Adelaide Hills - Towns, People, and Things We Ought to Know

Source:  SA History Newspaper Articles

The reader is advised that these "Chronicle" articles were first published in 1932-1937 primarily as light reading / entertainment and cannot in any way be considered to be scholarly. You are advised to independently check the veracity of the content, as no sources have been cited.

Members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are advised that this text may contain names and images of deceased people.  Readers should also be aware that certain words, terms or descriptions may be culturally insensitive and would almost certainly be considered inappropriate today, but may have reflected the author’s/creator’s attitude or that of the period in which they were written.

#40  - Mount Barker (part 1 of 2)

#41  -  Mount Barker (part 2 of 2)

#57  -  Meadows (part 1 of 2)

#58  -  Meadows (part 2 of 2)

#59  -  Echunga (part 1 of 2)

#60  -  Echunga (part 2 of 2)

#61  -  Aldgate, Stirling, Crafers and Mt Lofty

#62  -  Aldgate, Stirling, Mylor, Scotts Creek

#63  -  Hahndorf  (Ambleside)

#64  -  Balhannah

#65  -  Woodside

#66  -  Lobethal (Tweedvale)

Towns, People, and Things We Ought To Know  -   No 61

By Our Special Representative, No. LXI  -  Extract From Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) dated 7 September 1933

Aldgate, Stirling, Crafers, And Mount Lofty  -  When The Tiers Were Held By The Tiersmen

A home in the hills, in picturesque Aldgate, or the ultra-select neighborhood of  Mount Lofty — that is the ambition of many a worker in the city when he turns his eyes towards the highlands which rise in tiers above the Adelaide plains.  But the hills were not always respectable or select.  Once they were unsafe for honest people.  This article tells you something about those times.    

When you get to Aldgate and Mount Lofty, your eyes are gladdened by a panorama of beauty — picturesque old world lanes; wonderful natural trees, which have never known the disfiguring humiliation of the linesman's axe; residences of character, set in beautiful surroundings, the homes of people of taste and refinement, with the means to gratify them. 

Then the curtain of the years slipped away — and I looked back.  I saw a different Aldgate; a different Mount Lofty.  I looked at the endless mass of thickly timbered hillsides, and into the depths of the gloomy gullies where the sun could scarce penetrate because of the dense growth of tree and scrub.  And I saw murder, rapine, and pillage!  I saw a country where a man took his life in his hands when he ventured into it!  For the story of early Aldgate is the story of The Tiers, and the story of The Tiers is one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of South Australia. 

The Story Of The Tiers 

In a previous article I promised that you should have this tale, so here it is.  South Australia only numbered her existence by months when the hills and gullies around the city were invaded by hoards of desperadoes among whom law and order were non-existent.  They were mostly escaped convicts from Van Diemen's Land or New South Wales.  Some of them were runaway sailors.  They were a law unto themselves, and woe betide any stranger who displayed ....  

There were horse and cattle thieves, bushrangers, sly grog sellers, and men who, for reasons of their own, had no desire to scrape acquaintance with the reputable members of society, unless it was to cut their throats, or relieve them of their portable belongings. 

These men, of course, did not all come at once.  But they began in the earliest stages of our development, and by 1840 The Tiers, as the hills were then called, had a reputation as unhallowed as the Evil One himself.  Apart from one or two wooden road inns there was no settlement in the hills, if one extents the huts of the timber cutters (called Tiersmen) among whom those lawless gentry lived and worked. 

"It is a well-known fact," complained one colonist in March, 1840, to our old acquaintance, Robert Gouger, "that the great receptacle for runaway sailors and convicts is with the sawyers and the splitters in the mountains where, for the low rate of wages they accept, they are fostered and harbored, as also it is that it is here that everything in the shape of stolen property of a portable nature is immediately taken." 

Such was the genesis of these aristocratic hills towns we know today.  But there is more to follow. 

How Honest Men Were Driven Out 

Over these hills and into these gullies were driven the cattle of the pioneers which these men had stolen.  There they were slaughtered, the skins burnt, and the meat packed in casks for delivery to certain city butchers who would ask no questions as long as the meat was cheap.  This business grew to large proportions. 

