Welcome to the City of Port Adelaide Enfield Website

History of the City of Port Adelaide Enfield


14 October 2015 marks the 175th anniversary of the opening of the New Port of Adelaide

Each month new milestones which led to the declaration of the New Port will be featured

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 Collet 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 Collet 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 believed they should be able to walk from their business to the ship handling their cargo. It was recommended as a remedy, that some of the area near the Harbour should be surveyed to meet the views of those who consider proximity to a landing place important.


PROCLAMATION by His Excellency JOHN HINDMARSH, Knight of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, Captain in the Royal Navy, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Province of South Australia.  

"I do hereby direct that the two Points at the entrance of the Estuary on the Eastern shore of Gulf Saint Vincent, in latitude 34.46 leading from said Gulph shall be called as follows, viz: the Northern Point shall be called Point Grey; Southern Point shall be called Point Malcolm; that the entrance between these Points into the Port hereinafter proclaimed, shall be called Light's Passage; that the Peninsula, bounded on the Eastern side by the Port hereinafter proclaimed, and on the western side by the sea, shall be called Lefevre's Peninsula; that the Island forming the North-eastern boundary of the Port hereinafter proclaimed shall he called Torren's Island; that the Inlet forming the Southern boundary of Torren's Island and running to the eastward, shall be called Angas's Inlet, and that the land lying to the Southward of the said Inlet, and extending from such Inlet to the Southern extremity of the Port hereinafter proclaimed, and inland to a distance of three statute miles, and forming part of the Eastern and South-eastern boundary of the said Port, shall be called Fife Angas. That the Estuary leading out of Gulf Saint Vincent, from a right line across the same from Point Grey to Point Malcolm, and from such right line up the said Estuary, to a right line drawn across the same at the distance of one statute mile above the present landing place in Fife Angas shall be the Port of the Town of Adelaide.

And I do hereby Proclaim the same, within the boundaries hereinbefore described, to be a legal Port, and direct that from henceforth it shall be called and known by the name of Port Adelaide. Given under my Hand and the Seal of the Province, this twenty-fifth day of May, 1837.


The success of the Colony and the prosperity of the place selected to be Adelaide depended upon a "Harbour, safe and accessible during all seasons of the year”.  

Mr. Wood, Master of H.M.S. Buffalo, publicly questioned the safety and suitability of Port Adelaide as a harbour to which his Excellency the Governor responded to prevent unfavourable impressions amongst shipping interests both at home and in neighbouring colonies.

Mr Wood stated the wind, weather, and tides of the Port River could not be depended upon. 

The Governor responded: Mr Wood is correct in stating the tides are irregular - it is difficult to calculate within two hours when it will be high water, generally around 6.00 am and 3.00 p.m. but sometimes as early as 5.30 am, and sometimes as late as 7.30 pm. The amount of rise and fall of the tides depended upon the wind and weather; but was usually greater under similar circumstances in spring and autumn.

The winds, however, the Governor stated, had greater regularity than he ever observed anywhere out of the tropics. The sea breeze usually sets in from the west about noon, veers southward, increasing in strength for three or four hours, reaching south at sunset, when its strength begins to decrease— still continuing to veer in the same direction, and decrease in strength, it becomes the land breeze during the night. By daybreak it reaches north; the greater part of the forenoon veering in the same direction.  This regularity is constant about five days out of seven. The days this regular round does not take place, it usually blows hard—but even these have a regularity—commencing about N.W., and veering slowly towards the south; and so soon as it goes to the southward of S.W. by S., it may be calculated upon with certainty that the gale is breaking up.

Mr Wood: The sand bar, with the other banks of sand near it are dangerous, the entrance not more than the breadth of a ship of large burthen, and the channel between the two bars little wider than the length of a large ship, and open to violent winds.

The Governor: The bar possesses no peculiar danger, I have not found a rocky spot anywhere on this coast, and when the channel shall be properly buoyed there will be no dangers if the proper time of tide be watched. Watching will always be necessary in a large vessel, for the irregularity of the time of high water. As to the width of the entrance it exceeds the length instead of the breadth of the largest ships and as for the width of the channel there is no part narrower than one cubit's length, some parts being three cables length.

