Steelton, South Australia


The first 25 years.

The first land sold in the area, later known as Steelton, was section number 1031 in 1842. Most of the first settlers had arrived by the mid-1850s. Among them were the Webb, Arnold, Baillie, Bannear, Hunt, Ivett, Blake, Marrett and Jones families.

Their women were very community minded and soon formed the Womenís Agricultural Bureau. As early as November 1854 they held a meeting at the home of Mrs E. Arnold. Among those attending were J. McAuliffe, A.E. Bannear and P. Marrett. During this meeting 16 dozen eggs, preserves, pickles, potatoes, biscuits and other items were donated for the Old Folks Home at Riverton. It had been a good year all around. Wool sales had been concluded and E.A. and M.M. Arnold had received an excellent price for their 5AA wool clip.

Andrew Steele, born in Northern Ireland in 1817, arrived in South Australia in 1840 in the William Nichol. He bought, and subdivided, section 1024, Hundred of Waterloo and section 1023, Hundred of Saddleworth in 1858. It was on parts of these sections that the town was pegged out and named after him. He died at Steelton on 13 February 1891.

The Steelton post office opened in September 1861. However it was not a money spinning business for the Postal Department. By the end of September 1862 the Tothillís Creek-Steelton mail run had a loss of four shillings and sixpence. A year later this had increased to £6.14.1. In December Leonard IíAnson became the mail contractor for this run. He was willing to operate it for £30, starting 1 January 1864. Leonard IíAnson Senior, his wife, and infant son Leonard arrived in South Australia in 1839 and moved to Steelton about 1858. The 5th generation of IíAnsonís are still farming at Steelton.

In December 1865 the postal service was making a loss of £20.13.4. Charles Martin who ran a store and was the agent for the South Australian Weekly Chronicle in 1865 was postmaster until 1875. Martin, born in London in 1826, arrived in South Australia on the Gypsy in 1853. William Harvey was granted a cattle slaughtering licence for section 1032 in September 1862, which he operated for a number of years. On 13 June 1864 G. Bales was also granted a slaughtering licence.

View of Steelton in 2013

In December 1862 there were enough children at the little township for William Buchanan to approach the Board of Education for assistance to build a school. They had already a teacherís house and an acre of land. The department was not very helpful and they were still talking about it at the start of 1864. In March Charles Martin sent another memorandum but the Board was still waiting for other documents.

A school was finally built by the end of 1864 with Andrew Steele, Charles Martin, William Mahood, David McFeat and Joseph Bass Miller as trustees. At last on the 2 January 1865 the school was officially opened with a public tea meeting which resulted in proceeds of £17 and a building free of debt. H.M. Parken was appointed Master by the Steelton School Board. The school building was also used for Council meetings from 1868 until 1890.

During 1865 several attempts were made to improve the townís prospects. More agricultural land was sold and Johann Gottlieb Theodore Behn bought section 1014 while Joachim Moll of Steelton bought section 33 in the Hundred of Saddleworth. On 6 April 1865 James Pritchard submitted plans for the building of a hotel. When completed and licensed it would be a great convenience to the numerous travellers and teamsters on the road. He was granted his licence in June 1865. This was transferred to Thomas Nugent in September but on 13 June 1866 James Pritchard was back in charge.

Main Road

Public meetings were organised to push the authorities for better roads and to declare the road between Marrabel and Burra the Main Road, which they wanted to pass through Steelton, not Tothillís Creek which was preferred by the Burra Copper Company. Joseph B. Muller wrote a strongly worded letter to the Central Road Board in support. The Board eventually decided that the main road should go through Steelton resulting in the sale of several allotments in both Steelton and Waterloo.

In June 1865 another public meeting was held to get a doctor for the town. This proved a much harder problem. A subscription list was opened to induce Dr O. Wilson to settle in the district. A committee was formed consisting of R. and W. Mahood, John and R. Davidson, Charles Martin and Thomas Pritchard. With several births, accidents and some deaths it was felt that the service of a doctor would be a good way of getting families to stay.

