Adelaide Streets

A committee met with the Governor, John Hindmarsh, on 23 May 1837. The Colonial Secretary, Robert Gouger, minuted the decisions regarding the street names of Adelaide (and the name of the river flowing though the township).


William Light’s first sketch of the port and town of Adelaide showed nothing but the mouths of the Patawalonga and Port Rivers and the Torrens flowing from just east of the city to the swamps of the Reedbeds.  Yet Light must have been aware of more waterways because he marked the hill from which he took the bearings for the drawing, unmistakably Green Hill, around which issue two creeks. These are shown on his next map, which defined the surveyed sections put up for selection and sale in March 1838, but was not published until February 1839 by John Arrowsmith in London. Now the Torrens is depicted as far as the gorge and feeding it are five rivulets: Green Hill, Hallett, Todd, Anstey and Ormsby. A sixth rivulet, Brown Hill dries up in the plain just south-west of the city.

In terms of present-day names, Green Hill Rivulet flowed out of Waterfall Gully, on the south side of Green Hill, which Light designated as a station for the trigonometrical survey. It enters the Torrens through the Botanic Gardens.

Hallett Rivulet flows from Slape Creek, on the northern side of Green Hill in almost a direct line to the Torrens at St Peters.

Todd Rivulet flows from below Norton Summit, through Horsnell Gully, but this was not then known. Light’s map traces its path from Magill to the Torrens at Felixstow, opposite which point the early village of Klemzig was to develop in 1838.

Anstey Rivulet runs out of Morialta to the Torrens at Campbelltown.

The Ormsby Rivulet flows from Montacute to Highbury, just to the east of the area surveyed by Light.

The inspiration for the names of the Brown Hill and Green Hill Rivulets is self-evident, but the naming of the others is obscure. The streets of Adelaide and the river flowing through the city were named by a specially constituted committee on 25 May 1837. This was not the case for other geographical nomenclature. So how did the other rivulets acquire their names: Hallett, Todd, Anstey and Ormsby?

John Hallett (1804-1868) was a well-to-do London merchant who came to South Australia in 1836 in the Africaine, of which he was the co-owner. Like many other early immigrants with means he imported stock as well as merchandise. Before the survey and selection of the land around Adelaide, the government allowed pastoralists free runs for their stock.  Access to water was, of course, imperative and, apart from the Torrens itself, reliable water could be found only where the streams issued from the hills. Alexander Imlay and a New South Welshman named Hill (perhaps George Hill) explored due east to the Murray for the first time in January 1838. On their return, they wrote: ‘At length we arrived at the northern edge of Mount Lofty, and descended to a ravine with a small rivulet which led to the dairy station of Mr. Hallett, where we were regaled with milk, and proceeded towards  Adelaide about sunset.’ Was this Hallett Rivulet?

The land selections in March 1838 were made by ballot so squatters were not guaranteed the opportunity to acquire the land they then occupied. Hallett was allotted choice 37 and selected section 342 on the Todd Rivulet! This was not because he was denied land on Hallett Rivulet. The upper stretches of both the Green Hill and Hallett Rivulets were selected by the South Australian Company, but as later choices: 39, 40, 56 and 104. Nevertheless, the Hallett Rivulet was first referred to as such in the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Record in July 1838. One can only speculate that Hallett first kept his cows on Hallett Rivulet, whence it took its name, as being close to the market in the city but then decided to move it to the Todd Rivulet, perhaps because it had a much bigger catchment area and thus a more reliable supply of water.

George Alexander Anstey (1814-1895) came from an influential family in Van Diemen’s Land, which had been settled at Oatlands since 1823. He arrived in South Australia with his wife and a flock of sheep on the Tamar in March 1838. At the end of July 1838 he was reported to have purchased three 80-acre sections, including 277 and 278. These were just to the north of Anstey Rivulet, the headwaters and lower reaches having been selected earlier in the year. They probably comprised the station on which Anstey lost two calves and three lambs, speared by Aborigines, later in the year. A newspaper reference was not made to the Anstey Rivulet until December 1839, when Hallett closed the road through his property between the Todd and Anstey Rivulets, so it must have acquired its name subsequent to Anstey settling by the rivulet. There is a single further mention of both Anstey and Todd Rivulets in an advertisement in early 1841.

George Owen Ormsby (1814-1861) was one of Colonel Light’s assistant surveyors, arriving on HMS Buffalo. When Light resigned as Surveyor-General in July 1838 rather than follow the new survey method ordered by the London Commissioners, Ormsby, like all the other members of Light’s staff, refused to work under George Strickland Kingston. Kingston had to resign in November. The new method was dropped and Ormsby was put in charge of the survey team until Charles Sturt could take up his appointment as Surveyor-General. He retired from the survey in April 1839, Sturt having arrived at the end of March. Ormsby returned to London in May 1842, then emigrated to New Zealand.

Ormsby Rivulet rates no mention in newpapers until long after the term ‘rivulet’ had fallen out of use. It can only be speculated that it was Ormsby who surveyed the eastern part of the district of Adelaide where the rivulet flowed and it may have been Light who bestowed this recognition on a man described by the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Record of 3 November 1838 as ‘an active and efficient officer, one of the best, if not the very best, on the staff of Colonel Light’.

That leaves the Todd Rivulet and it was the odd one out. No Todd was present in South Australia in the early days. There were two brothers named Tod, Patrick James and Robert, who were Port Adelaide merchants in 1838. But they could spell their surname consistently, so there could have been no official confusion (even though there was in the newspapers). So who was Todd?

