South Australia was an unusual undertaking within the British Empire. Unlike the older colonies on Australia’s eastern seaboard SA was never to be a penal colony, and this commitment to a ‘free’ settlement was fiercely maintained. Historians are divided about the lasting impact of the absence of the convict stigma on the province’s society and culture, but an awareness of difference distinguishes South Australians to this day.
Although parts of the continent of Australia was already colonised as penal settlements, South Australia was established as a ‘free state’, was never a penal settlement and, as such, became an example of social and democratic reform for what we now know as the Commonwealth of Australia.
Being a ‘free’ settlement, garrisons were not required as prison guards. A lack of any form of defence, however, led to the creation of the Royal South Australian Volunteer Militia in 1840, which consisted of an infantry company and two cavalry troops. Then began an era of raising and disbanding the Volunteer Militia whenever a threat of war appeared imminent. At one stage suggestions were made for fortifications to be built at Glenelg, Semaphore and Largs, however the war drums ceased and fortifications were deferred. The Militia was later disbanded in 1851.
Voluntary forces were revived in 1859 involving infantry, cavalry and artillery units, but again the force was disbanded by 1870. Finally in 1878 the Military Forces Act was passed and a permanent military force, and reserve forces, were raised.