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South Australia differed from other Australian colonies by planning a library for public use even before settlement. Just two weeks after the passing of the South Australia Act by the British Parliament on 14 August 1834, an enthusiastic group of prospective colonists led by Richard Hanson and Robert Gouger formed the South Australian Literary Association on 29 August. Its object was:

'the cultivation and diffusion of useful knowledge throughout the colony'

The members donated a collection of useful books as the basis of the colony’s library, and two years later brought the books out on the Tam O'Shanter in an iron trunk, which also contained the constitution of the colony, arriving on 18 December 1836.

A reconstructed list of the South Australian Literary and Scientific Association is given below. About 40 of the books have survived as the Gouger Collection, and some are on display in the State Library's Mortlock Wing.