George Fife Angas South Australian History

George Fife Angas

Father and Founder of South Australia, ? or just a good businessman and clever speculator?

George Fife Angas, one of the most important people associated with the foundation of South Australia, and a life long supporter of the colony, was born at Newcastle on Tyne on 1 May 1789. At the age of fifteen he started work in his father's coachbuilding firm. On 18 April 1812 he married Rosetta French, a minor, with consent of her father. One of the witnesses at the ceremony was John Stephens. When his father died in 1831 George Fife Angas took over the management of the firm. Two years later he became one of the founders of the National Provincial Bank. Angas had enough assets to be invited to stand for parliament in 1832 and 1834.

It was at about this time that Angas became interested in the movement for the foundation of South Australia. In March 1832 he received a copy of the prospectus of the South Australian Land Company and decided to risk enough capital on its shares to become a director of that company. When the proposals for a Chartered Company were quashed by Lord Goderich, Angas withdrew from the movement and left it to others to carry on the struggle which finally was successful in 1834 when the South Australian Act was passed.

As a religious dissenter Angas declared that his object was 'to provide a place of refuge for Pious Dissenters of Great Britain, who could in their new home discharge their consciences before God in civil and religious duties without any disabilities'. Although a dissenter, Angas was appointed one of the South Australian Colonisation Commissioners in 1835 and rejoined the movement to be able to deal in land and engage in mercantile interests. Without delay he made whaling, fishing and banking prominent features of his plan. Even before the first settlers left England for South Australia, Angas was sounding out Gouger in regard to buying property and to advance money for colonial funds.

Map of Barossa Valley

In an effort to obtain migrants of his liking, he distributed propaganda material among the congregations of Dissenting Churches and recruited men with similar views to his own to run the South Australian Company operations. To stimulate the settling of the new colony Angas suggested that the commercial possibilities should be aided if they were to sell land and induce employers of labour to emigrate. Angas was particularly adept in financial affairs, and after establishing the National Provincial Bank went on to form the Union Bank of Australia in 1836 and the South Australian Banking Company in 1840. He was also a director of the British Colonial Bank and Loan Company and a committee member of the South Australian Society.

Angas was successful and gained a temporary reduction in the price of land from $2 to $1.20 per acre. The Commissioners also established at his request the notorious Special Surveys. Angas had also obtained privileges in regard to pasturage, emigration and loans. The South Australian Company, originated by Angas, was legally constituted on 22 January 1836 and Samuel Stephens appointed colonial manager. A few weeks later he was followed by his brother Edward, cashier and accountant of the South Australian Company, who sailed on the Coromandel. He was accompanied by William Malpas, a clerk, a prefabricated banking house, iron chests, ledgers and $20,000 in bank notes and coins.

Angas who was Chairman of the company also held extensive tracts of land himself. During the early years he was in fact the largest landowner in the colony, including seven special surveys. The first emigrants for South Australia left in February 1836 in ships belonging to the South Australian Company to be settled at Kangaroo Island.

By careful management, a good deal of luck and the efforts of his 'Confidential Clerk' Charles Flaxman, Angas was able to make the Company an important part of the young colony. It was also Flaxman who selected seven special surveys for Angas, a total area of 105.000 acres. Todays Angaston, Keyneton, Nuriootpa, Stockwell, Tanunda and Truro are within its boundary. Although it lasted more than a hundred years it never became that important for South Australia to be called a Company Colony. Having invested a very large part of his money in the colony it was only natural for him to take a deep and personal interest in South Australia. As early as 1839 he became a director of a company which proposed to build a railway from Port Adelaide to Adelaide. In 1840, his 304 ton Caleb Angas, a fast sailing first class ship, arrived with supplies from London.

All the time Angas worked hard to promote South Australia and find the best opportunities for his Company to make good profits for its shareholders. He gave lectures on the conditions and prospects of South Australia in some of the larger towns in the north of England. These were 'attended by numerous and respectable audiences and excited very considerable interest'. He also was able to convince members of his own family to settle in the new colony.

