B. T. Finniss

Boyle Travers Finniss (18 August 1807 – 24 December 1893) was the first premier of South Australia, serving from 24 October 1856 to 20 August 1857.

B. T. Finniss
1st Premier of South Australia
In office
24 October 1856  20 August 1857
GovernorSir Richard MacDonnell
Succeeded byJohn Baker
Member of the South Australian Parliament
for City of Adelaide
In office
9 March 1857  22 March 1860
Serving with Sir Robert Torrens, Judah Solomon, Sir Richard Hanson, John Neales, William Burford, William Owen
Preceded byNew District
Succeeded byPhilip Santo
Personal details
Boyle Travers Finniss

(1807-08-18)18 August 1807
Off the Cape of Good Hope, southern Africa
Died24 December 1893(1893-12-24) (aged 86)
Adelaide, South Australia
Resting placeWest Terrace Cemetery
Spouse(s)Anne Frances Rogerson (1835–1858)
Sophia Florence Maud Lynch
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch/serviceBritish Army
Years of service1825–1835
Unit88th Regiment
56th Regiment
82nd Regiment

Early life

Finniss was born at sea off the Cape of Good Hope, Southern Africa,[1] and lived in Madras, British India. He was later sent to Greenwich, England, for his education. He later entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, placing first of sixteen candidates at the entrance examination. In 1825 he became an ensign in the 88th Regiment of Foot, was promoted lieutenant in 1827 to the 56th (West Essex) Regiment of Foot, and then spent three years in Mauritius in the department of roads and bridges.[1]


In 1835 Finniss sold off his commission and, having been appointed assistant surveyor under surveyor-general Colonel William Light, arrived in South Australia in September 1836. He supported Light's choice of the site of Adelaide and assisted in laying out the city; his correspondence during the early years shows him to have been a man of good judgment and he was an able assistant during the surveys.[2]

Finniss joined Light in a private surveying firm, Light, Finniss & Co. While in private enterprise, Light and Finniss surveyed several towns, including Glenelg and Gawler. He also had several other business interests, but they eventually all failed, and he returned to the public service.

Public service and political career

In 1839, Finniss was appointed deputy surveyor-general. In 1843, he became Commissioner of the South Australia Police and a police magistrate. In 1847, he was made Treasurer of South Australia and registrar general; in 1851, was nominated to the South Australian Legislative Council by the governor Sir Henry Young.[1]

In 1852 he was appointed Colonial Secretary of South Australia, and in July 1853 had charge of the bill to provide for two chambers in the South Australian parliament. In the interim between the departure of Governor Young in December 1854 and the arrival of Sir Richard Graves McDonnell in June 1855, Finniss acted as administrator.[1][3] The bill of 1853 was rejected by the British government,[4] and a new bill was brought forward in 1855 providing for two purely elective houses. This received the royal assent in 1856.[5]

Finniss was elected one of the representatives for the city of Adelaide and became the first premier and Chief Secretary of South Australia. There were early difficulties between the two houses but Finniss, during the four months his ministry was in session, succeeded in passing measures to deal with waterworks for Adelaide and the first railway in South Australia. He was treasurer in the Richard Hanson ministry from June 1858 to May 1860 and at the new election in that year was, with John Dunn one of the representatives for Mount Barker.[6][7]

1864 expedition to the Northern Territory

In 1864 the South Australian government, desiring to open up the Northern Territory, organised a survey party under Finniss, appointing him as the Government Resident of the Northern Territory[8] and giving him instructions to examine the Adelaide River and the coastline to the west and east of it. Finniss chose a site, Escape Cliffs, near the mouth of the Adelaide River for the settlement, but his choice was much criticised. He had problems with insubordination of his officers, who were jealous of the attention he paid to some of the lesser ranks (notably W. P. Auld and J. W. O. Bennett); nor was he popular with the men, who had expected to spend time exploring and not as much on tedious duties such as keeping guard on the stores; he had not secured adequate supplies for the expedition; and did not enjoy good relations with the local Aboriginal people.[9]

On 9 August 1864, during one of Finniss's absences, James Manton sent a party on horseback to recover stores which had been plundered by local Aboriginals. When approaching their camp, they were surrounded by spear-carrying warriors, who injured a horse and several men, William Pearson quite seriously.[10] Fellow-riders Fred Litchfield and Dyer removed Pearson from the scene, and when a second party arrived on foot, the Aborigines scattered, but one man was shot dead by Alaric Ward.[11]

A month later the Aborigines mounted another raiding party, spearing several horses, which created a great deal of anger in the depot. Finniss put his son Frederick in charge of an armed party sent out to Chambers Bay (some 8 miles (13 km) distant) to assert some kind of order (Finniss's instructions were not published). Dr. Francis Goldsmith, who, apart from his medical duties, had been appointed Protector of Aborigines, demanded a place in the party, but was ordered by Finniss to remain at the depot. The blacks fled their camp, but one unarmed old man named Dombey was shot in the back. Having recovered whatever property they could, the party then set fire to their dwellings. Returning to the depot, they were regaled as conquering heroes and each treated to a tot of rum. On 20 September Finniss appointed his son clerk-in-charge and accountant, in place of Ebenezer Ward, whom Finniss had suspended for disloyalty.[11] Auld was charged with the murder.