Looking for precedents, the committee that named the streets of Adelaide in May 1837 commemorated themselves and their allies in the campaign for the creation of the province of South Australia. Prominent amongst the latter were the founders of the South Australian Company: George Fife Angas, Raikes Currie, Charles Hindley, James Hyde, Henry Kingscote, John Pirie, Christopher Rawson, John Rundle, Thomas Smith, James Ruddell Todd and Henry Waymouth.  Of these, Angas, Hindley, Currie, Pirie, Rundle and Waymouth gave their names to streets, and Kingscote to a township on Kangaroo Island. Hyde, Rawson, Smith and Todd missed out.

Hyde, probably the London-based Honduras merchant, resigned his directorship in June 1838. Rawson and Smith both lived out of town: Rawson (1777-1849) in Halifax, Yorkshire, Smith at Ramsbury Manor, Wiltshire. Todd (1788-1852) was most closely involved in the affairs of the Company. He was born in Northern Ireland, in Seagoe, County Armagh around 1788. He had moved to London by 1830, when he was married Eliza Henrietta Campbell. In 1831, he was a wine merchant in John Street, Adelphi, where the South Australian Commissioners were later located. Between 1832 and early 1835 he served as the Whig member of parliament for Honiton in Devon. In 1841 the family were living in Argyll, Scotland, the home of his wife’s brother, James Archibald Campbell, but this must have been shortlived because there a child was born in London in 1840 and another in Yorkshire in late 1841, perhaps on the way home. Todd had a long association with the South Australian Company and replaced Angas as chairman in 1848 when the latter resigned in order to emigrate himself. In 1851, he and his family of seven children were living at 33 Portland Place in Marylebone, London. This was an upmarket address and Todd was clearly a very wealthy man with no less than ten servants: a governess, a housekeeper, a nurse, two ladies’ maids, three housemaids, a butler and footman. A year later, Todd was dead.

That this is our Todd is presumptive not proven, but Geoffrey Manning came to the same conclusion in The place names of our land: a South Australian anthology. Who promoted the name is even less certain. The South Australian Company owned the section where the rivulet entered the Torrens, but none of the upper reaches. Perhaps this was enough for Angas to prompt David McLaren to honour his colleague, but on whose authority?

Light promoted the names on his map and Light, Finniss and Company, the surveying and land agency business he formed after his resignation as Surveyor-General, used the names in mid 1838. This suggests that Light may himself have been responsible for the names. Subsequently, the names of Green Hill, Hallett, Todd and Anstey Rivulets occur only very sporadically in newspapers up until the end of 1844. There is no mention of them in the State Records of South Australia.

Already in August 1840, the mill on Green Hill Rivulet was described as being on the ‘first creek’ and the Official returns of country sections for 1840 published in June 1841, refer not to rivulets but to First, Second, Third and Fourth Creeks. The village of Payneham was located on the ‘third creek’ in November 1838 and the landowner William Scott placed himself on the ‘third creek’ in May 1839. So it would appear that the names attached to the rivulet were never in common usage and were quickly forgotten

In a state that prides its heritage, it seems a pity that we have preferred to refer to our waterways in so pedestrian a fashion.


An edited version of this article was published in The Pioneer, the Journal of The Pioneers Association of South Australia Inc, No 228, Summer 2013.


districts mapThe districts reserved for survey were proclaimed on 24 July 1837. The best land was then perceived to be the coastal region south of Adelaide, where there was a prospect of secondary townships developing and greatly increasing the value of their land holdings. Those designated A to F stretched south from the Port Inlet to the Fleurieu Peninsula. Districts G and H were on Kangaroo Island.

The enumeration of the districts is confusing. At the time of the selections by the holders of the preliminary land orders, only land between the Old Port and the mouth of the Ormsby Rivulet in the north, and Marino in the south had been extensively surveyed. On the east, this area was terminated by the hills. Within it, all the selections were designated B in GRG 35/219 (except a couple designated A, which appear to be in error). These were plotted and identified on Light's maps of the District of Adelaide, the two versions being printed in London in 1839 and 1841 (though a handful of the selections are not identified on the map and some of the numbered sections, all in the name of Gilles, are not shown). However, the list of land orders for which the holders had nominated another district, also in GRG 35/319, allocate them to Districts A--H, with one in A, seven in B, two in C, 68 in D, 16 in E, ten each in F and G and five in H. These were first referred to by Fisher on 30 June 1838, who announced the availability of maps and of land in those sections for sale on 7 July. A letter from Kingston, dated 30 June, in the SAG&CR of 14 July also refers to districts A--H, but adds that the preliminary purchasers had selected from District A. So the initial district B had mostly become District A, the land close to Adelaide, west of Mount Lofty and bounded north and south by the old Port and Glenelg. District B now became the strip between Glenelg and the Onkaparinga. These are shown on the map published by the House of Commons on 10 June 1841 and the accompanying diagram. Further south are District C between the Onkaparinga and Aldinga Plains, District D including Yankalilla and Rapid Bay, District E around Encounter Bay and District F behind Cape Jervis; Districts G and H were on Kangaroo Island. These appear to correspond to the districts in which selections were reserved.

A further minor revision came into effect by the time of the country returns (check, certainly by March 1842); the southern boundary of District A then became Bay Road (Anzac Highway) and Greenhill Road; and the southern boundaries of Districts B and C were shifted further south to latitudes 35°10' and 35°20', respectively.