Early History of the District - Paper by Mr Geo. C. Morphett

Extract From The Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser - Dated: 18 May 1939, 25 May 1939 and 1 June 1939.

Addressing the children at the high school, Mount Barker, about a week ago, Mr. Geo. C. Morphett, president of the State Pioneers' Association, said:—

Do you know that the aboriginal name for Mount Barker was "Yaktanga"?  Our first record of Mount Barker is made by Captain Sturt, who viewed the Mount on 9th February, 1830, from the lower reaches of the Murray, near the Lakes, when on his memorable voyage down the river from New South Wales — a trip the success of which provided a great impulse to the settlement of South Australia.

Captain Sturt, however, believed that the Mount he saw was identical with Mount Lofty, sighted by Captain Matthew Flinders in 1802, but on reading Captain Collet Barker's account of his ascent of Mount Lofty on 19th April, 1831, from whence he saw Lake Alexandrina and the mount seen by Captain Sturt, he acknowledged his mistake, and named it Mount Barker in memory of the captain, who had been speared by the blacks at the Murray mouth.

An account of the first ascent of Mount Barker is given in a letter written by my grandfather, the late Sir John Morphett, on 6th December, 1837, in which he states that a few days before he had left Adelaide with four gentlemen — Samuel Stephens (late Colonial manager of the South Australian Co.), John Barton Hack, John Wade, from Van Diemen's land (or Tasmania as we now know it), and another gentleman — to look for a river said to run from north to south six miles beyond the Mount Lofty range.  They took with them a guide and sufficient provisions for one day.

He writes that they passed the Mount Lofty range at the point where the shingle-splitters had their settlement (that would be near Crafers), and continued amongst the hills for five or six miles, the country becoming gradually more level, the trees decreasing in size and the soil becoming better, until they came to the river (which we now know as the Onkaparinga), formed of deep pools and connecting shallows, but which he thought was more like an English river than the Torrens, the pools being longer, broader and deeper, and the banks more regular.

They ascended the stream for three or four miles until it became bifurcated.  The guide said he had never crossed the river, nor did he believe that anyone in the colony had, but he had been further up the stream toward what we now know as Woodside, where the country was even richer and more open.  The fact that the guide (a shrewd, observant man, who had passed the greater part of his life in agriculture in N.S.W.) had seen and could describe the country upstream, decided them to cross to the eastward.

Alter riding some tour miles they were so enamoured by the richness of the soil that they held council and decided to proceed, bearing to the south of east.

After leaving the river behind them six or seven miles, upon crossing the peak of an eminence; they saw Mount Barker about four miles ahead, and after some time all rode their horses to the top, being the first Europeans who had ever ascended it.  From the top of Mount Barker, looking to the westward, they could see the country through which they had been travelling, and from such observation my grandfather concluded they had traversed an undulating and slightly wooded tract of the finest-soil and most luxuriant pasturage.  This appeared to run between the Mount Barker and Mount Lofty ranges (distant about 15 miles) from north to south the whole width, until it branched off at Mount Barker, and rounded its base to the southward, leading into the gently sloping and undulating country, which he states gradually falls toward the lake (distant perhaps 25 miles), continuing to the northward-up the shore of the lake and above the mouth of the Murray, as far as the eye can reach.

By this trip they satisfied themselves upon a point which they were not sanguine about, that is, the existence of such an extent of good land on this side of Lake Alexandrina.

The letter concludes with a description of their very uncomfortable night in a thunderstorm on Mount Barker, where they passed the night upon the bare earth, with the rain falling in torrents, the lightning flashing, the thunder rolling and reverberating amongst the mountains, and not a blanket between them, nor a bite to eat — a somewhat trying experience!

Every member of the party was very impressed by the fertility of the country between the ranges, and John Wade, in a letter dated 2nd December, 1837, writes in very eulogistic terms of the richness of the soil in the valleys and the verdure of the pasturage.

I wonder can you visualise the park-like appearance of the country as they saw it?  Big redgums in spacious array like the late Mrs. Dunn's paddocks a few years ago.  Most of the timber has long since been turned to commercial use, and today we principally see the multitude of sapling growth that has usurped the place of the big park-like trees.

The good opinion of this expedition was borne out by Joseph Hawdon, the pioneer overlander, who arrived with 335 cattle in Adelaide on 3rd April, 1838, when beef was very scarce, mutton selling at 2/- per lb. and kangaroo meat at 1/- per lb.

In a letter to Governor Hindmarsh, Hawdon writes: "Leaving the Murray about the latitude of Adelaide, we were compelled by the ranges to go more to the south, and thus passed over a beautiful, and extensive tract of grazing country, especially that lying between Mount Barker and Lake Alexandrina, which equals in richness of soil and pasturage any I have seen in New Holland."

