Adelaide Hills - Towns, People, and Things We Ought to Know

Source:  SA History Newspaper Articles

The reader is advised that these "Chronicle" articles were first published in 1932-1937 primarily as light reading / entertainment and cannot in any way be considered to be scholarly. You are advised to independently check the veracity of the content, as no sources have been cited.

Members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are advised that this text may contain names and images of deceased people.  Readers should also be aware that certain words, terms or descriptions may be culturally insensitive and would almost certainly be considered inappropriate today, but may have reflected the author’s/creator’s attitude or that of the period in which they were written.

#40  - Mount Barker (part 1 of 2)

#41  -  Mount Barker (part 2 of 2)

#57  -  Meadows (part 1 of 2)

#58  -  Meadows (part 2 of 2)

#59  -  Echunga (part 1 of 2)

#60  -  Echunga (part 2 of 2)

#61  -  Aldgate, Stirling, Crafers and Mt Lofty

#62  -  Aldgate, Stirling, Mylor, Scotts Creek

#63  -  Hahndorf  (Ambleside)

#64  -  Balhannah

#65  -  Woodside

#66  -  Lobethal (Tweedvale)

Towns, People, and Things We Ought To Know  -   No 41 Mount Barker

By Our Special Representative, No. XLI  -  Extract From Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) dated 30 March 1933

Mount Barker: Some Scraps Of Local History  -  Early Settlers, Early Coaches, And Pioneer Days

Last week's article on Mount Barker dealt chiefly with circumstances preceding the settlement of the town.  The story this week concerns some of the more interesting incidents in its early days.  One meets many people who have left an indelible mark on local history.   

Old times!  Old customs!  Old people!  We discussed them all in the office of the Mount Barker District Council, where I met Messrs. A. B. Fry (chairman of the council), C. M. R. Dumas (one of the most influential townsmen of a half century or more), Councillor John Frame (whose family dates back to the very beginning of things), Sidney Cope (who played for South Australia against the first English team to come to Australia) and E. M. G. Cameron (district clerk).  Incidentally, touching that cricket encounter, Mr. Cope told me that he, and Messrs, A. O. Crooks and A. R. Lungley, are the only three living of the side of 22 which took part in that historic game.

Mount Barker is one of the oldest district councils.  It dates from 1853. Prior to that its affairs were controlled by a Road Board established in 1849.  Now it hopes to become a municipality.  The initial steps to bring about this change in status have already been taken.

There is nothing left of the old homestead of Duncan McFarlane.  It stood on the banks of the Mount Barker Creek, right on the very boundary of the town.  A few years ago its ruins were combed to provide material for building a moderate residence for the present proprietor of the site.  Seeing, however, that it was the actual birth place of Mount Barker, something should be done to mark the site.  To us who know it today the matter is of no great importance, perhaps.  But a century or so hence, when the old place will have been completely forgotten, the then residents will be interested to know where their progressive burg began.

Talking about monuments reminds me that there is an obelisk to Captain Barker in Cameron street.  It bears the inscription:— 

“Erected to the memory of Captain Collett Barker, of H.M. 39th Regiment of Foot who discovered the district and mount which bear his name. He was killed by blacks, 30th April, 1831, while endeavoring to ascertain the communication between Lake Alexandrina and Encounter Bay."

Francis Davison

In the little churchyard at Blakiston I saw the grave of Captain Francis Davison, who, according to the headstone, was “the first resident of Blakiston, to which he gave its name in March, 1840.”  Today, probably, few people outside the hills residents know Blakiston.  It is practically Littlehampton, and under two miles from Mount Barker.  This Davison, whose descendants still live in the State, was the principal man in the Mount Barker district in the early days.  He was a farmer, pastoralist, stipendiary magistrate.  Police Commissioner, and various other things.  An ex-naval officer, he reached Adelaide at the end of 1839.  He was a brother-in-law of the Hawdons, the explorers and early day pastoralists.  So much for the formal introduction.  Davison has left on record some graphic pen pictures of conditions in 1839 and 1840.  The possessions brought from England included a dog, a calf, a cat, and a cow.  The dog did not survive the journey to the mount, an encounter with a snake writing 'finis' to his life.  It took three drays and 22 bullocks to convey the Davison belongings to the new home near Mount Barker, and it took seven weeks to complete the transfer.  Travelling conditions were frightful.  Next week in the article on Strathalbyn, I will describe just what sort of picnic travelling was in the hills country when there were neither roads nor tracks to aid the courageous spirits who ventured into the wilds — for Mount Barker in the forties was as difficult of access as is the farthest outpost of civilisation today.

