Sir James Hurtle Fisher c.1864

Sir James Hurtle Fisher (1 May 1790 – 28 January 1875) was a lawyer and prominent South Australian pioneer. He was the first Resident Commissioner of the colony of South Australia, the first Mayor of Adelaide and the first resident South Australian to be knighted.

Early life and career

James Hurtle Fisher was born on 1 May 1790 in Sunbury, then part of Middlesex, England,[1] the eldest son of James and Henrietta Harriet Fisher. He was articled to London solicitors Brown and Gotobed and admitted to practice in July 1811. He married Elizabeth Johnson on 5 October 1813. He commenced practice as a solicitor in 1816.

Bound for South Australia

Fisher became a member of the South Australian Building Committee in September 1835; in November he was selected as resident commissioner. On 13 July 1836, he was formally appointed Registrar, and, on the next day, Resident Commissioner, under the South Australian Act. This meant he also had a position in the South Australian Legislative Council.[2] His role as Resident Commissioner gave him the power to dispose of public lands in the new colony – the proceeds of the sale would be, following Wakefield's plan, used to fund the emigration of workers to the colony. In power he was to be second only to the governor, with the added stipulation that his powers and those of the governor would be entirely separate.

In July 1836 Fisher and his family left England, accompanying the governor's party aboard HMS Buffalo. They arrived at Holdfast Bay on 28 December 1836, where the new settlement was proclaimed.

Disputes with Governor Hindmarsh

Fisher had been allowed to draft his own instructions — these were not shown to Governor Hindmarsh. Disputes between the two men over their powers had begun aboard the Buffalo and were revived during sessions of the new Council of Government. In February 1837 the Resident Magistrate's Court bound the two to keep the peace towards each other. Disagreement also arose over the site of the city, which Hindmarsh wanted moved closer to the port, and over the slow progress of the survey. Hindmarsh failed in his bid to move the city and the survey did progress. In March Fisher called a meeting of holders of land orders to select their town acres, and the remaining acres were auctioned soon after. Further controversy arose with encroachment of the governor's garden on public land. In August, Hindmarsh suspended Robert Gouger from his office of Colonial Secretary. John Brown, a servant of Fisher and not subject to the governor, was nevertheless also suspended on 11 September 1837. Fisher immediately issued a handbill stating that Brown still held office; Hindmarsh later issued a contradictory proclamation. Tit-for-tat accusations continued, with both parties communicating to London. In March 1838 Governor Hindmarsh was recalled to London, leaving Adelaide in July. This was no victory for Fisher, however: the new governor, George Gawler, was given the combined powers of Governor and Resident Commissioner, effective on his arrival in October 1838.

Fisher returned to law and became a leader of the South Australian Bar.

Political life

In October 1840, Fisher was elected inaugural Mayor of Adelaide. He was again mayor from 1852–54. He was elected into the South Australian Legislative Council in 1853, becoming Speaker of the South Australian Legislative Council (1855–56), and upon self-government, President of the South Australian Legislative Council (1857–65), after which he retired from politics.

In 1860 he was made Knight Bachelor,[3] becoming the first resident South Australian to be knighted.


Fisher died in Adelaide on 28 January 1875, survived by four sons and four daughters.


James married Elizabeth Johnson (1792 – 2 July 1857). Among their children were:[4]

  • Elizabeth "Bessey" Fisher (15 April 1815 – 1905) married John Morphett on 15 August 1838.
  • James Fisher (1816–1913), pastoralist. Retired to England.
  • Charles Brown Fisher (25 September 1817 – 6 May 1908), a prominent pastoralist
  • Frances Lucy "Fanny" Fisher (1823–1909) was to have married the widowed solicitor G. F. Shipster, but the wedding had to be cancelled due to his illness; he died the following day.[5] J. H. Fisher brought up and educated his young son.[6] She later married John Vidal James (1820–1897), pioneer settler at Inman Valley and Willunga, later Colonial Storekeeper. They returned to England in 1855.
  • George Willam Taylor Fisher (1825 – 6 August 1859) lost in the wrecking of SS Admella
  • Marianne Fisher (1827–1927) outlived all other emigrants on the Buffalo.
  • William Dundas Fisher (1829 – 2 December 1886) married Sarah Melville on 27 July 1859, died at South Yarra.
  • Hurtle Eyles Fisher (c. 1831 – 30 June 1905) survived the wrecking of SS Admella to become a prominent Victorian horse breeder[7] who brought Fisherman to Australia, and whose Lantern won the 1864 Melbourne Cup.
  • Emily Ann Fisher (1837– ) married Joseph Palmer on 10 November 1855.


James Hurtle Fisher is commemorated in various ways:

A memorial and plaque near the corner of North Terrace and West Terrace, Adelaide, marks the approximate location of the Land and Survey offices and Fisher's and Colonel William Light's huts, which were destroyed by fire in 1839.


  1. ^ Jennings, Dr. R. "West Torrens Historical Walk" (pdf). West Torrens Historical Society. Retrieved 22 February 2014.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ "Sir James Fisher". Former Member of Parliament Details. Parliament of South Australia.
  3. ^ "No. 22389". The London Gazette. 25 May 1860. p. 1996.
  4. ^ "The Visitors' Book". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 29 December 1927. p. 10. Retrieved 7 November 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ "Family Notices". Adelaide Observer. 4 January 1845. p. 5. Retrieved 6 November 2015 – via National Library of Australia. Shipster's late wife Emma was closely related to Adelaide's Dr. John Palmer Litchfield, Thomas Reynolds and Dr. Ruby Davy.
  6. ^ "A Pioneer of 1836". Adelaide Observer. 5 January 1924. p. 47. Retrieved 6 November 2015 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ "Death of Mr. Hurtle Fisher". The Argus. Melbourne. 1 July 1905. p. 15. Retrieved 6 November 2015 – via National Library of Australia.
Political offices
New title Mayor of the Corporation of Adelaide
Succeeded by
Thomas Wilson
Preceded by
Thomas Wilson
Mayor of the Corporation of Adelaide
Succeeded by
Joseph Hall