Tortola House Gawler built for timber merchant William Wincey. Later purchased by Alfred May of May Brothers Foundry. Next in 1912 purchased by the Methodist Church for the manse of Tod Street Methodist Church. Gawler, South Australia was founded 1839.
Tortola House in Gawler.
A Town of One, Two, Three.
The story of Gawler, the first town developed outside of Adelaide in 1839 is the story of numbers. Colonel William Light, after he resigned as Surveyor General for SA, formed a private surveying company with his friend and former Assistant Surveyor Boyle Finniss. (Remember Boyle Finniss became our first Premier in 1854.) They did some commercial surveying; they surveyed a sort of village along the Sturt River at what is now Marion; but the only other town apart from Adelaide that they surveyed and laid out was Gawler.
•Their township of Gawler had three squares- Light, Orleana and Parnell. Light had planned for the squares to be the centres for the Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic churches. It did not quite work out like that!
•Light carefully sited this town on a ridge of high ground between three rivers –the North Para, South Para and Gawler Rivers. The first two rivers join just below Light’s town to form the Gawler River which flows out to the sea. The town grew quickly for a non mining town and became the 19th century industrial hub of SA.
•The first settlers around the town grew wheat and consequently flour milling became the first industry with three flour mills –the Albion Mill, the Victoria Mill and the Union Mill.
•The farmers needed plough disks, windmills, strippers and winnowers and other farm machinery. The Gawler residents wanted fancy wrought iron lace work to adorn the verandas of their houses and cottages. So from the mid 19th century Gawler became a town of three foundries- the May Brothers Foundry, the Eagle Foundry and the Phoenix Foundry.
•Like all country towns in the 19th century Gawler was dominated socially by a select group of business and social leaders. In Gawler the well respected and known leaders of the 19th century were three prominent men- Walter Duffield - the flour miller, James Martin - the foundry man and John McKinley - the explorer.
Some Unique Aspects of Gawler’s History.
The origins of Gawler are unique in SA. When the Special Surveys of 1839 were offered for those with £4,000 to select 4,000 acres in an area of the person’s choice, a group of farming settlers who had voyaged out together on the ship the Orleana clubbed together to purchase a Special Survey at the junction of the North and South Para Rivers. Those settlers were John Reid, Henry Dundas Murray, E. Jerningham, Stephen King, William Porter, Patrick Tod, James Fotheringham, John Patterson, Thomas Stubbs, John Sutton, Robert Tod and the Reverend Howard. You will see many of these names on the street signs of Church Hill. These pioneering men came to a strict agreement and each donated a certain number of acres for the township of Gawler (named after the Governor of the day) in proportion to the total number of acres they had purchased from the 4,000 acres. Most of this group purchased around 300 acres and donated 7½ acres for the town and parklands but John Reid, Henry Murray, E Jerningham and
Stephen King purchased between 530 and 932 acres each. Hence the main street of Gawler is Murray Street. John Reid was the first to settle in the town and built a house called Clonlea. Stephen King built his sandstone mansion, Kingsford along the North Para a couple of miles out of Gawler. It was used for the TV series McLeod’s Daughters but is now an upmarket bed and breakfast establishment. Some of the others from this Special Survey appear to have sold their land and moved on quickly rather than settling in the emerging township. Fotheringham stayed and set up the town’s first brewery.
Social aspects and a sense of civic pride were always strong in Gawler. It was remarkable that in 1859 this small “gateway to the north” sponsored a competition for a national song to be conducted by the Institute Committee. As we all know Mrs Caroline Carleton won the competition. The Song of Australia was sung in all SA primary schools and was one of the options voted upon for the new national anthem in the 1970s. The music for the song was written by German born Carl Linger and the lyrics and music were first presented in the Gawler Oddfellows Hall in December 1859. The town also offered a prize for a written history of SA in 1861. Henry Hussey won that award. Also in 1859 the township opened the first museum in SA. At one time Mr Schomburgk, who later became Director of the Botanic Gardens, was the curator of this museum. Gawler also formed the Humbug Society in 1859 to consider social and political issues of the day and in 1863 the town established its own newspaper, which is still published, called the Bunyip. In later years it was unique in building so many steam railway engines that were used in SA or exported for use in other states.