Coromandel Valley, South Australian History.

Coromandel Valley

Coromandel Valley is named after the 662 tons, three-masted, ship Coromandel. This ship was built in 1834 in Canada and captained by William Chesser. She arrived from London via Kangaroo Island with 156 passengers on 17 January 1837. Coromandel Valley is situated in the Adelaide Hills about eighteen kilometres from the Capital City. The Captain later had a street in Adelaide named after him. Amongst her mainly young married passengers were several who would become well known in the new colony during their time and are still well known today. Some of these were Charles Mann, James Chambers and Robert Norton and his wife Mary Marsh. They became pioneer settlers of Norton Summit where both are buried.

Others passengers included Edward Stephens and his wife Emma, the Hobbs family, Dr T.Y. Cotter and his wife Jane and Johannes Menge. After disembarking at Holdfast Bay most of the passengers lived for some time at 'Coromandel Village', next to Buffalo Row.

Not as well known was the Barnes family. Made up of W.A. Barnes, his wife and little daughter when they arrived, this family contributed to the establishment of South Australia as well. They had another seven children in the colony and celebrated their Golden wedding anniversary on 1 March 1885. When Mrs Barnes died on 13 August 1885, she left behind a husband, eight children, forty-nine grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

When the passengers had left the Coromandel, a large number of her sailors also left the ship with the intention of staying in South Australia. Without a sufficient crew, Captain Chesser was granted a warrant on 31 January for the arrest of his sailors. They included, James Barrett, John Conend, Robert Cranson, Richard Jones, James Marshall, John Parsons, James Powell, Edward Reed and John Williams. None of them were apprehended but all, except Cranson, surrendered on 13 March. They were remanded for three days after which all were discharged.

Apart from this group of sailors who deserted the Coromandel and remained in the hills until their ship had left, some of the earliest and best known settlers of Coromandel Valley during the first ten years were James Chambers and Samuel Gill, Baptist minister, schoolmaster and father of the later well known painter S.T. Gill. Born at Perriton, Devonshire in 1819, young Samuel Thomas Gill did well with his painting but joined the rush to the Victorian goldfields. Here he became the most recognised of all artists who recorded life on the diggings. Unfortunately Gill did not make his pile in Victoria but took to the bottle and died drunk and destitute on the steps of the Melbourne post office on 27 October 1880.

Other early arrivals at Coromandel Valley were Thomas Matthews, James Ackland, Alexander Murray, the Winn family and Thomas Turner. After having taking up their land, most of the earlier settlers were involved with agriculture or grazing. Chambers, who was so impatient to reach dry land that he dived into the water from the deck of the ship, established a grazing property and eventual moved north into the Flinders Ranges.

Samuel Gill, who had arrived from London on 17 December 1839, on the two hundred ton Caroline with eighty other passengers, also started farming. Within a year of his arrival he obtained a Land Grant for Section 863. That the same year, he lost both his wife and a daughter. Gill had other interests as well. In 1843 he opened a school and later became the local postmaster. His son John Ryland moved to Quorn in the 1870s and his daughter Eliza Jane, born 23 August 1843, married John Lodovick Rees Fiveash on 27 December 1865.

The Rev Gill later married Elizabeth Murray, sister to Alexander Murray. His house, demolished in the 1960s, was also used at times as a chapel was later expanded to cater for more students until a separate building became available for this purpose.

Alexander Murray & Son Biscuit factory. (SLSA)

Gill's education was based on the classic British patterns with a little emphasis on religion as well. On weekdays several children boarded at Gill's home because they lived too far away to attend every day. Gill also provided night classes for young men who had to work during the day. Charles Mann who had become Advocate General, sent his son Charles to Gill's school until he was ready to continue his education at St Peter's College. Young Charles must have been instructed well for he went on to become a Queen's Council and Attorney General.

In 1850, Gill's school was replaced by a dual-purpose hall built specially as a school room and chapel on land donated by Thomas Matthews. The building was paid for by the locals. Finally in 1877, a new stone school was opened It consisted of one classroom alongside a house for the teacher. They are still part of the present school.

Matthews arrived in 1839 on the Robert Moffatt, found his way to Coromandel Valley, bought some land and became involved in grazing. However before really settling down he took his family to several different areas of South Australia, including the Barossa Valley, before returning to Coromandel. By 1849 his house was completed and remained in the family until 1946.

The house, built by John Weymouth, and property were called Hurds Hill, after Hurds Hill in the village of Pitney in Somerset where the Matthews family came from, and still stand today. Hurd was the family of Matthews wife. In 1865 Thomas Matthews advertised that 525 acres of Agricultural, Pastoral and Garden land could be leased. Anyone interested could find him at Coromandel Valley or contact Thomas H. Matthews at South Rhine.

James Ackland who had also arrived in 1839 on the Surry became a dairyman. Alexander Murray, who arrived on the India in 1840, planted fruit trees, built a jam and biscuit factory and employed many of the local men and women. Some women even walked from Hahndorf once a week to work at the factory. Both the factory and his home Craiglee were built by John Weymouth. Eventually the firm became known asA. Murray and Son and operated successfully until the turn of the century. In January 1876 the factory was in full production turning out large quantities of jam and biscuits. The firm which already had produced over hundred tons of jams and jellies planned to increase this to well over two hundred tons.

