FINNISS, Boyle Travers (1807-1893)


FINNISS, Boyle Travers (1807-1893)
pioneer and first premier of South Australia
was born at sea on 18 August 1807. He was educated at the school of the Rev. Charles Parr Burney at Greenwich, and at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. In May 1825 he became an ensign in the 56th Foot, was promoted lieutenant in 1827, and subsequently spent three years in Mauritius in the department of roads and bridges. In 1835 he sold his commission and, having been appointed assistant surveyor under Colonel Light, arrived in South Australia in September 1836. He supported Light's choice of the site of Adelaide; his correspondence during the early years shows him to have been a man of sound judgment and he was an able assistant during the early surveys. In 1839 he was appointed deputy surveyor-general and in 1843 he became commissioner of police and police magistrate. He was made colonial treasurer and registrar general in 1847, and in 1851 was nominated to the legislative council by the governor Sir Henry Young (q.v.). In 1852 he received the appointment of colonial secretary, 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 McDonnell (q.v.) in June 1855, Finniss acted as administrator. The bill of 1853 was not accepted by the British government, and a new bill was brought forward in 1855 providing for two purely elective houses. This received the royal assent in 1856. 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 Hanson (q.v.) ministry from June 1858 to May 1860 and at the new election in that year was one of the representatives for Mount Barker. In 1864 the South Australian government, desiring to open up the Northern Territory, organized a survey party under Finniss, giving him instructions to examine the Adelaide River and the coastline to the west and east of it. Finniss selected a site for the settlement at the mouth of the Adelaide River but his choice was much criticized, he had great trouble with his subordinates, and was eventually recalled. 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 discursive Constitutional History of South Australia which was published in 1886. He died on 24 December 1893. Finniss was twice married and left a widow, a son and two daughters.
Finniss was a man of varied capacity and determined character. A slow and somewhat prosy public speaker, he was a capable administrator with a high sense of duty and excellent judgment.
B. T. Finniss, The Constitutional History of South Australia, p. 248; J. H. Heaton, Australian Dictionary of Dates; J. Blacket, History of South Australia; A. Grenfell Price, Founders and Pioneers of South Australia; South Australian Register, 26 December 1893.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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