See: Deed of Settlement - SA Memory

The South Australian Company was formed in London on 9 October 1835 by George Fife Angas, an influential merchant and philanthropist and a member of the Board of Commissioners responsible for establishing the new colony of South Australia. The Company formed for the immediate purpose of encouraging the preliminary purchase of land since the Commissioners’ decision to fix the price of land at twenty shillings per acre had brought land sales to a standstill, (Land was being sold at 5 shillings per acre in NSW) arousing doubts about whether the Colonization Commission would succeed in fulfilling the terms of the South Australian Act, by which it was obliged to sell 35,000 pounds worth of land before the Imperial authorities would consent to the colonization venture.

With the help of his friends Henry Kingscote and Thomas Smith, G.F. Angas offered to form a joint stock company to take up the remaining unsold land at twelve shillings per acre. The Commission agreed, on the condition that the proposed company refrain from seeking any monopolies in the colony, whereupon Angas purchased and transferred to the Company 102 lots of land of 135 acres including prime town and country sections, or 37,770 acres in all, with the right to rent a further 220,160 acres of pasturage.

1836 Expedition

In January 1836 Angas equipped and dispatched to South Australia an expedition of four ships on behalf of the Company, ahead of the Commissions’ own official expedition. The Company dispatched the Duke of York, the Lady Mary Pelham, the Emma and the John Pirie, with the intention of commencing whaling operations on Kangaroo Island - a known safe harbour.

A small settlement was established at Kingscote on Kangaroo Island in July 1836 but this location proved unsuitable for farming and the Company’s operations were soon transferred to the mainland settlement. There Samuel Stevens, who had been appointed by the directors of the Company in London as its colonial manager, purchased more land for the Company around Adelaide in the hope of attracting ‘experienced farmers possessed of small capital’ to the colony. In April 1837, however, after reports of drunkenness and disorder among the Company’s indentured labourers on Kangaroo Island, Stephens was replaced as manager by David McLaren who by 1841 had secured a further 36,000 acres of well-chosen land together with 20,000 sheep and 1,160 cattle for the Company, making it by far the largest owner of lands and herds in the colony.

Early Infastructure Creation

During this early period the South Australian Company displayed remarkable energy and enterprise in advancing the interests of the infant settlement. By building roads and bridges, erecting mills, wharfs and warehouses, establishing a local whaling, fishing and shipbuilding industry, as well as promoting mineral exploration, the Company increasingly came to be identified as ‘the real backbone’ and ‘provider of the colony.’

When, within a few months of the foundation of the settlement the Colonial Treasury’s funds became seriously depleted as a result of excessive speculation in stock and land, the Company had practically to finance all further development in the province. From the start it had conducted its own banking activities, setting up the Bank of South Australia under the competent management of Edward Stephens.

In 1842 the Company at the request of the Colonial Government undertook at its own expense, the construction of a much-needed road between Adelaide and the Port in return for a further 12,000 acres of land.

Old World Values

Although the Company was able to pay its first dividend to shareholders in 1840, the financial collapse and depression of the following years meant the careful austerity had to be exercised by the Company and dividends could not really begin to be paid properly until 1848 with the Burra (Kooringa) copper discovery.

By this time the shrewd and resourceful McLaren had resigned as manger to be succeeded by William Giles who, despite the depression and instructions from the directors in London to initiate the ‘most rigid economy’, tactfully managed the Company’s affairs, even to the point of permitting the Company’s 120 odd tenants to pay their rents in grain to prevent losing their farms.

Giles also gave encouragement to the Company’s mining ventures. A silver-lead mine had been operated by the Company at Glen Osmond since 1841, and this was followed by the opening of copper-lead mines at Rapid Bay, Kapunda, Burra (Kooringa) and Kanmantoo. Yet the Company’s mining operations were never greatly successful and in the case of the Kanmantoo mines proved a serious loss, in addition to which they had the effect of drawing labour away from farming and pastoral occupations - as did the Victorian gold rushes of 1851-1852. At this time, the Company refrained from pressing for the recovery of outstanding rents, in an attempt to induce tenants to remain on their properties.

Gone but always remembered

Although the Company continued for the next half century to contribute markedly to South Australia’s progress and prosperity, it never really regained the commercial ascendancy enjoyed during the early years of settlement. Already by 1860 the Company had divested itself of interests in whaling, ship-building and banking, and had largely abandoned its mining and pastoral pursuits to concentrate almost exclusively on agricultural production. The company continued to wind down over time and eventually all business directly relating to the South Australian Company ceased on 17 March 1949 when Elders purchased the remaining interests.

See: SA Memory

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