[Information compiled by A.M. (Tony) Finnis (a great grandson of Capt John Finnis) from various sources]


John Finnis has been described as a “Master Mariner, Pastoral Pioneer, and Overlander”, and a “Merchant Adventurer” in various publications.
Also, he was considered a “Shipping and Pastoral expert” by relevant authorities.

Captain John Finnis

He was involved in the following:

  • the whaling industry.

  • overlanding sheep and cattle from Sydney to Adelaide.

  • was one of the three partners who took out the First Special Land Survey in the Mount Barker district.

  • established cattle stations and a stock saleyard in South Australia.

  • the initial establishment of the towns of Hahndorf and Mount Barker.

  • merchant and passenger shipping to and from Adelaide, South Australia.

There is no doubt that John Finnis, like many of his peers, had a very eventful and interesting life and was a substantial pioneer in the early colony and the State of South Australia.

Note: (From Reg Butler´s Notes)
FINNIS, John (1802-1872). Finnis first came to South Australia in 1838 with Captain Sturt, in charge of overlanding cattle.  He established a station on the present site of Hahndorf for fattening beasts for market.  Early the next year, Finnis joined with WH Dutton and D McFarlane in the purchase of the First Special Survey, which included the Hahndorf station.  The first Hahndorf settlers worshipped in one of Finnis’s stockman’s huts.  During the 1840s, he captained vessels trading passengers and goods between Britain and Australia and New Zealand; later, his ship took South Australian miners bound by sea to and from the Victorian gold diggings.

Spelling of Name and Confusion

In his publication 'Captain John Finnis 1802-1872, A Brief Biographical Sketch', after carrying out research in England, Harold J. Finnis states:   "The Church records, extant from the beginning of the seventeenth century, contain references to the name Finnis, with variations in spelling from time to time. In 1623, a baptism in the name Phinnis is recorded; then occurs Phineis, Phinees, Fineas, Finnes, till 1726, after which the spelling becomes established as Finnis, with an occasional terminal double 's' as the only variation."

It should be noted that there has been a certain amount of confusion and incorrect attribution between Capt. John Finnis and Boyle Travers Finniss in a number of publications and references.  This is mainly due to the spelling of the respective surnames with the single and double terminal 's' being applied to each of them and family members at times in an incorrect manner (including birth, death and marriage data, plus historical information).  Unfortunately, later publications are not exempt from this problem.

Both Boyle Travers Finniss and John Finnis first arrived in South Australia within a few years of each other.  Boyle Travers Finniss (with the double 'ss') arrived in South Australia in 1836 as deputy surveyor general to Colonel Light.  He became involved in politics and when Colonial Secretary he was appointed in 1856 as the first Premier of South Australia.  Interestingly, it was Boyle Travers Finniss' father, also a Captain John Finniss, who when Regimental paymaster in Mauritius added the extra 's' at the end of his surname as is explained in information received by Tony Finnis from Bruce Ingram as follows:  In a 60 page booklet on Boyle Travers Finniss by Jenny Booth and Keith Borrow, on the first page the authors state :- "The family name was Finnis, but his father, Captain John Finniss, added an 's' to avoid the French pronunciation of his name as 'finis'. The note to this statement gives as a reference a letter from Lt. Colonel A.F. Weymss to cousin Muriel in Adelaide, 6 August 1961.

Birth and Family

John Finnis was born at Dover, Kent, England on 3 December 1802.  His parents were Gilbert FINNIS and Elizabeth (nee NASH).  He was the 4th child out of 7 children.

Family Tree (part only)

  • Gilbert FINNIS (1770-?) married (1792) Elizabeth NASH

    • Gilbert FINNIS (1794-?)

    • Mary Ann FINNIS (1796-?)

    • Elizabeth FINNIS (1798-?)

    • John FINNIS (Captain) (1802-1872) married [1] (1832) Luduvina Rosa daSILVA (1798-1854); (Luduvina was the widow of Lieutenant Colonel Charles CAMERON (1779-1827) and they had the following children)

      • Charlotte daSilva CAMERON (1813-1885) married (1831) William Hampden DUTTON (1805-1849)

      • Charles Berry CAMERON (c1814-c1828)

      • Ewen Wallace CAMERON (1816-1876) married (1852) Sophia Usher NAIL (1830-1878)

      • Julian Luduvina daSilva CAMERON (1818-1846) married (1835) Dr George BENNETT (1804-1893)

      • Donald Anderson CAMERON (1823-?)