None of the tiersmen, were they legitimate timber cutters or outlaws in disguise, encouraged the settlement of honest strangers.  The Tiers were their preserves, and they intended to keep them such.  Now and again some honest son of Britain would recklessly venture into these wilds with the intention of splitting timber.  He was soon driven out.  On his return from a hard day's work, tired and hungry, he would find his hut burned down, his bedding destroyed, and his equipment stolen.  If he was too slow, or too stubborn, to take the hint, the outrage was repeated until he did.  "Then," says a chronicler, "they left the colony in disgust." 

Do you think I exaggerate?  Not a bit of it.  Read what Governor Gawler had to say of these wild men of the woods in a letter on the subject to the Colonisation Commissioners in London:— "This forest is to extensive, and of such intricate description, that 200 or 300 desperadoes might baffle as many thousand regular troops at tempting to reduce them to order." 

That seems incredible to Mr. and Mrs. 1933. 

Criminals Serve On Juries 

Sometimes these gentry found themselves in trouble.  The police developed a nasty habit of making inconvenient calls.  When they left they usually took one or more of their unwilling hosts with them, with sundry evidence of recent misdemeanours . But that didn't worry the tiersmen.  There was usually an ex-convict or two on the petty jury to see that their colleagues were not convicted. 

I have before me as I write, a letter of protest indited by the foreman of the jury which tried Adelaide's first bushrangers, about whom I will tell you presently.  It draws attention to this evil.  He relates that one of the jurors was an ex-convict with a more than usually unsavory record.  This man had secured a pardon by turning Queen's evidence against six companions, whom he himself had instigated to commit a felony for which the others suffered the extreme penalty of the law. 

Curran, Fox, And Hughes 

When you ask for a gin and bitters in the bar of the Crafers Hotel today, you are standing on historic ground — the place where South Australia's first bushrangers were arrested.  It is not, of course, the same building in which this interesting event occurred, for the original Crafers Inn was quite a small and unpretentious thing in pubs. 

Crafers, by the way, takes its name from the hotel, not the hotel from the town — which is reversing the usual order of things.  The town never had a formal christening ceremony.  You see, to these wild times of which I write a man just cut down some timber adjacent to a bullock track, and made of it a pub.  As there was no recognised place within the meaning of the Act by which to call it, it was generally identified as "Brown's place in the Tiers," and the law of abbreviation operating then, as now, soon reduced this mouthful to "'Brown's."  Well, the man who built the house of lubrication was David Crafers.  As everyone referred to the isolated outpost as Crafers's the name stuck.  And Crafers it will now remain for all time, though the historic David has long since ceased to worry about the dry and dusty throats of sweating bullock drivers, or thirsty sawyers. 

But to return to the bushrangers. 

One day three men who were working in the vicinity of Gawler decided to have a Jamboree.  They had no intention, so far as I can read between the lines, of doing anything so drastic as becoming outlaws.  But in playful moment they conceived the idea of sticking up a sly grog shop.  That piece of foolishness cost two of them their lives, while the third died en route to penal servitude for life in New South Wales.  Here is the story. 

The men concerned were Henry Curran, James Fox, and George Hughes.  The date of the offence was March 16, 1840.  The shanty where they began their short-lived career as bushrangers was located some five miles from Gawler on a lonely road.  It was kept by a man named Michael Pfindeo or Pfender.  The trio called at the hut to get a drink.  Finding the husband absent, and the wife in charge, they began to help themselves to free liquor.  Their conduct was not the sort to inspire confidence, and the woman, becoming alarmed, ran outside.  There upon one of the men, picking up a gun, fired at her.  He did not hit her. 

But the evil was done.  It is against the code of good society to help yourself to another person's property, and to shoot at them with a gun when they object.  Curran, Fox, and Hughes took to the bush. 