In 1843 Angas sent his nineteen year old son, John Howard, to Adelaide to manage his affairs. Another son, George French, also sailed for Australia were he became a well known artist portraying many of the early colonial scenes before the advent of cameras. In 1851 Angas emigrated himself to settle in South Australia for a new life of success, wealth, honour and to enter its political life. The town of Angaston, first known as German Pass, was laid out by Angas in 1857. When Robert Harrison published his Colonial Sketches in 1862, which included some very unkind comments about Adelaide's climate, it was alleged that Angas bought up all available copies and had them destroyed.

Being a very religious man Angas showed his support not only in several religious matters, but also in the welfare of Aborigines, who would have a place in the newly created society, even if it was as 'the lowest class of industrial labour'. While still in England he had provided financial assistance to the Lutheran Mission Society of Dresden which dispatched several of its Pastors to work among the Aborigines. Unfortunately it did not make much difference for the Aborigines and in 1860 Angas had to admit that he knew of no subject in the whole course of the history of South Australia that had been as shamefully shirked as the welfare of the Aborigines.

George Fife Angas also was greatly interested in the emigration of German Lutheran settlers. When Pastor August Kavel approached him for help for his people to escape religious persecution, Angas unsuccessfully tried to have their passage paid from the Emigration Fund. In the end he paid for their trip to South Australia, much to the regret of his colonial manager David McLaren. After a few years, this act of philanthropy provided handsome profits to Angas, the South Australian Company but even more so to South Australia. To protect his investment in this venture Angas hired Charles Flaxman to assist the Germans on board and look after them when they reached the colony and also act as Angas' agent. They were settled on land belonging to Angas and formed the village of Klemzig. When this became too small after the arrival of more Lutherans, they established the village of Hahndorf.

Another interest of Angas was the mining industry in South Australia. As early as 1845 Angas wrote to his son that he hoped he would incline the settlers to consign their produce, including the ores, to his business in London. A year later he had formed the Barossa Mining Company and was for some time a director of it. To work its mines Angas engaged Captain Rodda and a dozen miners and provided transport for them and their families to South Australia.

When living at Angaston in 1852, he became a large shareholder in the Wheal Barton Mine of which his son John was a director. This mining Company was formed in 1849 with James Smith as Secretary and appointed J. Morphett as Captain. The township of Barton was laid out by Charles Barton on section 402 and offered for sale by him in January 1850.

However George Fife Angas had real doubts about the benefits of a gold discovery. He believed that no greater calamity could possibly happen to Adelaide than the discovery of gold in any great quantity. It would not only harm the agricultural and pastoral industry, he said, it would also have a demoralising effect on South Australia. He would rather give 5000 out of his own pocket that gold would not be discovered.

Although often portrayed as being against mining, Angas had not always been opposed to mining or speculative affairs. After all he owned shares in the Australian Mining Company, formed in 1843 with ex Commissioners Torrens and Palmer among its directors, and the Wheal Barton mine and was director of the Barossa Mining Company. He was also the one who had send out captains and miners from England to work his mines in South Australia. William Jury, Captain of the North Montecute mine, had his voyage to South Australia paid for by George Fife Angas and was the first mining captain to be brought out with a specific contract to discover and work mines.

It was also Angas who wanted Menge to check out his special surveys, as 'nothing can be more important to us than to develop minerals on our surveys'. Angas was against the mindless speculation that often went hand in hand with mining and in particular gold mining. While still in England he wrote to his son how pleased he was that he was not involved in the 'mania that prevails for speculation in mines'.

Soon after his arrival in South Australia, Angas was elected member for Barossa in the Legislative Council and served the Colony in that capacity until his retirement on 28 August 1866. Angas was very interested in the education of the young. He was a firm believer in Sunday Schools and organised a school society for South Australia. He was closely involved with the establishment of free schools in the outer districts of the settlement. In 1865 one school was opened at Bowden and another at Norwood. He brought up his own children with regular morning and evening family worship. He and his wife, Rosetta French, had three sons and four daughters. Rosetta died on 11 January 1867 and Angas on 15 May 1879.

Angas' influence can also be gauged by the many features named after him. They include, Angas Bank, Angas Mine, Angas Park, Angas Street, Angas Plains, Angaston, Angas Inlet, Angas Vale, River Angas, Angaston Copper mine, Angaston Gold mine, District Council of Angas, and the Hundred of Angas.


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