Cattle In The Parlor

In those days cattle were cattle, and horses were horses.  Davison had scarcely set foot on South Australian soil before he refused 100 guineas for his cow.  He wanted a mare, and it cost him £85.  Soon after he got his stock on to his land the father of a storm nearly blew down the partially erected stock sheds, and to save his stock Davison had to drive them into the parlor and the kitchen, where beasts and humans sheltered side by side.  This was one of the minor joys of pioneering.

It was three years after his arrival in the colony that Davison met with an accident which nearly cost him his life, and from which he never completely recovered.  He was watching some repairs being done at the homestead when a huge limb of an old gum crashed.  Davison was pinned beneath it.  The united efforts of seven men were needed to release him.  After that unpleasant episode he spent months on his back.  He died in 1861 — 18 years after the mishap I have mentioned.

First Telegraph Message

It was Davison who received from Sturt the spirited protest I wrote about last week against the habit of the settlers in cutting down trees on the road, and leaving the stumps for people to break their necks over.  It was also Davison, in his capacity as Pooh Bah of Mount Barker, who received the first telegram on the opening of the “South Australian Magnetic Telegraph” between the city and the mount in May, 1860.  I was looking at the original of the faded old message the other day.  It was from the Governor (Sir Richard McDonnell), and is worth quoting: —

“Sir Richard McDonnell rejoices that Mount Barker and its productive neighborhood have been at last brought nearer to the capital by the telegraph.  He does not think it necessary to assure the people of Mount Barker how thoroughly he is interested in their progress and prosperity, but he gladly avails himself of this opportunity to offer his hearty congratulations to them in the cheering prospect of next summer, which he hopes may, by God's blessing, fully develop in all parts of the province.  God Save the Queen.”

Calico Windows

As I drove around Mount Barker admiring the magnificent old gums and tall English trees which are plentiful in this fertile region, I paused before a number of comfortable and well-to-do old homes.  Each of them might have had written over their portals “We owe our existence to the soil.”   Then I tried to visualise the town as late as 1850, when it comprised only three houses — Duncan McFarlane's homestead (now disappeared), Gloag's Inn (still standing, but now a private house), and the old police station.  The country was enchanting — like an English park.  But the houses lacked one comfort — there was no glass in the windows.  Calico was used as a substitute.

Royalty And A Paling Fence

In 1867 the Duke of Edinburgh came to South Australia.  In November of the same year he visited Mount Barker.  There he was entertained in an enclosure surrounded by a paling fence.  This was a block of land which belonged to the Presbyterian Church, from which it had been acquired by the National Bank of Australasia.  It was the bank manager, Mr. William Gray, who entertained the Royal duke.  The National was the first banking institution to operate in Mount Barker.  Prior to its opening there in 1861 the people (for 20 years or so) had to go to the city to transact banking.  The first manager was Mr. A. H. McGregor. Mr. Gray succeeded him.

Man Who Made Mount Barker  

Of all the prominent people who contributed to the making of Mount Barker, none, perhaps, stands higher in local estimation than John Dunn, of milling fame.  Old residents speak of him as “the man who made Mount Barker.”   Although John Dunn was on the scene as early as 1840, and established at Hay Valley that unsuccessful windmill which I mentioned last week, he had already been preceded to Australia by three brothers — Charles, George, and James.  John steps into an historical niche because he was the first general store keeper in the Mount.  He opened in 1844.  He was induced to settle there by the proprietors of the special survey, who saw in him a driving force which would help along the fortunes of the then struggling township in the hills.  So anxious were the station owners to secure his residence there that they presented him free of charge with three half-acre blocks, and it was on this site that his historic steam mill was established and operated for so many years.  That mill attracted farmers from miles around, and made the hillsmen independent of the city and the inconvenience of getting there.  But before Dunn started his store, and before he established his steam mill, he put in a lengthy period with Ridley, helping in the construction of the famous reaping machine.  I told you last week that this historic implement was first used on McFarlane's station.  Let me tell you briefly something about it.

Ridley Reaper

In the first place, it was not, as has been so often claimed, the first reaping machine in South Australia.  But was the first to meet the requirements of the farmers of the day, none of its predecessors having been considered satisfactory.  It was, I think, in 1844 that the first Adelaide show was held on the north park lands.  At that exhibition several harvesters were entered for a prize for a machine which would overcome the expense in time and money involved in gathering crops from the farms.  Ridley did not compete at that display, and none of the reapers shown was deemed to meet requirements.  But shortly afterwards public exhibitions were given of the Ridley invention.  It was immediately hailed as the thing long sought for.  Ridley sought no prize for his invention, and charged no royalties.  He merely took the ordinary commercial profit from the manufacture of the reapers.  On this page I reproduce a picture of the original machine.  It was a curious contraption.  It was not drawn like the implements of today, but was pushed from behind by a couple of horses harnessed to a long pole.  The awkwardness of this method was soon realised, and later models were drawn by a pole fixed to the near front corner of the machine.  But, of course, it was as a miller that John Dunn rose to prominence.  At the height of his operations he owned and leased no fewer than ten mills in various parts of the State.  He died in 1894.

