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B. T. Finniss

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B. T. Finniss
Finniss, c. 1860
Administrator of South Australia
In office
20 December 1854 – 8 June 1855
Preceded bySir Henry Young as Governor
Succeeded byR.G. MacDonnell as Governor
1st Premier of South Australia
In office
24 October 1856 – 20 August 1857
GovernorSir Richard MacDonnell
Succeeded byJohn Baker
Chief Secretary of South Australia
In office
28 January 1852 – 24 October 1856
Preceded byCharles Sturt
Succeeded byOffice of Premier established
In office
14 May 1849 – 25 August 1849
Preceded byAlfred Mundy
Succeeded byCharles Sturt
Treasurer of South Australia
In office
12 June 1858 – 9 May 1860
PremierSir Richard Hanson
Preceded byJohn Hart
Succeeded byThomas Reynolds
In office
28 April 1847 – 3 January 1852
Preceded byCharles Sturt
Succeeded bySir Robert Torrens
Member of the South Australian
House of Assembly
In office
9 March 1857 – 23 November 1862
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byAllan McFarlane
ConstituencyCity of Adelaide (1857–1860)
Mount Barker (1860–1862)
Member of the South Australian
Legislative Council
In office
1 May 1847 – 8 March 1857
Commissioner of the
South Australian Police
In office
13 April 1843 – 12 May 1847
Preceded byThomas O'Halloran
Succeeded byCaptain Dashwood
Deputy Surveyor-General
of South Australia
In office
24 August 1839 – April 1843
Succeeded byThomas Burr
the two served together from 1839
Personal details
Boyle Travers Finniss

(1807-08-18)18 August 1807
Off the Cape of Good Hope, Africa
Died24 December 1893(1893-12-24) (aged 86)
Kensington Park, South Australia
Resting placeWest Terrace Cemetery
Spouse(s)Anne Rogerson (d.1858)
Sophia Lynch
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch/serviceBritish Army
Years of service1825–1835
Unit88th Regiment
56th Regiment
82nd Regiment

Boyle Travers Finniss (18 August 1807 – 24 December 1893) was the first premier of South Australia, serving from 24 October 1856 to 20 August 1857.

Early life


Finniss was born at sea off the Cape of Good Hope, Southern Africa,[1] and lived in Madras, British India. He was sent to Greenwich, England, for his education, and then entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, placing first of sixteen candidates at the entrance examination. In 1825, he became an ensign in the 88th Regiment of Foot, was promoted lieutenant in 1827 to the 56th (West Essex) Regiment of Foot, and then spent three years in Mauritius in the department of roads and bridges.[1]



In 1835, Finniss sold off his commission and, having been appointed assistant surveyor under surveyor-general Colonel William Light, arrived in South Australia in September 1836. He supported Light's choice of the site of Adelaide and assisted in laying out the city. His correspondence during those early years shows him to have been a man of good judgement and he was an able assistant during the surveys.[2]

Finniss joined Light in a private surveying firm, Light, Finniss & Co. While in private enterprise, Light and Finniss surveyed several towns, including Glenelg and Gawler. Finniss also had several other business interests, but they eventually all failed, and he returned to the public service.

Public service and political career


In 1839, Finniss was appointed deputy surveyor-general. In 1843, he became Commissioner of the South Australia Police and a police magistrate. In 1847, he was made Treasurer of South Australia and registrar general. In 1851, was nominated to the South Australian Legislative Council by the governor, Sir Henry Young.[1]

In 1852, Finniss was appointed Colonial Secretary of South Australia and, in July 1853, had charge of the bill to provide for two chambers in the new South Australian parliament. In the interim between the departure of Governor Young in December 1854 and the arrival of Sir Richard Graves McDonnell in June 1855, Finniss acted as administrator of the colony.[1][3] The bill of 1853 was rejected by the British government,[4] and a new bill was drafted in 1855, providing for two purely elective houses. That received the royal assent in 1856.[5]

Finniss was elected as one of the representatives for the city of Adelaide and became the first premier and Chief Secretary of South Australia. There were early difficulties between the two houses but Finniss, during the four months his ministry was in power, succeeded in passing measures to deal with waterworks for Adelaide and commence the first railway in South Australia. From June 1858 to May 1860, he was treasurer in the Richard Hanson ministry and, at the 1860 election, he was, with John Dunn, elected as one of the two representatives for Mount Barker.[6][7]

