Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Jones Family Part III: The Blenheim, electioneering and riots.

In my last post I finished with Thomas Rowlands Jones’ advertisement for the Blenheim hotel and wine tasting on the London Docks.

Thomas’ wine tasting experience was put to good use in his new hotel.

"Colonial Wine-We have now before us a sample of some colonial wines, about to be introduced to public notice by Mr Jones, of the Blenheim Hotel. There are two samples, one of Tokay and the other Red Muscat. For soundness and delicacy of flavour we can recommend them especially to the notice of families, as an agreeable and cheap substitute for imported wines generally used."[i]


On the home front Theophila's recently remarried mother Rosalia Shroeder died on the 29th of April 1854 in Adelaide. She was only 40 years old. On the 12th of August 1855 in the Blenheim hotel Adelaide, Thomas and Theophila had a baby girl. Her birth was advertised in the newspaper[iii] but I cannot find an official birth registration for her. I do not know her name or if she survived past infancy.

Blenheim hotel held Billiard matches, musical evenings as well as, Adelaide city council meetings, Masonic lodge meetings, coroner’s inquests, voting and electioneering, and many other community meetings and events.

This is a photo of Hindley street around 1870. The Blenheim Hotel is the one on the corner with the cart out the front. State Library of South Australia [B 1934]

ON the 19th September 1855 at about 12 o’clock in the afternoon, gunfire rang out from the balcony of the Blenheim Hotel. Members of the public had begun to assemble outside the hotel to listen to the candidates for West Adelaide in the Legislative Council, Mr. James Hurtle Fisher and Mr. Anthony Forster speak . The crowd had begun forming early in the morning and by the time it was 12 o’Clock the group was large stretching in both directions of Hindley street. The Mayor acting as Returning officer spoke at 1 o’clock, and then it took 45 minutes for the candidates to argue over who was going to speak first[iv]. I imagine this would have made the crowd quite impatient.

The Legislative Council was originally appointed by the Governor of South Australia on behalf of the Crown, and was reformed in 1851 to include 16 elected representatives, and eight appointed by the Governor, making a total of 24 members. Voting for the elected representatives was restricted to land-owning men only.

Over the next five hours the two candidates and a few of their supporters addressed the crowd. For many the primary difference between the two candidates was how each proposed that a new Constitution and system of governing should be drawn up.

Anthony Forster. State Library of South Australia [B 53194]
Mr. Anthony Forster was the editor and part owner of the South Australian Register newspaper. Forster supported a model of Legislative Council that was fully elected with universal suffrage which meant common men being able to vote along with male landowners. He also supported elections being held by confidential ballot, and for responsible government with an upper and lower house. He was against public money going towards churches as annual grants.

Sir James Hurtle Fisher. State Library of South Australia [B 6978]

Mr. Fisher was a barrister-at-law and the former resident commissioner of the colony of South Australia, arriving in 1836. He was the first Mayor of Adelaide, and was elected as a member of the Legislative council in 1853[v]. He believed in a single chamber and for it to remain as 16 elected members along with Governor appointees. He also held the strong belief that the Legislative Council and Governor should gain control of the Land Fund. He was against universal suffrage. Mr. Fisher wanted to postpone building of railways, including one to Gawler, instead focusing on the need for water supplies in Adelaide. There was also some controversy over “Victoria Square” which was an area he was engaged in professionally, to make a land allowance for a “dominant” Anglican church he was a member of. He was also for the continuation of annual grants to churches.

During the speeches the crowd was quite unsettled.
 “It was as if all the flibbartigibbits in Adelaide had assembled.”[vi]
Some of the crowd carried cudgels and several fights broke out. More than one person had their heads bloodied by blows. A large group of “Irishmen” (the implication being that they were working class and unable to vote) broke into a “war dance” yelling and waving their shillelaghs (a type of cudgel) in the air. Captain Fewson demanded them to be quiet, yelling at them “Lie down you blaguards!” and “Attention rascals!”.[vii] At one stage members of the crowd began throwing brick-bats (stones and bits of broken bricks) up at the balcony and at the voters. People rushed into the Hotel trying to get away from the missiles, knocking over tables in their rush. Windows were smashed and more than one person was struck by the stones. Fights broke out in the crowd and people were beaten with cudgels.

“One ruffian struck a man on the head with a loaded whip, but he was himself soon disarmed, and received such a blow from a fist as sent him slinking off quite satisfied with his share of the disturbance.”[viii]

Some of the injured were innocent spectators. The skirmish lasted a few minutes and the police under instruction of Inspector Reid did not interfere. Several more minor skirmishes broke out during the speeches.

When the candidates had concluded their speeches, the Returning Officer asked for a show of hands, which seemed to be in favour of Mr Forster. Mr Fisher of course demanded a poll which was declared to take place there at the Blenheim hotel between 9am and 4 pm the following day.

Hindley Street Looking West. c. 1846. George French Angus.  State Library of South Australia [B 15276/41]


After the trouble that had occurred the day before, Police were expecting the worst. They were ready with the metropolitan force and the mounted force. Extra police were sworn in the night before.

On Ballot day, the 20th September 1855, a large crowd had assembled outside of the Blenheim hotel, stretching well down the street. Polling was out in the open under the balcony of the Blenheim (perhaps because of the overturned tables the day before?) and the crowd was easily able to see who each man was voting for by the coloured card in their hand. I am sure the crowd would have been quite vocal in their approval or disapproval.

For most of the morning things had proceeded quite peacefully apart from the stirring up of dust on the unmade street by the large number of spectators. Before long though some voters had begun reporting to police that they had been assaulted on the way to the polling station and were unable to cast their vote.

