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William Littlejohn O'Halloran (1806–1885)

by D. Bruce Ross

This article was published:

William Littlejohn O'Halloran is a minor entry in this article

Thomas Shuldham O'Halloran (1797-1870), pioneer and commissioner of police, was born on 25 October 1797 at Berhampore, India, the second son of Major-General Sir Joseph O'Halloran, G.C.B., and his wife Lady Frances, a niece of the earl of Uxbridge. His father served in the British forces in India for more than fifty-three years; seven of his brothers served in the army and one in the navy.

O'Halloran entered the Royal Military College in 1808 and at 16 he sailed for India as an ensign in the 17th Regiment. He was promoted lieutenant in that regiment in 1817 and captain in the 99th Regiment in 1827. He returned to England after twenty years army service in India in 1834. Soon after his return he transferred to the Coldstream Guards where he was on half-pay until he joined the 97th Regiment in May 1837. Next year he sold his commission and sailed with his wife and two sons for South Australia in the Rajasthan. The family landed at Holdfast Bay in November 1838. O'Halloran had already bought a land order for four sections; these were taken at a place later known as O'Halloran Hill, where he moved with his family and started to build Lizard Lodge, named after a feature in his family arms. Five months after landing he entertained the governor and dined senior officials in his substantial new home. In 1839 he was gazetted major-commandant of the short-lived voluntary militia and in June 1840 Governor George Gawler appointed him as the first commissioner of police. Instructed to reorganize the force, he weeded out inefficient police, enlisted recruits, enforced strict discipline, and created two divisions, one mounted and one foot, each under the command of an inspector. He led several police expeditions against warlike Aboriginals. The most important was against a Murray tribe which had murdered twenty-four survivors of the wreck of the Maria; two of the offenders were convicted by a drumhead court martial ordered by Governor Gawler and hanged in the presence of their tribe.

When Captain (Sir) George Grey became governor he made drastic reductions in the police force, and proposed as part of his economy campaign in 1843 that O'Halloran should add to his duties as commissioner those of police magistrate. This O'Halloran was unwilling to do and he immediately resigned. On retirement he was presented with a silver snuff box by members of the mounted police and an illuminated address by the foot police. In 1854 he was gazetted lieutenant-colonel in the 1st Battalion, Volunteer Infantry. As a substantial farmer, horsebreeder and popular figure, O'Halloran was chosen to chair many important public gatherings, such as the well-attended breakfast given to Charles Sturt at the start of his 1844 expedition to the interior.

In 1843 he was the first non-official member chosen by Grey for the Legislative Council. In 1846 he walked out with the other nominees in protest against Lieutenant-Governor Frederick Robe's bill for collecting royalties on minerals. He was active in founding Christ Church, O'Halloran Hill, which was consecrated by Bishop Augustus Short in 1848. He also served on the preparatory committees for the Collegiate School of St Peter, and became one of its first governors. His acquiescence in state aid for religion, however, lost him the Noarlunga seat in the part-elective Legislative Council, although his supporters gave him dinners at Morphett Vale and Noarlunga after the election. With responsible government in 1857 he was elected to the Legislative Council at the head of twenty-seven candidates, receiving 3499 votes. He resigned on 9 June 1863. He died on 16 August 1870 and was buried in the family vault at Christ Church, O'Halloran Hill.

O'Halloran was first married at Dawlish, Devonshire, on 1 August 1821 to Anne, daughter of James Goss; she died at Calcutta in 1823, leaving two children. On 10 July 1834 at Newry, County Down, he married Jane, eldest daughter of James Waring, by whom he had three sons and one daughter.

Direct, forthright and uncomplicated, O'Halloran was a dashing officer with little time for the tortuous reasonings of theorists. His energetic action in subduing Aboriginals made the River Murray safe for overlanders and settlers but perturbed philanthropists. His independence prevented the Legislative Council from becoming a rubber stamp of governors or clamorous populace. His initiative as a farmer made him one of the first users of the Ridley harvesting machine and one of few successful large wheat-growers in the province.

William Littlejohn O'Halloran (1806-1885), brother of T. S. O'Halloran, was born in Ireland on 5 May 1806. He entered the army at an early age and served as an officer in India in the 38th Regiment until 1838, when he retired with the rank of captain. In 1840 he came with his family to South Australia. In 1843 he was appointed private secretary to Governor Grey and also clerk of the Legislative Council, where he held office until 1851, when he was appointed auditor-general. He remained in that office under several governments until 1868 and was highly regarded as an able and conscientious civil servant. He died at Glenelg on 15 July 1885.

On 15 December 1851 at Cork he married Elizabeth Minton Smyth, by whom he had five sons and three daughters. His eldest son, Joseph Sylvester O'Halloran, was secretary to the Royal Colonial Institute in London for many years.

Select Bibliography

  • J. W. Bull, Early Experiences of Colonial Life in South Australia (Adel, 1878)
  • A. Tolmer, Reminiscences of an Adventurous and Chequered Career at Home and at the Antipodes, vol 1 (Lond, 1882)
  • F. S. Dutton, South Australia and its Mines (Lond, 1846)
  • T. O'Halloran, ‘From Adelaide Along the River Murray to the Rufus and Lake Victoria’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, vol 7, 1903-04, pp 70-91.

Citation details

D. Bruce Ross, 'O'Halloran, William Littlejohn (1806–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 May, 1806


15 July, 1885 (aged 79)
Glenelg, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Passenger Ship