The PAC Connection.”


The Hamlyn family, 1855-1977: the Kay family, 1865-1977: in Australia / [by Rosemary Mole].  (1977) Copy held by SA Genealogy & Heraldry Society

The Linke families in Australia, 1838-1980: a history and family tree / by David R. Love, Dulcie I. Love.  (1980) Copy held by SA Genealogy & heraldry Society
Age of Transition: a study of four South Australian private girls’ schools 1855-1926 /Helen Reid.  (2000). Copy held by SA Genealogy & heraldry Society
South Australia Central Board of Education Report. 1873 Last Quarter. Copy held by SA Genealogy & Heraldry Society
“Wakefield, Edward Gibbon (1796-1862) by Graeme L Pretty, article published in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.2 (MUP) 1967
Tourist Information Distributors Australia – Exploring Adelaide – A Brief History