History of the City of Port Adelaide Enfield
14 October 2015 is the 175th anniversary of the opening of the New Port of Adelaide
Each month we will feature new milestones which led to the declaration of the New Port
The chosen site for the new colony of South Australia needed to be a suitable location which had good soil, fresh water and a safe harbour.
The Search for a safe harbour
In 1802 Captain Matthew Flinders praised the soil of Kangaroo Island with Nepean Bay as the harbour, but fresh water was difficult to locate. Nicholas Baudin suggested Port Lincoln but this was also decided against.
Flinders recorded in his journal the land around Gulf St Vincent was better than Spencers Gulf. In 1830 Captain Charles Sturt investigated the Murray because it could support river trade with NSW. He entered Lake Alexandrina from the Murray proving the river discharged into the sea but he could not locate the Murray mouth, the area needed further investigation.
At this stage no sheltered harbour had been discovered. Both Flinders and the French explorers sailed the eastern coast of Gulf St Vincent, but neither reported the Port River inlet. Shallow water prevented them from passing close to shore and the uniform height of vegetation masked the rivers entrance.
In 1831 Captain Collett Barker was asked to survey the eastern shore of Gulf St Vincent “for the purpose of ascertaining if there was any outlet for the waters of Lake Alexandrina on that side of the Gulf” (Price). On April 14 1831, he sailed in the Isabella, following the shore as close as possible from Cape Jervis to Port Gawler; he also sailed past the entrance to the inlet. He left his ship and followed the Onkaparinga River to the top of Mount Lofty. From there, in the North West, he saw an inlet “a considerable indentation in the coast” (Price) which he investigated further. He sailed north to the location and discovered the inlet, which was 10 – 12 miles long and concealed by a ‘spit of sand’ projecting at right angles to the mouth, but it was not the mouth to the Murray which he had been searching for. Less than two weeks later Captain Collett Barker was murdered by natives while swimming across the real entrance to the Murray (Oldham).
When Colonel William Light sailed to South Australia in the Rapid in 1836 he was instructed to consider Nepean Bay and Port Lincoln as well as the Inlet when searching for a Port. He arrived at Nepean Bay on August 20 1836 which was already inhabited and from his observations discarded it. He then went in search of the inlet which had been reported by Barker in 1831 and Captain John Jones in 1834. He sailed the eastern coast of Gulf St Vincent and also sailed past the inlet. On September 25 1836 he left his ship to examine an inlet but ran aground about a half a mile from shore. When he returned to the Rapid he was informed that his second mate Mr Hull had viewed a river to the south of considerable breadth. He sailed to the new location but again missed the entrance......
Discovery of the inlet
On September 26 Light found and entered the inlet. “The reach ran NE and SW for about 2 miles and had an extensive sand bank on its west which was dry at low water. This is what had prevented him from seeing it the day before. The second reach ran in an easterly direction for about a mile and then in a northerly direction for some distance. In the mouth of the first reach it was only two fathoms at low tide. It again shoaled at 2 ½ fathoms in the second reach but elsewhere the depth was 3 – 4 fathoms. This he declared would make a fine harbor at some future date; it was sheltered from every wind. However he decided it was not Jones harbour” (Oldham).
On September 28, William Pullen, Assistant Surveyor to Colonel William Light, turned into an inlet and disappeared. Light waited for Pullen at the anchorage. Pullen entered the northern channel at low tide while Chief Officer of the Rapid, William George Field entered the southern channel. On returning to the Rapid, Pullen informed Light there was no fresh water, the inlet had a depth of 1 fathom a short distance from its entrance and that there were two islands (Torrens Island and Garden Island).
On September 30 Colonel William Light entered the inlet for a second time. The water was shallow in places. He landed on Torrens Island but found no fresh water. He investigated several creeks but again decided this was not the harbour described by Jones.
On November 21, with George Strickland Kingston, John Morphett and Pullen, Colonel William Light entered the southern reach of the inlet. On this occasion they discovered “One of the finest little harbours I ever saw with three fathoms of water and very often four at dead low water at five to six miles from where the brig was at anchor, a harbour more extensive, safe and beautiful than we could ever have hoped for. I have never seen a harbour so well supplied with little creeks that would answer for shipbuilding as this”…..
Sailing up the River for the first time
On December 22 the Rapid and the Tam O’Shanter sailed up the Port Creek. Colonel William Light sailed ahead of them in the Rapid’s hatch boat. In his journal he recorded “it was really beautiful to look back and see two British ships for the first time sailing up between the mangroves, in fine smooth water, in a creek that had never before borne the construction of the marine architect, and which at some future period might be the channel of import and export of a great commercial capital. We anchored for the night about six p.m., the Tam O’Shanter having taken the mud laid till about midnight, when the flood tide having floated her off, she passed us brought up till daylight. Having now got both ships up the harbour, I shall leave my narrative of the maritime part and of this expedition and proceed to my work on shore”.