The district soon became a popular camping ground with overlanders and squatters, such as Captain Sturt, who brought the third mob of 400 cattle overland, accompanied by Captain John Finnis of the Mercantile Marine (not to be confounded with Boyle Travel's Finnis, the, surveying partner of Colonel Light).

Captain John Finnis was the grandfather of Mr. Harold J. Finnis, now secretary of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society, and in his diary complains bitterly of the trouble given by the blacks on the Darling, to which they were unable to retaliate effectually with their guns owing to the laws of the land.

Captain Sturt wrote on 27th. October, 1838, to Governor Gawler, "We ultimately fixed a station under Mount Barker about 28 miles from Adelaide, in a country far exceeding in richness to any we had hitherto seen."

Further in a letter dated 12th January, 1839, to Acting Governor G. M. Stephen, Captain Sturt writes, "The country at the base of Mount Barker, where we had fixed ourselves for a time, is of great pastoral capability.  It is broken into rounded hills and warm valleys, clothed with plentiful verdure and watered by numerous chains of ponds; and in its present state, far exceeds in richness any portion of New South Wales, that I ever saw."

Naturally this rich district attracted many of the early stock owners, such as John Barton Hack and his brother who "squatted" there, and other names of "squatters" we glean from the letters of Mr. McLaren, the South Australian Coy's, agent, are Fenn, Scott, Jones, Bourchier, and Milne, who had formed cattle runs in the locality, while a Mr. Coghil, from N.S.W., is also mentioned.

But a bombshell was about to burst in this community!  On 26th December, 1838, a Sydney merchant, William Hampden Dutton, probably attracted by the glowing reports of the overlanders, such as Captain John Finnis, arrived in Adelaide on the brig “Portland” ["Parland"] of 546 tons.  He brought with him his wife an two children, also 1500 sheep (of which only three died on the voyage) and some horses.

A fellow passenger was Duncan McFarlane, and on 11th January, 1839, the following notice appeared in the Government Gazette: "Notice is hereby given that the sum of £4000 having been deposited with the Colonial Treasurer by William Hampden Dutton, late of Sydney, but now of Adelaide, a special survey of 15,000 acres in the District of Mount Barker has been ordered by His Excellency, the Resident Commissioner, to be commenced immediately that 4000 acres may be selected there-from by Mr. Dutton in conformity with the regulations for the disposal of land.”

This application forestalled by a few hours that of John Barton Hack, who had been "squatting" on the present site of Mount Barker township, and also that of Mr. McLaren on behalf of the South Australian Co., much to his annoyance.  However, John Barton Hack subsequently consoled himself with a special survey to the south-west, including the site of what is now Echunga, and the South Australian Co. to the north, including the present sites of Balhannah and Woodside.

The surveying was done by F. R. Nixon, who later, in 1842, erected the flour mill to the west of the town on Windmill Hill.

With Mr. Dutton were associated Duncan McFarlane and Captain John Finnis, and they were allowed until 26th November, 1839, to select their sections from a plan which embraced the present sites of Mount Barker, Littlehampton, Blakiston. Hahndorf and Ambleside, touching Verdun in the west corner and Balhannah in the north-west corner.

The remaining land was open to purchasers at 20/- per acre, and from the plan can be deciphered the names of Mrs. Jourdiana Cunningham Gray, John Fisher and Thomas O'Toole, along the foot of the Mount in the vicinity of what is now Littlehampton, Joseph May, who arrived in the "Anna Robertson" on 29th September, 1839, and brought with him an acorn which was planted in Mount Barker and I believe flourishes.  Allan McFarlane at "Glenroy" the grandfather of Mr. Allan McFarlane, of "Wellington Lodge," and J. H. Seymour; J. W. Hentig near the German village, now known as Hahndorf, Geo. Whiteley, R. Wainhouse, Juo. Lawson and Jas. Thompson near where Ambleside is; and Fred Ibbetson and James Stanfield near Verdun.

Two days after the arrival of the "Portland" [“Parland”] with the Dutton family, the "Zebra," from Hamburg, anchored in Holdfast Bay, under command of Captain D. M. Hahn with 189 German immigrants from Silesia, fleeing from the religious persecution of the King of Prussia, and seeking under the British flag the tolerance, freedom and opportunity which the establishment of this colony offered.

