Arbury Park and the Cox Creek Valley Settlements

The following information was extracted from Reg Butler's unpublished computer files 2007.

Cox Creek, one of the most sequestered and loveliest of the valleys of SA.  -  The Observer 10/12/1898 p 28.

The district is an agricultural one, and is to a great extent taken up by market gardeners, the soil in the gullies being peculiarly adapted to the growth of vegetables and fruit.  -  RP Whitworth 1866.

Led by Robert Cock, a small party of European colonists set out from Adelaide, early on Christmas Day 1837, to blaze a trail over the Adelaide Hills to the Murray River.  Declining an offer of Christmas dinner with some timber splitters near the vicinity of present-day Crafers, the four men made off further into the dense bush, ‘steering by compass, as there were no more stations of white men’.

A few more kilometres of travel completed, the group reached an annoying obstacle.  William Finlayson recorded the incident years later:

We had not gone many miles when our horse got bogged in crossing what has ever since been named Cock’s Creek, but our united strength could not pull him out, and we were obliged to return to Crafers for help, when Mr WIlson and his stepsons willingly returned with us, and then by great exertions and main force we got him out and camped for the night.

Thus, Robert Cock eventually crossed the stream that would, in time, bear his name.

It is likely that isolated bands of timbersplitters sighted Cox Creek before Cock himself did.  The lure proved irresistable.  Year-round running water seeping into deep pockets of sheltered, fertile soil provided ideal conditions for massive stringybarks and other trees to flourish in profusion.

Cox Creek rises in the Black Swamp, on the southern edges of the New Tiers, between Summertown and Uraidla.  Just over one kilometre downstream, the first substantial tributary (from the slopes of Mt Bonython) boosts the flow, followed quickly by Piccadilly Creek, Carey Gully Creek and Crafers Creek.  Still dropping fast in altitude, Cox Creek receives further reinforcement from moisture streaming off Mt George, before reaching Bridgewater, the only substantial built-up settlement on its banks.  Twisting and turning, the stream foams strongly yet again with run-off from high ridges between Aldgate and Mylor, until it shoots out forcefully into the Onkaparinga River.  This torturous journey through South Australia’s highest rainfall areas takes just ten kilometres to accomplish.

Historically, Cox Creek soon began to assume a significant role in European settlement of the Adelaide Hills.  Due to the insatiable demand for timber to establish Adelaide, the Port and surrounding farms and villages on the Adelaide Plains, timber getters soon spread along the length of Cox Creek and its many tributaries.  A glamorous mixture of runaway sailors, escaped New South Wales ticket-of-leave convicts, wanted criminals, cattle duffers and honest labourers built isolated bark huts beside permanent springs.  Plains dwellers nicknamed these mountain-bound inhabitants Tiersmen, because they came from the Tiers, the earliest popular name for the Adelaide Hills.

Armed with adzes and axes, the gangs went out with sledges drawn by bullocks, which hauled newly-felled logs up from treacherous gully depths and down from perilous mountain heights.  Using saw pits, the timber getters reduced butts to straight lengths for vital construction projects.  Splitters working near the source of Cox Creek tended to send timber for sale down Greenhill Road to Adelaide; those men quartered around what is now Bridgewater used the Mt Barker Road - both routes, of course, were then merely bullock tracks through dense bushland.  After sales had been negotiated or contracts fulfilled, the timber carters gathered principally at James Chittleborough’s Black Bull Tavern, in Hindley Street, for a few hours of discreet sociable roistering, before resuming that lonely existence beside Cox Creek rills.

For characters evading the law, or honest souls valuing solitude, the intense isolation of the Cox Creek vallies indeed.  Few casual day trippers wandered into the region.  People could easily become lost in the tangled scrub and frequent winter fogs only increased the danger of fallin unawares into one of the many unmarked sawpits which littered the countryside.  Posses of police, led by redoutable Henry Alford, Alexander Tolmer, or Thomas O'Halloran, periodically crashed their way through undergrowth, swords drawn in case of suprise attack from adversaries who knew the countryside so much better.  Even Governor Gawler decided to venture forth into the Tiers during December 1838, soon after his arrival in South Australia - he had to make do with a tea-stained pannikin when he asked a Tiersman for a refreshing glass of water.

