HINDMARSH, Sir John (c. 1782-1860)

HINDMARSH, Sir John (c. 1782-1860)
first governor of South Australia
was probably born about the year 1782. Later dates are sometimes given, but as he entered the navy in 1793, and at the battle of the Nile in 1798, being the only surviving officer on the quarter-deck of the Bellerophon, gave orders which saved the ship from destruction, it seems scarcely likely that he would have been sufficiently experienced to know what to do before he was 16. He was promoted lieutenant in 1803, and had a distinguished career until the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. A period of inaction followed, but in 1830 he was in command of the Scylla and was made a captain in 1831. In 1836 he was made a knight of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order and went to South Australia as its first governor, arriving on 28 December. Hindmarsh, though a brave man with an excellent record, had no special qualifications for his post. He had come in conflict with the South Australian colonization commissioners before leaving London, and a very short while after his arrival was at odds with the surveyor-general Colonel William Light (q.v.) on the question of the capital site. Hindmarsh wanted it near the mouth of the Murray, instead of at the present site which had been selected by Light. The situation was complicated by the fact that there was some question as to the respective powers of the governor and the resident commissioner, J. Hurtle Fisher (q.v.), and the two came into open conflict. Feeling ran high and when Hindmarsh went so far as to suspend Robert Gouger (q.v.) and other public officers, the commissioners brought the matter before the secretary of state for the colonies. As a result Hindmarsh was recalled and left the colony on 14 July 1838. In September 1840 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Heligoland, and held this position for about 16 years. He was knighted by Queen Victoria on 7 August 1851 (The Times, 20 August 1851), and attained the rank of rear-admiral in 1856. He died on 31 July 1860 and was survived by a son and two daughters.
Hindmarsh was governor of South Australia for little more than a year, an unfortunate episode in an otherwise distinguished career. His position was anomalous from the start, and, though he was sometimes wanting in both tact and wisdom, his difficulties were great. For an interesting summary see A. Grenfell Price's Founders and Pioneers of South Australia, p. 92.
The Annual Register, 1860; W, R. O'Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary; A. Grenfell Price, The Foundation and Settlement of South Australia and Founders and Pioneers of South Australia; E. Hodder, The Founding of South Australia; J. H. Heaton, Australian Dictionary of Dates.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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