In an economically depressed Britain, permeated by the fear of revolution, the early nineteenth century saw the glories of Wellington’s victories over Napoleon fade into the background against a groundswell and clamour for political change. Wellington’s 1830s Tory government soon found itself on the wrong side of history, and Britain on the cusp of significant social and economic change.
Into this crucible stepped the ‘Philosophical Radicals’ – a group of largely young, well educated and privileged reformers.
In coalition with the Whigs and fuelled by the economic theories of greats like Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham and Colonel Robert Torrens, the reformers took their collective voice for change into the British Reform Parliament of 1832, successfully transforming theory into practice. Their dissenting cries precipitated monumental reforms including the South Australia Act of 1834.
Unlike the penal colonies of New South Wales and Tasmania, South Australia was planned according to the economic principles of ‘systematic colonisation’, as first proposed by Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Capital rather than labour was exported and emigrating Britons bought ‘land orders’ ahead of their arrival. The unique experiment was conditional on being self-sustaining and free of government funding.
In South Australia the Philosophical Radicals supplanted their dream for a new social and political order underpinned by the principles of:
- economic liberalism
- free trade between nations
- separation of church and state and the expression of religious freedom
- admission of women to parliament and voting rights to all
- land transfer mechanisms, which eventually led to the Torrens Title System.
Grote, Wakefield, Light and Gouger are just some of the well-known streets and squares in the city of Adelaide. But the personal stories of how these and other Philosophical Radicals came to be named in Adelaide’s streets has been largely overlooked. Who were they? What drove them? Why do some now believe they constitute a ‘pantheon of dissent’?
In Behind the Streets of Adelaide Dr Jeff Nicholas pays tribute to the 62 men and women named in Adelaide’s streets. He mines their ‘biographical archaeology’ with persistence and intellectual acuity to reveal each respective story, illuminating their lives through academic rigour and a lyrical turn of phrase.