      • Ludovina Catherina Rosa daSilva CAMERON (1824-1851) married 1 Robert George RUSSELL (c1828-1892); married 2 (1841) George Strickland KINGSTON, Sir (1807-1880)

      • Anne Slade CAMERON (1826-1834)

      John FINNIS (Captain) married [2] (1856) Mary Ann RUSSELL (1830-1905)

      • John Mercer FINNIS (1856-1909) married (1888) Florence Matilda LOCKWOOD (1868-1936)

        • Harold Jack FINNIS (1889-1980) married (1914) Gladys Muriel JAMES (1892-1987)

        • Stella May FINNIS (1891-1987) married 1 Harold STOREY; married 2 Louis REYMOND (1887-1964)

        • Clement Nash FINNIS (1896-1977)

        • Colin Francis FINNIS (1897-1945) married Elspeth Moir WILSON

        • Gwendolynne Madge FINNIS (c1898-1999) married (1919) Laurence Ernest SMITH (1896-1966)

        • Leonard FINNIS (1901-1978) married Ethel Marion DAVIS

        • Lionel FINNIS

        • William FINNIS married (? ?)

        • Arnold FINNIS (1903-1905)

        • Dorothy Nell FINNIS

      • Samuel Nash FINNIS (1859-1871)

    • Samuel FINNIS (1805-1853)

    • William FINNIS (1808-?)

Indentured as Mariner - (1814)

In January 1814, John Finnis was indentured at age of 12 to Thomas MERCER to train for 5 years as a mariner, and went to live with Mercer and his wife in London.  Thomas Mercer was an influential London merchant & ship owner.

John Finnis hardly saw his own parents after this, and the Mercer's effectively became his de-facto parents (they had no children of their own).  In fact, the association was so strong that when John Finnis' first son was born, he named him John Mercer Finnis, and that tradition of using 'Mercer' as a middle name has been perpetuated with certain other descendants of the family.

First Command - (1826)

After John Finnis became qualified as a master mariner, he was given his first command of a vessel by Thomas Mercer in January 1826.  This was the 'Thomas' bound for the island of St Helena.  He had very strict instructions as to effecting the sale of the goods and on completion of the successful voyage was given a share of the profits.

Arrival in Sydney and Whaling Industry - (1830)

Captain John Finnis' first voyage to Australia was in command of the Brig 'The Courier' which the owner Mr Hooke had specifically purchased for the purpose of transporting himself and his family, including a recently deceased son, to New South Wales.  Mr Hooke had originally booked his passage on another vessel, but the Captain refused to take them as he feared disaster if the body of the dead boy was on the ship.  After discharging some of the crew and passengers in NewZealand, 'The Courier' continued to Sydney arriving on 28 February 1828 where it was subsequently sold.

In the early 1830's, John Finnis then based in Sydney, became engaged in whaling in the Southern Fishery which was at its height during this period.  Initially, he was in partnership with Jacob Montefiore (1801-1895), a wealthy London merchant.  Finnis continued an association with Montefiore over the following years.  Montefiore subsequently became one of the 10 commissioners of the new colony of South Australia.  With Montefiore, Finnis owned the barque 'Elizabeth' of 269 tons, which was involved in whaling in the Southern Fishery from 1833.  Later, in 1836 he had charge of the 'William Wallace' which he operated independently, also whaling in southern waters.

Whaling was effectively Australia's first industry and considerable fortunes could be made in that industry.  In fact, there was extreme competition between the vessels associated with whaling from a number of countries, and it was during this time that John Finnis was often referred to as 'the pirate '.

There can be no doubt that this period was of considerable financial benefit to John Finnis.

Note: - Extract from Sydney Herald, 2 Dec 1833,  - Whaleship ELIZABETH of Sydney, Capt Finnis, put in at Ebon on Oct 16. Two boat crews that put ashore were seized and made prisoners. A native captured by those aboard the ship admitted that they had intended to seize the vessel. Elizabeth lay off & on for four days, but could not discover what had happened to the men. Finally left Ebon, leaving the two officers and ten seamen ashore.

First Marriage - (1832)

Two years after first arriving in Sydney, John Finnis married Luduvina Rosa DaSilva in 1832.  Luduvina, a Portugese nobleman's daughter, was the widow of Colonel Charles Cameron of the 3rd Buff Regiment who died of cholera near Calcutta in 1827.

