Resource Type

The Letters Patent

  • Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures
  • Civics and Citizenship
  • Ethical Understanding
  • History
  • Humanites and Social Sciences
  • Intercultural Understanding

The Letters Patent

The South Australia Act of 1834 was created as the result of a long campaign by those who wished to establish a colony according to the principles of systematic colonisation. The Act empowered the King to establish South Australia as a British province and to provide for its colonisation and government. In 1838 the South Australia Act was amended, and wording conforming to (and referring to) the Letters Patent was inserted. An attempt to honour the spirit of the Letters Patent was made by South Australia’s second governor, Governor Gawler.

The subsequent history of colonisation shows that with minor exceptions such as Aboriginal Reserves and the reservation later inserted into pastoral leases, colonisation in South Australia proceeded with little regard for the clauses in the Letters Patent relating to Aboriginal rights to land. The Letters Patent is still the source of discussion and controversy as its significance and legal meaning are debated.

The Letters Patent



Year 4


AC9HS4K02 – the causes of the establishment of the first British colony in Australia in 1788

AC9HS4K03 – the experiences of individuals and groups, including military and civilian officials, and convicts involved in the establishment of the first British colony

AC9HS4K07 – the differences between “rules” and “laws”, why laws are important and how they affect the lives of people

Year 5


AC9HS5K01 – the economic, political and social causes of the establishment of British colonies in Australia after 1800

AC9HS5K02 – the impact of the development of British colonies in Australia on the lives of First Nations Australians, the colonists and convicts, and on the natural environment

AC9HS5K06 – the key values and features of Australia’s democracy, including elections, and the roles and responsibilities of elected representatives

Year 9 


AC9HH9K01 – the causes and effects of European imperial expansion and the movement of peoples in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the different responses to colonisation and migration

AC9HH9K02 – the key social, cultural, economic and political changes and their significance in the development of Australian society during the period

AC9HH9K04 – significant events, ideas, people, groups and movements in the development of Australian society

AC9HH9K03 – the causes and effects of European contact and extension of settlement, including their impact on the First Nations Peoples of Australia


Civics and Citizenship

AC9HC9K01 – the role of the Australian Constitution in providing the basis for Australia’s federal system of government and democratic processes, including institutions, and the process for constitutional change through a referendum

Year 10

Civics and Citizenship

AC9HC10K01 – the key features and values of Australia’s system of government compared with at least one other democratic or non-democratic system of government in the Asia-Pacific region


Discussion Questions

How have experiences of democracy and citizenship differed between groups over time and place?

Why was the direction of the Letters Patent not followed?

What do you think can be done today to recognise the rights of Aboriginal people and their descendants to
access and enjoy the land, as described in the Letters Patent?

How have individuals and groups in the past and present contributed to the development of Australia?


Use this video in conjunction with the “Governance in the Early Colony: a Guide for Teachers” to get the most out of your learning

Governance in the Early Colony


Where to Next?

To learn more about the Letters Patent

Visit the Centre of Democracy



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