History of Mt Barker SA

History - Discovery to Settlement

"The Mount" was first sighted by Captain Charles Sturt during his epic 1830 voyage down the Murray River in search of the mouth of Australia's greatest waterway, and mistaken for Mount Lofty which had been mapped by Matthew Flinders from the deck of "Investigator" in his earlier explorations. Sturt was impressed by the area, and recommended further examination of the land.

The duty of surveying the land passed to Captain Collett Barker, who had been undertaking similar work at King George's Sound in Western Australia. Barker arrived off the coast of what would become Adelaide in 1834 and immediately begun his investigation of the land. He made for Mount Lofty in order to get a better view of the lay of the land. It was during this time, that he discovered Sturt's mistake and recorded the existence of a second mountain on his maps, deducing that this must have been the one Sturt had seen from Lake Alexandrina.

Collett Barker continued his exploration towards the lakes and the Murray mouth  and was killed by Narrinyeri tribesmen among the sand hills there. Sturt had been impressed with Barker's work and saddened by his tragic demise, altered his own maps and named the second mountain in honour of Captain Collett Barker.

Mount Barker was officially recognised and named by King William in 1834, making it existent before the colony of South Australia had even started.

The colony of South Australia began with the arrival of the first ships in November and December 1836. There had been a small whaling colony on Kangaroo Island for some time prior to this, but the shortage of water there made it necessary for the newly arrived emigrants to look farther a-field on the mainland. So, the movement of the colony to Holdfast Bay became necessary. On December 28th 1836, the colony of South Australia was officially proclaimed under the shade of a Gum Tree on the shore near present day Glenelg.

For the first year or so, the settlers didn't venture much further from the town of Adelaide, than Crafers and "The Tiers". In December 1837, several gentlemen undertook an exploration of the Mount Barker area in detail. These men were Robert Cock, William Finlayson, A. Whyatt and George Barton.  At approximately the same time, another group of men had set off on a similar expedition. This group consisted of John Barton Hack, John Morphett, Samuel Stephens, John Wade and a local bushman named Tom Davies.  All of these men immediately extolled the potential of the area as farming land to their fellow settlers in the town of Adelaide and beyond.

In March of 1838, Joseph Hawdon and Charles Bonney camped with their ex-convict shepherds and drovers on the banks of the creek at the foot of Mount Barker. Hawdon recorded in his diary on 29th March -

"We halted to dine on a creek of excellent water with most luxuriant grass growing in the valley. This creek is immediately on the west side of Mount Barker, to the top of which I rode and had a magnificent view of the beautiful country around."... Joseph Hawdon, 1838

Hawdon and Bonney camped in the area for several days, allowing the cattle to regain some of the condition they had lost in the long trek from New South Wales. Upon his arrival in Adelaide to sell the cattle, Joseph Hawdon was given a dinner in his honour. At this dinner, several of the well to do gentlemen of the new settlement expressed interest in the Mount Barker area, after having heard Hawdon's glowing reports. (My great-great-grandfather was one of the ex-convict shepherds, so my family's contact with the area is rather lengthy.)

By the end of 1838, the settlers were moving away from the town of Adelaide, and "squatter's runs" were springing up all over the hills in places like Nairne, Blakiston and Crafers. There were settlers living in areas wherever fresh water could be found. People could not buy land, as it had not yet been surveyed. Some of the original overlanders were squatting on land near where they had first camped with Hawdon on their historic trek.

At this time, food was in short supply in the new colony, and grain was being brought in by sea from New South Wales. The Government was running short of money, and so a plan to raise funds for the colony was introduced by Robert Torrens to allow people to purchase "Special Surveys" of land. This allowed a person to select an area of 15,000 acres at the cost of 4000 payable in advance, and which lay outside the already defined districts. These surveys were broken into 80 acre sections and 4,000 of those acres were for the exclusive use of the purchaser, with the remaining 11,000 saleable at 20/- per acre.

On 11 January 1839 William Hampden Dutton, Duncan McFarlane and John Finiss purchased the the first Mt Barker Special Survey. The first plan of the town was drawn up in 1839. The streets of the proposed town were named after prominent citizens of the day:-

In the South Australian Register on 7 December 1839, the following can be found "It is proposed to form a township at the well-known station first selected in the Mount Barker district by Mr. Coghill, from New South Wales. The locality is central, being within two miles of the Mount, near the last well-watered spot on the Sydney-road between Adelaide and the Murray. It is a good day's stage from Crafer's In on the Tiers through German Town (Hahndorf), and an easy ride from town," 

and this - "is surrounded by extensive sheep and cattle runs, on which a great proportion of the stock brought overland is kept for sale;"

and this - "as the climate is salubrious and the elevation is considerable, it is a most desirable spot for summer residences."

 

Not long after the laying out of the town, the allotments were sold off, and people started to move into the town.

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last updated 18 October 2005