Of her seven children by Cameron, the eldest daughter, Charlotte (1813-1885) had married William Hampden Dutton at Sydney in 1831, Julian had married Dr George Bennett of Sydney and Luduvina (1824-1851) subsequently married George Kingston in 1841.

It is obvious that it was through this marriage that John Finnis became closely associated with Dutton and Kingston each becoming his step son-in-law.  There was only about a 3 to 5 year age difference between Finnis and his step sons-in-law.

First Overlanding Venture - (1838)

After his whaling adventures, John Finnis became involved in a completely different venture in overlanding livestock from New South Wales to Adelaide.  Drought conditions prevailed in New South Wales from 1836 to 1839 with feed supply being difficult and prices obtained for livestock being low.  In the infant Colony of South Australia the situation was the complete opposite, so speculative profit was perceived to be had from overlanding livestock from NSW to South Australia.

The first to become involved was Joseph Hawdon who arrived in SA in April 1838 (with 325 head), followed by E J Eyre in July.  Next in May 1838 was a party led by Captain Charles Sturt which included John Finnis (as a principal owner), George McLeod, Giles Strangeways and Robert Flood, which brought 400 cattle overland from Sydney.  This journey encountered many problems, and John Finnis described it as one of “extreme anxiety, disgust and misery.”   It should be noted that although they did not always agree on different matters, a lifetime friendship eventuated between Captain Charles Sturt and John Finnis.

Soon after reaching Adelaide in August 1838, John Finnis established a cattle station at Mount Barker (at the present site of Hahndorf) and a cattle saleyard at West Terrace, Adelaide.  After ascertaining that the availability of ready cash and the prices obtainable would not cover costs, Finnis decided to hold the stock on the cattle station that he had established at Mount Barker until conditions improved.  Initially he considered setting up his own butchers shop, but after rejecting this idea, all of the the stock was eventually disposed of at an overall profit, some to John Barton Hack of Mount Barker and other graziers with the remainder via existing Adelaide butchers.

Permanent Adelaide Residency - (1838)

John Finnis set up permanent residence with Luduvina and the family in Adelaide after they arrived from Sydney on the 'John Pirie' on 13 November 1838.  They first lived at West Tce, Adelaide and then at North Adelaide.

Notes: - From Family History SA: - FINNIS (Capt John {overland?}), Luduvina/Ludovina Rosa CAMERON nee Da SILVA arrived 1838-11-13 on John Pirie.
From 'Bound for South Australia' web-site: - Passengers aboard 'John Pirie' 1838 under command Captain Martin - From Sydney, arriving Adelaide 13 November 1838 FINNIS, J (John?), FINNIS, (Luduvina) Ludovina Rosa (formerly CAMERON nee DaSILVA?)

The First Special Survey - (1839)

The South Australian Colonisation Commissioners were empowered to make provision for 'Special Surveys' under the Act.  The 'First Special Survey' was in the district of Mount Barker and included the existing cattle stations of John Barton Hack and John Finnis.

On 11 January 1839, William Hampden Dutton, on behalf of himself, Duncan MacFarlane, and John Finnis, applied for and purchased this first South Australian Special Survey.  Both Dutton and MacFarlane had both arrived from Sydney on the brig 'Parland' a few weeks earlier, with Dutton being accompanied by his family and a full cargo of sheep and horses.  As John Finnis' existing cattle station was located within the area of the Special Survey, it is not unreasonable to assume that the partners had considerable knowledge not only of the area but also of the details of the Special Survey before forming their partnership and applying for the Survey.  It should be noted that John Finnis was WH Dutton's step father-in-law.  At one stage, John Finnis believed that he had lost control of his station to others, and so he had particular reason to protect his own interests via the Special Survey.

However, two other parties were also very interested in the land involved.  They were John Barton Hack and the South Australian Company.  Dutton beat Hack by about two hours for the special survey.  Hack then accused Osmond Gilles, the Colonial Treasurer, of maladministration for giving a receipt for the property before the total purchase money was paid, and of himself being interested in the venture.  Hack appealed to Governor Gawler but to no avail, and the Dutton partnership got Hack's station.  The South Australian Company were also dissatisfied in being a non-competitor and started a bombardment of correspondence to Governor Gawler and in the press.  However, the Governor adhered to his decision.  Interestingly, the Colonial Secretary, Osmond Gilles, later received three sections of the land from the successful applicants.  This was taken by certain interested persons to imply that this inducement may have been offered to the Colonial Secretary to expedite the decision in favour of Dutton and his Partners.  It should be noted that Gilles had allegedly paid for these sections prior to the Special Survey being obtained by Dutton on behalf of the partners.