By 1840, very small numbers of permanent settlers (sometimes timbersplitters who had married and decided to settle down) had arrived beside Cox Creek.  At the headwaters, market gardeners stirred the loam around the springs to plant apples, cherries, pears and plums, under which other exotics such as rhubarb, gooseberries and strawberries thrived in the damp.  These small gardens also grew potatoes, peas, and cauliflowers, all of which commanded top prices on the plains, where the warmer climate did not favour them to the same degree.  Some landholders also raised seedlings for home vegetable plots.  ‘Digging, planting, irrigating, cutting, pulling, bunching, washing, and loading their vegetables for the market occupies their time and that of their families from 5 o’clock in the morning until 9 or 10 at night, when oftentimes either the gardener or his son mounts his cart, trolley, or van, and drives to town - oft times in bitter cold and blinding rain - to be present at the opening of the market at 1am.  There he stands until 6, and occasionally 8 o’clock, until all his wares are disposed of.  As did the pioneer axemen before them, the first cultivators endured long outdoor hours in often inclement weather to earn a living.  In relaxed moments during the day, workers could gaze contentedly across the Adelaide Plains to the glistening gulf, or else to peaceful pastoral properties glowing green and gold amid the lower eastward hills.

Pockets of garden cultivation also began to appear at the headwaters of the various Cox Creek tributaries, where timber cutters had made clearings.  Haphazard surveys meant that some plots were established on purchased soil; other settlers decided merely to squat on Crown land.

Around the future site of Bridgewater, where Cox Creek temporarily steadied its uncontrolled downward rush, signs of different settlement appeared.  Somewhere in the vicinity of where Robert Cock and his companions had become stuck on that fateful 1837 Christmas Day, the bullock tracks descended the ridge from Crafers in order to ford Cox Creek on their way to the Special Surveys in the eastern Adelaide Hills.  Months later, busy traffic bumped and splashed over Cox Creek to service farms and pastoral runs on the Surveys, amongst which rose the Adelaide Hills’ earliest townships.  Religious refugees from Prussia established Hahndorf, the region’s oldest village, in March 1839.  Speculators quickly followed with further private townships - Balhannah, Mt Barker, Nairne - all of which used the future Bridgewater crossing of Cox Creek on their main route to and from Adelaide.

On 1 April 1841, Benjamin Dean, a former Cheshire farmer, successfully applied for a licence to operate a hotel - The Rural Deanery - on the eastern bank of Cox Creek above the ford.  Dean kowtowed no further to government regulation.  Like some of the smallholders further north along the river, he squatted openly on Crown land.  Even the most legalistically minded civil servant abroad in the Adelaide Hills wilds appreciated the homely comforts of the Deanery - the first hostelry since leaving David Crafer’s establishment at the top of the ranges near Mt Lofty.  In the ‘small though neat’ parlour, Mrs Dean and her daughters, Anne and Elizabeth, served coffee, with ‘plenty of eggs, milk, butter, and home-made bread’ to revive weary travellers.

Everyone had tales to tell of the so-called Great Eastern Road between Glen Osmond and The Deanery.  The South Australian of 15 May 1849 featured the comments of two Adelaide gentlemen who made regular trips to inspect their considerable pastoral properties further over the ranges:

William Giles:  It was almost a miracle to go twenty times to Mt Barker without an accident...

Samuel Stocks Junr:  He did not hesitate to say they [roads to Mt Barker] were formed without the slightest pretence to engineering skill. No attempt was made to carry them properly along a range of hills, but they sloped and ran sideways, in this position (holding a book in a way which pretty justly represented those roads).

For years following the Dean decade at Cox Creek, even more sinister yarns enlivened winter evening reminiscing by law-abiding citizens living in the vicinity.  Some members of the Dean family were apparently not above serving doped beer to bullock drivers.  Undistracted by watchful eyes, agile stockmen moved quickly.  They drove unyoked beasts into the scrub on Germantown Hill and then directed them in a wide arc to more isolated Mt George until the ensuing police hubbub had died away.  Amid relative security in the dense bush, the Deanery ‘s henchmen then slaughtered the bullocks.  While stenched smoke from burning carcasses swirled across Cox Creek, freshly salted meat found its way into the hotel’s cellar for profitable under-the-counter sale.

At least, the Deans did not stand alone for nefarious publican activity along the Mt Barker Road.  In 1848, Robert Spearman, the landlord of the Mountain Hut at Glen Osmond, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for highway robbery upon an unsuspecting Strathalbyn bullocky.  No wonder the Hahndorf women walked in single file with an armed member at the beginning and the end of the line on their regular market trips to Adelaide.  The ladies moved down the other side of Mt Osmond from mine host Spearman, but they had to brave head-on any suspicious movements in the neighbourhood of the gloomy Deanery.

Regularly, during winter and spring, Cox Creek itself further contributed to the Deans’ prosperity.  The stream flooded down wildly, making the primitive Deanery ford unsafe to cross.  Stranded wayfarers on the hotel side appropriated the cosy taproom and adjoining parlour to wile away time until the current subsided.

