Myths and Facts
Myth 1 : South Australia was discovered by Matthew Flinders in 1802.
Facts : "Discovered" infers that no-one was living here, whereas people had been living in Australia for over 60,000 years - well before Europeans had started to arrive.
The first recorded European exploration of the western coastline up to the area now known as Ceduna was in 1627 by the Dutch.
It could be stated that Matthew Flinders was the first European explorer to comprehensively chart much of the coastline of what is now known as South Australia, including Kangaroo Island.
Myth 2 : The Buffalo's first port of call in South Australia was Holdfast Bay (Glenelg) on 28th December 1836.
Facts: The Buffalo arrived Port Lincoln 17th December 1836. Based on Matthew Flinders reports, Captain John Hindmarsh had thought this would be the best place for the new settlement (rather than Kangaroo Island), but Col. Light had already inspected both places and considered them unsuitable, opting for the plains beneath Mount Lofty.
Myth 3 : The Buffalo was the first vessel to arrive at Holdfast Bay on 28th December 1836.
Facts: No less than six other vessels had anchored at Holdfast Bay (having first arrived at Kangaroo Island) before the Buffalo. Several hundred people were patiently awaiting the arrival of their new Governor.
Myth 4: Captain John Hindmarsh proclaimed the creation of the colony of South Australia on 28th December 1836.
Facts: It actually was not a "Colony" but a "Province", although it was administered by the Colonial Office in London by its "Commissioners", one of whom was resident in South Australia.
The Province was actually legally created in London in 1834 and 1836.
The "proclamation" was actually a declaration of the commencement of the new Government of the Province, with Captain John Hindmarsh the new Governor.
Salient points about Proclamation Day
• Europeans (mainly sealers) were already settled on Kangaroo Island well before the Province of South Australia was proclaimed in London.
• The Province of South Australia was proclaimed in London, in two stages, 1834 and 19 Feb 1836 – (NOT on Proclamation Day, in Glenelg).
• Captain John Hindmarsh received his commission as Governor and commander-in-chief of the Province of South Australia on 14 July 1836, just before he set sail on the Buffalo with his family, the resident commissioner, (Sir) James Fisher and his family, and some 160 emigrants.
• But by that time eight other colonizing ships, with some 400 emigrants, had already left England for South Australia with the first (Duke of York) reaching Kangaroo Island on 27th July 1836, known as “Settlement Day”.
• A total of eight ships arrived at the new settlement in Kangaroo Island, in the five month period before the Buffalo arrived at Holdfast Bay. Some immigrants stayed on Kangaroo Island and established themselves as pioneer settlers, building permanent structures, wells, establishing orchards and gardens, as well as the first cemetery in SA. Most had moved to the mainland by 1846.
• 17th December 1836 the Buffalo arrives at Port Lincoln (not Nepean Bay).
• 28th December 1836, the Buffalo lands at Holdfast Bay where about 300 people were patiently awaiting the new Governor.
• A proclamation was read by the Governor’s private secretary, George Stevenson, in the shade of a large gum tree near Glenelg, announcing the establishment of government of the province (n.b. NOT the establishment of the province, which occurred two years earlier).
• To avoid on-going legal confusion as to the exact date of the establishment of the province it was clarified as late as 1872 to be 28th December 1836.
• In May 1836 Governor Hindmarsh was appointed a Knight of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order which was a foreign order that only entitled him to use the post nominals KH after his name. He was not entitled to be styled as “Sir” in the U.K. until he was knighted in August 1851 by Queen Victoria. It follows that this applied to the Colonies, Provinces and Empire as well.
How many South Australians know the history behind Proclamation Day? Although commemorated on 28th December each year, it now seems to have become synonymous with the ‘Boxing Day’ Public Holiday we all enjoy the day after Christmas Day.
How many South Australians know that in 1936 moves were afoot to rename this historic date, and that on 28 December this year we could have been celebrating ‘Hindmarsh Day’, or even worse, ‘Birthday Day’?
Proclamation Day was launched in 1857 as part of the 21st anniversary of European settlement. On 28 December 1836 Captain John Hindmarsh came ashore at Holdfast Bay to complete the formalities establishing him as Governor of the new colony. Seeking to add a bit of ceremony to the occasion Hindmarsh’s private secretary, George Stevenson, read a document he had written in November 1836. That document and the actual events of that day have been researched and debated by lawyers and historians ever since.
The issue so widely discussed is the phrase “proclaimed the colony of South Australia”. Variations of this phrase appeared in the diaries and letters of different colonists from 1837, was taken up by the newspapers of the day and has permeated most historical and media publications ever since. And it is very wrong.
Governor Hindmarsh didn’t ‘proclaim the colony’- that had already been done by the British Government in London through two pieces of legislation in 1834 and 1836.
So, what did happen at Glenelg on 28 December 1836?
At around 1.30pm Captain John Hindmarsh landed from the 9th ship to bring official emigrants to South Australia, the Buffalo, and was taken to a tent where he produced the official documents appointing him Governor of the new colony. After swearing his oath of allegiance to the King, other members of the Council were sworn in, and the official business of the day was finished.
However, to give the crowd that had gathered near the tent a sense of occasion, Hindmarsh and his Council assembled outside and George Stevenson read the declaration he had written during the voyage to South Australia. That declaration, or ‘proclamation’, announced the establishment of the Government, told the colonists that they had to obey British law and stated that the Aboriginal population now had the protection of the law as British subjects.