As a result of this decision, the partners secured fifty 80 acre sections in the Mt Barker district, four of which were for the township of Mt Barker, and with three subsequently transferred to Osmond Gilles.

Notes: - (from Reg Butler´s Notes) - FIRST SPECIAL SURVEY: GF Angas, Chairman of the South Australian Company, had insisted on the inclusion of Special Survey land sales in the South Australian land regulations issued in 1835.  However, Governor Gawler was the first person to put this idea into action.  He sold the First Special Survey to Messrs Dutton, Finnis and McFarlane on 11 January 1839.  The partners paid £4,000 in advance for the survey of 15,000 acres in the vicinity of present-day Mount Barker; these men had the first choice of 4,000 acres and the rest was sold to the public at the uniform price of £1 an acre.  Nearly forty Special Surveys were made until Governor Grey successfully urged the abolition of the scheme.
(Extract from 'Aussie Heritage') - Mt Barker Urban Conservation Area:  The first special survey in South Australia was undertaken in the Mount Barker district in 1839 on behalf of William Dutton, Duncan MacFarlane and John Finnis.  In 1840 the partners had the township of Mount Barker surveyed and then offered most of their land for sale.  The town developed as a large rural centre offering a wide range of services to surrounding areas.  During recent years the population of the town has increased significantly and there is a need to protect the character of historical precincts while still allowing necessary development.

Founding of Hahndorf - (1839)

The founding of Hahndorf is well documented elsewhere, however it should be noted that it was within 2 weeks of gaining the First Special Survey that the partners invited Captain Hahn (on behalf of the Lutheran immigrants) to inspect the land near Mt Barker which they had obtained.  As a result, portion of this land was accepted by the Lutheran immigrants and a contract was drawn up setting out the terms and conditions involved.  This was agreed by the parties on 28 January 1839.  The land selected incorporated the cattle run that John Finnis had established some time earlier.  This agreement between the First Special Survey partners and the original German settlers resulted in the creation of the township of Hahndorf.

Second Overlanding Venture - (1839)

John Finnis then returned to Sydney and organised a second overland trip which was made leaving April and arriving in October 1839, this time with himself in charge and including William Hampden Dutton.  It was reported in the 'SA Register' that it consisted of about 25,000 sheep (in 3 flocks) and 700 cattle, and that the party consisted of 9 members with 50 servants to look after the stock.  It was the largest overland party up to that time.

Mount Dispersion (Anlaby) - (1839)

In December 1839, John Finnis formed a station at Mount Dispersion about 100 km north-east of Adelaide (near Kapunda) because as he stated in a letter to HC Dutton (sen.) dated 15 December 1839,  'The reason I favour the station to the northward, there is nothing but 'scab' sheep all over Mount Barker. The place where they are, there is no sheep within 20 miles, and a very fine Country.'  He immediately moved the remaining 12,000 newly arrived sheep from his second overland trip from his Mount Barker station to the new Mount Dispersion station.  This was the largest number of sheep owned by any northern squatter at that time, with the exception of the Messrs. Peters, who had established themselves on the River Broughton.

Frederick Dutton (brother of William Hampden Dutton) had attempted about this time to form a sheep company at Mount Dispersion, but this failed.  In 1841 he took up John Finnis's station and renamed it 'Anlaby'.  This was gradually increased in size to become the substantial property that currently exists.

Note: - (Extract from Australian Dictionary of Biography) - On 2 July 1831 at Sydney W. H. Dutton married Charlotte, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Cameron of the 3rd Regiment.  Next year he and Frederick went into partnership in sheep at Yass and later in the Monaro district.  In 1836 they established near Albury a cattle run at Mullengendry whence 1000 cattle sold to John Barton Hack were overlanded to Portland and shipped to Adelaide, where they arrived in 1838.  William visited South Australia briefly with his family early in 1839 and at Mount Barker with Captain John Finnis and Duncan Macfarlane bought a 4000-acre (1619 ha) special survey, the first in the colony.  While William travelled between Sydney and Melbourne where he had mercantile ventures, Alexander Buchanan overlanded 5000 sheep belonging to Frederick, who tried in 1839 to form a sheep company at Mount Dispersion, sixty miles (97 km) north of Adelaide; when it failed Frederick took up the run which had been founded by Finnis, and renamed it Anlaby after the Yorkshire home of his sister Charlotte's husband, Richard Cankrein.

