Some Early History of Mount Barker - The Story of the First S.A. Special Survey

Extract from The Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser (SA : 1880 – 1954) - Thursday 27 January 1938

An absorbing story of this State's development of its pastoral and agricultural industries is being told in the Agricultural Journal by Professor Perkins, who needs no introduction to citizens of South Australia.  The first part of the chapter relating to Mount Barker and district is published by permission of the Department of Agriculture.  The remainder will appear in a subsequent edition.

"Notice is hereby given that the sum of £4,000, 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 in order that 4,000 acres may be selected there-from by Mr. Dutton in conformity with the Regulations for the disposal of land." — 11th January, 1839.

It was in these terms over the signatures of George Milner Stephen and George Hall, acting jointly as Assistant Commissioner, that the taking of the celebrated Mount Barker Survey — the first Special Survey to be claimed in the Province — was announced to all and sundry.  On the map on which were outlined the Southern Districts surveyed by Colonel Light, together with the Special Surveys claimed in 1839, the Mount Barker Survey was given the distinguishing number of "9".  There, it might be seen nestling amidst the best watered and most fertile of the valleys of our hills' country: and due to its relative proximity to Adelaide and the outstanding excellence of its natural pastures it had attracted the attention of settlers from the earliest days of settlement: and today scattered over its 15,000 acres we find the township of Mount Barker, Mount Barker Junction, Littlehampton, Ambleside, Hahndorf, and Verdun.

Cattle Station Established

It was there that John Barton Hack and his brother had come to establish their well known Cattle Station, but not as proprietors of the land, or even as tenants, but merely as "squatters": there too at a later date, but on a similar venture bent, came Captain John Finnis— "of the Mercantile Service", said Captain Sturt, whom Finnis had companioned with the third Overland Herd of Cattle to South Australia.  Yet neither of these experienced campaigners seemed to have taken the elementary precaution of clinching their right to the choice tracts of country upon which they had so successfully "squatted": it might have been that like McLaren, they were playing waiting hands, but unfortunately for themselves temporised a bit over-much, and eventually had to surrender their fair pasture lands to an aggressive stranger of quite different mental outlook.

It was, however, true that Finnis was subsequently stated to have been associated with Dutton in the estate: but the same was said of Moore and MacFarlane, both of Sydney; and even of Osmond Gilles, the "fortunate" Colonial Treasurer.  Nevertheless, the Special Survey was taken out in no other name but that of "Dutton": and as to the correctness, or otherwise of these gossipy surmises, it was difficult to determine at this distance of time.

"Beautiful Grazing Country"

Mount Barker, too had become the long looked for goal of the "Overlanders": the"Capua" in which man and beast might luxuriate and recuperate from the strain and privations of long and trying journeys.  "Leaving the Murray" said Joseph Hawdon, the pioneer Overlander, in a letter to Governor Hindmarsh, "about the latitude of Adelaide, we were compelled by the ranges to go more to the south, and thus pass near Mount Barker.  In that district we 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 ever seen in New Holland".  "The country at the base of Mount Barker", wrote Captain Sturt, himself an overlander and a man of considerable experience, to Acting-Governor G. M. Stephen, "where we had fixed ourselves for a time, is of great pastural 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.  Indeed, even in England, I have seldom observed a closer sward or more abundant herbage growing".

And again in his official report to Governor Gipps, Captain Sturt stated:— "We ultimately fixed a station under Mount Barker, about 28 miles from Adelaide, in a country far exceeding in richness any we had hitherto seen."

Special Survey Ordered

George Stevenson, on. the other hand, gloated over this inter-colonial success in characteristic style: "We have at length the happiness to announce that a Special Survey has been ordered . . .. these gentlemen" — i.e., Dutton, MacFarlane, and Moor — "we are told, have been delighted and astonished at the freshness of our pasture ranges when compared to the burnt up and withered plains of New South Wales, and this purchase is a tolerably distinct proof of their opinion.  We heartily congratulate the friends of South Australia on this event.  When we see gentlemen who are thoroughly acquainted with the richest districts of New South Wales, Port Phillip, and Portland Bay, settling down amongst us — bringing their families, their herds and flocks, to our plains and valleys, we believe more confidently than ever that we are right, and that South Australia must continue the same course of advancement that she has so triumphantly begun."

