State Library of South Australia

Transcribing Tales : The South Australian Company writ large

Date: 27 February 2014

The South Australian Company had fingers in all the colonial pies, but to many of us it remains a somewhat shadowy organisation. However a recent transcript of its correspondence has brought the major players to life, and will be a treasure trove for family historians and other researchers, allowing keyword searching for people and places.

Volunteer Kathy Hurley with a piece of history from the South Australian Company
Volunteer Kathy Hurley with a piece of history from the South Australian Company.

The South Australian Company was formed in 1835 as a private company by George Fife Angas and other wealthy British merchants to increase land sales and raise the revenue stipulated by the British Parliament in the South Australian Colonization Act1834 in order to rubber stamp the colony. The purchase of land provided funds to assist emigration, and entitled the South Australian Company to nominate labourers for the colony. The Company built various infrastructure, as well as establishing the Bank of South Australia, and wound up as late as 1949.

The South Australian Company records were then donated to the Library as BRG 42 running to some 23 metres of material comprising minutes, correspondence, share documentation, reports, registers of land sales, papers on whaling and fishing, pastoral activities, imports and exports, farming, construction, financial records, administrative matters, legal documents, maps, plans, photographs and newspaper cuttings.

The Library has embarked on transcribing the voluminous correspondence of the Company, beginning with the herculean task by Volunteer Transcriber Peter Anson of Series 5, which is now readable through the catalogue as 194 pages of text. This series was chosen because it has much material relating to German immigration, including letters from Edward Delius, the Company's Agent in Bremen, who toured Germany garnering interest and facilitating the emigration of large numbers of 'Old Lutherans'. Most of the letters involve David McLaren, the rather austere Manager of the South Australian Company.

An example is this extract from Edward Delius' letter of 9 October 1846 respecting 213 German emigrants on board the Heloise from Bremen (BRG 42/5/66).

'The party forming the bulk of the expedition consists of 145 souls - old Lutherans and religious people, from Posen. They are one inseparable party, and need not be particularised, being agriculturalists.

The most distinguished character on board is Doctor Bayer of Erlangen, a man of eminent talents, who had to leave his country Bavaria, on account of having been concerned in a duel and refusing to violate his promise not to name the contending parties to his Government. He is known to his Govt, & to all his acquaintances to be of such veracity, that his report on South Australia will be implicitly believed, and open a new influx of emigration from Southern Germany a district where our Colony is yet unknown.

Amongst the remainder of the passengers I beg to distinguish & recommend Mr Augustus Klahn from Glogau in Silesia. He has with him a very handsome family, & two pretty young ladies named Schach, with a brother who is a millwright. This party is desirous of becoming tenants of yr. Company, and I believe have means to make a beginning, if they can obtain land on installments, paying in fruits of the field.

The next character which I bring to your notice is a gold & silversmith, Firnhaber, a very respectable citizen of Bremen, and artizan of great skill. He takes out a complete establishment, and will prove his workmanship in the first task he undertakes. He wishes to rent a store at Adelaide, and has a fine family with him.

There are 14 miners with their families... Also a cook, a widow, Ann Harmes of about 35 years, goes with this party, wishing to be engaged in a family & is a nice & cleanly person. The rest of the passengers are not particularly worthy of your attention, and are mechanics from the interior of Germany.'

The Series include originals and copies of correspondence, and because of the layout of 19th century letters, it is not always obvious who the writers and the recipients were. Fortunately, Volunteer Transcription Team Reformatter Kathy Hurley has a background as a records clerk, so she was able to make sense of these quasi legal South Australian Company records. She spent months trying to make sense of the letters' context and to put them into some sort of chronological sequence. She also annotated the text so that a researcher could 'connect the dots' about characters, places and events from often fragmented pieces of information. Kathy says 'as someone interested in history, having volunteered at the Bay Discovery Centre, reading these letters has been an amazing experience'.

The Volunteer Transcription Team is now working its way through the remaining series of South Australian Company correspondence, which will be a wonderful resource for the South Australian research community.


Story by: Carolyn Spooner

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