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William Rogers (1818–1903)

by Peter Lake

William Rogers was born in Linkinhorne, Cornwall, to Francis and Elizabeth Rogers (nee Sanders) on 21st July 1818. A mason and builder by trade, he left London on 3rd January 1839 in the 280 ton barque City of Adelaide arriving at Port Adelaide on 2oth July 1839. Soon after setting out, the ship had to return to port after a storm in the English Channel dismasted her. The subsequent journey was a rough one, requiring a stop in Rio de Janeiro for repairs.

By 1844 Rogers was the owner of a small mixed farm (ten acres of wheat, two acres of potatoes, two cows and two pigs) at Nairne in the Adelaide Hills. He had also begun to turn his hand to building and in 1844 constructed John Dunn’s flour mill at Mt Barker. This building was an important focal point for the community when Mt Barker was first settled. It is currently in use as a private house. Some of the original mill machinery remains in place and one of the millstones can be seen propped against a tree in the garden.

On 7th March 1846 Rogers married Ann Wright (1817–1912) who had migrated with her parents George and Margaret (nee Dougall) and sister, Jane, from Stirling, Scotland in the 476 ton sailing ship Lysander. The couple had six children — two sons (William Sandergrove (1853–1905), Edwin (1857–1908), and four daughters (Elizabeth (Mrs W. J. Verco 1846–1933), Mary (Mrs G. H. Lake 1853–1905), Jane (Mrs T. R. Bright b. 1849), and Ann (Mrs J. H. Gordon b. 1855).

William was resourceful and energetic, ideally suited to a new colony. He was known as ‘a prolific builder, who could point with pride to many buildings he has erected under contract’ throughout South Australia. In partnership with his brother Joseph, William constructed the old Victor Harbour breakwater, the Cape Borda lighthouse on Kangaroo Island, and various jetties including those at Second Valley, Port Noarlunga and Glenelg. St John’s Presbyterian Church, Inverbrackie, one of the oldest churches in the state, was built by the Rogers brothers in 1847. It was subsequently destroyed by fire.

Meanwhile William’s pastoral interests had advanced and he had become politically active. In 1857 he acquired a large holding near Strathalbyn from William Bowman. He named this Sandergrove after his mother Elizabeth Sanders, and proceeded to build a homestead in a valley on the property.

The homestead passed out of the Rogers family some time after William’s death and has changed hands several times since, most recently in 2012 with 90 remaining acres. William also owned properties on Yorke Peninsula — Lake Sunday near Stansbury, Corney Point, and Yorke Valley which included the land on which the town of Maitland is now situated. However, life as a pastoralist was not easy for him. 'During his 55 year connection with the pastoral industry, Mr Rogers suffered heavy losses from drought, but he pulled his affairs together with that steadfastness of purpose which characterised his whole life.' (Pastoral Pioneers of SA, vol 2, 1929, pp 220 -21)

Rogers’ political career began in September 1858 with his election as member for Mount Barker in the first parliament of South Australia. He was returned in the third (1864-1865) and fifth (1868-1870) parliaments, and successfully (following appeal) stood again as member for Encounter Bay in the seventh (1872-1875) parliament. The Hansards of the day record his contributions. His speeches were said to be ‘of the short paragraphic order, very much to the point, and characterised by a refreshing spirit of independence’. A particularly revealing debate on Oct 29th showed the unease felt by many white settlers over the circumstances of Aboriginal people. Rogers’ contribution was as follows: ‘It is clearly the duty not only of the House but of the whole colonists to do the utmost in their power to improve the condition of the native population. He quite agreed with the remark that they had all derived great benefits from becoming possessed of the soil of which the natives were dispossessed, and under such circumstances he considered it most praiseworthy of the (Aborigines Friends) Association who now asked for this grant, but of any of the colonists to ameliorate the condition of the Aborigines’.

Rogers evidently had a strong sense of justice in other ways too, which probably contributed to his ‘strenuous political career marked by considerable tribulation.’ For example, he made the following remarks during the 1858 debate over the Assessment of Stock bill. ‘It has been shown that an increase of revenue is required, and no-one is better able to bear the demand than the squatters. They have been exempt now from taxation for many years.’

Rogers died on 25th August 1903, aged 85 in Miss Hill’s private hospital, Wakefield Street, Adelaide, after a short illness, followed a week later by his brother Joseph. William and his wife Ann, who lived into her 90s, are buried in Adelaide’s North Road Anglican cemetery.


1. Opie E. A. D. SA Pioneers Arriving 1836-1845. Sources 1 & 25. Archival Accession #1048

2. Statton J. Biographical Index of South Australians 1836-1885. SA Geneology & Heraldry Society 1986

3. Pitt G. H. Index to Ships Arriving at SA Ports 1836-1900

4. Cummings, Diane. Pioneers & Settlers Bound for SA. Passenger Lists 1839. Fleurieu Peninsula Family History Group. 2011, p 56.

5. Obituary. 'Death of Mr William Rogers', Mt Barker Courier, 28 August 1903

6. Coxon C. et al. Biographical Register of the South Australian Parliament 1857 – 1957, Wakefield Press, Adelaide 1986

7. Family History South Australia, Passenger Lists, Shipping Arrivals and Immigration 1803- 1854 Accessed 1 September 2012.

Original publication

Citation details

Peter Lake, 'Rogers, William (1818–1903)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 1 December 2023.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2023

William Rogers, c1872

William Rogers, c1872

State Library of South Australia, 1288/​34

Life Summary [details]


21 July, 1818
Linkinhorne, Cornwall, England


25 August, 1903 (aged 85)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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