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This Day in History

Australian History

Friday, October 12, 1838. :   Second Governor of South Australia, Lieutenant George Gawler, arrives in the colony.

     George Gawler was born on 21 July 1795 in Devon, England. Upon finishing his schooling, he was educated at the military college of Great Marlow, where he was an exemplary student. Gawler had led a distinguished military career, and when a group of colonisation commissioners requested recommendations from the Royal Military College for a godly man as governor of South Australia, Gawler was encouraged to apply for the position. His application was accepted, and he was appointed as Governor of South Australia, taking over from the colony’s first Governor, John Hindmarsh. Gawler arrived in South Australia on 12 October 1838.

Prior to leaving England Gawler was concerned by the lack of financial provisions allowed for improvements in the colony, and upon his arrival he discovered many significant problems. Adelaide’s facilities and resources were stretched to breaking point, the legacy of too many settlers being forced to remain in the settlement due to the shortage of land which had been opened up for farming. Gawler was forced to make many expensive improvements, ignoring the instructions issued to him to undertake no major improvements. Upon the retirement of the colony’s first surveyor-general, Colonel William Light, Gawler commissioned Charles Sturt for the position, as his exploration of the Murray River had played a vital part in choosing a site for the new southern colony. Sturt’s expeditions north, plus Gawler’s own explorations, opened up new land for settlement. Many public buildings such as Customs House, the Adelaide Gaol and a new Government House were constructed. Further public works were initiated, such as building and improving roads, improving the facilities at Port Adelaide and establishing a police force and barracks. Despite his limited budget, he was also forced to make provision for the thousands of immigrants who streamed into the colony under free passage.

During his tenure, Governor Gawler made South Australia self-sufficient in terms of agriculture, and restored public confidence. However, the increased public expenditure was a contributing factor to the colony going bankrupt by 1840, as was the effect of drought and crop failure in the neighbouring colonies. Gawler was dismissed, and replaced by Captain George Grey, less than three years after his appointment.

Although criticised for his actions at the time, in retrospect it can be seen that Gawler was placed in a difficult position whereby he had to take decisive action contrary to his instructions. The town of Gawler and the Gawler Ranges are named after him.

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