Too Drunk To Resist 

They struck cross country in the direction of Mount Crawford, after spending a night as the self-imposed guests of Captain Walker on his station.  At Mount Crawford they persuaded a hut keeper at the point of a gun to supply them with what surplus cartridges he had.  Then they made for Crafers — and hilarity. 

When they got to the "Sawyers Arms," which was the destination of the inn in its most dignified mood, they found the bar full of characters as rough as themselves.  There were sawyers, and splitters, and teamsters — all with a 118 in the shade thirst.  Mine host was absent in the city.  Mrs. Crafers was behind the counter.  They bailed everybody up.  After putting Mrs. Crafers in a corner, admonishing her to be a good girl, they helped themselves liberally to spirits.  As the wanning influence of the alcohol penetrated their veins they became generous — at the expense of the house.  They invited all and sundry to join them. 

The scene which follows beggars description.  It was not long before that bar resembled a lunatic asylum — with Mrs. Crafers crying in a corner.  In the midst of the excitement John Wrathall Bull arrived — that same J.W.B. to whom I introduced you at Meadows the other day.  He had heard at Mount Crawford that the gang were out.  As soon as he took in the situation he made an effort to get away.  One of the outlaws made a grab at him as he was mounting his horse, but was too drunk to be capable of serious mischief.  Bull got clear, dug his heels into the horse's flanks, and made for the city for all he was worth. 

Now follows a curious incident.  Bull encountered a party of police.  He related what he had seen.  Did those men put spurs to their horses, and try to break all records in reaching the pub?  Not a bit of it.  They said they been sent out after a horse thief, and had no instructions about bushrangers.  Then they calmly pursued their way.  I wonder what sort of language General Leane would use if that sort of thing happened today.  I fancy we should have to lay an information against him for disturbing the peace. 

Bull continued his journey.  He had not gone far before he met Crafers, and told him how his liquor was disappearing.  Crafers wheeled his horse for Adelaide.  He reached police headquarters in record time. 

When the worried David returned to his shanty with a good following of bluecoats, he found the scene had changed.  The company were too far gone in the arms of Bacchus to worry about what was happening around them.  The bar was a picture in broken bottles and wasted tanglefoot.  Most marvellous of all, the desperate bush rangers were hickish and genial.  They were too drunk to resist arrest.  Probably they didn't even know they were in the hands of the police.  I have seen a woman in Rundle street put up a better fight. 

Scene At The Execution 

On the shelves of ths Archives on North terrace is a grim document.  It is the draft of the warrant of execution of these men.  They had killed nobody, yet they themselves paid for their folly with their lives.  Fox, it is true, eventually had his sentence changed to imprisonment for life, but he died on his way to penal servitude. 

Curran and Hughes were executed.  I believe the place where the sentence was carried out was the yard of the old police barracks behind the Museum.  Hughes gave a lot of trouble during his imprisonment, and, on the morning of the execution made such a noise that even Curran turned from him in disgust.  When the hangman appeared Hughes tried to tear his mask off, and made desperate efforts to resist being bound.  On the scaffold Hughes created another scene.  As the lever was pulled he sprang to the side of the opening, and hung on there with his feet, so that the executioner had to put his arms about the convict's legs and drag him through the trap. 

Curran, on the other hand, smoked on his way to the scaffold. 

Where Is The Old Gate? 

The name of Aldgate is, I think, one of the worst examples of imported nomenclature I know.  I don't think I could have picked a better — or a worse -  specimen to illustrate my oft-repeated protests against the silliness of a large number of our South Australian place names. 

Aldgate is named after Aldgate in London.  But Aldgate (London) is, or was, actually descriptive of the place which bears the name.  The word is an Old English form of Old Gate — in the time of King Edgar (958-975, which is going back a little) it was also spelt Ealdgate — and referred to a gate in the city wall by which ingress and egress was given in the days when it was necessary to protect towns against invaders by building great walls around them, pierced at intervals by these openings.  The ruins of some of these old walls still exist in England— and other parts of Europe.  That is why we have Aldgate, Newgate, South gate, and Northgate. 