1864 expedition to the Northern Territory


In 1864, the South Australian government, wanting to open up its Northern Territory, organised a survey party under Finniss, appointing him as the Government Resident of the Northern Territory[8] and giving him instructions to examine the Adelaide River and the coastline to the west and east of it. Finniss chose a site, Escape Cliffs, near the mouth of the Adelaide River for the settlement, but his choice was much criticised. He had problems with the insubordination of his officers, who were jealous of the attention he paid to some of the lesser ranks (notably W. P. Auld and J. W. O. Bennett). He was not popular with the men either. They expected to spend time exploring and not on tedious duties such as keeping guard on the stores. Finniss had not secured adequate supplies for the expedition, and did not enjoy good relations with the local Aboriginal people.[9]

On 9 August 1864, during one of Finniss's absences, James Manton sent a party on horseback to recover stores which had been plundered by Aboriginals. When approaching the Aboriginal camp, the party was surrounded by spear-carrying warriors, who injured a horse and several men. William Pearson was quite seriously wounded,[10] and fellow-riders Fred Litchfield and Dyer removed him from the scene. When a second party arrived on foot, the tribesmen scattered, but one was shot dead by Alaric Ward.[11]

A month later, the Aboriginal people mounted another raiding party, spearing several horses, which led to a great deal of anger in the depot. Finniss put his son Frederick in charge of an armed party sent out to Chambers Bay, about 8 miles (13 km) distant, to assert some kind of control (Finniss's instructions were not published). Dr. Francis Goldsmith, who, apart from his medical duties, had been appointed Protector of Aborigines, demanded a place in the party, but was ordered by Finniss to remain at the depot. The Aboriginal people fled their camp, but one unarmed old man, named as "Dombey", was shot in the back. Having recovered whatever property they could, the party then set fire to the dwellings of the Aboriginal people. Returning to the depot, they were hailed as conquering heroes and each treated to a tot of rum. On 20 September, Finniss appointed his son clerk-in-charge and accountant, in place of Ebenezer Ward, whom Finniss had suspended for disloyalty.[11] Auld was charged with the murder of the "Dombey", but was acquitted.[12]

In May 1865, a dissident party of seven men fled to Champion Bay, Western Australia, in a small boat dubbed the Forlorn Hope, and Finniss was eventually recalled.[2] He was summoned before a Parliamentary Commission in May 1866 and answered his critics point by point, supported by a printed pamphlet, to the annoyance of influential financier Frank Rymill, a major critic.[13]

Other interests


Finniss was on the board of at least one business, the Duryea Mining Company, and was chairman of directors from 1862.[14]

In 1860, he published a martial anthem The Gathering : A War Song of Australia, and a love song Can'st thou not read?, both set to music by Mrs. A. J. Murray.[15]

Late life


In 1875, Finniss was a member of the forest board and, in the following year, was acting auditor general. He retired from the government service in 1881 and spent his leisure in preparing an interesting but rambling Constitutional History of South Australia (1886). He died on 24 December 1893, aged 86, and is buried at the West Terrace Cemetery.[1]



Finniss was twice married and left a widow, a son and two daughters. He married Anne Frances Rogerson on 13 August 1835, who died on 3 January 1858. On 3 May 1878, he married Sophia Florence Maud Lynch. His eldest daughter, Fanny Lipson Finniss (later Morgan), was the first European girl born in South Australia, on 31 December 1836 or 1 January 1837.[16] Finniss's employee, James Hoare, was father of the first boy, on 7 November 1836.[17]

Finniss married Anne Frances Rogerson (1819–1858) on 13 August 1835 at St. Audoen's, Dublin, Ireland

  • Fanny Lipson Finniss (1837–1865) married Frederick George Morgan (1826–1900)
  • Boyle Travers Nixon Finniss (1839–1853)
  • Julia Howard Finnis (1840–1918)
  • William Charles Maxwell Finniss (1842–1919)
  • Emily Anne Finniss (1844–1929)
  • Henry John Finniss (1845–1846)
  • Frederick Robe Finniss (1847–1908) accompanied his father to Escape Cliffs in 1864

Married Sophia Florence Maud Lynch (1852–1925[18]) 3 May 1878 at St Matthew's Church, Kensington, South Australia[19]

  • Coraly Newton Maud Finniss (1884–1890)
  • Ethel Maude Mary Finniss (1890–1976)



The Finniss River in South Australia and Finniss River in the Northern Territory are both named after him, along with Finniss Springs in the Northern Territory, and the South Australian Electoral district of Finniss.[20]

