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The Reform Club & South Australia

June 24, 2020

Following Wellington’s victory at Waterloo, Britain succumbed to two de- cades of instability. The wars against France depleted government coffers to such an extent that the country was almost bankrupt. Thousands of Mili- tary and Naval Officers who fought against Napoleon were retained on half-pay when the country could ill afford it, and the number of sinecures for members of clergy and others, almost emptied the public purse. The cost of staple foods, especially bread, was unfairly inflated because of the Corn Laws.

My three volumes set of books incorporating 58 biographies of those named on Adelaide’s first set of streets can be purchased through If you have an interest please leave a comment or privately contact me on

These statutes ensured a high price for corn in favour of landholders, but at the expense of the population generally. Such excesses led to riots in the countryside and the burning of haystacks by mobs of disenchanted villagers. In the large industrial cities unrest also prevailed. Factories belched smoke and filth and employment conditions and hours of work were so primitive that an embryonic union movement was born out of the protest. Parliamentary representation was linked only to property and status, and the majority of the population had no legal way of venting their frustration. Unrest, both industrial and agricultural broke out in several places and a succession of Whig and Tory Governments seemed incapable of settling the country.

The fear of revolution such as that which Britain had witnessed in France became a very real possibility. Ironically these were the very conditions which were bound to precipitate further violence and or change and reform. Fortunately, change did come through the parliamentary process and not by revolution. For the first time in British history much of the ensuing change was led by a coalescence of the nouveau riche, the intellectual elites, aristocratic men of conscience and the emerging religious minorities. Men like Thomas Fowell Buxton, Daniel O’Connell, Lord John Russell, William Hutt, Joseph Hume, John Arthur Roebuck, Lord Brougham, Charles Buller and many others all called for the alleviation of poverty and wider electoral representation.

Colonization was seen as one of several ways to ameliorate these condi- tions and it became one of the main subjects of discussion among the Political Economists of the time. Adam Smith set the scene with his “Wealth of Nations” and Jeremy Bentham, Colonel Robert Torrens, David Ricardo, Thomas Tooke, James Pennington, William Wolryche Whitmore, John Stuart Mill and Sir William Molesworth continued a pertinent and meaningful discussion in minority newspapers like the Globe and the Westminster Review. Coincidentally a newly released book entitled ‘A Letter From Sydney’ (1829) which Edward Gibbon Wakefield wrote, whilst incarcerated in Newgate Prison, fired the collective imagination of these literati. In it, he outlined his theory of Systematic Colonisation in which capitalists in a new idealised colony, hypothetically imagined in the antipodes, were to be charged, what became known as, a sufficient price for their land purchases. The monies collected in this way were then set aside to fund the further emigration of labourers and young families. Wakefield’s theories prompted a call by the more adventurous to proceed and give the anticipated project a life.

The timing of this movement was fortuitous, because, by 1832 the ground- swell for change in the electoral system in Britain had grown to such an extent, that the momentous Reform Bill of 1832 finally passed through both Houses of Parliament and into legislation. Ordnance Surveyors were engaged to delineate boundaries for a number of new electorates and after a General Election, a new augmented parliament was sworn in. With the widening of the franchise a number of wealthy, but radical young men came into the parliament and briefly held the balance of power between 1832 and 1837. This group, who were known as The Philosophical Radicals were nominally led by George Grote MP. They aligned themselves with the Whig party and carried a number of highly influential reforms.

It was an exciting time and many changes were enshrined in law. The South Australian Act was one of them and with the imprimatur of the Duke of Wellington in the Lords, this Bill was finally assented to. Unsurprisingly, the measure provoked considerable opposition from the Tories from the outset, and the London Times often reported it as a ‘crackpot scheme’ cooked up by a group of wealthy, but outspoken young aristocrat politicians. Carp Diem! The young radicals had seen and captured the window of opportunity. The rest is history! The South Australian Commission was formed in 1835 and by 1836 all appointments in the proposed colony were fixed. Throughout May, June and July of that year a steady flotilla of ships began making their way southward and by December several hundred emigrants were eating their first Christmas pudding in the midst of a long hot Australian summer.

Members of the Reform Club would be well aware that their great institu- tion of conviviality sprang from this same Great Reform Bill of 1832 . However, what is not so well known, if at all, is that the very proponents of this club also initiated and carried into effect this first great experiment in Systematic Colonization in South Australia. These were but two of a raft of developments which sprang from the excitement generated by the coalition of Whigs and Radicals in the Palace of Westminster. In the very week in which the first meeting of the Reform Club was held on May 5th 1836, Colonel William Light sailed from London in the ‘Rapid’ with instructions from the South Australian Commission to find a suitable site to plant the capital of a new colony. It was to be called Adelaide after William lV‘s Queen Consort. Light’s instructions were both clear and detailed. He was to rendezvous on the mid south coastline of Australia in and around Kangaroo Island and the two adjacent gulfs. He was then to search for a suitable harbour. Thereafter, Light was to decide the exact location of the proposed city and immediately begin surveying it by dividing it into 1000 one acre blocks, each with an associated country section of 80 acres. The voyage to Australia usually took three or four months but by December 28th that year there were 9 ships laden with colonists standing off the east coast of Gulf St Vincent. In the afternoon 200 of these immigrants were rowed ashore to witness the planting of the British flag. Later, behind the sand hills at Glenelg , and beneath the shade of some huge gum trees, the new settlers witnessed and heard the proclamation of the Colony in the presence of the first Governor, Captain John Hindmarsh. Canon were fired in salute and in celebration a splendid cold collation was afterwards served to all.

