South Australia was the only Australian colony to be founded by free settlers. It was also the first colony to have a police force. Only two months after settlement at Glenelg, George Fife Angas, the largest investor in South Australia, had to be told by the governor that he was unable to find suitable men for this kind of occupation. Apparently they were found later as a force was established in 1838. Before that time, order had been kept by the Marines, who had come out on the Buffalo with Governor Hindmarsh. The first criminal court session was held in April 1837 by Charles Mann who tried ten cases, four of which were against Marines
Although there were no convicts in South Australia, it soon became obvious that a proper police force was needed. When established, along the lines of the English Police Force set up in 1829, it was Henry Inman who became Inspector of Police on 28 April, 1838.
Its first job was to keep order on 3 May 1838 during the public hanging, on the banks of the River Torrens, of Michael Magee. This twenty-four year old Irish Catholic, had attempted to shoot the sheriff but only managed to just hit his ear. His hanging was watched by more than a thousand people.
A few years later Joseph Stagg was hanged at the Adelaide Gaol. The first stage of this building was completed in 1840. In June 1841 the South Australian News reported that in 1840 there had been 49 convictions obtained in the supreme court. Most of the convictions during the last four years had been of ticket of leave men, old convicts or run away sailors. A shipment of some scores of these characters to Launceston about six weeks ago has been hailed as a boon to the province of South Australia, resulting in the police having scarcely anything to do.
By the 1850s many people objected to public hangings at Ashton's Hotel, as the Adelaide Gaol became known. Even so, the hanging of Bill Bell, in 1854, still attracted more than 2000 people. In 1858 the public hanging of white prisoners was abolished. On 30 December 1873, twenty-five year old Elizabeth Woolcock became the first and only woman to be hanged in South Australia. Originally from Burra, Elizabeth came to Moonta where she married Thomas Woolcock. After having been subjected numerous times to domestic violence she poisoned her husband. Glen Saber Vallance was the last one to be hung for murder in South Australia on 24 November 1964.
Settlers convicted of a crime in South Australia were often transported to Tasmania or New South Wales, depending on where the first available ship went !!! The first prisoner to be transported to New South Wales was James Gordon in 1837, for stealing property to the value of $10. He was not the only one. On 15 August 1840 William Rollands and George Hall were both transported for seven years to Sydney on the ship Christina for 'stealing a quantity of bedclothes, the property of Frederick and William Allen' on 15 May 1840 in Adelaide.
Transportation of South Australian convicts to NSW was stopped in 1842. From then on they went to Tasmania. In 1843 South Australia transported its first female convict to Tasmania. Transportation of convicts from South Australia came to an end in 1851. Even as late as 1864 it was suggested that they could be transported to the Falkland Islands.
South Australia also had its own prison hulks, moored at Semaphore. In August 1889 the Reformatory Hulk Fitzjames was visited by Governor and Lady Kintore and members of the State Children's Council, including Catherine Helen Spence. On their arrival, the Adelaide Observer reported that the boys 'were drawn up in line, and saluted in good style to the strains of the National Anthem'. It went on to say that the Governor was glad to be able to visit the Hulk and was very impressed with everything he had seen. Everything was done for the best interest of the boys. They were taught, controlled and obtained the best instruction which would make them respectable members of society.
Emmanuel Solomon, an ex-convict from New South Wales, became a prominent Adelaide businessman and politician.