By ballot closing time at 4 o’clock it began to be apparent that Mr. Forster had a significant lead and supporters of Mr. Fisher felt that his voters had not been given fair access to give their vote due to the crowd.

A large group of drunk and disgruntled Irishmen became enraged outside. A dozen or two of them stormed into the Blenheim and forced their way upstairs and onto the balcony. Once on the balcony they tore down the flags. They broke the flagpoles up to make staves. They then rejoined the main group then numbering over one hundred, all armed with cudgels and other weapons like fire pokers. The mob then pushed the crowd down the street causing chaos and attacking anyone wearing the colours of Mr Forster.

The Exchange Hotel c. 1865. State Library of South Australia [B 3645] 

They arrived at the Exchange hotel, (also in Hindley Street) where Mr Forster's campaign had been run from. There they tried to climb onto the balcony to tear down the flags, but people on the balcony forced them down. Stones and brick-bats were then pitched at the Exchange balcony forcing people inside and smashing windows. Forster’s supporters rushed outside the hotel began to fight back Fisher’s supporters.
“Sticks and heads were meeting in the street in all directions”[ix]
Some of Fisher’s supporters then managed to climb onto the balcony and tore down the flags and again used the flagpoles as weapons. They then threw stones down at the crowd below hitting both their supporters and opponents. The mounted police at that point galloped in with the metropolitan foot police lead by Superintendent Tolmer closing in from the other side to tackle the riot. The rioters had then forced their way into the Exchange hotel and had locked the doors from within. Superintendent Tolmer attempted to climb up onto the balcony. A rioter grabbed his leg to drag him down but he managed to free himself by kicking the man in the face with the heel of his heavy spurred boot. Other police joined him on the balcony and soon the rioters were overpowered and many of the worst of them were arrested. As the riot act was apparently read at the Blenheim hotel (the only time in Adelaide’s history) it is possible that some arrested were given life in prison. [x]

Although Anthony Forster won the ballot, Mr Fisher of course contested that it was not run fairly. It was not until the following year that Mr. Forster was seated on the Legislative council. It is not surprising that after the riot 15 out of the 16 Legislative Council members voted for the secret ballot and it was used for the next election in 1857. James Hurtle Fisher became Speaker of the house in 1855 -1856 and President of the House in 1857 - 1865.

In 1856 the Council began drafting the Constitution and by 1857 the new parliament of South Australia was formed.

Amongst all of these history making events I wonder what Thomas, Theophila , my four year old great great grandmother Elizabeth, little toddler Henry and the new baby were doing. I imagine Thomas was probably in his hotel when it was dramatically stormed. I wonder if Theophila and the children sensing trouble brewing had kept away on the speech and polling days.

In 1856 Thomas Jones went to court suing the Returning officer for damages incurred on the polling day the amount of £30. To my disappointment Thomas did not make a lot of money at the bar in the hotel that day. The court found in his favour and at first for the full amount of £30 but the “Act” only allowed the sum of £20 to the returning officer, so judgment was given for that amount.[xi]

Years later in 1900 when the Blenheim hotel was demolished the South Australian Register Newspaper reported on the historical significance of the hotel . A new hotel was built in its place.

If you would like to read more on the Riot at the Blenheim, you can read the news accounts on TROVE listed below in my references, or you can read articles at History SA. I have based my retelling on news reports, but the History SA articles helped me to get my head around what went on. If I have made any mistakes or if I have misunderstood the meaning of any events please let me know.

Corinne Ball, Migration Museum, ‘Hindley Street riot’, Adelaidia, History SA,, accessed 6 April 2016.

Corinne Ball, Migration Museum, ‘Hindley Street riot’, SA History Hub, History SA, , accessed 6 April 2016.

More on the Jones Family next time

[i] 1855 'DOMESTIC NEWS.', Adelaide Times (SA : 1848 - 1858), 22 November, p. 2. , viewed 29 Mar 2016,

[ii] 1855 'Advertising', Adelaide Times (SA : 1848 - 1858), 11 December, p. 1. , viewed 07 Apr 2016,

[iii] 1855 'Family Notices', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 13 August, p. 2. , viewed 27 Feb 2016,

[iv] 1900 'AN HISTORIC BUILDING DEMOLISHED.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 20 July, p. 3. , viewed 27 Feb 2016,

[v] 'Fisher, Sir James Hurtle (1790–1875)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 7 April 2016.

[vi] 1855 'WEST ADELAIDE.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 20 September, p. 3. , viewed 4 April 2016,

[vii] 1855 ‘NOMINATIONS’, Adelaide Times (SA: 1848 - 1858), 20 September, p.2. , viewed 4 April 2016.

[viii] 1855 'WEST ADELAIDE.', Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904), 22 September, p. 8. , viewed 07 Apr 2016,

[ix] 1900 'AN HISTORIC BUILDING DEMOLISHED.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 20 July, p. 3. , viewed 27 Feb 2016,

[x] 1911 'THE RIOT ACT.', The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), 17 October, p. 9. , viewed 31 Mar 2016,

[xi] 1856 'LAW AND CRIMINAL COURTS.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 7 March, p. 3. , viewed 03 Apr 2016,


  1. Hi Rebecca, this is fascinating. I've been researching the history of my own (mostly Irish!) family who lived in west Adelaide in the 1840s to the 1870s, but I haven't come across this story before. Your blog is great, I hope you will keep writing.

    1. Thank you Stella for your kind comments. My next blog post is coming along slowly, hopefully I will have it ready soon. I have some Irish ancestors too, but none in Adelaide that I know of. :)

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