But over and above the excellence of its natural pastures, the Mount Barker district was particularly well adapted to the practice of mixed farming — i.e., the intimate association of crop and livestock operations — on a moderate and even a small scale — a type of farming with which settlers from Great Britain, and Indeed from the greater part of Western Europe had been familiar from time immemorial.

Parcelling Out Land

It followed therefore that if full advantage were to be taken of the Special Survey from the outset, the land would have to be parcelled out into appropriate sizes and sufficient men settled thereon, able and willing to do justice to the exceptionally favourable conditions that obtained there.

Dutton and his associates — if such there were — seemed to have accurately gauged the opportunities against which they had stumbled and being men of action and of quick decisions, they lost no time in attempting to turn them to account: and as frequently happened when the will to act was clear-cut they met with considerable assistance from a purely fortuitous circumstance: the very men that seemed essential to the plans they had in mind had but recently reached the Province aboard the "Zebra" from Hamburg — on the 28th December, 1838, thus ante-dating Dutton's claim for a Special Survey by about a fortnight.

Arrival of W. H. Dutton

W. H. Dutton himself had reached South Australian waters from Sydney, aboard the "Parland" on the 20th December, 1838: he was accompanied by his wife and two children, and among his fellow passengers were N. and T. Moore, and Duncan MacFarlane, all of whom were subsequently supposed to have partnered him in Mount Barker Special Survey.

"The Parland," said George Stevenson, "has brought a full cargo of sheep and horses on account of W. Hampden Dutton.  We congratulate the colonists on the accession of another enterprising and well informed settler; and we trust in the course of the approaching season to welcome many such.  We are glad to hear that out of 1,600 sheep only three have been lost on the passage."

Two days after the arrival of the "Parland" — on the 28th December, 1838, to be precise—the "Zebra," Captain D. M. Hahn, from Hamburg, sailed Into the roadstead with 190 German Emigrants aboard: these it seemed, were refugees fleeing from the religious tyranny of the King of Prussia.  This vessel had been chartered, by G. F. Angas & Co., who too, had apparently advanced the passage money of the Emigrants, on the understanding of repayment In the colony, as soon as circumstances permitted.

Emigrants To S.A.

Apart from a limited number of indentured servants — but unprofitable ones as it eventually proved — brought out by the South Australian Company, the "Zebra" was the third vessel to come specially freighted with emigrants from Germany to South Australia.  The first vessel was the "Bengalee," Captain T. Hamlin, which reached South Australia with 150 German Emigrants on the 16th November, 1838; the second the "Prince George," Captain F. Chilcott, with about 200 Emigrants on the 18th November, 1838, and the fourth the "Catherina," Captain Schalt, or Peter Schacht, with 122 Emigrants on the 22nd January, 1839.

Dutton, the newcomer, would naturally be told of so important an event as the arrival of a vessel with 190 German Emigrants aboard; or even before leaving Sydney he might well have heard that the Emigrants were on their way to South Australia: for Sydney had sought to secure German Emigrants on terms even more liberal than those offered in Adelaide, but had failed and was inclined to look askance upon South Australia's success: in any event we had documentary evidence that Dutton had boarded the "Zebra" shortly after her arrival in South Australian waters, and together with others, had expressed satisfaction with the general arrangements of the ship for the comfort of the Emigrants.