The River Torrens (above) runs through the beating heart of the City of Adelaide as it makes its way from the hills to the sea. Colonel Robert Torrens a distinguished ‘political economist’ seen here under the bridge to the Adelaide Oval would be so proud of this beautiful ‘Athens of the South.’

By early April 1837 the City of Adelaide proper had been surveyed and all was in readiness for intending colonists to take up their lots. The surveyors marked out sixty streets and five squares in a pattern known as a quincux. The total of 1000 city acres was embraced with the now world famous wide band of parklands. On 23rd May 1837 less than six months later a committee of twelve sat down to name the streets and squares. It was comprised the Governor, the Surveyor General, the Chief Justice, some junior appointees of the South Australian Commission, and a handful of influential, but private colonists. Needless to say most of those present were ultimately named among the 58 streets and squares. However, this was not before distributing about forty or so to those in Britain who in some way had helped bring the project to fruition. The committee designated the central Square as Victoria Square after, the then, Princess Royal. The main North-South axis through the city became King William Street. Thereafter the names chosen read like a list of the central inaugural committee and the early membership of the Reform Club. Almost half of the fifty eight streets named in Adelaide on 23 May 1837 were in tribute to members of the Reform Club.

As might be expected most of these people never came to South Australia. However, some did! George Fife Angas eventually came down under in 1849. He spent most of the 1840’s prompting people in Devon and Cornwall to become emigrants. John Brown came to the colony as the Emigration Agent and had a full and productive life here. The two daughters of Matthew Davenport Hill came down in the 1870’s. They had an abiding interest in prison reform and were especially taken with the then newly built Reformatory at Magill. George Grote had a younger brother Francis who emigrated in the 1840’s. He took up a pastoralist lease and died prematurely in tragic circumstances. Jacob Montefiore did come as a visitor in 1843 as he had a brother in Adelaide and other family members in Sydney. Some of William Molesworth’s family came later to Australia and took up large land holdings on the Darling River systems.

Early Adelaide

By early April 1837 the City of Adelaide proper had been surveyed and was in readiness for intending colonists to take up their lots. The surveyors marked out sixty streets and five squares and the whole city was em- braced in a wide band of parklands. This is where it becomes interesting for Reform Club Members! On May 23rd 1837 a committee of 12 sat dowmn to name the streets and squares. The attending included the Governor, the Surveyor General, the Chief Justice, some junior appointees of the South Australian Comission and a hasndful of influential , but private colonists. Needless to say most of those present were ultimate named among 58 streets. However, this was not before naming about 40 or so to those in England who in some way had helped bring the project to fruition. They designated the central Square as Victoria Square after the , the then, Princess Royal. The main North-South axis throught the city became King William Street. Therafter the the names chiosen read like a list of the central inaugural committee and early membership of the Reform Club. Almost half of the 58 streets named in Adelaide on the 23rd of May 1837 were in tribute to the members of the Reform Club.

The magnificent library at the Reform Club in Pall Mall

The Inaugural Committee of the Reform Club

George Grote MP, Leader of the Philosophical RadicalsSir William Molesworth MP,Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Convict Transportation
Lord Stanley, Colonial Secretary, then a Whig and later to become three times a Tory Prime Minister of England

Daniel O’Connell MP, the great Irish Liberator
Charles Shaw Lefevre MP, Speaker in the House
John George Lefevre,Under-Secretary to Stanley Henry George Ward MP,later to become Governor of Colombo. Henry Kingscote, South Australian Company Director

General Members George Fife Angas, of Dawlish- Director of the South Australian Company Edward George Barnard MP, Shipping Magnate
John Brown, 26 Chester Terrace- Emigration Agent in the Colony John Walbanke Childers MP. author on the Corn Laws

Raikes Currie MP, 4 Hyde Park Terrace- An Anglican Banker
Pascoe St Leger Grenfell,Anglican, Welsh Mining Interests
Matthew Davenport Hill MP, (brother of Rowland Hill- Secretary of SA Commission and Father of the Penny Post)
Charles Hindley MP, Manchester cotton mill owner
William Hutt MP, Colonial Theorist and shipping owner.
Edmund Jerningham, Banker
Viscount Melbourne,Prime Minister
Jacob Montefiore 24 Tavistock Square- Jewish Banker associated with the Rothschild family
J Horsley Palmer,(brother to George and Director of the Bank of England) James Pennington, 15 Lower Seymour St and a writer on Currency matters John Rundle MP, Tavistock Banker & Businessman
John Abel Smith (Carrington family), Welton Garth, Hull Colonel Robert Torrens, Adelphi Terrace- distinguished Political Economist after whom the River Torrens is named.
Charles J. Kemeys Tynte MP,
Daniel Wakefield, Uncle to E Gibbon Wakefield, Kings Bench Walk Henry Waymouth, Bryanstone Square

Today there are 1.5 million people living in South Australia and approximately 1.3 million of these live in the City of Adelaide.

The State is often called the Festival State and the city is known as the Athens of the South. The climate is Mediterranean and despite a shortage of water, the lifestyle is casual and benign. The city is especially noted for its stately cultural boulevards and generous shady parklands. It is sometimes thought of as the cultural and intellectual hub of the continent.

As an overseas member of the Reform Club with more than 10 years standing it is my hope that Adelaide comes to hold a special place in the minds of all Reform Club members and I stand ready to introduce any who venture to Adelaide to the spirit of reform which echoes in our streets and terraces.

In closing I invite any who may be passing by to write a comment. I value your feedback.

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Dr Jeff Nicholas

This site is about both History & Biography

The Victorian Commons

Researching the House of Commons, 1832-1868

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