First Director Of Education

Now I want you to meet another worth-while Mount Barker identity John Banks Shepherdson.  He was South Australia's first Director of Education, though I doubt whether he ever actually had a school to direct.  Before the first was completed his health broke down, and he took up a career on the land.  That is why we meet him at Mount Barker.  His, however, is an interesting story.  Shepherdson was a Yorkeshireman, who came into the world in 1809.  In 1836 George Fife Angas, as chairman of the South Australian School Society, was looking round England for some one to take charge of the educational system to be introduced into the newly-founded province.  His choice fell on Shepherdson.  He was engaged as “director of schools in South Australia.”  When the Hartley arrived at Kingscote in October of 1837, Shepherdson was among the passengers.  Others were the Rev. T. Q. Stow (who subsequently ran a school in Tavistock street, Adelaide) and William Giles (third manager of the South Australian Company, whom we recently met in the articles on Kangaroo Island).

Before I tell you the interesting story of Adelaide and its first school, let me explain why Shepherdson threw up the task he came to this country to do.  A contract was let for the school building. I have not had time definitely to trace the site, but an old sketch of the city suggests that it was on North terrace, a little to the east of Stephens place.  It afterwards became the headquarters of the South Australian Company.  Shepherdson was personally directing the building during an extremely hot spell of weather.  Apparently he sustained a severe heat stroke, which laid him up for some time.  I dare say the continual bickering between Governor Hindmarsh and James Hurtle Fisher (Resident Commissioner) also worried him.  At all events, he suddenly threw up his post.  We next hear of him managing a cattle station near Balhannah, then as establishing himself as a farmer near Nairne.  He paid up to 25/- a bushel for seed wheat, and got 12/- a bushel for his crop.  You don't have to do much arithmetic to arrive at an idea of the lop-sided kind of profit and loss account that would produce.  Then, eventually, he became clerk of the Mount Barker Bench.

Earliest Adelaide

Shepherdson has left a valuable description of Adelaide as he first knew it when the capital was not twelve months old.

“On our arrival at 'the Main'' (Glenelg), as it was then called,” he writes, “Adelaide had just been laid out, and the few people living there were located in tents, reed and pise huts and wooden erections; Government House, occupied by Captain Hindmarsh, R.N., was of reeds. At the time of our arrival serious quarrels had taken place, the result of divided authority, between the Governor and the Resident Commissioner, and their respective adherents, and Mr. Gouger, the then Colonial Secretary, was just proceeding to England for the purpose of appealing to the Home Government for a settlement of the unhappy differences.”

It was a godsend to Shepherdson that Gouger was off to England, for it enabled him to rent the Colonial Secretary's tent for 25/ per week.  There he lived while he was planning the first school in South Australia.

State's Pioneer School

In connection with the preliminaries for the building of this school — an epoch-making event in the young colony — we get a very good idea of the strained relations between Hindmarsh and Fisher.  Acting on instructions he received before leaving England, Shepherdson called a public meeting of the leading men in the city.  This was held in “a temporary erection which then did duty for Trinity Church.”  The Governor promised to preside.  On the appointed night Shepherdson called at Government House for the purpose of escorting His Excellency to the meeting.

Said the Governor, “Will Fisher be there?”  “Yes,” answered Shepherdson, “and Mann, too.”  “In that case,” said His Excellency, “I'm not going.”

While the settlers were assembling the Governor and the director argued the matter.  Eventually Hindmarsh reluctantly gave way, remarking “Well, as Governor, I suppose I must countenance the thing, but as Jack Hindmarsh I'll do little.”

Under those conditions was our educational system born.  That meeting appointed a committee, and the school was begun on North, terrace.  It was composed of a dwelling house, with a department for girls on one side and for boys on the other.  But, as I re marked previously, before it was completed Shepherdson was taken ill, and retired from the directorship.

Coaches And Mails

Old Mount Barker still sighs for the departed coaching days.  Young Mount Barker fixes its thoughts on aeroplanes and motor cars.  An old resident said to me — “Ah, the coaches; those were the days.”

So far as I have been able to trace the first “coach” was a pony and cart, which carried the mails.  I cannot give you the driver's name, but it was suggested to me it was a man named Foot.  The date was so much a matter of guesswork that it was not worth recording.  I do know that in McFarlane's time fortnightly mails were received from Adelaide.  These earliest mails do not seem to have touched the popular imagination.  It was the coming of the orthodox coach, with its five or six prancing steeds, which took the sharp hills curves at a mad gallop, the while the red-coated official in the box at the rear lustily blew his horn that caught the fancy of the boys and girls who are now frail, white-haired great-grandfathers and great-grand mothers.

