AYERS, Sir Henry (1821-1897)


AYERS, Sir Henry (1821-1897)
premier of South Australia
was born at Portsea, England, on 1 May 1821. On leaving school he entered a law office, but came to South Australia in 1840, and for some time worked as a law clerk. In 1845 he was appointed secretary of the Burra Burra mines, and within a year had command of over 1000 men. For nearly 50 years he was in control of this mine, first as secretary and afterwards as managing director. On 25 March 1857 he was returned to the first legislative council under responsible government, and was continuously a member for over 36 years. For many years the whole colony formed one electorate for the council, and on two occasions, in 1865 and 1873, Ayers headed the poll. In March 1863 he was selected as one of the three South Australian representatives at the inter-colonial conference, and on 4 July 1863 he became minister without portfolio in the first Dutton (q.v.) cabinet. This ministry resigned 11 days later, and Ayers formed his first ministry as premier and chief secretary on 15 July 1863. The house was much divided and it was almost impossible to get business done. Ayers reconstructed his ministry on 22 July 1864 but was defeated, and resigned on 4 August. The Blyth (q.v.) ministry which was then formed included Ayers as chief secretary, but did not survive a general election and resigned on 22 March 1865. When Dutton formed his second ministry Ayers had his old position as chief secretary, and still retaining that office, formed his third administration on 20 September 1865 which lasted little more than a month. In spite of dissolutions it was found very difficult to get a workable house. There were 18 ministries between July 1863 and July 1873. Ayers became premier again from May 1867 to September 1868, October to November 1868, January to March 1872, and with an entirely new team of ministers, from March 1872 to July 1873. He was chief secretary in the Colton (q.v.) ministry from June 1876 to October 1877, his last term of office. In 1881 he was elected president of the legislative council, and until December 1893 carried out his duties with ability, impartiality and courtesy. He died at Adelaide on 11 June 1897. His wife died in 1881 and he was survived by three sons and a daughter. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1872, and G.C.M.G. in 1894.
Ayers established a great position as a trusted man of business. Apart from his mining interests he held important directorates, and was for many years a member and chairman of the board of trustees of the Savings Bank of South Australia; he was re-appointed chairman only a few days before his death. He was a governor of the botanic gardens from 1862, president of the South Australian Old Colonists' Association, and was for many years on the council of the university of Adelaide. His political career was unique. He was in parliament for an unbroken term of 37 years and in no other Australian colony or state has a politician exercised so much influence or been in so many ministries while a member of the upper house. It is probable, however, that if Ayers had been in the house of assembly he would have had more control of business, and his seven premierships would have been longer in duration and more fruitful in results. He was a good speaker and an excellent administrator. An address he gave on Pioneer Difficulties on Founding South Australia was published as a pamphlet in 1891.
The South Australian Register, 12 June 1897; The Advertiser, Adelaide, 12 June 1897; E. Hodder, The History of South Australia.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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