Alexander Murray, by now the senior partner of the firm left in January 1876 for the Philadelphia Exhibition. The evening before his departure he was presented with an address, read by foreman S.J. Dailey, from his employees in which they expressed their earnest and hearty wishes for his safe journey. In responding Murray stated that he was altogether taken by surprise but would keep the document as a memento of good feeling between him and his workers. Afterwards he presented every employee with an excellent photograph of himself.

The Turner family, after arriving on the Baboo in 1848 established the Swinton property. Their descendants, the Archibald family, still operate there with an orchard and grazing property. Turners Avenue was named after this family. In the 1850's, Richard Winn took up land near what is now Black Road. The Winn name has been perpetuated by Winns Road which is not surprising as by the turn of the century, members of the Winn family operated several businesses on it, including a bake house and butcher shop. Another settler, who came a little later, but stayed much longer than most was Irish born Jane Bell.

Peter Cumming, and his family arrived from Glasgow, Scotland in 1846. During the next few years he took up the first land grants and developed 'Craigburn' which was his home until 1868. The property was later owned by such well known people as George C.Gooch, Walter Watson Hughes, John Crozier, Alexander Murray and Alexander G.Downer. It has remained in the Downer family until sold to Minda Inc. in 1923.

Farming was a difficult enterprise to be carried out on a commercial scale. The area with its steep hills and narrow valleys was not really suited for farming. Wine growing was tried with some success, but it was not until the twentieth century that is was attempted on a large scale. Wheat growing was also impossible, even the newly invented Ridley stripper could not be used. This also explains why horses were used in the valley much longer than anywhere else. Nevertheless most of the early settlers had their own garden plot where they tried to grow vegetables for their own needs.

However, because of its fertile soil and good climatic conditions, the Government set up the Blackwood Experimental Orchard, in 1910, along Minnow Creek, on the corner of Main Road and Turners Avenue. Among some of the trees planted, to serve the export market, were almonds, olives, apricots and figs.

Transport through the valley, and from Adelaide, was very expensive and cumbersome, a reason the more to grow your own and be self-sufficient. Within ten years the residents had a petition organised for the improvement of their roads and transport facilities. Unfortunately it took several decades before even the main road through their town had been surfaced. In 1866 Horner's Bridge was completed over the Sturt River, followed by a second in 1872 near the Methodist Church. Finally in February 1875 the government called tenders for the 'forming, building culverts, making catch drains and metalling on the road through Coromandel Valley'. Plans could be inspected at the Central Road Board in Adelaide and at the Clarendon Disctrict Council Office.

During the late 1860s Enoch Shepley was the postmaster at Coromandel and was the agent for the Observer, Register and Evening Journal. He had built a two-storied house and a store near the ford over the Sturt River and a bakehouse across the road. This was operated by his son in law, Mr Langsford. By the 1880s his business was taken over by the Winn family. In the early days the Methodists held their services at the house of Shepley, who was a Methodist Superintendent.

Sturt River.

After the first settlers had moved in, they were followed by the shopkeepers and soon the town had most of the other facilities found in country towns. Being a well-wooded area there was also an influx of bark strippers and timber cutters. They worked the valley and hills until well into the 1880s when bark was used in tanneries and timber was cut for railway sleepers. There was even some mining in the valley.

In 1858 Chambers' Mine, later called the Ben Lomond mine, was opened up to mine copper and a large one-ton block of Malachite was taken to Adelaide to be displayed. Little else was ever taken from it. Ten years later, when J.Harrison was secretary of the Ben Lomond Mining Company, he invited tenders for driving a level of about twenty-five fathoms to cut the load. A week later he made a call of one shilling per share and warned that any shares not paid up would be absolutely forfeited.

After a week's hard work people still found the money, time and energy to build churches and chapels. A Methodist Church was completed in 1859 followed by the Church of England in 1873. Even though Samuel Gill had been working as a Baptist preacher, a church for the Baptist community was not completed until mid 1894. During 1881 the town's Institute was also completed and ever since used for any occasion needing a large room.

Six years earlier, in 1875, The Mutual Improvement Association was formed and it decided to form an Institute and affiliate with the South Australian Institute. The trustees of the school made a donation of 50 books to form a library. Alex Murray promised 25 towards the cost of building with others donating smaller amounts.

There was also enough energy and interest left to play sport and by the early 1860s the town had its own cricket club, formed in 1862 and the second oldest in South Australia. Matches were played regularly. At the close of the 1875 season they held a pleasant evening in the oven room of the Jam factory. A sumptuous repast had been prepared by S. Cressey, one of the bakers employed at the factory and a club member. The president of the club, E. Stepley was very pleased with the large gathering. The highest score for the year had been made by W.J. Fuller who obtained the bat promised at the start of the season. In 1876 the Coromandel Juveniles played against the Clarendon Juveniles at Clarendon which resulted in a victory for the Coromandel boys by fourteen runs. Later they also had a football team, rifle and tennis clubs.

Although still a relatively small community, Coromandel Valley responded well to the call to defend the British Empire at the outbreak of the First World War. Many young men volunteered for service but not all came back. Several lost their lives at Gallipoli and later in France. The women too supported the effort of Australia and their local men in particular.

Coromandel Valley Volunteers

Coromandel Valley Cemeteries

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