I admit that, from the point of view of euphony, there is no objection to Aldgate.  It Is musical.  But, from the aspect of meaning, it. is as senseless as the word "surplus" in a national Budget.  We in Australia have fortunately never known an invasion, have never had to build walls round our towns, and have never had any of these picturesque old gates.  As I have told you before, the blacks were more sensible about place names than the white men. 

The original Aldgate, of which a photograph is reproduced on this page, no longer exists.  Its location is now part of Leadenhall street.  In Roman times the gate marked one of the principal roads leading into London.  I want you for a moment to have a look at the Old Gate, because, in the rooms above it, in 1374, lived Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of the "Canterbury Tales."  It was also at Aldgate in 1665-6 that one of the monster pits to receive the bodies of the victims of the great plague was situated. 

Here is a curious circumstance which probably has never occurred to you.  In its earliest days, Aldgate (South Australia) was known as "Aldgate Pump," or "Aldgate Village Pump."  I have an old "Gazetteer," nearly seventy years old, which refers to it as such.  The village book its name from a pump outside the little inn that used to occupy the site of the present hotel.  Here, at a trough, the thirsty bullocks, and sweating horses, used to drink after the long, stiff climb over the Tiers, while their drivers did likewise in the tiny bar.  That pump is still there; and the hotel is still called the Aldgate Pump. 

But — and this is a remarkable coincidence — there was also a pump at Aldgate (London), and I believe it is still there.  Its location is near the corner of Leadenhall and Fenchurch streets.  It is probable that when Otto Hawkins named Aldgate in the long ago he re membered this old relic of the horse days of London. 

But Aldgate is not the only piece of London nomenclature in the hills.  The little rise just above the hotel on the Mount Barker road, was called Holborn Hill.  Holborn Hill!  If you know that crowded little bit of civilisation in the world's metropolis the inappropriateness of the designation will hit you hard. 

Race Against Death 

Early Adelaide was built of timber from these hills.  There are still old buildings in existence in the city whose imperishable floors and joists are made of stringy bark whicn was growing on the slopes of the hills before South Australia came into existence.  In the forties timber cutting was one of the chief industries of the State. 

The task of carting the immense trunks up and down the slopes when there were no roads was one of extreme difficulty, calling for experienced men.  The bullock drivers had to be brought from New South Wales, and the timber cutters from Van Diemen's Land.  Hundreds of thousands of palings were cut for roofs, for all the early coverings for houses were either paling or thatch - Government House not excepted. 

As an illustration of the dangers of negotiating the steep grades of the mountains before the roads were made I was told the experience of two men — Riley and his mate.  It was their custom to cut timber all the week, and to take it to the city on Saturdays.  They travelled via Sleep's Hill.  Their route was straight over the hill for Adelaide, in as direct a line as they could travel. 

On one occasion Riley set out alone for the capital.  When he reached Steep's Hill his waggon hit a huge boulder.  The chain which held the great log acting as a skid behind was broken.  Away went the bullocks at breakneck pace, the heavily laden waggon bumping ominously behind them.  Instinctively those oxen seemed to know that if the lumbering vehicle, gathering momentum every second, overtook them, they would be crushed into a mass of shapeless pulp.  Riley knew it too, and he exerted every ounce of skill and strength to keep his team galloping on its feet.  It was a veritable race against death. 

But Riley won — and his victory was acclaimed for many a year as the greatest feat of bullock driving ever performed.  It was not until they reached what is now the heart of Unley that the danger was over, and the spent bullocks were pulled up for a breather. 

Something About Hotels 

Most of the hills hotels are well known by name.  Most of them also have their story, but that is not so well known.  If you take up an old almanac of seventy or eighty years ago you will probably find a reference to the Halfway House at Stirling.  You may ask yourself where it is, or was.  The Halfway House was the former name of the present Stirling Hotel, and received the designation because it was accounted half way between Adelaide and Mount Barker.  The existing building is not, of course, the original one.  That was a very modest and unpretentious affair of one storey with a shingle roof.  It was built by Stephen Gould. 

