James Hurtle Fisher was a London solicitor active in the colonizing movement. He became a member of the South Australian Building Committee in September 1835 and in July 1836 he was appointed Registrar and Resident Commissioner for the new colony. It was one of the most important positions in the colony. He was charged with selling public land and generating revenue to fund emigration. That approach to emigration was a foundation of the plan for the success of the colony. It had social goals as well as financial; the objective was to set the price of land at a level that would encourage emigrants to work and save to buy land. They would provide labour for the colony before becoming independent farmers.

A new life in South Australia

Fisher sailed for South Australia with his family aboard the Buffalo in July 1836.

The South Australia Act stressed a separation of powers that gave Fisher control of the sale of land without reference to the Governor.  It proved to be an unworkable relationship and Fisher fought bitterly with South Australia’s first Governor, John Hindmarsh. They argued over questions of the site for the new city, the progress of survey and even the encroachment of the Governor’s garden on public land. They fought so bitterly that in February 1837 the Resident Magistrate bound them over to keep the peace. The disputes were untenable: each side appealed to England and in March 1838 Hindmarsh was recalled to London. When his replacement, Governor Gawler, arrived in October 1838 Fisher ceased to act as Resident Commissioner.

Public Life in Adelaide

Fisher went on to become the first Mayor of Adelaide in 1840 and in 1853 a Member of the Legislative Council, later becoming Speaker and then President. In 1860 Fisher was the first resident South Australian to be knighted, he retired in 1865.

Outliving his wife Elizabeth, he died in Adelaide on 28 January 1875, survived by his eight children.

By Allison Russell, History Trust of South Australia

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Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7032, Public Domain

Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 9644, Public Domain

Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 73257, Public Domain

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