Not only the Deans watched out gleefully for substantial water flows.  Early in 1842, Hahndorf’s flour miller, Wilhelm Wittwer, decided instead to farm at neighbouring Grünthal, with milling as a highly profitable second income.  He erected a water wheel on Crown land at nearby Cox Creek, a little above where it enters the Onkaparinga River (present-day Section 3849, Hundred of Noarlunga), some four kilometres below The Deanery.  Possibly, Wittwer chose the millstones from outcrops of granite further downstream along the Onkaparinga gorges.  The Observer of 2 September 1843 spoke glowingly of Wilhelm Wittwer’s initiative:

[The] good water mill … is abundantly supplied from Cox Creek during six months of the year, and it is expected that even in the summer months, the supply of water will be sufficient to keep at least one pair of stones a-going.

Yes, by 1843, the original Cock’s Creek name had been corrupted to the present-day Cox Creek form, although not yet universally.  Changes also loomed for the river’s spanking water-wheel.  An over-exuberant flood some years later washed away the workings, which were not revived.  The surviving mill stones rest in St Michael’s churchyard, Hahndorf, as a reminder of this pioneer initiative.

During 1849, Government surveyors divided up Crown land in the Tiers for closer settlement.  By 1851, private property entirely ringed the Rural Deanery secure on its Government reserve; three years later, no Crown land existed up to the headwaters of Cox Creek tributaries flowing from the slopes of nearby Mt George.  Benjamin and Elizabeth Dean did not live to see this momentous development; they died in 1848 and 1849 respectively.  Four months to the day after his mother’s death, son John registered his title to Section 1141, Hundred of Noarlunga, which soon played a significant role in the coming Cox Creek closer settlement movement.

Diagonally across Cox Creek from the Deanery, Noah Nichols purchased Section 1201.

Newspaper Articles

SA Gazette & Mining Journal 28/7/1849 - John Chambers, blacksmith, of North Adelaide, states that about December or January 1848, in consequence of a message from Mr GM Stephen, he (CChambers) called upon Mr Stephen at his office in King William St.  Mr Stephen received him; expressed his astonishment that CChambers did not recognise in the individual into whose presence he was then ushered, Mr GM Stephen, the barrister-at-law.  Mr Stephen proceeded to inform Chambers that Captain Hindmarsh, the Governor of Heligoland, was Mr Stephen’s father-in-law, that Mr Mundy, the Colonial Secretary, was his brother-in-law; andd that his brother was Chief Justice of NSW.  He then abruptly said ‘You have some sections at Cox Creek - will you sell them?’ Chambers replied ‘I have no intention of so doing; I bought them with the view of smelting the iron ore with which they abound’.  Mr Stephen rejoined, ‘It is not for the minerals I want them, but for a summer residence for Mrs Stephen’.  At last he wheedled a section out of Chambers, that Stephen should have it at the same price as Chambers paid for it, namely one pound per acre, paying Chambers 20% for the time he was out of his money; and that all minerals under the section should be reserved to Chambers.  Mr Stephen immediately thereupon paid Chambers £50 and took his written receipt.  Mr Stephen a few days after, saw Chambers, and told him that he had chosen the Section Numbered 1118.  Shortly after, a deed was prepared by Mr Stephen, which CChambers, without the intervention of any professional man on his part, signed.  This deed was signed under the impression on Chambers’ mind that it honestly carried out the agreement that he had made with Mr Stephen; that it secured to Chambers the minerals; but he has since learnt that he has been deceived, and that all the minerals as well as the surface passed to Mr Stephen.  Mr Stephen now refuses to give any information to Chambers’s attorneys, or to put matters right, but has brought an action of libel against him for asserting what he here solemnly repeats.

SA Gazette & Mining Journal 2/8/1849 - We, in common with 99 out of every 100 men in the colony, beleived; but certainly if Mr GM Stephen can authorise an explanation or contradiction, we shall be most ready to publish it in our next.

SA Gazette & Mining Journal 20/10/1849 - A conflict of interest between the northern and southern Mt Barker District about the main line of the Mt Barker Road.

It is notorious that the most thickly populated and the best agricultural part of the province lies round Balhannah, Inverbrackie and Mt Charles.  It may not be equally well known, but it is the fact, that the settlers of Echunga and Macclesfield are one-third less in numbers, and do not possess half the available land of the first locality, while the ores from the valuable Reedy Creek must be sent by way of Balhannah.  Yet it is gravely put forward as a proposition that the interests of the colony would be best served by building a bridge at Warlands and leaving hundreds of drays to flounder through the mud as they best can!  This too is a shameful waste of public money …  The interests of the respective districts are inseparable, and for the benefit of all parties concerned, I would submit the following as the most practicable plan that can be adopted, namely - One main line from Crafers Inn to Mt Barker, adopting Nixon’s Line, which has already cost the colony thousands of pounds, but from which not one fraction of benefit has ever been derived, owing to its not being carried on to Hahndorf Bridge, where it was intended to join the old road.  This road can be finished at less cost than any other line, and possesses, besides, the additional advantage of being the most central and level that can be selected.

