Barossa Valley South Australian History

The Barossa Valley

World famous 'Valley of the Vines and Wineries'

The Barossa Valley was named in 1837 by South Australia's first Surveyor general, Colonel William Light. The area, named after Barrosa in Spain, was first settled in 1842 by English and German settlers. The largest group comprised the Germans who had fled religious persecution in their homeland. Within a short time the valley developed its own culture and life style which has remained till today. Settlements were established at Bethany, in 1842, Angaston, Krondorf, Ebenezer, Penrice, Light Pass and Langmeil. Langmeil was settled in 1843 by a group of German Lutherans who had arrived with Pastor Kavel and originally settled at Klemzig. Other settlements were started at Tanunda, Gnadenfrei, Hofffnungthal, New Mecklenburg, Siegerdorf, Neukirch, Nuriootpa, and Seppeltsfield. Soon Lutheran Church spires were seen all over the valley.

Map of Barossa Valley

An early Adelaide newspaper reported in 1843 that the Germans had established themselves at Bethany near Tanunda and made a highly valuable class of colonists. They were exceedingly industrious, sober and persevering people whose progress in the colony had been creditable. There were also the English, Scottish and Irish and among them many Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Catholic worshippers. However for nearly three generations it were the Germans with their customs, religion, language, songs, food, houses, entertainment, festivals and dress, who made up the most dominant cultural group in the Valley. For more than a hundred years, the Germans have preserved, many aspects of their culture.

Most farm implements were distinctively German. The best known being the German waggon. This was used for everything, from family coach to wedding coach and hearse. In between it served to carry hay, heavy transport, caravan, grape carrier and water cart. One of their best known forms of entertainment, and still going strong, was the Liedertafel, established at Tanunda in 1861 and now the oldest in Australia.

Life was hard at first when homes consisted of tents, dugouts, and huts made of wattle and daub. But with a lot of hard work and a strong religious faith they not only survived but soon prospered and their dwelling were eventually replaced by solid stone structure with thick walls made of locally quarried stone. Granite and marble were also used for headstones, often adorned with German inscriptions, beneath which lie many of the early pioneer families.

Three of the main instigators of the success story were Scottish businessman George Fife Angas, Pastor August Kavel and Johannes Menge. Many of the Lutherans were not keen to follow their Pastor into the Valley where they had to pay $20 an acre for their land at 5% interest. Their new abode would be isolated from the city markets to sell their surplus produce. During such a trip eggs would break, butter would melt, cheeses became soft and vegetables would wilt and be unfit for sale. These problems were overcome eventually when the nearby Kapunda mine had grown into a large settlement.

Within two years several of the Barossa German settlers became Naturalised British subjects, the first to do so on 24 May 1839. During the 1840s and 1850s many more Germans arrived as a result of economic hardship in Europe. German remained the preferred language for a long time in the Valley and the Lutheran churches provided spiritual economic and cultural guidance. Through their schools the students received a predominantly German education which resulted in the retaining and safeguarding of their heritage.

However not all children attended Lutheran schools as not all settlers were German or of German origin. From the beginning the Germans worked their land as mixed farms with an emphasis on subsistence. Although the Barossa Valley gives the impression of being only a wine growing centre, there are also many other industries, including mixed farming introduced by the first settlers. At no time did vines cover the whole of the valley. Vines were first planted in 1847 and within three years Johann Gramp had produced his Carte Blanche.

In December 1847 South Australian Germans were able to read the first German language newspaper in Australia, produced by Johann Menge and Carl Kornhardt. When Menge also left for the goldfields a new paper was produced in Tanunda and known as Die Australische Deutsche Zeitung.

Amongst some of the other earlier settlers in the Valley were Johann Schillings, William Coulthard, A. Millyard, J.F. Fielder, John and George Angas, Christian Lange and John Brock. Regardless of the hard work and busy times John Brock and Isabella Baird did find the time to get themselves married in Adelaide by the Rev Robert Haining on 7 October 1843.

Johann Gramp, born at Eichigt, Bavaria, in 1819, came to South Australia in 1837 and lived for a year on Kangaroo Island. He later settled at Jacob's Creek and was naturalised on 2 May 1848. He soon had competition from Samuel Smith, born in 1812 at Wareham, Dorset, who bought thirty acres to plant his vines and established Yalumba. Being successful at the Victorian goldfield he was later able to buy a further eighty acres.

One of the best known wine producers, Joseph Ernst Seppelt, arrived from Silesia in 1850. Born in 1813 he arrived with his wife Charlotte, his two sons, Benno and Hugo, daughter Ottilie, thirteen families and a group of young men who had worked for him. After first settling at Klemzig, the family later moved to Seppeltsfield where Joseph grew tobacco, wheat and wine. By the mid 1860s he began constructing a full-scale winery plant which was continued, after his death in 1868, by his son Benno.

Although early gentlemen winemakers provided the lead in commercial vine growing and wine making, it was those families with large financial resources who soon took over and developed the wine making industry. The earliest among them was the Seppelt Family. When Joseph Seppelt's attempts at tobacco growing failed, he changed to wine making on a large scale. Others who made successful attempts were the Jacobs, Salters, Gramps, Penfolds and Tolleys. They soon dominated the industry while the smaller growers supplied them with their grapes grown on family holdings. Slowly but surely agricultural production changed from wheat growing to grape growing. When a newspaper reporter visited the valley in 1859 he reported that, 'The cultivation of the wine and of fruits generally is carried on to such an extent that there is scarcely a settler who has not a respectable vineyard'.

One of the earliest wine makers, whose descendants still produce wine, was Carl August Sobels. Born in Dresden in 1802, he arrived in South Australia on the Hermann von Beckerath in 1847. At first he farmed at Macclesfield before moving to Tanunda where he produced table wines. After his death in 1863 the business was conducted by his son Ferdinand.

There is more to the Barossa Valley than wheat, wine and wool alone. As early as 1849 gold had been found near the South Para River. Other finds were reported in 1851, 1852 and 1867. During 1867 some alluvial gold was won and a year later enough gold was found at Spike Gully to attrack 4,000 diggers. Needless to say that many were from the Barossa townships although there were diggers from Mintaro, Yorke Peninsula and even Mount Gambier.

Prospects looked good enough for the formation of three new mining towns. The largest, Barossa, had by the end of 1868 seven general stores, seven hotels and a number of butchers, bakers, blacksmiths and wine shops. By the turn of the century most of the gold had been found or dug up and all three mining towns declined rapidly. In the Valley most men, who had gone and returned long since, found their gold with the production of wheat wool and wine. After the 1890s it became one of the largest producers of quality wine in Australia.


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