Geppscross, South Australian History

Early Gepps Cross.

The name Gepps Cross can be directly dated from March 1848 and attributed to Isaac Gepp who owned a hotel on the junction of Grand Junction and Great North Roads. When applying before the licensing bench on 13 March 1848, to renew his publican’s general licence for his premises on Section 360 at the intersection of Great North and Grand Junction Roads, Gepp changed the previous name Miner’s Arms to Gepp’s Cross Inn.

It is probable that the name existed colloquially a year or so before Gepp decided to change the name for his hotel on his 1848 licensing application and to place on record the name that would become synonymous for the area.

Isaac Gepp, aged 29 years arrived in South Australia, on the 755 ton barque Fairlee captained by E. Garrett, with his wife Ann and son Henry on 7 July 1840. He first came to notice in Adelaide as a water carrier but soon gave up water carting and became publican at the Windmill Inn on the Great North Road early in 1845. He transferred the Windmill licence to Robert Carter in June 1846 and gained a licence for his new public house on North Road being part Section 360, land he had bought from William Webber the previous year.

Gepp ran the hotel for three years and first named it the Miller’s Friend in reference to the nearby Ragless Mill. In 1848 he fell foul of the law when Alexander Tolmer, Inspector of Police, reported to his superior, 'I have made some seizures of illicit spirits' and 'sought directions to prefer information against Isaac Gepp'.

In his second application Gepp called it the Miners’ Arms in an effort to gain favour with travellers and teamsters en route between Adelaide and Port Adelaide, and the copper fields at Kapunda and Burra. The following year he named it the Gepp’s Cross Inn. Joseph Ladd became the second publican in March 1849. Ladd was no shrinking violet and kept a musket close at hand while at the bar. One month after taking over the Inn he pointed it at a customer before throwing him out, albeit for a good reason. The customer John Harris had allegedly raped a local woman.

When Charles Matthews, a blacksmith by trade, became the licensee he named it the Victoria Cross. Although Isaac Gepp had moved on, the Gepp’s Cross name was favoured by patrons and residents, so much so that Charles Matthews reverted to using that name in 1852. The name has been retained since. Charles Matthews, born in 1807 at Liskeard, Cornwall, was married to Elizabeth when they arrived on the Katherine Stewart Forbes in 1839. After giving birth to Sarah later that year Elizabeth died and was buried at the West Terrace Cemetery.

On 8 March 1840 Charles married Mrs Catherine Greenway, nee Brotherhood, at Holy Trinity Church. His daughter Sarah died in 1841. Charles was not the best of publicans and let the Inn run down. In 1854 he was cautioned to keep his house in a proper state of cleanliness. In November he purchased the inn and surrounding lands from Isaac Gepp for the sum of £900.

To secure the purchase Charles Matthews put up his blacksmith shop and house on Section 377 as collateral. Matthews seldom came to notice of the authorities, although he was charged for having his doors open between 11 and 1 o’clock on Sunday 11 March 1855. The Court did not accept his excuse that 'the day was very hot, and the door was opened by his father-in-law, who was very old, and sat near it, fanning himself.' He was fined £5.

Among some of the early settlers at Gepp’s Cross was James Pitcher who had arrived on the 365 ton Trusty at Port Adelaide on 15 May 1838. James had an assisted passage but paid for his wife Isabella Elisabeth Newman and their child. With a total of 129 passengers plus crew, commanded by Captain Alexander Jamieson, conditions would have been very cramped. However after a voyage of more than five months they would have been very happy to finally land, even at Port Misery.

Although a carpenter/builder by trade he soon added that of land agent. On 6 July 1839, while living at 67 Hindley Street, he offered land for sale at Walkerville, including acre 49. Three years later, in September 1842, he purchased the lease of 80 acres on Section 360 on the north-east corner of the Main North and Grand Junction Roads in and named it Bushy Farm. In February 1845 when he signed a memorial against the introduction of convicts he gave his address as Bushy Farm.

