Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Colton, John

COLTON, Sir JOHN (1822–1902), Australian statesman and premier of South Australia, son of William Colton, a Devonshire farmer, afterwards of McLaren Vale, South Australia, and Elizabeth his wife, was born in Devonshire on 23 Sept. 1823, and went to Australia with his father when sixteen years of age. Left early to his own resources, he began business in a humble way in Adelaide, but soon won a leading position in commercial life there. For many years senior partner in the mercantile firm of Colton & Co., he retired in 1883.

He first entered public life in 1859 as an alderman of the city of Adelaide, and was mayor in 1874-5. He was elected to the House of Assembly in March 1865 as member for Noarlunga, and, with short intervals, he represented that place throughout his public life. A staunch liberal, he took office for the first time on 3 Nov. 1868 as commissioner of public works in the Strangways ministry, from which he retired on 12 May 1870. He was treasurer under Sir James Boucaut from 3 June 1875 to 25 March 1876, when the cabinet was reconstructed. On 6 June 1876, having carried a vote of no confidence against the Boucaut ministry, Colton became premier and commissioner of public works. His government lasted till October 1877, when Boucaut in his turn moved a vote of no confidence, which was carried by the casting vote of the Speaker.

Colton resigned his seat for Noarlunga on 29 Aug. 1878 on account of ill-health, and did not re-enter parliament till 6 Jan. 1880. In June 1881, on the fall of the Morgan ministry, he declined, owing to the state of his health, an appeal to form a government. In June 1884, however, he again became premier and chief secretary, with a strong cabinet, including Mr. C. C. Kingston, Mr. W. B. Rounsevell, and Sir R. Baker. His government, which carried a bill embodying the principle of land and income taxation, lasted exactly one year. Colton led the opposition for a time, but at the close of the parliament he withdrew from public life and visited England. Colton made up in commonsense and energy for what he lacked in eloquence. The strength of the cabinets which he formed proved that he was quick to recognise ability. The political antagonism which he aroused did not survive his retirement. A staunch Wesleyan and an earnest advocate of temperance, Colton took great interest in education, and was a leading supporter of Prince Alfred College, of which he long was treasurer. He was made a K.C.M.G. on 1 Jan. 1891. He died at his residence in Adelaide on 6 Feb. 1902, and was buried in the West-terrace cemetery in that city.

Colton married on 4 Dec. 1844 Mary, daughter of Samuel Cutting of London, and had four sons and one daughter.

[Burke's Colonial Gentry, ii. 613; The Times, 7 Feb. 1902; Adelaide Advertiser, 7 Feb. 1902; Year Book of Australia, 1903; Hodder's History of South Australia, vol. ii.; Colonial Office Records.]

C. A.