Dutton apparently boarded the "Zebra" soon after her arrival, because in a letter to Capt. Hahn, dated January 19th, 1839, signed by himself, Charles Flaxman (Angas's representative and my wife's grandfather), T. Y. Cotter (Colonial surgeon) and others, they expressed satisfaction with the health, happiness and comfort of the emigrants.

Dutton was evidently well pleased with the type of emigrant, the men being chiefly shepherds, mechanics, masons, etc.  They formed, in fact, the whole material for a community settlement, because, with a liberality to be applauded, he offered to put these people in possession of allotments of land rent free for the first 12 months, and to supply them with rations and seed until their crops were harvested.  Each family was to have free use of at least one dairy cow, and the men to be paid ordinary rates of wages when employed.

Mr. Dutton further contributed £20 and Mr. McFarlane £10 towards the building of a church, and as a consequence the "Zebra" emigrants went direct from the ship to the settlement — subsequently known as Hahndorf — an historical name, which, I am exceedingly pleased during my membership of Parliament, to have assisted in replacing on our maps.

It is unfortunate that no authentic list of passengers on the "Zebra" is available, and despite the researches of the German pastors, the emigrants by the various ships and settlers at Klemzig, Lobethal and Hahndorf are almost inextricably mixed.

There is, however, record of a meeting at Hahndorf on 1st August, 1839, where the question of joining in the purchase of 3000 acres in the Barossa district was discussed, and it was decided that the congregation at Hahndorf could not in conscience bound leave Hahndorf while Messrs. Dutton, McFarlane and Captain Finnis continued to give them the support promised up to harvest, and in general fulfilled the conditions of the contract.  To this 51 signed their names.

The advent of these German settlers was of great value to the early settlement and progress of the State.  They were all — men, women and children — used to hard work, and the women would tramp over the Mount Lofty range to Adelaide with their market produce, butter and eggs, etc., or wheel bags of wheat to the local mills for gristing.

John Dunn's mill in Hay Valley began work in May, 1842, a few months before Nixon's mill on Windmill Hill, and Dunn erected another mill at Mount Barker in 1844.

The German girls, we learn from Capt. Davidson's diary, would also go about shearing at 6/- per day, and in connection with this activity there is quite a romance.  James Milne, in his life of Sir George Grey, relates that the Governor was disturbed one day by an infuriated Highlander, who stated that his nephew had run off with a very handsome German shearer and demanded that the wedding should be prohibited.  The complainant was McFarlane and he had scarcely left Government House before it was besieged by a mob of German settlers demanding the arrest of his nephew for eloping with the girl.  However, they were safely married, and Sir George Grey comments that he was gratified to learn in after days that the marriage had turned out a success.

The difficulties of transport are depicted in J. W. Bull's account of his journey from Adelaide to his land over the ranges in 1839.  He writes: "Having sent on men to prepare timber for building and fencing, I followed as soon as temporary shelter was provided.  I first despatched two bullock teams with our furniture and fixings as early in the day as possible, and followed some hours afterwards with my family in a roomy wagonette, to which were harnessed three horses, one in the lead and two wheelers.  In the trap, I being driver, had my wife, sister, two sons (three and four years old), one female servant and our youngest boy in arms; also a man to assist me on the road, in procuring timber drags, and in fixing them on to the hind axle of the carriage before I ventured to drive down the steep hills we had to pass.  To pass over the Mount Lofty Range I fixed on the track nearest Greenhill as being most used and having more space for making tracks.

I had a staunch team, and with many zigzags I surmounted this first difficulty, my man following behind with chocks to stop the hind wheels when necessary to ease the horses.  On top of the first saddle, to my surprise and annoyance, I overtook the drays.  The day being very hot, one of my best leading bullocks dropped, and could not be got up again.  I had in consequence to leave my man to assist in yoking up one of the body bullocks as a makeshift leader in the place of the fallen one, and to continue with the drays to assist the disarranged team; and I had no alternative but to go on the best way I could, without help or the use of drags.

When I came to the steep and longer descent at Cox's Creek, on which some very fine trees had been felled and split into palings and shingles, the stumps of course left standing and sundry rejected bad splitting pieces of timber lying about, I felt I had arrived at my worst trouble.  I started the team at a foot's pace but the pressure came too heavy on my wheelers and they began to trot in spite of all my efforts to hold them back until at length they broke into a full gallop.  By the sagacity and obedience of my leader I was able to clear the stumps and logs without accident.  The females and children fortunately did not scream or utter a word."

Arriving safely at the bottom, they continued their journey to the Onkaparinga without further adventure, but the crossing was too rough, and one of the back springs gave way.  This necessitated cutting and fixing a crossbar and they did not reach their selection until sundown.