The Buffalo fired a 21-gun salute and then the new colony enjoyed a cold dinner. The food may have been enjoyed in a tent or possibly under a large gum tree – again diaries and letters written at the time all say something slightly different.
It should also be noted that Governor Hindmarsh was aware that his ship, the Buffalo, was not the ‘first’ ship to arrive, and that the group of emigrants gathered at Glenelg to witness his arrival in South Australia were not the ‘first’ colonists.
The honour of being the first ship to land official settlers in South Australia goes to the Duke of York, which had arrived at Kangaroo Island on 27 July 1836. The Buffalo did not go to Kangaroo Island. It was preceded by another 8 ships which did, and by 28 December 1836 there were around 150 emigrants living on Kangaroo Island.
And let’s not forget South Australia’s first farmer, Henry ‘Governor’ Wallen, who was on hand to greet the first official settlers as they arrived at Kangaroo Island. Wallen, along with several other ‘unofficial’ settlers, had been living on KI for over 10 years before the Duke of York arrived. There were also settlers living and working at Encounter Bay long before official settlement began.
So, what is the true significance of Proclamation Day?
It’s a day to remember the ‘unofficial’ settlers and their Aboriginal wives on Kangaroo Island and at Encounter Bay; the first ‘official’ settlers who were trying to survive desperate water shortages under tents on Kangaroo Island; and the later settlers who arrived at Glenelg before moving up to the new town of Adelaide.
And it’s a day to acknowledge the proclamation of Government and the establishment of British law in South Australia.
- Anthea Taylor, 1 Jan 2022
There is a sign, erected in 1857 (when the colony had become "of age") , at the site of the "The Old Gum Tree" in Glenelg which incorrectly states "the fact" that the colony of South Australia was proclaimed and established as a Province on 28th December 1836.
Contempory historians challenge the accuracy of this statement. "The proclamation issued by Governor John Hindmarsh on 28 December 1836 did not proclaim the province of South Australia officially. That was done in England in two stages long before the first colonists set sail. First, in 1834 the British Parliament passed the South Australia Act which empowered King William IV to create South Australia as a British province and to provide for its colonization and government. Then on 19 February 1836, literally as the first of the South Australian Co.’s ships were about to sail, King William issued Letters Patent establishing the province and outlining various aspects of its management, including the way in which the original inhabitants’ rights should be maintained." (Anderson, History SA.)
The proclamation actually reads
By His EXCELLENCY JOHN HINDMARSH,
Knight of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic
Order, Governor and Commander-in-Chief
HIS MAJESTY’S PROVINCE
In announcing to the colonists of His Majesty’s Province of South Australia, the establishment of the Government, I hereby call upon them to conduct themselves on all occasions with order and quietness, duly to respect the laws, and by a course of industry and sobriety, by the practice of sound morality, and a strict observance of the Ordinances of Religion, to prove themselves worthy to be the Founders of a great and free Colony.
It is also, at this time especially, my duty to apprize the Colonists of my resolution, to take every lawful means of extending the same protection to the NATIVE POPULATION as to the rest of His Majesty’s Subjects, and of my firm determination to punish with exemplary severity, all acts of violence or injustice which may in any manner be practiced or attempted against the NATIVES, who are to be considered as much under the Safeguard of the law as the Colonists themselves, and equally entitled to the privileges of British Subjects. I trust therefore, with confidence to the exercise of moderation and forbearance by all Classes, in their intercourse with the NATIVE INHABITANTS, and that they will omit no opportunity of assisting me to fulfil His Majesty’s most gracious and benevolent intentions towards them, by promoting their advancement in civilisation, and ultimately, under the blessing of Divine Providence, the conversion to the Christian Faith.
By his Excellency’s command,
Glenelg, 28th December, 1836.
GOD SAVE THE KING.
Glenelg: Printed by authority, by ROBERT THOMAS and CO., Government Printers.
Whereas the original sign should be retained (as it is in itself an important historical artifact), another clarifying sign should be affixed, either directly below or directly beside it, which reflects a better understanding of the event.
The supplementary sign could read:
Near this spot on 28th December 1836, a proclamation was read on behalf of Governor John Hindmarsh, which marked the establishment of the Government of His Majesty's Province of South Australia (rather than management by officials of the South Australian Co.). The actual proclamation of the Province of South Australia was done in England in 1834 when the British Parliament passed the South Australia Act which empowered King William IV to create South Australia as a British province and to provide for its colonization and government. Then on 19 February 1836, as the first of the South Australian Co.’s ships were about to sail, King William issued Letters Patent establishing the province.
It could also include the wording of the Proclamation.
Sources:Margaret Anderson, History SA, ‘The first reading of the proclamation’, SA History Hub, History Trust of South Australia, http://sahistoryhub.com.au/events/the-first-reading-of-the-proclamation, accessed 29 August 2017.Margaret Anderson, History SA, "The Proclamation", Adelaidia, History Trust of South Australia, http://adelaidia.sa.gov.au/subjects/the-proclamation, accessed 29 August 2017.City of Holdfast Bay, https://www.holdfast.sa.gov.au/OldGumTree , accessed 29 August 2017.Manning Index of South Australian History, State Library of South Australia, http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/manning/pn/g/glenelg1.htm#oldGum, accessed 29 August 2017.