Pitcher remained in residence on part of Section 360 and lived there at least until he operated the Grand Junction Store. Local historian H. John Lewis states that Pitcher sold the southern forty acres of Section 360 in 1845 and at the same time sold the north-eastern corner of about eight acres to William Webber, another early settler.

According to descendant, Pat Wundersitz, James Pitcher brought a still over from Acre 49 at Walkerville in 1845, to Bushy Farm, where he supplied water and wood to 'someone', working in the cellar, to make illicit booze. He was reported by Sub Inspector Litchfield, along with Mr. Boord, who had imported various items from England, but had not declared the cigars. The police did not have a horse and cart to transport the still and utensils to the Queens Warehouse. However in October of that year, James was fined £150.0.0 despite lodging a testimonial signed by various acquaintances, attesting to his industry and hard work. That was a lot of money to find, so he had to realise assets quickly to pay for the fine.

James Pitcher soon took an active interest in civic affairs and often took up his cudgel to protect the rights and freedom of unrepresented colonists. He was particularly active from 1850. He was appointed a delegate with four others to represent the Yatala district to oppose the inequitable impositions of taxes for roads, and he chaired meetings of the South Australian Political Association at Hindmarsh in 1850.

With 75 other landowners he petitioned the Legislative Council in 1851 for electoral ballot. In November 1853 at a council meeting for striking a proposed rate including the Gepp’s Cross and the Grand Junction district he held the floor and spoke at length to strong acclaim and cheers of the waste of rate monies on heavily-salaried officers.

He opposed the fact that only five councillors with a quorum set as low as three were making decisions for up to five thousand and that the District Council had chosen to pay John Chapple £180 for nine week’s rates assessment work, when another had offered to do it for £75.

James Pitcher further complained that he had looked at the assessment book, and found that he himself was entered as the owner of the section on which Gepp’s Cross stands, although he had sold the property years ago. The consequence was that if the persons entered as tenants did not pay he should be held liable as owner. He maintained that if other assessment mistakes were made throughout the district then nothing had been done for the £180. His campaign continued at a follow-up meeting and a letter to the editor of the local paper.

James Pitcher was elected councillor for the Yatala Council in June 1854. In an extraordinary council meeting in January 1858 he voted on a successful resolution for the council to buy from Charles Matthews about one acre, part of Section 360, part of Bushy Farm, once owned by himself. The council land was to be used as an animal pound and to erect a council hall. He actively campaigned for a replacement teacher at the Grand Junction School when the Education Board failed to replace a deceased teacher.

In 1856 James operated a store with Post Office while still attending to council matters. He resigned from public office in December 1858 and a year later booked a passage on the Orient for London. He returned in 1865 on the same ship. After his return he again became involved with council work and when the District of Prospect was proclaimed on 1 August 1872, James was appointed Clerk, Collector of Rates, Overseer of Works and Registrar of dogs. Both James Pitcher and his wife are buried in the Walkerville cemetery. He had previously sold this land to the Methodist Church.

Webber, a blacksmith of Tam O’Shanter is reported to have had right of occupancy of eight acres at the north-east corner of Section 360 in August 1845 but passed it on to Isaac Gepp for little gain. Gepp then sold his Part Section 360 to Charles Matthews in 1854. In 1858 Matthews sold one acre of his Part Section 360, bordering John Merritt’s farm, to the council, which wanted the land to erect a civic hall and stray animal pound. Once built the hall was used as a council office and school until 1899 when it was used as a dwelling.

John Merritt took up occupancy of the southern 41 acres, Part Section 360, Bushy Farm, as a residence for his growing family, to farm, graze his team of working bullocks and a base for his business of carrier. He left Islington after April 1845 and resided at ‘the pine forest’ before August 1847 when his son Frank was born there, followed by Rosetta Merritt in December 1849 when the family’s residence was given as ‘North Road’.