Those days the 22-mile journey to the city was an event of importance equal to a world tour today.  There were two coaches a day each way.  One had to get up at daybreak to get the early one.  That was no joke on cold, frosty mornings, when the hills were covered with a shimmering coat of white.  But it was all part of the excitement of travel and adventure.  The coach stopped at Stirling for breakfast — hot tea and freshly made and buttered scones.  Other stops at the Eagle on the Hill, the Mountain Hut and the Vine, not to mention the thrill of the Devil's Elbow, and the final wild dash into King William street, where Hill & Co. had their headquarters near the Post Office.  No wonder the old people say, “Those were the days.”

And never an accident, though the coaches swung round corners without slackening speed, and dodged precipices by inches.  The drivers were men of iron nerve; wizards with the reins!

I tried to get their names.  Only a few could be remembered — J. R. Alexander, Bob Althorne, W. Kiltern, Fred Crewes, Alf Thompson, and — Moyes, who drove the Duke of Edinburgh.  I wish I could complete the list.

First Special Survey

The blacks called Mount Barker Womma Mu Kurta.  I do not know what it means.  I was told that the town occupies part of the first special survey granted in South Australia, the date of the document being January 11, 1839.

They knew how to work in the forties and fifties — not as a matter of choice, but of necessity.  Take the case of Dunn's mill.  The machinery scarcely ever stopped — just for a few brief hours on Sundays.  It was worked by two shifts daily — each twelve hours.  One shift started at midnight and worked till noon.  The other began at noon and worked till midnight.  The cogs which worked the grindstones were immense wheels cut out of solid red gum.

As you turn off the main road into Gawler street you note on your right the dignified building known as the Rest Home.  You would never recognise in this handsome piece of masonry the old Oakfield Hotel.  Of course the building has been considerably altered and enlarged since the day, seventy years or more ago, when Lachlan McFarlane erected the original walls as a place of refreshment for the public.  He called it the Oakfield on account of a large oak — one of the biggest in South Australia — which is still there.  It was subsequently converted into a private house, and Mr. Barr Smith lived there for many years.  I find the old Oakfield Hotel mentioned as one of the Mount's three public houses in an old directory in 1866.  This Lachlan McFarlane was one of the earliest identities of the Mount.  He was an Argyllshire man, born in 1806.  He died in 1892, and is buried in the Blakiston cemetery.  It was while I was standing beside his grave that Mr. Cope told me of a curious inscription on a stone in the local Catholic cemetery -

All you that do my grave pass by,

As you are now so once was I,

As I am now so you must be,

Prepare yourself to follow me.

To which some passing wag had appended the addition —

To follow you I'm not content,

Until I know which way you went.

To me there is always a strong flavor of romance about commerce.  There are so many ups and downs, so many stubborn battles against obstacles of which those outside hear little or nothing.  The envious are apt to sneer at the successful man of business.  Not me.  I know something of the struggle, the risk, and the anxiety entailed in building up  every worth-while industry.  Of course, I am not going to say that every business man should wear a halo; but neither am I going to say he should be damned in the deepest depths as a sinner.

All this is apropos, more or less, of the local tannery.  It didn't interest me much until I heard something of its coming into being.  This concern was started by the Paltridges in the early fifties, and was due really to an accident.  These Paltridges arrived in the Mount in 1847 with the idea of making and mending boots.  But in those benighted days they couldn't make boots without leather, though I am told this miracle is common enough now.  But the Paltridges wanted the real stuff, and they couldn't get it, even though grandpa P. risked his own soles by walking all the way to the city and back in search of the tough material.

Grandpa Pa. saw there was plenty of wattle bark in the hills, and plenty of three-cornered beasts on the farms, and he didn't see why both these couldn't be turned into leather.  So he hired a few empty casks, set men to work with hatchets to chop wattle bark into fine pieces, and turned out a brew which was too strong for even the tipsiest toper of the Mount to swill.  After some weeks he was able to boast that he could treat three whole hides a week.

That was purely an experiment.  It began 83 years ago.  Like a certain well-advertised brand of elixir it is still going strong.  I am not going to tell you the extent of the firm's operations today.  But I think they'll smile at those three whole hides a week.

Then, of course, there are bricks.  Mount Barker without bricks would be something like a hotel without drinks.  Unless my information is seriously at fault, it was a man named Hombin who showed Mount Barker how to make bricks, away back in the dim beginnings of the town's history.  Since then the Mount has gone on making them as a matter of habit.  There are parts of Littlehampton where it takes you all your time to keep clear of crick kilns, and clay pits, and all the curious paraphernalia that goes to the making of the humble mud block.


  • Original Ridley reaper. This machine was first tried at Mt. Barker on the station of Duncan McFarlane. It   was pushed by two horses from behind.
  • Grave of John Dunn in the Mt. Barker Cemetery.