In May 1865 a dissident party of seven men fled to Champion Bay, Western Australia, in a small boat dubbed the Forlorn Hope, and Finniss was eventually recalled.[2] He was called before a Parliamentary Commission in May 1866 and answered his critics point by point, supported with a printed pamphlet, to the consternation of influential financier Frank Rymill, a major critic.[12]

Other interests

Finniss was on the board of at least one business, the Duryea Mining Company, where he was Chairman of Directors from 1862.[13]

In 1860 he published a martial anthem The Gathering : A War Song of Australia, and a love song Canst thou not read the mute Appeal ?; both set to music by Mrs. A. J. Murray.[14]

Late life

In 1875, he was a member of the forest board and in the following year was acting auditor general. He retired from the government service in 1881, and spent his leisure in preparing an interesting but rambling Constitutional History of South Australia (1886). He died on 24 December 1893, aged 86, and is buried at the West Terrace Cemetery.[1]


Finniss was twice married and left a widow, a son and two daughters. He married Anne Frances Rogerson on 13 August 1835; she died on 3 January 1858. On 3 May 1878 he married Sophia Florence Maud Lynch. His eldest daughter Fanny Lipson Finniss (later Morgan) was the first European girl born in South Australia, on 31 December 1836 or 1 January 1837.[15] Finniss's employee James Hoare was father of the first boy, on 7 November 1836.[16]

Finniss married Anne Frances Rogerson (1819–1858) on 13 August 1835 at St. Audoen's, Dublin, Ireland

  • Fanny Lipson Finniss (1837–1865) married Frederick George Morgan (1826–1900)
  • Boyle Travers Nixon Finniss (1839–1853)
  • Julia Howard Finnis (1840–1918)
  • William Charles Maxwell Finniss (1842–1919)
  • Emily Anne Finniss (1844–1929)
  • Henry John Finniss (1845–1846)
  • Frederick Robe Finniss (1847–1908) accompanied his father to Escape Cliffs in 1864

Married Sophia Florence Maud Lynch (1852–1925[17]) 3 May 1878 at St Matthew's Church, Kensington, South Australia[18]

  • Coraly Newton Maud Finniss (1884–1890)
  • Ethel Maude Mary Finniss (1890–1976)


The Finniss River in South Australia and Finniss River in the Northern Territory are both named after him, along with Finniss Springs, Northern Territory, and the South Australian Electoral district of Finniss.[19]

Finniss Street, in North Adelaide was one of the dozens of street names chosen by the Street Naming Committee around 1840 to commemorate people of importance to the founding of Adelaide. Boyle Street and Finniss Street in the Adelaide suburbs of Marion and Oaklands Park came around 1856.[20]

The township Queen's Own Town was renamed Finniss in 1940.[21]


  1. "Finniss, Boyle Travers (1807–1893)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol. 1. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. 1966. pp. 377–379. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  2. Serle, Percival (1949). "Finniss, Boyle Travers". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 30 August 2007.
  3. "Table A: Governors and Administrators" (PDF). Parliament of South Australia. 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 March 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  4. Finness, B. T. (1886). "Chapter V". The Constitutional History of South Australia (PDF). Adelaide: W.C. Rigby. p. 205.
  5. Constitution Act (No 2 of 19 Vic, 1855-6) (SA)
  6. "Nominations at Wellington". The South Australian Advertiser. 26 March 1860. p. 3. Retrieved 2 February 2013 via Trove.
  7. "Boyle Travers (B.T.) Finniss". Former members of the Parliament of South Australia. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  8. Ayers, Henry (10 March 1864). "Untitled announcement of the appointment of the Government Resident of the Northern Territory" (PDF). The South Australian Government Gazette. Government of South Australia. p. 184. Retrieved 18 May 2019. His Excellency has this day been pleased to appoint Boyle Travers Finniss, Esq., to be Government Resident in and for the New Territory recently annexed to this Province by Her Majesty's Royal Letters Patent, bearing date July 6th, 1863
  9. "Extracts from a Private Letter from B. T. Finniss". South Australian Register. 13 October 1864. p. 2. Retrieved 27 September 2011 via Trove.
  10. "North Australia". South Australian Register. 12 October 1864. p. 2. Retrieved 30 May 2019 via Trove.
  11. "The Northern Territory". South Australian Weekly Chronicle. 31 December 1864. p. 6. Retrieved 30 May 2019 via Trove. Ward was speared to death in an ambush the following year.
  12. "Northern Territory Commission". South Australian Register. 11 May 1866. p. 3. Retrieved 25 April 2012 via Trove.
  13. "Duryea Mining Company". South Australian Register. 16 September 1862. p. 3. Retrieved 29 January 2012 via Trove.
  14. "South Australian Literature and Music". The South Australian Advertiser. 25 June 1860. p. 3. Retrieved 17 January 2015 via Trove.
  15. "South Australia's First Girl". The Register. 15 February 1919. p. 10. Retrieved 7 October 2019 via Trove.
  16. "The First-born South Australian". South Australian Register. 7 November 1857. p. 3. Retrieved 4 March 2013 via Trove.
  17. "Family Notices". The Argus (Melbourne). 28 December 1925. p. 1. Retrieved 12 February 2019 via Trove.
  18. "Family Notices". The South Australian Advertiser. 4 May 1878. p. 4. Retrieved 12 February 2019 via Trove.
  19. Finniss (Map). Electoral District Boundaries Commission. 2016. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  20. Dolling, Alison The History of Marion on the Sturt p.339 Peacock Publications ISBN 0-909209-48-0
  21. "New town names approved". The Chronicle. 1 August 1940. p. 13. Retrieved 31 August 2016 via Trove.

Further reading

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