ID 1653

Parliament of South Australia, House of Assembly election

Election of 9 March 1857

Show only vote and seat summary details

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General election for the House of Assembly
South Australia
Date of election (or first day of voting at elections held over more than one day)
9 March 1857

Government in office and parliamentary support before and after the election

Government in office at election

Premier in office at date of election. (check notes to see if change of Premier since previous election)
Premier's party affiliation
House of Assembly support for government at election
First election
If coalition, coalition partner(s)

Government in office after election

Premier's party affiliation
Support from parliamentary factions and independents
House of Assembly support for government after election
If coalition, coalition partner(s)

Enrolment and voting

Total number of voters on the roll
Number of Assembly seats
Number of uncontested seats
If uncontested seats, number of voters on the roll in uncontested seats
Number of voters on the roll in contested seats
Total ballots cast (may differ from number of votes in multiple voting systems)
Turnout (rate of voting in contested seats)
Total valid votes
Rate of informal (invalid) voting
Not applicable
Informal (invalid) ballots in multiple voting system
Electoral system
Male franchise at 21 years, single and multimember districts, first past the post (plurality) voting (see notes)

South Australia, House of Assembly votes and seats won

Display Chart

Election held on 9 March 1857
Criteria for the inclusion of parties in this table are set out in the Glossary under 'listed party'

* to view table drag left or right.
Party Name First preference vote n First preference vote share % Change from previous election % Seats won n Uncontested seats held n Seat share %
Independents (no disciplined party groupings)  16,097  100.00  36  100.00 
Votes for other than listed parties 0 0.00 0.00       
Totals 16,097  100.00    36  100.00 

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* Party did not contest previous election or did not meet criteria for listing, or contested previous election under a different party name.


Election date: Voting for all electoral districts was held on 9 March 1857.

Responsible government: A system of parliamentary self-government was granted to South Australia by Britain in 1856. A concise survey of the establishment of responsible government in South Australia can be found in Fort, pp 4-16 (see 'Sources', below); see also Munyard, 1986, and Seaman, 1986 (in 'References', below); and for an examination of responsible government in the Australian colonies, see Ward, 1978, (in 'References', below).

Premier in office at, and after the election: Finniss had been commissioned as Colonial Secretary -- the equivalent of head of government -- as a member of the part-elected Legislative Council that had been set up in 1851 to advise the Governor on the government of the colony of South Australia. Finniss remained as Colonial Secretary until the South Australian Constitution Act 1855-6 (see 'Sources', below) established a bicameral parliament for South Australia in 1856 with a House of Assembly and a Legislative Council, both chambers to be elected.

The grant of responsible government presumed that, to be commissioned as head of government, a Premier needed majority support in the House of Assembly. On 24 October 1856, Finniss became Chief Secretary -- the successor to the Colonial Secretary and the office often associated with being Premier -- until the first general election was held for the House of Assembly on 9 March 1857. He remained as Premier after the election, leading the first elected government of South Australia for five months until his government was defeated in a confidence vote in the Assembly on 24 August 1857.

Franchise and qualification of members: The Constitution Act (see ‘Sources’, below) provided for universal manhood suffrage for every man over the age of 21 years who was a British subject and had been listed on the electoral roll of an electoral district for six months before the date of the election (section 16). To be a member of the Assembly, the person had to be eligible to vote for the Assembly and have lived in South Australia for five years (sections 14, 15). Jaensch notes that 'Aboriginal persons had the franchise from the beginning.' Jaensch, p.2 in 'Sources', below.

These provisions for voting at House of Assembly elections and for membership of the Assembly were more liberal than provisions for the first assemblies of other Australian colonies; these often required property and occupational qualifications for voting and membership of the assembly. Plural voting -- the ability of an elector to vote in as many districts as the elector owned property -- applied in all other colonies for assembly elections until the 1890s, but never existed for the South Australian House of Assembly. The South Australian Constitution Act also provided that aliens could vote and be elected members of the Assembly if they had been resident in the colony for five years (section 15).

Electoral administration and the secret ballot: To implement the the Constitution Act of 1855-6, a comprehensive set of rules for the 1857 House of Assembly election was put in place by the old Legislative Council in the Electoral Act of 1855-6 (see 'Sources', below). The Act specified the boundaries for the electoral districts from which Assembly members were to be chosen and set up the administrative procedures for the registration of voters, the creation of electoral rolls, the nomination of candidates and the many requirements for a fair and efficient electoral process. Arriving at these rules proved to be a complicated task involving a degree of controversy; see Fort pp 17-20 (in 'Sources', below).

The secret ballot had been a major goal for political reform in all the Australian colonies and was achieved for voting in all assembly elections with the arrival of responsible government. In South Australia, the Electoral Act of 1855-6 provided that, once a voter had completed the ballot paper, the voter ...

'... shall then fold the same paper, and immediately deliver it, so folded, to the Returning Officer, or to his Deputy, who shall forthwith publicly, and without opening the same, deposit it in a box to be provided for that purpose ; and no voting paper, so deposited in any box, shall, on any account, be taken therefrom, unless in the presence of scrutineers, after the close of the election: Provided that no voting paper shall be received unless it be so folded so as to render it impossible for the Returning Officer or any other person to see for what Candidate or Candidates the vote is given ...' (section 19).