Then there was the old Mount Lofty Hotel at Crafers. which never served a single glass of grog.  That sounds curious, but the explanation is simple.  Just above the Church of England at Crafers, vou may see a row of cottages.  They were the hotel.  I cannot tell you at the moment who it was built the place, but he built it as a hotel, and decreed that it should bear the name of the highest peak in these hills.  When the building was completed it lay idle for a long time, until a fire turned it into a partial ruin.  It was left in that state for several years, and was finally sold, and turned into cottages. 

I have already told you that the bar of the original Crafers Hotel was the scene of the arrest of South Australia s first bushrangers.  Attached to the old house was a skittle alley which is still remembered by the old people.  It was a long, low building with slab walls and a shingle roof, which furnished the enterprising Crafers with a very respectable revenue.  Skittles in the forties and fifties of last century was an alluring pastime which our grandfathers and great-grandfathers could not resist.  The sawyers, the splitters, the teamsters and the other sons of toil who filled the hills and the gullies about the Tiers gathered there in the days when there was no six o'clock closing— very often no closing at al l— and knocked ths pins about for drinks, to the intense amusement of the spectators.  Nor was the sport confined to night.  Whenever a crowd could be got together in the daytime the rattle of the pegs could be heard while bullock drays and tradesmen's carts stood unattended outside, patiently awaitlng the drivers, who were too busy trying their skill to worry about such a mundane thing as work.  I heard of one butcher who left his meat so long in the broiling sun one day that it was hopelessly bad when he emerged to resume his way. 

The Old Wheatsheaf 

Crafers was succeeded as "mine host" by a man named Moseley who later earned local fame by swimming his horse across the flooded Onkaparinga near Warrakilla House, then the Wheatsheaf Hotel (Mylor).  It was a foolhardy enterprise, for the Onkaparinga can be the very devil of a river when it likes.  You had an experience of that last week.  On this occasion it was in a fury, and swept Hack's bridge to limbo.  But Moseley got across. 

As you pass through Mylor you may see a house built of pebbles.  It is called "Warrakilla."  Prior to that it was the Wheatsheaf Hotel.  It's period as a hotel is somewhere in the early fifties.  Here is its story.  Among the men employed by John Barton Hack in pioneering the Echunga district was one "Bill" Warland.  On one occasion while "Bill" was carting from Adelaide to the Old Dairy he camped on the site of "Warrakilla."  Mylor in those days was  just as picturesque as it is now, and "Bill" who had an artist's eye for a piece of landscape, declared that if ever he had the opportunity he would build a house on that spot. 

And he did. 

But the house he built was the Wheatsheaf Hotel, and he constructed it of pebbles which he took from the bed of the river, and of lime which he obtained from stone on the west bank.  I believe the little limestone quarry is still to be seen.  The pubbery was conducted for some years, catering especially for the knights of optimism who trudged across the gullies to the Echunga diggings, and who, more often than not, trudged back months later disillusioned but still thirsty. 

Eventually the Wheatsheaf was delicensed.  George Woodruffe Goyder, having in the meantime decided where rain should be permitted to fall regularly, and where it should not, happened across the one-time abode of hilarity, took the same sort of liking to the place as had "Bill" Warland before him, and bought it as a residence.  It was the former Surveyor-General who called it by its present name — "Warrakilla."  Mr. C. J. Hill, of Scott's Creek, who told me the story of "Warrakilla," said the word was most likely imported from the Northern Territory by Mr. Goyder, who spent some time in the region of Darwin, and brought home a good stcck of aboriginal names. 

For the story of Stirling, Aldgate, Mylor, Scott's Creek, Crafers, and Mount Lofty I am largely indebted to Messrs. William Nicholls (chairman Stirling West District Council), C. J. Hill, R. Bilney, William Tilling, and H. S. Bennett (district clerk). 


  • The men who told the story of the Tiers. Sitting— Messrs. William Nicholls (chairman Stirling- West District Council) and H. S. Bennett (district clertk.)   Standing— Messrs. B. Bilney, William Tilling, and Captain C. J. HilL
  • The original Aldgate, London.