South Australia’s First Expedition: three generations of settler-colonial social mobility

Author: Heidi Ing

Ing, Heidi, 2020 South Australia’s First Expedition: three generations of settler-colonial social mobility, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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By early 1831 the anticipated destination for a proposed colony in Australasia had been selected, and an experiment in ‘systematic colonisation’ was to be placed on the lands of southern Australia’s Aboriginal Peoples. South Australia’s ‘first expedition’ arrived on the shores of these lands between July and October 1836. This population of early-arriving settler-colonists are the subject of this thesis, which uncovers their careers, as well as the occupational class inheritance experienced by their children and grandchildren. The proposed province was to be a planned, respectable and profitable colonial destination which would provide social and occupational advantage for Great Britain’s ‘uneasy middling orders’ and ‘surplus labourers’. This thesis argues that promises of occupational opportunities were realised by those who participated in South Australia’s first expedition. Those drawn from Britain’s middle classes took advantage of political, managerial and professional roles available in the newly created colonial society, and entrepreneurial endeavours were initiated by passage-assisted labourers, who were well positioned to serve the needs of subsequent immigrants.

Despite the promoted objective to foster access to agricultural land, few labourers of South Australia’s first expedition were the progenitors of persistent farming families. The ‘sufficient price’ which was attached to land to maintain the colony’s labour force, effectively restricted access to farming land for sons of labourers. In contrast, the daughters of labourers who arrived with South Australia’s first expedition were able to marry farmers in the first decades of the expanding settler-colony. This thesis finds that daughters inherited early-arrival advantage when compared to sons, who tended to be downwardly mobile. Occupations in the upper class were principally out of reach for those of labouring, farming and fishing origin in all three generations, while descendants of the upper class were predominantly persistent above the manual divide. The intergenerational consequences of geographic mobility have troubled historians, as mobile populations are difficult to trace in past eras. This thesis pursues the first, second and third generations from cradle to grave, identifying changes in their locations and occupations. A comparison of ‘movers’ to ‘stayers’ in each generation reveals that those of the manual classes who moved did not greatly alter their rate of occupational class persistence, while the middle-class increased their access to upper-class occupations if they relocated to another colony or overseas.

Keywords: Occupational Mobility, Geographic Mobility, Intergenerational Mobility, South Australia, Colonization, Migration, Social History, Aboriginal Australians

Subject: History thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Prof Philip Payton