For an examination of the rules to prevent corruption and undue influence at the 1857 election, including discussion of the secret ballot, see Fort, pp 23-39 (in 'Sources', below).

Electoral system and voting: For the House of Assembly election in 1857, 36 members were to be elected from 17 electoral districts for a term of three years unless the Assembly was dissolved sooner. There were 3 single member districts, 12 districts with 2 members, 1 district with 3 members (Burra and Clare) and 1 with 6 members (City of Adelaide). Voters in multimember districts had the option of casting as many votes on their ballot as there were members to be elected from their district (multiple voting with a block vote); for Adelaide, this meant six votes for each ballot. Electors cast their ballots by crossing off the names of candidates they did not wish to elect, and the most chosen candidate or candidates were elected (plurality voting). In multimember districts, voters could choose to 'plump' by voting for only one candidate. Jaensch (see 'Sources', below) provides details for the number of plumped ballots at South Australian Assembly elections where figures are available.

Election results and sources: The election figures in the tables above were calculated from the individual electoral district results for the 1857 Assembly election compiled by Jaensch from results published in newspapers (see Jaensch in ‘Sources’ below). Summary figures for the 1857 Assembly election are also listed in Fort, Appendix 12a, p.75 in 'Sources', below.

Sixty-two candidates sought election to the Assembly's 36 seats. Six of the 17 electoral districts (9 seats) were uncontested, resulting in 9 candidates being elected unopposed. While there are figures for the total number of ballots cast, the number of informal (invalid) ballots is only available for 8 of the 11 contested districts meaning that the number of informal (invalid) ballots shown in the table 'Enrolment and voting' above, is understated perhaps by as many as 60 ballots.

There were no disciplined political parties at this election. Once elected, '... each member of parliament was free to offer his support and make alliances in the ways best suited to serve his constituents, the welfare of the whole colony, or his own interest and ambition. Members did not divide on clear grounds of policy or principle.' Hirst, p.67 in 'References', below. The resulting pattern of shifting individual and factional alliance in the Assembly characterised South Australian politics until the 1880s. For a discussion of the nature and consequences of the absence of parties during this period, see Howell, pp 122-123, and Jaensch, 'South Australia', pp 249-251, both in 'References', below.

References: The background to the establishment of responsible government in South Australia is well covered in Fort, pp 4-16 (see 'Sources', below), and in greater detail in Anna Munyard, 'Making a Polity: 1836-1857', and Keith Seaman, 'The South Australian Constitution Act of 1856', chapters 3 (pp 52-75) and 4 (pp 76-94) in Dean Jaensch (editor), The Flinders History of South Australia: Political History, (Netley, SA: Wakefield Press, 1986, ISBN 0949268518). Note also John M Ward, 'The Responsible Government Question in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, 1851-1856', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 63 (4) March 1978: 221-247.

A detailed history of South Australia to 1857 can be found in Douglas Pike, Paradise of Dissent: South Australia 1829-1857, (London: Longmans Green and Co., 1957) and a survey of the introduction of responsible government in South Australia from 1836 to 1857 is provided in Combe 2009, pp 8-78 in 'Sources', below.

A lively and detailed account of the 1857 election and its administrative context is provided by Fort, pp 27-47 (in 'Sources', below). The broader question of the nature of politics in South Australia during the period up to 1890 is covered by P A Howell, 'Constitutional and Political Development, 1857-1890', in Dean Jaensch (editor), The Flinders History of South Australia: Political History, ch. 5, (Netley, SA: Wakefield Press, 1986, ISBN 0949268518), and note Dean Jaensch, 'South Australia', in P Loveday, A W Martin, & R S Parker, (editors), The Emergence of the Australian Party System, ch. 5, (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1977, ISBN 0908094035). While focused on a later period, useful background can also be found in the section on 'Representation' (pp 65-75) in J B Hirst, Adelaide and the Country 1870-1917: Their Social and Political Relationship, (Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1973, ISBN 0522840450).


Dean Jaensch, History of South Australian Elections 1857-2006, Volume 1: House of Assembly, (Rose Park, South Australia: State Electoral Office, 2007, ISBN 9780975048634). Note that some of the figures calculated by adding the results from individual electoral districts listed for each Assembly election (those used in the tables above) may differ from the summary figures provided in Jaensch's table, 'House of Assembly: Enrolment and Turnout', in Appendix 1, p.358.

Carol S Fort, Electing Responsible Government: South Australia 1857, (Adelaide: State Electoral Office, South Australia State Electoral Office Research Series, 2001, ABN 99891752468, ISSN 14433621).

Gordon D Combe, Responsible Government in South Australia, (Adelaide: Government Printer, 1957); reprinted [with changed pagination] as Gordon D Combe, Responsible Government in South Australia, Volume 1, From Foundations to Playford, (Kent Town, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2009, ISBN 9781862548435); also available online through Google Books, here. Page references in the text above are to the 2009 edition.

'An Act to establish a Constitution for South Australia, and to grant a Civil List to Her Majesty', 1855-56, No. 2. online here, and a transcript of the Act here [accessed 21 September 2018].

SA Electoral Act 1855-6 No.10, online here [accessed 2 October 2018].