On the other hand, Dutton's evident anxiety to secure for his new South Australian estate the vessel's full complement of Emigrants, would seem to indicate that he had already heard how well earlier contingents had acquitted themselves in their adopted country: and as he had not been an "overlander," but merchant-like had chosen to cling to the comforts of the summer seas for his voyage over; and as we could hardly credit him with unerring instinct in the matter of land that he had never seen, we were bound to conclude that before setting out for South Australia with his family, his livestock and his goods and chattels, he must have heard of the fame of the Mount Barker pastures from quite dependable sources: from Joseph Hawdon, maybe; or perhaps from Sturt or from Eyre; or better still from Captain John Finnis, "of the Merchant Service" — another New South Welshman, who having shrewdly "squatted" in the fertile valleys of Mount Barker, had found his personal means inadequate to the purchase of a Special Survey, and had probably corresponded on the subject with wealthier Sydney citizens; one of whom at least, had presently appeared on the scenes, suitably provided, and of whom the mercantile captain is said subsequently to have become a partner.

"Special Survey Demanded"

It was, of course, obvious that the above line of reasoning was not altogether in accord with George Stevenson's supposedly eye-witness account of the course of events: but the latter's local patriotism and belief in South Australia were notoriously perfervid — so much so that he had little to spare for the inhabitants thereof — justifying any statement he believed ultimately led to the glorification of his fetish: hence when he asserted "That Messrs. Dutton, MacFarlane, Moore, and others from Sydney, had been so struck with the surpassing fertility of the Mount Barker district when compared to the richest tracts of New South Wales, that although they had arrived in the Province without the slightest intention of buying land or becoming settlers, had at once demanded a Special Survey of 15,000 acres, intimated their resolution to send for numerous flocks and herds to become citizens of South Australia."

We must not be misled by the rhetorical special pleading of a journalist, however much the circumstances might appear to warrant It.  It might well have been that some of the Sydney visitors on board the “Parland" had never intended originally settling in South Australia; MacFarlane, for example: but what of Dutton, in whose name the Special Survey was taken, and who had filled up a 546 ton barque with his family, his livestock, and his goods and chattels?  Surely, from the time he first set foot aboard the "Parland" in Sydney he must have had all the appearance of an emigrant and a prospective South Australian settler?  We can, however, accept with greater confidence the conclusion of Stevenson's statement, except for the unfortunate mutilation of a quite euphonious town name:—

"Dutton and his friends have not been contented with merely purchasing the land — they have determined to people it; and the favourable opportunity afforded by the recent arrival of numerous German emigrants has not been overlooked.  The whole body of Germans, in number 190, brought by the "Zebra" from Hamburg, are proceeding directly from the ship to Mount Barker, and the township is forthwith to be established there under the name, we believe of "Kandtsdorf."  The men are chiefly mechanics, shepherds, bricklayers, masons, etc., and form in fact the whole material for a community.

With a liberality we cannot sufficiently applaud and admire, these poor people are to be put in possession of certain allotments of ground, rent free for the first twelve months; to be supplied gratis with rations and seed, till their crops are gathered in.  Each family is to have the free use of at least one dairy cow, and the men are to be paid the ordinary rate of wages when employed.

A church and school house are to be built, and an endowment made for a clergyman.  Mr. Dutton has given £20 and Mr. MacFarlane £10 towards the building of the church; and several other gentlemen have already contributed very liberally.  Here then without professions or the talk of a couple of years, are results as creditable to the gentlemen immediately interested as they are important to the Province."

"Bundled Out"

But whilst many perhaps the greater part of the settlers — heard with satisfaction that the first Special Survey had at last been claimed, there were at least two men in the colony who bitterly rued the day, namely, John Barton Hack, who through lack of foresight, had been unceremoniously bundled out of his pleasant and profitable "squatting" grounds, and David McLaren, who from the outset had intended that the South Australian Company should occupy the position into which an interloper had slipped at the eleventh hour.

It had already been stated that after a protracted period of vacillation, McLaren had suddenly realized early in November, 1833, that "the time to act" had come — i.e., to claim Special Surveys — but that a series of unavoidable delays had prevented him from taking definite steps in that direction until the 8th January, 1839, when he set out northwards, with an imposing retinue, to inspect land said to be suitable for the purpose by Sturt and Light respectively.