In exciting news for those with South Australian ancestry, findmypast has recently released the South Australia Passenger Lists 1847-1886.

Comprising over 150,000 records, these passenger lists are especially important for South Australian researchers because they predate the Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960, helping to fill a decades-long gap between passenger lists.

To see just what these records have in store, we took a look at a lesser-known passenger who had a particularly special link to his destination – and would go on to achieve impressive feats in the new colony.

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The case of Benjamin Herschel Babbage

Benjamin Herschel Babbage, born in London in August 1815, was an engineer and scientist with ties to some very prominent Britons. He worked with the esteemed Isambard Kingdom Brunel on planning railway projects in England and Italy. The following decade, he was selected by Patrick Bronte – father of the famous Bronte sisters – to investigate the reasons behind the high mortality rate of Haworth, Yorkshire. Benjamin’s report of his findings helped improve the town’s sanitation.

And these weren’t his only brushes with fame. Benjamin’s own father, Charles Babbage, was in fact a prominent mathematician and inventor who came up with the concept of a programmable computer – don’t we family history lovers owe him a lot even today!

Family connections

But it was a connection on his mother Georgina Whitmore’s side of the family that was most relevant to his new home of South Australia. Georgina’s brother was William Wolryche-Whitmore, an outspoken Member of Parliament who was a passionate campaigner for Catholic Emancipation, the abolition of slavery and – perhaps most fatefully of all – for the establishment of the colony of South Australia.

William introduced the South Australia Colonisation Act 1834 to the House of Commons. A fierce opponent of slave and convict labour, William lobbied successfully for South Australia to be a free colony from the outset. His contributions are recalled even today in Adelaide’s Whitmore Square, named after him.

Little did William know that his nephew would one day become a prominent explorer and politician in the colony he had helped bring into existence.

A new life in a distant colony

As his record in the South Australia Passenger Lists 1847-1886 reveals, Benjamin made the journey to Australia aboard the Hydaspes. These records provide quite precise details about the voyage, showing that ‘Mr Babbage’ departed from Plymouth on 25 August 1851 and arrived in Adelaide on 27 November that year. He travelled with his wife Laura Jones although, unlike most passengers, their first names were not recorded.

Benjamin had undertaken the journey in order to perform a geological survey of the South Australian colony, at that government’s request. It was to be the first of a number of government appointments: he also served as Chief Engineer of the project linking Port Adelaide to the city and on the Central Road Board.

He became Mitcham District Council’s first chairman in 1855 and was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly in the first election of 1857. He had later experiences in politics as a candidate for the 1877 Legislative Council elections, but died just the following year.

However, Benjamin Herschel Babbage was perhaps best known for his expeditions into the state’s largely untouched interior. He discovered the MacDonell River, Blanchewater and a mountain in north-eastern South Australia he called Mount Hopeful. A year later, surveyor George Goyder renamed the mountain Mount Babbage in honour of its discoverer.