After a picnic supper, they turned in on beds of dry grass, as the drays with the bedding and food did not arrive till next morning, when he states they had a sumptuous breakfast.

On 22nd February, 1840, Dutton, McFarlane, and Captain Finnis advertised in the "Register" their intention of laying out a township at Mount Barker in 1/2 acre allotments, with 5 acre allotments adjoining the township, and of offering the remaining 43 x 80 acre sections of their survey to the public.

The streets of the township were named after prominent colonists such as:— Dutton Place; Morphett, Mann, Gawler and Newland Streets; and Finnis and McFarlane Terraces.  The first house in the Mount was erected by Duncan McFarlane, a pise dwelling said to be still standing in Mr. Rollison's orchard.

About this time Captain Francis Davison took up 5 sections to the north of the Mount, and on 16th March, 1840, he started with his family from Adelaide for this holding, which he named Blakiston.  He also held a lot of land between Scott's Creek and the Bremer and sold his first clip of wool in November, 1840, at 11d. per lb. in the grease to Mr. Waterhouse.

Mr. Davison, who was appointed a magistrate in May, 1840, was extremely hospitable, and from his diary we learn that his guests at various times included Governor Sir George Grey, Duncan McFarlane, Allan McFarlane (no relation to each other), Gleeson, Disher, Smillie, W. G. Field of the "Rapid," Cleggett, Bull, Hawker (who married Miss Bessie Seymour), Sturt, Burr, and Nixon.

He was fundamental, by donating £400, in getting St. James' Church built at Blakiston, the foundation stone of which was laid on 3rd October, 1846 — one of the early churches erected in the State.

Captain Francis Davison records in his diary, which should be in the State Archives Department for historical record, a heavy fall of snow at Blakiston on 2nd August, 1846.

Walter Patterson, who arrived in the "Resource" on 23rd January, 1839, and was first employed by John Barton Hack at Echunga, claims that he grew the first wheat in the district at a place called "Greenbank," about a miie out on the present road to Wistow, and by November, 1840, 600 acres were under wheat in the district according to the 'Register", dated 28th of that month.

Another early settler was Allan Bell, who arrived in the "'Lady Bute" on 20th January, 1839, and lived at Dalmeny Park, subsequently occupied by Mr. Walter Boucaut.  Bell was a successful wheat grower, and in 1851 received a gold medal for wheat exhibited in the Paris Exhibition, but the earliest awards for wheat were made in 1847 by the Adelaide Agricultural and Horticultural Society, when John Frame won the first prize of 5 guineas for a sample weighing 66 3/4 lbs per bushel, also the first prize for barley.

I have spoken merely of the pioneers I have unearthed prior to 1845, as time will not permit me to delve any deeper into the settlement of this district, except perhaps (in these days of bitumen roads and motor vehicles) to remind you of the early difficulties of transport, of which J. W. Bull's account of his Journey gives you some idea.

In 1842, W. A. Deacon started a weekly service for passengers, parcels and mails to and from Adelaide.  This springcart left Adelaide on Tuesday morning, returning next day and the fare was 7/6 each way, but owing to lack of support he abandoned the venture after a few weeks.

In 1843, Mr. Bell, of Nairne, organised a weekly service with a dray, leaving the Victoria hotel, Hindley Street, at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays, and later the mail was run by Rounsevell and Co., then by Cobb and Co., who sold out to Jno. Hill and Co.  Their well-known driver, William Moyse, clad in a light fawn top-coat and with big buttons and a bell-topper, the guard in scarlet coat and braided hat blowing his horn on the dickey seat at the back of the coach drawn by 5 horses, will be well remembered by some of your parents — those were the days!

It was not until 28th November, 1883, that the railway service was opened.

To get a full picture of the times one must also mention the religious services, the first of which were conducted in John Dunn's hut in 1842 by the Primitive Methodists.  The Rev. Robt Hainlng, who, arrived in the "Orissa" in 1841 was the first Presbyterian minister to conduct services in Duncan McFarlane's barn prior to their church being built by William Rogers, of Nairne, in 1846 or 7.  The Primitive Methodist by this time had erected a chapel, and in 1848 the Roman Catholics built a church of slabs, but it was not until 1865 that the Anglicans built Christ Church in Mount Barker, although St James' at Blaklston, as already mentioned, was erected in 1846.

In a short paper it is difficult to piece together all the actual facts, but I have endeavoured to enumerate the names of as many early settlers as my researches have disclosed and to give you some Idea of the difficulties overcome by the pluck, determination and resource of those responsible for opening up this fertile district. Let it be your ambition to profit by their example and to prove worthy of the heritage their vision and courage has made available.