Finniss Street, in North Adelaide was one of the dozens of street names chosen by the Street Naming Committee in around 1840, to commemorate people of importance to the founding of Adelaide. Boyle Street and Finniss Street in the Adelaide suburbs of Marion and Oaklands Park were named in about 1856.[21]

In 1940, Queen's Own Town, about 60km south of Adelaide, was renamed Finniss.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Finniss, Boyle Travers (1807–1893)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol. 1. Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. 1966. pp. 377–379. ISBN 978-0-522-84459-7. ISSN 1833-7538. OCLC 70677943. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  2. ^ a b Serle, Percival (1949). "Finniss, Boyle Travers". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. Retrieved 30 August 2007.
  3. ^ "Table A: Governors and Administrators" (PDF). Parliament of South Australia. 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 March 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  4. ^ Finness, B. T. (1886). "Chapter V". The Constitutional History of South Australia (PDF). Adelaide: W.C. Rigby. p. 205.
  5. ^ Constitution Act (No 2 of 19 Vic, 1855-6) (SA)
  6. ^ "Nominations at Wellington". The South Australian Advertiser. 26 March 1860. p. 3. Retrieved 2 February 2013 – via Trove.
  7. ^ "Boyle Travers (B.T.) Finniss". Former members of the Parliament of South Australia. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  8. ^ Ayers, Henry (10 March 1864). "Untitled announcement of the appointment of the Government Resident of the Northern Territory" (PDF). The South Australian Government Gazette. Government of South Australia. p. 184. Retrieved 18 May 2019. His Excellency has this day been pleased to appoint Boyle Travers Finniss, Esq., to be Government Resident in and for the New Territory recently annexed to this Province by Her Majesty's Royal Letters Patent, bearing date July 6th, 1863
  9. ^ "Extracts from a Private Letter from B. T. Finniss". South Australian Register. 13 October 1864. p. 2. Retrieved 27 September 2011 – via Trove.
  10. ^ "North Australia". South Australian Register. 12 October 1864. p. 2. Retrieved 30 May 2019 – via Trove.
  11. ^ a b "The Northern Territory". South Australian Weekly Chronicle. 31 December 1864. p. 6. Retrieved 30 May 2019 – via Trove. Ward was speared to death in an ambush the following year.
  12. ^ "South Australia". The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times. 12 October 1866. Retrieved 17 March 2024 – via Trove.
  13. ^ "Northern Territory Commission". South Australian Register. 11 May 1866. p. 3. Retrieved 25 April 2012 – via Trove.
  14. ^ "Duryea Mining Company". South Australian Register. 16 September 1862. p. 3. Retrieved 29 January 2012 – via Trove.
  15. ^ "South Australian Literature and Music". The South Australian Advertiser. 25 June 1860. p. 3. Retrieved 17 January 2015 – via Trove.
  16. ^ "South Australia's First Girl". The Register. 15 February 1919. p. 10. Retrieved 7 October 2019 – via Trove.
  17. ^ "The First-born South Australian". South Australian Register. 7 November 1857. p. 3. Retrieved 4 March 2013 – via Trove.
  18. ^ "Family Notices". The Argus (Melbourne). 28 December 1925. p. 1. Retrieved 12 February 2019 – via Trove.
  19. ^ "Family Notices". The South Australian Advertiser. 4 May 1878. p. 4. Retrieved 12 February 2019 – via Trove.
  20. ^ Finniss (Map). Electoral District Boundaries Commission. 2016. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  21. ^ Dolling, Alison The History of Marion on the Sturt p.339 Peacock Publications ISBN 0-909209-48-0
  22. ^ "New town names approved". The Chronicle. 1 August 1940. p. 13. Retrieved 31 August 2016 – via Trove.

Further reading

South Australian Legislative Council
Preceded by Member of the South Australian Legislative Council
Served alongside: Multiple Members
Succeeded by
South Australian House of Assembly
New district Member of Parliament for City of Adelaide
Served alongside: Robert Torrens, Richard Hanson, Francis Dutton, John Neales
William Burford, Judah Solomon, William Owen
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Mount Barker
Served alongside: John Dunn
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Colonial Secretary of South Australia
Succeeded by
Preceded by Colonial Secretary of South Australia
Continues as
Chief Secretary of South Australia
New title Premier of South Australia
Succeeded by
Continues from
Colonial Secretary of South Australia
Chief Secretary of South Australia
Preceded by Treasurer of South Australia
Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by Administrator of South Australia
Succeeded by
Preceded by Government Resident of the Northern Territory
Succeeded by