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A Life of Service

Government and judicial positions:

  • Member of the Legislative Assembly for Sturt 1875
  • June 1875 Attorney-General of the Boucaut Ministry
  • 1876 Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of SA
  • 1877 Acting Governor for the first time
  • 1891 Lieutenant Governor of SA for life
  • 1896 was made Privy Councillor, and in 1897 sat as Australia’s only representative on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Educational, philanthropic, cultural and social positions:

  • Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide in 1876 and from 1883 Chancellor
  • Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of South Australia and Northern Territory, 1884 to 1916
  • Foundation member of the State Board of Education in 1874, and was instrumental in introduction of compulsory primary education and secular state schooling
  • member of the Public Library Board, and President from 1893 to 1908
  • founder of the Adelaide Children's Hospital and President of the Board 1876-1915
  • Committee of the Adelaide Homœopathic Dispensary
  • President of the South Australian Acclimatization Society, which aimed to introduce and domesticate and liberate animal, bird and insect species from England
  • President of the South Australian Football Association, founded 1877
  • member of the Boards of the Zoological Society and Botanic Gardens 1893
  • active participant of, the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution, the Gardeners’ Society, the South Australian Society of Arts, Geographical Society and the Royal Society of SA, the Empire League, the Royal Society of St George, the Adelaide Book Society

After 1876 Way dominated almost every important cultural, education, scientific and philanthropic organisation in the colony, and sat several times as Royal Commissioner.

He established a reputation as an indefatigable and diplomatic parliamentarian. Had he remained in politics no position would have been beyond him. In 1877 he became Acting Governor of South Australia for the first time. He was formally appointed Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia in January 1891, and administered the government on many occasions.

At the time of his death Way had acted as Governor of South Australia on 60 occasions for a total period of six years and nine months. This is longer than any permanent Governor in the British Empire had served in Way’s lifetime.

Way turned down four offers of knighthood, perhaps for family reasons but perhaps holding out for a hereditary peerage. In 1899 Way was appointed Baronet, of Montefiore, North Adelaide, and Kadlunga Mintaro, He was the first South Australian and the first Methodist to be knighted, and only the fourth Australian to be so honoured.

Social Justice & Philanthropy

In the 19th century most major philanthropic institutions were founded by small groups of influential and philanthropic minded upper-class men and women – who were both socially prominent and wealthy. Funds were raised generally by subscription, and a small staff was appointed assisted by numerous volunteers. Management and administration was undertaken by an entirely voluntary Board.

Way’s intellectual curiosity and energy prompted his participation in a great number and variety of interests, ranging from the propagation of rare native plants to support for the Deaf and Dumb Asylum and the Destitute Asylum, to membership of the Adelaide Book Society. From his Baptist minister father he inherited an appreciation of education, a love of reading, and an interest in social and philanthropic improvements for the benefit of the community.

Royal Commission to enquire into the administration of the Destitute Act

In 1883 Way was appointed Chairman of the Royal Commission to enquire into the administration of the Destitute Act – mainly in regard to complaints by the Roman Catholics that children under the care of the Destitute Board were made to change their religion. Way however became indignant about the inhumane treatment meted out to the boys on the Reformatory hulk and the unmarried mothers housed in the Lying-In Home.

In 1876 the State Government purchased the Fitzjames, an unseaworthy three-masted ship, to use as a quarantine hulk. The Board encouraged the Government to refit the ship as a Reformatory hulk for uncontrollable boys who were wards of the state. The Fitzjames was moored in shallow water at Largs Bay where about 50 boys between the ages of 8 and 16 years made their own boots and clothing, were schooled and underwent ‘nautical’ training. The majority of the boys were ultimately placed as farm workers.

Conditions on board were harsh: the ship was rotting and leaks were a continuous problem. Pumping was necessary to keep the ship afloat, and it was so damp below deck that bedding was continually wet. The Royal Commission report exposed the appalling conditions on the Fitzjames. The boys experienced whippings, bread and water diets, cruel confinements and little sunlight or exercise, in startling contrast to the happy children playing on the beach.

The Report also revealed the plight of destitute unmarried women who gave birth at the Lying-In Home attached to the Destitute Asylum at North Tce. The women were detained for six months after giving birth and were required to do laundry work for the Board.

The Commission took two and a half years to gather and analyse evidence, Way visiting Melbourne and Sydney at his own expense to make enquiries. In his eagerness to finish the report, he relinquished all social engagements and recreation. The final report was drafted entirely by Way and was agreed to unanimously by the other members of the Board. Way’s report aroused public opinion and forced the Destitute Board to amend its modus operandi.

It was one of the most comprehensive reports ever presented to the Parliament of SA, and was acknowledged as a valuable contribution to the scientific study of the principles of State Poor Relief and the reformation of delinquent and neglected children.

Management of the Reformatory was transferred to the newly created State Children’s Council, who campaigned to have the boys removed to a land-based institution. In May 1891 the boys were eventually removed to a Reformatory on the site of the Magill Industrial School.

The Adelaide Children’s Hospital

Adelaide in the 1870s experienced extremes of wealth and poverty. The poor experienced disease and misery in slum conditions equal to Victorian England, and infant mortality was the highest of any other Australian colony. Despite the improvements in sanitation instituted by the Board of Heath, in 1876 nearly 18% of children in South Australia were dying before the age of five.

In 1876, a meeting between a group of philanthropic upper-class women, including Way’s sister Florence, met with Dr Allan Campbell (Way’s brother in law) with the view of establishing a children’s hospital. Such a hospital would separate child patients from undesirable adults, ease the overcrowding at the Adelaide Hospital and specialise in children’s diseases.

A public meeting followed at White’s Assembly Rooms in the city, chaired by Robert Barr Smith with Samuel Way as the principal speaker. It was decided that a separate children’s hospital would be established outside of the city, and would include an outpatients’ department with an associated training school for nurses and instruction for medical students. Medical officers would be chosen, irrespective of any particular system of medicine, which would include the homeopathic treatments favoured by the Campbells. Samuel’s brother, Dr Edward Way of the Adelaide Hospital who followed Lister’s antiseptic practices, later gave medical lectures and much advice to his younger colleagues.

Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Committees were elected, and managed the formation of the hospital until a Board of management was appointed in 1879.

In June 1878 Way, as Acting-Governor, laid the foundation stone of the first building in King William Road, and served as President of the Adelaide Children’s Hospital Board until 1915. In 1897 the main building was named the Way Building in his honour. The Allan Campbell Buildings, which housed the innovative isolation Ward and the Bacteriological Laboratory, were also opened in 1897, recognising Campbell’s 20 years of service.


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Barr Smith Library
South Australia 5005


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