COLTON, Sir John (1823-1902)


COLTON, Sir John (1823-1902)
premier of South Australia and philanthropist
son of William Colton, a farmer, was born in Devonshire, England, on 23 September 1823. He arrived in South Australia in 1839 with his parents, who went on the land. Colton, however, found work in Adelaide, and at the age of 19, began business for himself as a saddler. He was shrewd, honest and hard-working, and his small shop eventually developed into a large and prosperous wholesale ironmongery and saddlery business. In 1859 Colton was elected a member of the Adelaide city council, and on 17 November 1862 was returned to the house of assembly for Noarlunga, at the head of the poll. On 3 November 1868 he became commissioner of public works in the Strangways (q.v.) ministry, but when this cabinet was reconstructed in May 1870 he was omitted. He was mayor of Adelaide 1874-5, and on 3 June 1875 joined the second Boucaut (q.v.) ministry as treasurer, but he resigned in March 1876. On 6 June he formed his first ministry as premier and commissioner of public works. His ministry lasted until 26 October 1877, when it resigned after a constitutional struggle with the upper house, which had not been consulted about the new parliamentary buildings. The government, however, had succeeded in passing a liberalized crown lands consolidation bill, and a forward policy of public works in connexion with railways and water supply had been carried out. Colton might have been premier again in June 1881, but stood aside in favour of Bray (q.v.). On 16 June 1884 he became premier and chief secretary in his second ministry, which in the following twelve months passed some very useful legislation, including a public health act, an agricultural crown land act, a pastoral land act, a vermin destruction act and a land and income tax act. The ministry was defeated on 16 June 1885. Seldom had a ministry done so much in so short a time, but Colton was prostrated by overwork and was compelled to live in retirement for some months. On his return to parliament he attempted to lead the opposition, but an attack of paralysis finished his political career and he resigned from parliament in January 1887.
Colton paid a visit to England and regained some of his health. Henceforth, he gave much of his time to philanthropic work. It was said of him that no society or charitable institution ever appealed to him in vain for either financial or personal assistance, if they could show that their aims were worthy. He took a great interest in Prince Alfred College, and was its treasurer for many years, and was for a time chairman of the board of management of the Adelaide hospital. He was a great advocate for temperance and retained his interest in the Methodist Church throughout his life. He died on 6 February 1902. He married on 4 December 1844, Mary, daughter of Samuel Cutting, who died in 1898. He was survived by four sons and a daughter. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1892.
Colton never had robust health and felt the strain of politics very much; twice before his final retirement he was obliged to give up politics for a period. A man of deep earnestness, rich in saving common-sense, he was not a fluent orator but on occasions could speak with vigour and fire. He was an excellent administrator and a great worker who commanded the respect of all. Had his strength been equal to his will he would have taken an even more important part in South Australian politics. His life was spent in untiring labour for his fellow creatures, and few men of his time took so important a part in the business, religious, philanthropic and political life of the period.
Burke's Colonial Gentry, 1891; The Register, Adelaide, 7 February 1902; The Advertiser, Adelaide, 7 February 1902; E. Hodder, The History of South Australia.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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