He subsequently purchased the 41 acres. Early in 1851 John Merritt paid £5 for an option to purchase from Charles Matthews his 13 acres, being part of section 337 in the Hundred of Yatala for the sum of £55. He relinquished this option after he became publican of the Grand Junction Inn about the time he finalised the Bushy Farm purchase.

The earliest newspaper record found of Gepp’s Cross being accepted into colloquial speech as a location name, without reference to the hotel of that name was by Dr Mayo and John Harris in a court case, one year after Isaac Gepp named his ‘Gepp’s Cross Inn’.

Within days of the reported reference to Gepp’s Cross as a general location name in the Harris shooting case, William Rains advertised his departure from his business at Dry Creek, and his intention to carry on his business as butcher, baker and storekeeper. His new arrangements were to supply his customers at their own residences, calling at the Para Plains, Para, and the vicinity of Gepp’s Cross, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and at McLean’s Farms, Wednesdays and Saturdays, to deliver goods and receive orders.

John Ragless Junior

John Ragless [1791-1878] came from Sussex to South Australia on the Eden, captained by William Detmar Cook, which had left Portsmouth on 26 February and arrived at Holdfast Bay on 24 June 1838. With him were his wife Elizabeth and eleven children. Initially the whole family lived on the banks of the River Torrens. On 1 September 1839 John bought section 343 on Main North Road in Pine Forest and named it Angmering Vale Farm.

John Ragless junior, born at Angmering Sussex, England on 31 October 1815, married Eliza Wilson on 13 August 1844. They were to have 12 children. His first job in Adelaide was publican of the Woodman Inn in Grenfell Street where he started on 23 March 1839.

John opened his Montague Steam Mill on 9 March 1847 and begged ‘respectfully to acquaint the merchants and public generally that his mill is now in full operation, and that he is prepared to grind wheat at the usual charges. Flour, bran, &c, &c, always on sale at the market prices. A beautiful sample of seed wheat, specially adapted for the plains.’

Two years after opening John and his brother Richard announced ‘having completed the erection of their new Engine, are prepared to receive wheat to grind; and also to purchase wheat at market prices for cash. N.B. — For Sale, a 4-horse-power engine, for which, if required, wheat will be taken in part payment.’

For a time the mill was the meeting place for the Yatala Council. No doubt, John Ragless junior being elected to the council had influenced the venue choice. In March 1855 John became treasurer and council chairman. Early 1857, at public meetings at Smith’s Creek, Salisbury, Walkerville, and the Dry Creek, John Ragless junior was endorsed to become a candidate for the representation of the district in the House of Assembly, but he graciously declined, advising no ambition for a seat in the House.

In 1857 John pioneered Yalpara Station at Orroroo and later additional stations at Farina and Marree. In February 1861 the brothers advertised their mill for sale by auction, on the premises, Upper North Road, at Gepp’s Cross. It included 10 acres of freehold land, on which was erected a steam flour mill with an l8 horse-power engine, with dressing and smutting machine. There were also elevators, bins, &c., all but new and in perfect working order.

On the property were two six-roomed cottages, with two acres of garden attached to each, and water tanks for 4,000 gallons, a blacksmith’s shop, stables and labourers brick cottages. The property was well enclosed, and around the Mill was a strong stone wall, with every convenience for carrying on a good business in a thickly populated district, and would be found a first-rate investment to a capitalist, and a lucrative business could be carried on at a small expense. No buyer came forward.

Three months later, Charles Matthews of the Gepp’s Cross Inn and Matthew Robinson, who lived about a quarter of a mile from the Ragless mill, saw the mill going up in flames at about 5 o’clock on 17 May 1861. An inquest started next day and a portion of the wall of the mill fell while the Jury were assembling. As John and Richard, the owners of the mill, had tried unsuccessfully to sell it three months before the fire, the Northern Assurance Company, where the mill was insured for £3,500, was a very interested party in attendance.

