In 2013 BankSA commemorates 165 years of local banking. We’ve been part of the fabric of South Australian since March 11, 1848, when The Savings Bank of South Australia, the forerunner of today's BankSA, began life as a small one-person outfit.
John Hector, the bank's sole employee, opened the bank's books and the doors of its single room, which was provided, free of rent, by the Glen Osmond Union Mining Company, in Gawler Place, Adelaide.
That same day, the historic first deposit marked the Savings Bank as the “people’s bank” for generations to come.
The first customer
The first depositor was an Afghan shepherd, who entrusted his life savings of 29 pounds to the new bank.
The teller recorded his name as Croppo Sing (a phonetic rendering of Singh). Like so many others in the early days of the colony, Croppo was illiterate, and signed his name for his bank account with an 'X'.
Singh's deposit was made by his employer, William Fowler of Lake Victoria, and incorrectly recorded in Fowler's name. This error was later corrected, ensuring Croppo Singh's place in the history of the State and the Bank of South Australians.
The first loans
It was just a month before the fledgling bank made its first loan. That, as became typical throughout the bank's history, was for housing and farming. John Colton was advanced 500 pounds for the purchase of two acres of land with a seven-roomed, stone house, a cottage and stables.
Colton was 25 at the time. He had recently started a small wholesale harness and hardware business that later grew into the well-known firm of Colton & Co (still later, Colton, Palmer and Preston). In 1875 Colton was appointed to the Bank's board of trustees. Like many successful colonial businessmen, he later went into politics, serving as minister in several governments before leading his own ministry for 16 months in 1876-77. He was knighted in 1892.
The Savings Bank had first offered a loan of only 250 pounds to Colton, with a similar opportunity to Alfred Reynell, who declined. Reynell later accepted an increased offer by the bank of a loan of 300 pounds.
By the end of the bank's first year it had attracted 214 depositors, with balances of more than 5,300 pounds and had a loan book of around 3,000 pounds.
'Our Century', the history of The Savings Bank of South Australia published for its centenary in 1948, records that 'twelve other citizens, perhaps with some trepidation, lodged deposits aggregating 172 pounds, six shillings on that first business day'.
The bank's business hours were different in those early days. Far from the convenience of today's 24 hour, seven days electronic banking, The Savings Bank's original hours of business were very restricted. Deposits of 'not less than one shilling each time, nor more than 30 pounds in the whole, in one year' were possible only from noon to 2 pm and 7 pm to 9 pm on Saturdays. Cash withdrawals, only after 'one month's notice for sums under 30 pounds', were allowed on Wednesdays from noon until 2 pm.
Many prominent South Australians were associated with the Savings Bank in its early years.
South Australia's first premier, B.T. Finniss, was a member of its first board of trustees. He was appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, Lt. Colonel F.H. Robe, who held the ex-officio position of President of the bank, as did Governors for several more years.
When in 1861, the positions of President and Vice President were replaced by an elected chairman. Robert Torrens, creator of the now world-famous Torrens System of land titling and registration, became the inaugural chair.
Another contender for that first role was Henry Ayers, pastoralist, miner and investor. He succeeded Torrens a year later.
Both Torrens and Ayers later received a knighthood for their roles in pioneering South Australia. Ayers served as premier of South Australia several times and later established his own small merchant bank, HL & AE Ayers, which survived until the 1970s.
The Savings Bank was off and sailing into a variously prosperous and hazardous 160 year history. As BankSA, it remains the State's largest financial institution and a driving force in the economic and social life of the community.