Mr Woods: It is necessary to have high water to cross the sea bar, and wait for slack water, or a large ship must wait for another day’s tide, before she will have sufficient water to cross the second bar.  A ship of heavy burthen like the Buffalo, by touching the ground, and not getting off immediately, might expect some damage, or by blowing hard, a total loss, or some such calamity, before any assistance could be procured.

The Governor: This I believe to be speculation.  As it is generally calm about high water in the morning tide, it would be advisable to haul a large ship or tow her over before the flood is done, she will then have plenty of room to anchor and wait for the sea breeze. If the ship cannot be got over the flat off Point Malcolm, which Mr. Wood calls the second bar, she can at least be placed in perfect security from all winds.

Mr Woods: There is only one anchorage, in an inconvenient spot, of moderate extent where his ship could be moored in any commonly decent manner, … in such as would be considered suitable for the security of a king's ship, during the worst season of the year."

The Governor:  One good spot to moor the Buffalo would have sufficed. The harbour is doubtless better calculated for vessels of three hundred tons, than for ships such as the Buffalo. She could, however, have been taken into Port Adelaide, and safely moored in five fathoms of water, and as the greatest rise and fall is less than twelve feet, rarely exceeding eight or nine feet, she would never touch.

Mr Wood: My experience of upwards of forty years, twenty-eight in His Majesty's service as Master in one or other ships of war, acting as pilot in all cases, happily without an accident, leads me to declare, “I would not risk or attempt to recommend a vessel of more than three or four hundred tons, or drawing more than twelve to thirteen feet, to use the harbour at present”.

The Governor: Mr Wood states the sea reach, which is near four miles in length, is little broader than the length of a large ship. I sounded this reach in my gig. I estimate the breadth of the reach in this part to be not one hundred and fifty feet, as the report would lead to suppose, but from one thousand to eighteen hundred feet, nowhere is it less than a cable's length. I do not see how Mr. Wood's long service can alter facts; however they might tend to give weight to his opinions

Colonel William Light:  When the Tam O'Shanter took ground she had passed over the shoaliest parts. The cause of her striking, I believe, was her not being sufficiently to windward, and the flood tide catching her on the weather bow, casting her on the edge of the northern sand, from which, I have been told, she might have been hove off, had the ship been found with proper hawsers. Since that period, the Africaine and the William Hutt have been brought in with perfect ease, and the Commanders of both ships have expressed their approbation of the harbour. Captain Lipson, the harbour master, was with me yesterday morning, and he, in the presence of Mr. Fisher, declared the harbour was one of the best he ever saw in his life, and that he could take any ship in, drawing two feet more water than the Buffalo.  

JOHN HINDMARSH.   By His Excellency's command, ROBERT GOUGER Colonial Secretary.

1837 'THE HARBOUR AT POET ADELAIDE.', South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (Adelaide, SA : 1836 - 1839), 29 July, p. 1, viewed 12 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31749663

1837 'THE HARBOUR AT PORT ADELAIDE.', South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (Adelaide, SA : 1836 - 1839), 12 August, p. 2, viewed 12 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31749690

1837 'PORT ADELAIDE.', The Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 - 1838), 28 June, p. 3 Edition: EVENING, viewed 28 October, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32156452

A Grenfell Price MA FRGS, Work of Captain Collet Barker in SA.

Oldham, Wilfrid 1947, The discovery of Port Adelaide, Royal Geographical Society, Adelaide, South Australia.  

Parsons Ronald 1982, Port Misery and the New Port, 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, 1836 - 1986 Mudflats to Metropolis.


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 Colet 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 October 14 1840 a new landing place at the end of what is now Commercial Road was officially opened and for a while was known as the New Port, to differentiate it from the original landing place at the intersection of todays Old Port Road and Webb Strreet which became known as the Old Port.
  • On May 25 1837 the Port River estuary was proclaimed a legal 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 History

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