Among the births was a daughter for Henry Montagu Parken on 12 June 1865, another daughter for Charles Martin on 15 September 1865, a son for Benjamin Watts on 2 December 1866 as well as a son for Charles Martin on 16 February 1868. Caroline Friederike Pluckhahn was born on 22 October 1865.

The Steele Homestead

There had also been several deaths. William Buchanan Baillie, second son of John Baillie had died after a long and painful illness on 2 October 1863, only three years old. John Baillie himself fell off his horse on 2 March 1865 and died aged 37. On 15 November 1865 Martin Kenny died after years of ill health. His funeral was one of the longest and most respectable ever seen by the local newspaper reporter. Leonard IíAnson, junior, and Emma lost their five day old son on 30 August 1865. Leonard IíAnson and Emma, nee Nourse, eldest daughter of Richard Nourse, had only been married since 12 October 1864.

Among some of the other couples married were George Hanlin of Summer Hill who married Jane, eldest daughter of Andrew Hale of Steelton, on 21 March 1864. Thomas Markey married Harriet Stocks on 20 December 1865 and George Rawlins of Steelton married Hannah Jane Nourse on 2 May 1867. William McFeat and Margaret Buchanan, both of Steelton were married on 24 April 1868 and William Webb and Annie Wilson were married on 2 March 1869.

In July 1865 a meeting was held to form a Literary Society and Discussion Club. Those elected on the committee were O. Wilson, S. Dawson, C. Martin, J.B. Miller and H.M. Parken. A more successful meeting was held at the Steelton Hotel on 3 February 1866 to organise the forthcoming races.

Where Steelton used to be

Bailliereís South Australian Gazetteer and Road Guide for 1866 stated that Steelton was; A postal township in the electoral district of Light, Hundred of Saddleworth and under the control of the Central Board of Roads and the District Council. Situated on the Light River, Tothillís creek being 3 miles east, and the Gilbert river 5 miles west. The district is an agricultural one, wheat being grown in large quantities. The nearest places are Marrabel, 6 miles south, Waterloo, 5 miles north and Saddleworth 5 miles west.

Rouncevell 1870 (SLSA)

No public conveyances run to these places and the nearest route for passengers to Adelaide, 72 miles south west, is by horse or private conveyance to Marrabel, and thence by Rounsevellís mail coach. Steelton has a post office and 1 hotel Ė the Steelton. The surrounding country is mountainous, consisting of hills and fertile valleys, in which the agriculture of the district is carried on. The population numbers about 60 persons.

The Webb Homestead, built 1867-9

When harvesting was completed the results for 1865 were not very encouraging. The average yield turned out to be no more than six or seven bushels an acre. With good weather and the right amount of rain at the right time the 1866 harvest brought in 16 to 18 bushels an acre. During January 1867 they had far too much rain and hail. On 14 January the country was one sheet of water and the main road almost destroyed. Martinís shop was 45 cm deep in water and the schoolmasterís house was flooded.

Martin would later chair the District Council meetings from 1870 until 1874. In 1877 he moved to Mount Pleasant where he took over the store and post office from J.W. Daniels. He served there on the Institute Committee and also became treasurer of the Mount Pleasant Show Society. In 1901 he retired to Adelaide where he died in 1909.

Better news was the sale of several town lots in July 1867 which increased the size of the population and would hopefully lead to more services. One service, badly needed again, was that of a resident doctor. The postal service was still running at a loss of £3 for the year ending August 1867. Crop yield was around ten bushels per acre but affected by red rust.

By 1870 the wheat harvest was very poor indeed, no more than five bushels per acre. Severaql farmers and some farm labourers had cut their losses and moved to Victoria. More would leave if they could find a buyer for their farm. During April it was stated that ploughing was but a farce, as the ground was so hard. With feed being something of the past, farmers were wondering what to do with their cattle as starvation was staring them in the face.

As always rain did finally come although for many it was too late. The first 25 years had been hard, clearing the land, establishing a house, home and family and contribute to the community. Not all had been successful. Those who were able to continue did so with renewed hope and energy, as always expecting that the future would be better than the present.

Local traffic


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