Collapse of the Adelaide Colony

Bankrupt and Starving

In the late 1830's, with the Adelaide colony in debt to the tune of £400,000, matters were now in a very gloomy condition. Most of the colonists became anxious to return to England and therefore sought to sell their land. But when it became clear that nearly everyone wanted to sell and no one wanted to purchase, the price plummetted. Men who had invested a fortune in town allotments could scarcely sell for enough for a fare home. In the meantime the English merchants declined to send out any further supplies and those who had no means of Adelaide seemed in great danger of starving. But a land could be bought very cheaply, many industrious people of the poorer class settled down to clear land for farming. This was what should have been done from the very beginning, for no colony can be prosperous, or hope for anything but bankruptcy, until it commences to produce grain, wool or minerals.

Success In Wheat Farming

The lands of South Australia are admirably adapted for the growth of wheat and after a time the efforts of the farmers were rewarded greatly and they thus laid the foundation for future prosperity.

The Overlanders  

Another industry was also beginning to be established about this time. The young squatters of New South Wales, attracted by the high prices given for sheep in the early days of Adelaide, had been daring enough, in spite of the blacks and of the troublesome journey, to drive their flocks overland. They soon gave quite a wool growing tone to the community. These "overlanders", as they were called, adopted a bndit style of dress, in their scarlet shirts and broad- brimmed hats, their belts filled with pistols and their horses gaily outfitted, they caused a sensation in the streets of Adelaide. But as they brought about 50,000 sheep into the the colony during the course of only a year or two, they were of essential benefit to it. Many of them settled down and taught the new arrivals how to manage flocks and prepare the wool and thus they assisted in raising Adelaide from the state of despondency and distress to which it had sunk.

Recall of Governor Gawler

The British Government eventually decided to lend the colony a sufficient sum of money to pay its debts, but it was resolved to make certain changes. The eleven commissioners were abolished, Captain George Grey, a young officer, was appointed to Governor and in May 1841 he walked into Government House in Adelaide and took control of the colony. This summary mode of dismissing Governor Gawler must now be regarded as somewhat harsh, for he had laboured hard and spent his own money freely in trying to help the colony. The mistakes which were made during his administration were not so much due to his incapacity as to the impracticable nature of the Wakefield theory on which the colony had been founded. In 1841, he sailed for England.


History of Australia