The Letters Patent establishing the Province of South Australia were signed on 19 February, 1836, by King William IV. The document fixed the boundaries of the new colony, and concluded with:
Provided always, that nothing in these our letters patent contained shall affect or be construed to affect the rights of any Aboriginal Natives of the said Province to the actual occupation or enjoyment in their own Persons or in the Persons of their Descendants of any Lands therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by such Natives.
These words were the result of negotiations between the Colonial Office, which administered Britain’s colonies (and believed that Aboriginal people had proprietary rights to land) and those planning to establish South Australia (who argued that Aboriginal people did not ‘occupy’ the land in a way that would be recognised by British institutions).
The first of the South Australian Company’s ships, the John Pirie, set sail for South Australia just three days after the Letters Patent were signed. Colonisation proceeded with little regard for the words of the Letters Patent relating to Aboriginal rights to land. The Letters Patent remain a source of discussion and controversy.
The original is held in the State Records of South Australia.
Facsimile courtesy of State Records of South Australia