Boyle Travers Finniss

Boyle Travers Finniss (1807-1893), an assistant surveyor to Colonel William Light, sailed to South Australia on board the Cygnet. Extracts from the diary he kept throughout the voyage are presented on this site.

Finniss was a military man and no stranger to travel. He was literally born at sea off the Cape of Good Hope on the Warbey, the eldest son of Captain John Finniss, paymaster of the 36th and 56th Regiments, and his wife Susanna. Finniss junior was educated at schools first in Madras (Chennai) and then Greenwich, and in 1822 was admitted to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, after finishing first in the qualifying examination. In 1825 he was appointed ensign in the 88th Regiment and was promoted to lieutenant in 1827. On the recommendation of the Governor of Mauritius, Sir Lowry Cole, Boyle Finniss was appointed to the 56th Regiment, but transferred almost immediately at his own request to the 82nd Regiment. Finniss senior was by this time chief commissary of police in Mauritius, a post he assumed on the death of the previous occupant, (his second father-in-law Colonel John Hassard) and he may well have influenced Cole to recommend his son. Patronage of this sort was endemic at the time. In August 1833 the 82nd Regiment was posted to Mauritius, where Boyle Finniss oversaw the construction of one of the island’s largest bridges. His regiment was then posted to Ireland, and in Dublin on 13 August 1835 Finniss married Anne Frances Rogerson.

Back in London in September 1835 Boyle Finniss seems to have fixed his sights on emigrating to Australia. He applied first (successfully) for a land grant in New South Wales, but showed increasing interest in the newly proposed settlement of South Australia. He joined the South Australian Building Committee and then in October 1835 sold his army commission so that he could qualify for appointment as deputy-surveyor-general, a position eventually awarded to his rival George Strickland Kingston. In December the newly appointed assistant surveyor Finniss bought two preliminary land orders and on 20 March he and Anne set sail in the Cygnet for South Australia. Their first child was conceived shortly after leaving England.

Once settled in the Colony, Boyle Travers Finniss was heavily involved in the early politics of the Colony. He was, with other colonists, very critical of Governor Hindmarsh’s authority. In 1838 he formed a surveying firm with William Light called Light, Finniss & Co. However this business was discontinued when Light became ill. Finniss followed this with another failed venture – a water-mill that had been adapted to grind flour and saw timber. He then returned to public service taking a string of jobs in the colony that ultimately led to him becoming the Colonial Secretary. On 24 October 1856, while Colonial Secretary, Finniss became the first premier of South Australia under Responsible Government. He was in office until his ministry fell in 1857. By March of 1864, Finniss was appointed Government Resident in the Northern Territory, but a poorly planned surveying expedition and subsequent criticism from other officials saw him recalled to Adelaide to face a Royal Commission for wasting public funds.

Outside public life, Finniss was an original member of the South Australian club, a trustee of Trinity Church and a member of the committee of the South Australian Church Society. His wife Anne died in 1858 and he remarried Sophia Florence Maud, née Lynch. In retirement he wrote The Constitutional History of South Australia. Finniss died in Adelaide on 24 December 1893.

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