Mount Barker - (1840)

In March 1840, the partners announced in the press that the land was available for sale and that “The rising German village of Hahndorf, which forms part of the Mount Barker property, ensures purchasers a supply of the most valuable domestic and agricultural labour”.   However in April it was announced that the above offer had been withdrawn and that Captain Grey had been entrusted to arrange sales in England.  This was a complete failure as no sales were made.

On 28 September 1840, WH Dutton, J Finnis and D Macfarlane held a ballot to allocate the individual sections between themselves.  Another ballot was held on 2 October for the Mount Barker suburban and township allotments.

Note: - (Extract from 'Aussie Heritage') - History and Significance: - The first recorded sighting of Mount Barker was made by Captain Sturt from the lower reaches of the River Murray on 9 February 1830.  At that time Sturt thought that the hill was Mount Lofty, but a report made by Captain Collett Barker in 1831 corrected this mistake.  Captain Barker was later killed by aborigines near the Murray Mouth and Mount Barker was named in his honour.  Mount Barker was first ascended by Europeans in November 1837 when (Sir) John Morphett and five other men spent two days exploring the area.  By 1838 the district was being used by overlanders from New South Wales who took advantage of the good pasture to rest their herds near the end of their journey.  By the end of 1838 a number of squatters had settled in the district.  Descriptions of the area at that time were consistent in their praise of the fertility of the soil and the excellence of the pasture, and many thought of it as some of the best land to be found in Australia.  In 1835 a regulation had been issued allowing anyone who purchased a minimum of 4,000 acres (1619 ha) in South Australia to order a special survey of any compact district of up to 15,000 acres (6070 ha), and to select his land from the survey area.  The Colonial Commissioners would direct the survey and lay out a town on a site not exceeding 576 acres (233 ha) which had been selected by the original purchaser.  It was not until 1839 that the first Special Survey was ordered.  On January 1839 William Hampton Dutton purchased 4000 acres for himself and two equal partners, and ordered a special survey of the district of Mount Barker.  A plan of that survey was exhibited on 5 November 1839.  Dutton and his partners were then allowed three weeks to select their land, after which the remaining 11,000 acres were opened for public purchase.  William Dutton`s partners were Duncan MacFarlane and John Finnis.  John Finnis had first seen the area when he travelled overland with Captain Sturt in 1838, and by the time the special survey was ordered he had already set up a cattle station in the Mount Barker district.  William Dutton and Duncan MacFarlane both arrived in Adelaide on the brig `Parland` on 26 December 1838, only two weeks before the survey was ordered.  At that time interest in the Mount Barker district was high and Dutton`s purchase of the requisite amount of land preceded two other applications for special surveys in the district by only a few hours.  One of these was made by John Barton Hack, a squatter in that area, who was also one of the members of the first party to ascend Mount Barker.  The other application was made on behalf of the South Australian Company.  Of the fifty 80 acre (32 ha) sections selected by Dutton and his partners four sections were set aside for a township and a further three were set aside for Osmond Gilles, the Colonial Treasurer at the time of the survey.  Of the four township sections one was divided into half acre allotments (0.2 ha) with reserves set aside for churches and schools (Section 4477), while the adjoining three were divided into 5 acre allotments (2.0 ha).  The township was named after Mount Barker which is located about 5.5 km to the east.  In April 1840 most of the land owned by Dutton, MacFarlane and Finnis was offered for sale in England.  Other than attractive descriptions of the land itself, incentives to buy land included the availability of reliable domestic and agricultural labour from the nearby town of Hahndorf.  This township, which lay within the survey area, had been settled by Silesian migrants with the assistance of William Dutton.  Another advantage was that roads to New South Wales, Lake Alexandrina and Port Phillip country passed through the district.

Partnership Difficulties - (1841)

William Hampden Dutton suffered financial difficulties during the later part of 1840.  On 23 December 1840, under a Deed of Assignment, he appointed trustees to administer his estate (real and personal) .... for the general benefit of his creditors.

