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The First Parliament

The First Elections

The New Parliament
The Adelaide Observer, 18 April 1857, p.4


The new Parliament text

Elections were held for both chambers of the new Parliament.

For the House of Assembly, 57 candidates stood for the 36 places spread across 17 multi-member seats.
In 7 seats there was no contest. Exactly the right number of candidates stood for election. Once the nominations had been officially registered there was no further electioneering in those seats. Elections were held in the remaining 10 contested seats.

For the Legislative Council, 18 members were to be elected, representing the Colony as a whole.

The newspapers emphasised the historic importance of the occasion.

"The political and administrative changes we have wrought, though achieved in the calmest and most peaceful spirit, amount to an organic revolution, and the people are as temperate in the enjoyment of their triumph as they are loyal and moderate in their demands."
The SA Register, 2 January 1857, Annual Retrospect.



Electioneering was orderly and sedate. Under the new Constitution, candidates were not allowed to attend political meetings in the districts they were contesting. So there was a lot of debate in the newspapers about what a political meeting was and whether candidates had breached the regulations by attending other kinds of meetings.

There were no political parties or policy platforms. Candidates simply ran letters in the newspapers for many days, outlining their philosophy and records of public service.


Election day text

The newspapers had given their readers detailed information about how the new system would work, along with encouragement for electors to go out and fulfil their new responsibilities. Instead of marking their chosen candidates, voters crossed out the names of the ones that they did NOT support. (This led to a high number of informal votes so was changed later to the current system of marking the preferred candidate.)

"We need not dwell upon the importance of the duty which every true colonist has to perform today; all we urge upon him is that he should well weigh the merits of the various candidates ... and then ... scratch out the bad names with a good bold hand."
SA Register, Monday March 9th, 1857 - election day.

Election day went off quietly and successfully, in a serious atmosphere. One disappointment was the low turnout. The SA Register estimated that less than a quarter of the eligible voters came out to vote.