The original Landing Place
The harbour provided more shelter from bad weather than any other site Colonel William Light had surveyed. He preferred the North Arm of the Creek as the landing place but the area was marsh. A site further upstream was chosen as the mangroves were not as thick there and it was closer to the site chosen for Adelaide.
At the original landing place, a canal was excavated about thirty feet wide, five feet deep, and piled with pine poles, capped with quartering and backed with tea tree to prevent the sand from falling in. Small trading vessels could easily enter, navigate and lie safely when moored and barges could navigate the canal at high tide but it was dry at low tide. However larger vessels could not sail pass Gawler Reach, the remaining distance had to be traversed in smaller boats.
The Port Creek Settlement met with opposition from the beginning. There was a shortage of fresh water and cartage from Adelaide was expensive. The varying tides meant ships had to wait for high tide before being able to enter the river and they then had to bundle passengers and cargo onto smaller vessels to travel the remainder of the journey. Once at the landing place, there was no proper wharf to land passengers, they were carried ashore on sailor’s backs and their cargo thrown on the muddy beach. It was not right to establish the main town so far from its Port, Merchants should be able to walk from their business to the ship handling their cargo.
A Grenfell Price MA FRGS, Work of Captain Collett Barker in SA.
Oldham, Wilfrid 1947, The discovery of Port Adelaide, Royal Geographical Society, Adelaide, South Australia.
Parson Ronald 1982, Port Misery and the Newport, Magill SA.
Port Misery “West Lakes”, its significance in South Australian History, Delfin Property Group Limited 1986.
Samuels, Brian 1986, The European discovery of the Port Adelaide creek, recorded in 1836 - 1986 Mudflats to Metropolis.
Tight bank of the inlet was mangrove swamp which was impassable. The mangrove narrowed about a mile passed the present Jervois Bridge. No mechanical appliances to handle freight. Goods put ashore exposed to all weather. Cartage to town costly Port Misery.
Light also suggested the River Torrens could be made navigable and that the Port could be connected to the River Torrens by a canal.
Port Adelaide History
Port Adelaide is an historic area which was central to the colonization of South Australia dating right back to its inception in 1836 when Colonel William Light first sailed up the Port River. Port Adelaide has been the gateway to trade and commerce in South Australia and the first contact with South Australia for thousands of emigrants when they arrived by ship.
- On April 19 1831 Captain Collet Barker first sighted the Port River Inlet.
- In December 1836 Colonel William Light sailed up the Port River proclaiming, "There was no safer place or more commodious harbor in the world for merchant ships".
- On June 3 1837 the current site proclaimed a port by Governor Hindmarsh.
- On December 27 1855 Port Adelaide was declared a Corporate Town.
- In 1884 the District Council of Portland Estate amalgamated with the Corporate Town of Port Adelaide
- In 1886 the District Council of Birkenhead amalgamated with the Corporate Town of Port Adelaide
- In 1896 the District Councils of Alberton and Queenstown amalgamated with the Corporate Town of Port Adelaide
- In 1899 the District Council of Rosewater amalgamated with the Corporate Town of Port Adelaide
- On November 13 1900 the Corporate Town of Semaphore amalgamated with the Corporate Town of Port Adelaide
- On May 23 1901 Port Adelaide was proclaimed a City by the Governor, Lord Tennyson to become the City of Port Adelaide
Enfield was predominantly a farming area, with fertile country along the River Torrens and wheat and grain fields in its northern reaches. The area also boasts Sunnybrae Farm, the site of the first waterborne sewerage system in Australia; Yatala Gaol; the Sir Ross and Keith Smith England to Australia flight landing site and Klemzig, where German immigrants fleeing persecution in Prussia, established a village.
- In 1853, an area of around 130 kilometres extending from Salisbury in the north, to the River Torrens in the east and adjoining Port Adelaide in the west, including the villages of Enfield, Prospect, Klemzig and Walkerville, was incorporated in the District Council of Yatala. The land was first surveyed in 1837, but was not fully realised until the late 1840-50's because of limited fresh water.
- In 1855 the Village of Walkerville separated from Yatala to become the District Council of Walkerville.
- In July 1868 Yatala was divided into Yatala South and Yatala North, with any land south of Dry Creek becoming Yatala South.
- In August 1872 the Village of Prospect separated from Yatala to become the District Council of Prospect.
- In July 1935 Yatala South was renamed the District Council of Enfield.
- In April 1944 the District Council of Enfield became the Municipality of Enfield.
- In January 1953 the Municipality of Enfield became the City of Enfield
City of Port Adelaide Enfield
- In March 1996 the City of Enfield amalgamated with the City of Port Adelaide to become the City of Port Adelaide Enfield
City of Port Adelaide Enfield Local History Room:
Port Adelaide Library
2 Church Street Port Adelaide SA 5015
Phone: 08 84056580
For further details please contact our Local History Officer:
Port Adelaide Library: (08) 8405 6580 or via Email