Evidence was also given by Matthews who was the caretaker of the mill and George Eldridge, who lived about a quarter of a mile from the mill and saw the light of the fire through the windows. The coroner told the jury there was no doubt that the fire had been caused, as he believed more than half the fires that occurred in the colony were caused, wilfully. After about five minute’s consultation, the Jury returned the verdict, that ‘the premises were wilfully and feloniously lit on fire by some person or persons to the Jury unknown.’

On 27 July, ten weeks after the fire, tenders were called for the rebuilding of the mill, but nothing came of it. In March 1862 notice was given that at the end of that month an auction sale would be held at Gepp’s Cross to sell the Ragless brothers’ interests in ‘ten acres freehold land: also, one acre of land, and the remains of the mill; also, two dwelling-houses.’

Martin Nicholls [1808-1875] and his wife Elizabeth Mills [1803-1893] arrived at Port Adelaide on the Henry Porcher in 1838 as fellow passengers with the extended Eldridge family. The family overlanded to Ballarat, Victoria with a bullock team after the gold discoveries. Nicholls was successful on the diggings and consigned to himself via the Gold Escort just over 82 ounces of gold, which arrived on 6 July 1852.

After his return from the Victorian diggings he took up farming at North Rhine. He later purchased a triangular-shaped farm at Gepp’s Cross, a quarter mile distance from Ragless’ mill. After Martin and Elizabeth Nicholls retired to Prospect Village, their son Henry Nicholls took over management of the Gepp’s Cross farm. On 8 November 1854 their daughter Jane [1835-1876] married George Eldridge [1834-1895] of Kraal’s Creek at Gawler.

Henry Nicholls’ son Robert was already married to George Eldridge’s sister, Eliza [1819-1861]. George Eldridge followed his father-in-law to the Gepp’s Cross farm and was the licensee of the Gepp’s Cross Inn between December 1861 and March 1863. Between 1861 and 1870 they had five children all born in the Gepp’s Cross Inn. When land was opened up for selection in Victoria in the 1870s George and Jane Eldridge left South Australia to farm in the southern Wimmera at Harrow, Balmoral and Clear Lake. John Eldridge followed them about 1880 after the death of his second wife Elizabeth formerly Merritt née Figg.

The Gepp’s Cross School opened in 1861 using the Yatala District Council office. It is probable that the Education Board funds were not available until the beginning of the new fiscal year in July when William Fitzgerald the first licensed teacher at Gepp’s Cross was appointed. A Board inspection conducted at the end of the 1861 school year recorded that the ‘school has suffered considerably through a change of teachers and a decrease of population in the neighbourhood.’

William Fitzgerald died suddenly on New Year’s Eve 1861 at the Cavan Arms Inn. The Register reported that William Fitzgerald, a feeble old man about 60 years of age, who was a schoolmaster near Gepp’s Cross, having indulged during the Christmas holidays in excessive drinking, spending his time at the public houses in the neighbourhood, was observed on Friday evening to enter the Cavan Arms, he fell on the floor exhausted, apparently from the heat of the weather, as well as from the effects of liquor.

He, however, soon rallied, and became urgent in his desire for more drink, which was refused him. He remained at the house, where he passed a restless night, wandering about from room to room and in the morning. While the family were at breakfast, he went into the yard and again fell down, this time becoming quickly insensible, and dying in a few minutes. Dr Woodforde held an inquest at the Cavan Arms on Saturday, and a verdict of ‘Died by the visitation of God’ was returned.

After the death of William Fitzgerald the Education Board offered to replace him with Shapland Graves, subject to acceptance. In February 1862 supported by a petition of Gepp’s Cross residents, Shapland Graves was appointed schoolmaster. He also agreed to pay a rental of two shillings a week. Previously he had been schoolmaster at Edwardstown. In September 1862 Shapland Graves sought to open the council room for divine worship, a request which was granted provided that services were conducted in a proper and Christian manner.

The annual examination of Mr Graves's school took place on 20 November 1863, in the presence of a considerable number of the parents and friends of the children. The examiners expressed themselves much pleased with the answering and proficiency of the pupils in the following subjects; English history, grammar, geography, reading, dictation, slate and mental arithmetic, proving that no ordinary attention bad been bestowed upon the education of the children.