This not only created major problems for the Special Survey partnership of Dutton, MacFarlane and Finnis, but also the separate stock dealings carried out by a firm which had been formed by Finnis and Dutton (Finnis's step son-in-law) for this purpose.  As a result, legal action was undertaken by Finnis against Dutton regarding their separate partnership.  Fortunately, before they were involved in ruinous litigation, the matter was referred to arbitration and a settlement dated 2 September 1841 was agreed upon which was filed in the Equity side of the Supreme Court as follows:

Memorandum by way of record and satisfaction made between John Finnis, of North Adelaide, of the one part, and William Hampden Dutton, of Sydney, by Frederick Hansborough Dutton his attorney of  the second part, and the said Frederick Hansborough Dutton now of Adelaide of the third part.  --  Whereas a bill hath recently been filed on the equity side of the Supreme Court of the Province of South Australia on the part of the said John Finnis against the said William Hampden Dutton and Frederick Hansborough Dutton and another, a minute of such propositions hath been submitted to the said John Finnis and agreed to by  him as the basis of a settlement between the several parties abovementioned and which minute of settlement is to the purport and effect following that is to say

  • First: 1250 acres of land of Mount Barker survey to include one section of land to be sold to the Germans to be the property absolutely of the said John Finnis.

  • Second: 1250 acres of land of Mount Barker survey to include one other section of land agreed to be sold to the Germans to be conveyed or otherwise held in trust to secure the outstanding liabilities of the firm of Finnis and Dutton.

  • Third: 1500 ewes to be the average age of all the flocks with a proportion of what ewe lambs may be running by the side of their mothers, to be the absolute property and to be immediately handed over to the said John Finnis.

  • Fourth: 30 rams to be delivered to John Finnis average out of the same flock.

  • Fifth: 500 wethers average of same flock to John Finnis to be delivered immediately.

  • Sixth: The whole of the remainder of the flocks belonging to Dutton and Finnis to be taken by Frederick Hansborough Dutton, he idemnifying John Finnis against all outstanding Claims against the firm of Dutton and Finnis.

  • Seventh: The said Frederick Hansborough Dutton shall immediately deliver to the said John Finnis £500 of good discountable bills.

  • Eighth: The money still due by the Germans for the provisions and stock not including the land to be received by the said John Finnis.

  • Ninth: Legal Expenses of John Finnis and F. H. Dutton to be paid by the parties in equal proportions.

Master Mariner (back to sea) - (1842 ->)

Although his partnership problems continued for some years, John Finnis returned to the sea in 1842.  He still retained his residence in Adelaide and his interest in certain Mount Barker properties and the West Terrace sale-yards.

  • In March 1842, he took charge of the 'King Henry', a brigatine of 160 tons, taking passengers and cargo from London to New Zealand, returning to Port Adelaide in September, 1842.
  • In 1843, he purchased the schooner 'Joseph Albino' and sailed for Hobart Town and New Zealand, returning to Port Adelaide in January, 1844.
  • A further voyage to Hobart and New Zealand ensued, followed by several to Port Lincoln and Spencer Gulf ports.
  • Late in 1844 and again in 1847, the 'Joseph Albino' sailed to London, Cape of Good Hope, Agra Paquina and Mauritius, finally returning to Port Adelaide in April 1849.
  • In June 1849, the 'Joseph Albino' commanded by Thomas Allen set sail from Port Adelaide to California with a full compliment of passengers and mixed cargo for the gold fields in America.  On arrival in San Francisco, the 'Joseph Albino' was seized by the American Government for alleged smuggling, and as the master had no crew on board and could get no hearing from the American officials, he had to leave the vessel at anchor in San Francisco and return to Adelaide, bringing the ship's clearance.  Despite representations to Viscount Palmerston, the schooner was never to be returned to Finnis. (It is believed that it was subsequently renamed and converted into a warship)
  • In 1850, Captain Finnis was master of the 'Jane Flaxman' sailing between Adelaide and Yorke Peninsula and Port Lincoln, South Australia, and in 1851 he acquired the 'Petrel' and carried gold-diggers from Adelaide to Victoria..

Notes: - (Extract from South Australian Register - dated Wednesday 6 September 1843) - Our Export Trade:  Captain Finnis has chartered the 'Joseph Albino' for the ports of New Zealand, and is loading her with beef, flour, grain, cheese, butter, and other products of the Colony.  About five years ago he was amongst the first to bring us sheep and cattle overland from Sydney.  The adventure answered well; high prices were obtained, and amply compensated for the risks and privations of the hazardous route.  At that time the settlement wanted everything, and the men who brought supplies into it were deemed the benefactors of the Colony; but our position is now so changed that we give that title to those who send out our produce to other ports, and seek customers abroad for our surplus.  Then, high prices encouraged our merchants to import; now, low prices invite them to export.  We hope this new enterprise of our friend Captain Finnis will be advantageous to himself as we are sure it will be of benefit to the Colony, and that the qualities of the articles shipped in this instance will satisfy the most incredulous that our land is eminently productive, and that we are steadily advancing in all the elements of agricultural prosperity.
(From 'Bound for South Australia' web-site) - Joseph Albino 1844 - From New Zealand and Hobart Town with Captain John Finnis arriving Adelaide Jan 27, 1844 with 8 adults and 2 children passengers.
(From 'Bound for South Australia' web-site) - The brigatine 'Joseph Albino', under the command of Captain John Finnis, left the Cape of Good Hope and King George's Sound, and arrived in Adelaide on Sunday, September 27th 1846.  Passengers from the Cape - 12 adults, 2 servants and 8 children.  Passengers from King George's Sound - 4 adults. Cargo consisted of mainly wine and spirit, beer, dried fruit, plus a stage coach and household furniture.

