ID 1661

Parliament of South Australia, House of Assembly election

Election of 2 April 1878

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)
2 April 1878

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
Support from parliamentary factions and independents
House of Assembly support for government at election
If coalition, coalition partner(s)

Government in office after election

Premier 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, one single member and 21 multimember districts, first past the post (plurality) voting (see notes)

South Australia, House of Assembly votes and seats won

Display Chart

Election held on 2 April 1878
Criteria for the inclusion of parties in this table are set out in the Glossary under 'listed party'

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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)  19,947  100.00  0.00  46  15  100.00 
Votes for other than listed parties 0 0.00 0.00       
Totals 19,947  100.00    46  15  100.00 

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Election dates: Elections were held on 2, 11, 16 and 30 April 1878.

Premier in office at election: There had been two changes of Premier and the restructuring of a ministry since the Blyth government had continued in office after the previous general election for the Assembly in February 1875. The Blyth government continued in office after the February 1875 general election for the Assembly even though it was to fall in the third week of the following parliamentary session in June 1875. The fall of the government can be seen more as a result of Blyth's attempt to restructure his ministry than as a direct outcome of the election (see Combe 2009, p.109 in 'Sources', below). A more detailed picture is provided by Hirst who sees the popularity of an extensive plan of government railway building and harbour construction championed by Boucaut at the election as undermining the popularity of the Blyth government and the subsequent commissioning of Boucaut as Premier in June 1875 (see Hirst, p.67 in 'References', below).

After some negotiation, Boucaut was commissioned to form a government on 3 June 1875 (see Combe 2009, p.109 in 'Sources', below). 'On 25 March 1876, Boucaut reconstructed his cabinet, but within a week of the opening of the 1876 session [of Parliament], an amendment to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply was initiated by the Hon. John Colton, former Treasure in Boucaut's Ministry who was excluded in the reconstruction. The motion condemned the reconstruction and on 1 June the motion was carried by 22 votes to 19 and the Boucaut Ministry resigned.' Combe 2009, p.110 in 'Sources', below.

On 6 June 1876 Colton was commissioned to form a government and remained in office for almost a year and a half before his government was defeated on a no-confidence motion passed in the Assembly. The mover of the motion, Boucaut, was then commissioned as Premier for the fourth time on 26 October 1877 (for more information, see Combe 2009, p.111 in 'Sources', below). Boucaut led the government into the Assembly elections held in April 1878 (this election).

Premier in office after election: The Boucaut government continued in office after the April 1878 general election for the Assembly until Boucaut resigned his commission as Premier in September 1878 to accept the position of Judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia.

Electoral system and voting: For background to the franchise and the qualification of members for this election in 1878, see the note to the 1860 Assembly election. Other electoral rules for the 1878 election were set out in the Electoral Act of 1861 which kept the bulk of the electoral administration specified in the previous Electoral Act of 1857-8 (including provision for the secret ballot in section 49).

But the Electoral Districts Act of 1872 (see 'Sources', below) had increased the size of the Assembly from 36 to 46 members to be elected from 22 districts; one single member district (North Adelaide), 18 two member districts, and 3 three member districts; this had required extensive changes to electoral district boundaries for the Assembly elections. This redistribution applied to Assembly elections held in 1875, 1878 (this election) and 1881.

Voters in multimember districts 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 1878 Assembly election compiled by Jaensch from results published in newspapers (see Jaensch in ‘Sources’ below).

In this Assembly election (1878), 68 candidates sought election to the Assembly's 46 seats. Eight of the 22 electoral districts were uncontested, all but one of the 8 districts returning 2 members, with the district of North Adelaide returning one member. This resulted in 15 candidates being elected unopposed. There is some ambiguity in the number of ballots cast in one electoral district (Encounter Bay); as a consequence, the results for the number of ballots shown in the 'Enrolment and Voting' table above may be understated.

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.

References: 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). A study of South Australian society and politics from 1870 to 1890 can be found in the first 3 chapters of J B Hirst, Adelaide and the Country 1870-1917: Their Social and Political Relationship, (Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1973, ISBN 0522840450). Note also 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).

A survey of government in South Australia from 1836 to 1957 is provided in Combe 2009 (see, 'Sources', below).


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.

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.

SA Electoral Districts Act (No 27 of 1872), online here [accessed 13 December 2018].