ID 0395

State Government of South Australia beginning 24 October 1856 - period in office of Premier Finniss, Boyle Travers ending on 21 August 1857

Period in office of premier (see Glossary entry for 'period in office' and related terms)

Finniss, Boyle Travers
Date of beginning of period in office
24 October 1856
Date of end of period in office
21 August 1857 
Reason for end of preceding period in office
First ministry 
Reason for end of this government
Defeat in parliament
Number of days in office

Parliamentary support during period

Party affiliation of premier at start of period
Support from parliamentary factions and independents
If coalition government
Coalition partner 1
Coalition partner 2
Coalition partner 3
Coalition partner 4
Party support in parliament at beginning of period
If change in parliamentary support during period
If further change during period

Number of ministers at beginning of period (this may vary during the period)

Total number of ministers
Number from party of premier
Number from coalition party 1
Number from coalition party 2
Number from upper house
Number who are women

Assembly elections contested as premier or after which became premier (see Glossary entry for 'after election')

* to view table drag left or right.
Election Premier at election Premier's party Premier after election Premier's party
SA 9 March 1857Boyle Travers FinnissBoyle Travers FinnissSupport from parliamentary factions and independents

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First ministry: 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. He had been a major participant in the negotiations over the content of a new Constitution for South Australia and had been a spokesman for the some of the more conservative interests (see 'References', below). 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 -- 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.

Premier and ministry: As with all other self-governing Australian colonies at the time, the South Australian Constitution Act 1855-56 set out the number of ministers who, chosen from the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council, would form the cabinet (in formal terms, the Executive Council) to run the day to day administration of the government and be responsible for initiating legislation to implement government policy.

The Constitution Act (section 32) specified that there would be five ministers, responsible for the offices of Chief Secretary, Attorney-General, Treasurer, Commissioner of Crown Lands and Immigration, and Commissioner of Public Works. There was no specified office of Premier, this being the title used to connote the member of parliament who had been commissioned by the Governor to form a ministry that had the support (confidence) of a majority of members of the House of Assembly.

It might be assumed that the Premier as leader of the government always held the office of Chief Secretary but this was not always the case in South Australia. For a variety of reasons very helpfully set out in Howell, pp 113-116 (see ‘References’, below), after the first three ministries, the Premier might hold any one of the specified portfolios. As noted by Howell, apart from two ministries in the 1870s, there was no official recognition of the office of Premier in South Australia until the Walsh government in 1965.

While the ministry had to retain the confidence of the House of Assembly, it was not necessary for the Premier to be a member of the Assembly; he could be a member of the Legislative Council. This required another minister to be the leader of the government in the Assembly and the division of functions sometimes caused difficulties. But this arrangement suited some ministries and continued sporadically until the Morgan ministry (1878-1881).

Defeat in parliament: Most of the newly elected members of the Parliament had little experience of government and shared no general commitment for the appropriate direction of government policy (for a critical commentary on the first parliament, see Combe 2009, p.89 in ‘Sources’, below). With no political parties, the conflicting pressures of regional interests, personal advancement, and ideological preferences led to difficulty in maintaining stable majority support for a government in the Assembly. The resulting rapid turnover of ministries was to be a perennial source of comment until the 1880s when governments could begin to count on the continuing loyalty to a premier or a policy commitment on the part of the their supporters in the Assembly (see Howell in ‘References’, below).

After the election in March 1857, Premier Finniss faced a fractious Assembly and had little opportunity to find out what government policies the new members would support. Finniss observed:

'It was soon evident that no parties had been formed in the House of Assembly either to support or oppose the Government. There were many leaders of opposition having each a small party of followers. But there was no concert among these sections to work on any particular plan. Each leader had his own views. Under such circumstances the Ministry were met by a sort of guerilla warfare, each section arguing independently without apparent regard to consequences.' Finniss, p.447 in 'References', below.

It was in this context that, '[i]n the House of Assembly the Finniss Government were defeated in three important measures, the Electoral Law Bill, the Postal Bill, and the Main Roads Bill, and found they could not command the support of the majority of the Members of Parliament,' Combe 2009, p.89 in 'Sources', below. After considering the government's position, Finniss tendered his resignation to the Governor on 10 August with effect from 21 August 1857.

References: The background to the establishment of responsible government in South Australia is well covered in Carol S Fort, Electing Responsible Government: South Australia 1857, pp 4-16, (Adelaide: State Electoral Office, South Australia State Electoral Office Research Series, 2001, ABN 99891752468, ISSN 14433621). More detail can be found 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. Finniss produced his own history: B T Finniss, The Constitutional History of South Australia During Twenty One Years from the Foundation of the Settlement in 1836 to the Inauguration of Responsible Government in 1857, Adelaide: Rigby, 1886 (online through Trove here). [accessed 25 February 2020]

The question of the nature of politics and government in South Australia during the period up to 1890 is covered by P A Howell, 'Constitutional and Political Development, 1857-1890', ch.5, and Dean Jaensch, 'Parliament and Government', ch. 10, both chapters in Dean Jaensch (editor), The Flinders History of South Australia: Political History, (Netley, SA: Wakefield Press, 1986, ISBN 0949268518), and see Combe 2009 in 'Sources', below. 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).

For a survey of Finniss's career, see 'Finniss, Boyle Travers (1807–1893), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1966), online here [accessed 29 January 2019].


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.

Parliament of South Australia, Statistical Record of the Legislature 1836 - 2007, PDF format (2,136 KB).

'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].