Other Involvements (1841 ->)

Although John Finnis returned to the sea in 1842, he still maintained his involvement in the Mount Barker area as well as being involved in other ventures including:

  • The Great Eastern Road - The 'Great Eastern Road' between the Mount Barker District in South Australia and the overland road to New South Wales and Port Phillip was commenced in January, 1841.  John Finnis, then of Mount Barker, was appointed in July 1841 as one of the Trustees for the finances and for collecting tolls for this project.

  • Witness on Ports and Pilotage - In August 1844, Captain John Finnis was involved as an expert witness on a 'Legislative Council Enquiry regarding the Pilot Service at Port Adelaide.'

  • Shipping Commission - In October 1849, he was appointed by the Colonial Secretary, Charles Sturt, on a wide ranging Commission 'to enquire and report on certain shipping places on the coast and rivers of South Australia.'

  • Hansard - In 1858, not altogether willingly, Finnis became the publisher of the first volume of Hansard of the Houses of Parliament of South Australia.  On the security of parliament's contract with James Allen to print the debates, Finnis advanced a sum of money to Allen, who failed to carry out his contract.  On Finnis, therefore, fell the task of compiling Hansard mostly from newspaper reports, in which he was assisted by John Curtis, a reporter from the South Australian Advertiser.  The long delay and tedious inquiries and depositions before he was paid by parliament did not inspire him to further literary effort.

  • Finnis's land dealings also extended to New Zealand, when in 1843 he purchased the right from the Maoris for an area of 571 acres (231 ha) in the Bay of Islands.  He lost his title through absence overseas when required by the New Zealand administration to register the purchase.

  • He was a member of the committee involved with and contributed financially to the overland expedition of discovery of E.J. Eyre to Western Australia.

  • He was responsible for introducing flax into Australia from New Zealand, for which he received a vote of thanks by the committee of the first Agricultural Show held in Adelaide.

Second Marriage - (1856)

After Luduvina's death at North Adelaide in 1854, John Finnis married Mary Anne Russell at his home in Franklin Street, Adelaide on 3 September 1856.  They had 2 sons, John Mercer Finnis and Samuel Nash Finnis.  Samuel died at the age of 12 in 1871, while John Mercer died in 1909 two days after being thrown off a horse when crossing the bridge over the River Torrens.

Note: - Apparently, John Mercer Finnis was in the habit of riding a large white stallion when traveling to and from his home in North Adelaide on a daily basis to the stockyards in West Terrace and it is believed that a motor vehicle spooked his horse.  Family anecdotal information infers that he was a bit of a 'dandy and poser' as he rode this large white horse around Adelaide usually wearing a top hat and tails.

Magistrates Court

John Finnis had several visits to the Magistrates Court over his lifetime, including:

  • Another ship captain charged with punching Finnis in the face over dispute of goods.  Was withdrawn after apology received in court.

  • James Allen bankruptcy – character witness. (refer Hansard)

  • Finnis was himself charged - “That he let loose a donkey in Halifax Street, Adelaide and allowed it to cause mischief.”

Further Mount Barker Involvement

Contrary to statements in a number of publications that Dutton, Finnis and MacFarlane did not occupy or remain in the Mount Barker district for long, this is not strictly correct with regards to John Finnis and particularly Duncan Macfarlane.  Dutton remained in South Australia for only a short period returning to Victoria and NSW in October 1840 due to his financial problems.

John Finnis' further involvement also included the following:

  • Although his interest in land speculation ended after the partnership problems were resolved, this still left him with certain land to dispose of and other matters to resolve.  This included the finalisation of the transactions with the Lutherans at Hahndorf.

