John Colton (politician)

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John Colton

Sir John Colton KCMG (23 September 1823 – 6 February 1902) was an Australian politician, Premier of South Australia and philanthropist.[1]


Colton, the son of William Colton, a farmer, was born in Devonshire, England. He arrived in South Australia in 1839 with his parents, who went on the land. Colton, however, found work in Adelaide, and at the age of 19, began business for himself as a saddler. He was shrewd, honest and hard-working, and his small shop eventually developed into a large and prosperous wholesale ironmongery and saddlery business. In 1859 Colton was elected a member of the Adelaide City Council, and on 17 November 1862 was returned to the South Australian House of Assembly for Noarlunga,[2] at the head of the poll.

On 3 November 1868 he became commissioner of public works in the Strangways ministry, but when this cabinet was reconstructed in May 1870 he was omitted. He was Mayor of Adelaide 1874-5, and on 3 June 1875 joined the second Boucaut ministry as treasurer, but he resigned in March 1876. On 6 June he formed his first ministry as premier and commissioner of public works. His ministry lasted until 26 October 1877, when it resigned after a constitutional struggle with the upper house, which had not been consulted about the new parliamentary buildings. The government, however, had succeeded in passing a liberalized crown lands consolidation bill, and a forward policy of public works in connexion with railways and water supply had been carried out.

Colton might have been premier again in June 1881, but stood aside in favour of Bray. On 16 June 1884 he became premier and chief secretary in his second ministry, which in the following twelve months passed some very useful legislation, including a public health act, an agricultural crown land act, a pastoral land act, a vermin destruction act and a land and income tax act. The ministry was defeated on 16 June 1885. Seldom had a ministry done so much in so short a time, but Colton was prostrated by overwork and was compelled to live in retirement for some months. On his return to parliament he attempted to lead the opposition, but an attack of paralysis finished his political career and he resigned from parliament in January 1887.

Colton paid a visit to England and regained some of his health. Henceforth, he gave much of his time to philanthropic work. It was said of him that no society or charitable institution ever appealed to him in vain for either financial or personal assistance, if they could show that their aims were worthy. He took a great interest in Prince Alfred College, and was its treasurer for many years, and was for a time chairman of the board of management of the Adelaide hospital. He was a great advocate for temperance and retained his interest in the Methodist Church throughout his life.

He was created KCMG on 1 January 1891. He died in Adelaide on 6 February 1902.[3]


On 4 December 1844, he married Mary, daughter of Samuel Cutting of London. He was survived by four sons and a daughter.[3]


  1. ^ Parr, S. R. "Colton, Sir John (1823–1902)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "John Colton". Former Member of Parliament Details. Parliament of South Australia. 
  3. ^ a b  Atchley, Chewton (1912). "Colton, John". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement​. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
Political offices
Preceded by
William Dixon Allot
Mayor of the Corporation of Adelaide
1874 - 1875
Succeeded by
Caleb Peacock
Preceded by
James Boucaut
Premier of South Australia
6 June 1876 - 26 October 1877
Succeeded by
James Boucaut
Preceded by
John Cox Bray
Premier of South Australia
16 June 1884 - 16 June 1885
Succeeded by
John Downer