One of the vagaries of South Australian history is that two of our best-known harbours are spelt incorrectly.
The word ‘harbour‘ in Australian English follows the British model – it has a ‘u’ in it. But the Americans spell it without the ‘u’ – ‘harbor‘.
Curious, then, that popular coastal holiday town of Victor Harbor (pictured), and Adelaide’s open sea port of Outer Harbor, follow the American spelling.
Apparently, ‘harbor’ appeared in the very early days of the South Australia colony in the 1830s, possibly the result of a misspelling by an early surveyor-general (‘harbor’ is an archaic English spelling).
In spite of this, the State Library of South Australia holds a copy of the diary of naval captain Richard Crozier, who anchored off Victor Harbor on 26 April 1837, and named the place ‘Victor Harbour’ (note the spelling) after his ship HMS Victor.
Variations between -or and -our in the English language had been showing up as early as the 17th century, when there was a push to spell words of French origin with the -our ending, and those with Latin origin with an -or ending. In US English, -or became the norm for all such words, whilst in Australian English, there are examples of both variants.
In Victor Harbor, the -our ending started to become the recognised spelling around the turn of the century, and endured until 1921, when the State government officially gazetted all South Australian harbours with the original – and erroneous – spelling: ‘harbor’.
In the 1980s, the local newspaper The Victor Harbor Times ran a ‘name and shame’ campaign against all instances of the incorrect spelling. Consequently most instances of ‘harbour’ were removed from town signage, apart from the name board at the railway station, which remains ‘Victor Harbour’ to this day.
All six ‘harbors’ in South Australia are officially spelt without a ‘u’: Outer Harbor, Franklin Harbor, Rosetta Harbor, Victor Harbor, Blanche Harbor and Yatala Harbor. Although a quick Google search of Franklin Harbor reveals that the ‘official’ version isn’t necessarily all that official – the local council in Cowell on the Eyre Peninsula is known as the ‘District Council of Franklin Harbour’.