  • In 1856, it required a private Act of Parliament for him to transfer Section 4488 to his step-daughter, Ludavina (who had married George Kingston) for the benefit of her 5 children. (before Torrens Title system)

  • Finnis retained Sections 4442, 4443 and 4447 from the Mount Barker Special Survey for the rest of his life and this property was only sold after the death of his son John Mercer Finnis in 1909.  This property was used for cattle breeding and a horse stud in conjunction with the stock saleyards on West Terrace, Adelaide.  In 1909, 'The Advertiser' had a report on the training of racehorses at the Finnis' property at Mt Barker.  His son, John Mercer Finnis managed the property for a while but eventually it was managed by a Walter Robert Whittingham (Whittingham ended up marrying John Mercer Finnis' widow in 1912).  Ultimately, this property was bisected by the new Freeway.

  • He contributed financially to the construction of the School and Church at Hahndorf.

  • He gifted a bell to the Church of St James at Blakiston

  • In September 1866 (about 6 months before he retired), Capt John Finnis was reported in the 'SA Register' as presenting the first prize to the best ploughman in the District of Mt Barker at the annual event.

Retirement and Death

John Finnis retired about April 1867 and then toured Europe.  He then spent some time living at Rock Ferry, Liverpool, England, alternating with his home in Franklin Street, Adelaide.
He died in Adelaide on the 13 August, 1872  'of senectude and debility', aged 69.   He is buried in the West Terrace Cemetery in an impressive above ground fenced stone tomb.  Subsequently, other members of his family have also been interred in this tomb or buried alongside it.
Finnis' 2nd wife (Mary Ann) outlived him and died at St Peters, Adelaide in 1905, aged 75.

The Person

Harold J. Finnis in his publication 'Captain John Finnis - A Brief Biographical Sketch' states :
It would be difficult to deny that he was a man possessed of considerable courage; the very nature of his chosen vocation as a seaman demanded that quality.  Nor must it be forgotten that he captained merchant vessels and whaling vessels at an early age whilst yet in his very early twenties.  In the days of sails and the days of whales the lot of the Commander was no easy one.  Only too frequently the management of his crew threw a heavier load on his shoulders than did the navigation of his vessel. John Finnis appears to have succeeded in both.  His selection by the owners to take over the command of the 'King Henry', whilst the displaced Captain still remained on board, suggests that his employees on this occasion had ample confidence in his ability to handle a delicate situation that might develop considerable difficulties at any moment.
It would appear that he held strong views and held them strongly.  Witness his evidence before the Committee of the Legislature on the question of the Pilot Service at Port Adelaide.  There is no suggestion of hesitancy in his opinion as set out there.  His expressed attitude toward the aborigines, and the policy of the Government in relation thereto, equally left no room for doubt.
His overland journeys with sheep and cattle from Sydney to Adelaide, more particularly that of 1838 in partnership with Captain Sturt, suggests a capacity for physical endurance, more especially as he was more used to the sea than to the saddle.  The same journey affords evidence of an impetuosity which may well have been characterestic.


Apart from numerous newspaper references, the following publications provide information re Captain John Finnis:

  • 'Captain John Finnis 1802-1872, A Brief Biographical Sketch' - by Harold J. Finnis 1958  (published by 'The Pioneers' Association of South Australia')

  • 'Captain John Finnis - The Expansion of the Pastoral Industry in South Australia' - by Sean C. Dawes  (published in the 'Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia' - No 12, 1984)

  • 'Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia - Vol 1 & 2'  (Gould Genealogy CD)

  • 'Account of the Colony of South Australia'  (Gould Genealogy CD)

  • Aldine History of South Australia'  (Gould Genealogy CD)

  • 'South Australia - An Agricultural and Pastoral State in the Making 1836-46'  (Gould Genealogy CD)

  • 'Mostly Mount Barker - in South Australia - Aspects of the early history of the district, including Blakiston', by Vivien S. Martin 1982.

  • 'Mount Barker - Mountain Upon the Plain', by Bob Schmidt.

  • Captain John FINNIS (1802 - 1872) - Australian Dictionary of Biography  (Online Edition)]

  • 'The Register' newspaper articles by A.T. Saunders (1925) which include extracts from ship's logs and miscellaneous letters by Capt. John Finnis, plus comments by A.T. Saunders.

  • National Library of Australia - Finnis HJ, Biography Manuscript BibID:2902206

  • State Library of South Australia - PRG 368 (Autobiographical/Biographical Harold Jack Finnis)