The Rev. Mudie, who was present, also warmly congratulated Mr Graves on the success of his labours, and expressed the pleasure he felt in listening to the various recitations given by the children. After the examination the pupils were regaled with tea and cake provided most liberally by the parents, thereby proving their interest in the school. Rewards were then distributed, and Mr Mudie kindly added to the enjoyment by exhibiting his magic lantern, which some 80 persons highly appreciated. Graves left the Gepp’s Cross school in February 1865 to take up an appointment at Mount Lofty.

Susannah R. Johns applied for a licence to teach at Gepp's Cross on 29 September 1870, where she had conducted a school for more than two years. There were 24 scholars in attendance. Her chief reason for the application was to supply the wants of the settlers at and near the Stockade, several of whose children attended the school, but others could not afford the fees of a private school and wished for a licensed school nearer Ardtornish.

Should the application be granted she would employ a male teacher. The Board were of opinion that Gepp's Cross was the more central position, and as there was a suitable room there, and the children in the neighbourhood of the Stockade greatly needed facilities for obtaining instruction, decided to grant Miss Johns a licence, provided the school proved satisfactory when examined, and a male teacher were employed.

In July 1870 a memorial was received from 19 employees of the Government at the Labour Prison, soliciting the Board's aid in the establishment of a school on the prison reserve. Some 35 children were growing up in comparative ignorance. The Board had already granted a licence at Gepp's Cross, and it was considered a school there would meet the wants of the settlers at Dry Creek and the guards at the Labour Prison.

A soiree in aid of Miss John's school was held in the Council Chamber, Gepp's Cross on 20 April 1871. Mr W. Pybus acted as pianist, and opened the proceedings with an overture, after which Mr Dyer sang, which was encored. Mr Smith then recited the 'Charge of the Light Brigade. The entertainment was very much enjoyed by all present.

A few months later the anniversary sermons of the Wesleyan Sabbath School at Gepp's Cross, were preached on Sunday, 17 September by the Rev. W. L. Binks in the morning. Mr J. Burton addressed the parents and children in the afternoon. On Monday, after tea, Mr Burton presided, and the Rev. J. G. Millard and others spoke. The report, read by the Superintendent, Mr Nicholls, showed that the school was prosperous. Proceeds amounted to over £10, an increase on former occasions. The anniversary was one of the most successful that had been held in the locality.

The Chief Inspector reported in 1871 on 18 schools in the city and suburbs, also, among others, Coromandel Valley, Cherry Gardens, Clarendon, Kangarilla, Bull's Creek, Meadows, Belair, Mitcham, Glen Osmond, Mount Lofty, Athelstone, Campbelltown, Payneham. He remarked, 'Many of the older children are about being employed at garden work.'

The Second Inspector reported on some of the schools in the North and North-Eastern Districts among them, Peachey Belt, Burton, Salisbury, Gepp's Cross, Norton's Summit, North and South Gumeracha, Blumberg, South Rhine, Mount Pleasant, Tungkillo, Cudlee Creek, Millbrook, Kersbrook, Golden Grove and Uley. He said the attendance was considerably affected by tie hay harvest, which always drew away the older boys and girls. The condition of the schools was, as a whole, very satisfactory.

After some opposition, David Sly became publican, but not the owner, from 17 March 1864 until September 1881. He married Anna Maria Hopgood in 1860. Their youngest son Frederick John died on 17 February 1867. Another son, Isaac Gepp, became publican of the Rock Tavern at Third Creek on 12 March 1867. He died in 1891. There is now a Gepp Avenue at Parafield Gardens. John Ragless senior and junior and their wives are buried at the Walkerville Cemetery. Charles Matthews and his wife Catherine are also are buried in this cemetery. In September 1881 the licence was transferred to G Bell.


With special thanks to Lance Merritt
Pat Wundersitz for their research.


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