Having arrived at the township of Mt Barker, let it be laid out to the western flat adjoining the Macclesfield road beyond Mr Burrow’s section.  This road I am certain would not be more than a mile further for the settlers at Macclesfield and Strathalbyn …

But the most powerful argument in support of my view is, that no bridge would be required at Balhannah or elsewhere.  Without the slightest inconvenience, the road over the Hahndorf Bridge could be used by striking off the main line at Mr Gwynne’s section, the distance to the Balhannah people, along a hard leading range, not being more than half a mile further than by the present route.  -  A Settler at Nairne.

Hon Jacob Hagen and Mr Warland the publican wanted Hack’s Bridge rebuilt.  This would cost £1,700 in building a bridge at an out-of-the-way ford leading to a spot rejoicing in the euphonious name of Echunga.  Private individuals to agrandise themselves do not scruple to say that the public moneys of the province, should, without rhyme or reason, be employed forthwith in the prosecution of a scheme … in taking the road to localities where it is not at present required.

The Observer 19/7/1924 - Daring Wembley theft. Valuable pearl missing. A pearl, valued at 1,200 guineas, was stolen on Monday (14/7/1924) from a stall conducted by Mr TC Wollaston, of Adelaide, in the mining section of the Australian Pavilion at Wembley. Miss Lynette Wollaston, aged abou 18 years, was serving at the stall when two men entereed and asked to be shown a scarfpin. She opened a case containing vbaluabel pearls and opals for this purpose, and, unfortunately, forgot to lock it while attending to the two visitors. When she came back a minute later, she found that an uncut pearl, worth at least £1,250 was missing. A lady who was standing nearby said she saw a man take the pearl from the case, but did not realise that a theft was being committed. Miss Wollaston was so upset that she forgot to ask the lady’s name, or to follow the two men; so that there is no clue regarding the crime. …

Mr Wollastonis known throughout the world as a wholesale dealer in precious stones, and is a leading figure in the gem industry of Australia. He has been connected successively with rubies, Tasmanian emeralds, pearls, opals (the black variety of which he introduced) and Queensland amethysts. For many years, he financed pearling ventures at Broome, and owned a large fleet of luggers. Mr Wollaston is exhibiting about £40,000 worth of Australian jewels at Wembley by an arrangement with the Government.

Register 4/1/1861 - New Year’s Day was observed her as a general holiday, all the places of business being closed. Many were attraced to Cox Creek, where Messrs Dunn & Son gave a dinner to those in their employ and their families, also to a large circle of friends. The dinner took place on the lower floor of their steam and water mills, where a most ample spread was provided, and to which about 100 sat down. Amongst the many good things on the table a plum pudding deserves special mention; and for the benefit of your lady readers who may be interested in such matters, I will endeavour to describe it. It was made out of the first bag of flour ground at Messrs Dunn’s new mills, which had been set aside for this special purpose. The number of pounds of currants, raisins, and number of eggs etc I am not able to furnish, but the pudding measured 5’ long and was 32” in circumference. Dinner being over, a vote of thanks was proposed to the firm, and replied to by both members. After which, Mr Dunn informed the company that the steam power having within the last day or two had been added to the mill,they intended to take this opportunity of publically testing its capabilities. … The construction of these mills, I believe, surpasses any in the colony, inasmuch as the slow motive water power and the quick motive steam power were at the first accurately calculated, so as to bring the two powers to bear upon the same machinery either collectively or separately, without any inconvenience; and today’s trial, so far as I could judge, has proved the plan to be a very successful one.Two pair of stones were let into geaer (the other three pair not being quite ready); also the dressing and cleaning machinery. A little steam was then turned on the engine, also a little water on the wheel,and both started off with the greatest precision. The water-wheel was then struck out of gear and the engine, with additional steam, went on with the work of the mill. The engine was afterwards disconnected, and the waterwheel attached; but all these alterations made no difference in the steady going of the machinery of the mill and a bystander looking at the stone would have found it impossible to tell which of the two powers was sending them round. The wheel, with the machinery, was manufactured by Abernathy & Co, Aberdeen. The engine, which is horizontal, is equal to 18 horsepower, and was manufactured by Roughton and Co, Greenwich. Provision is made tolay an engine of the same dimensions alongside of it, should the increase of wheat grown in the neighbourhood of Woodside, Strathalbyn, and Mt Barker warrant it. The millstones are built of French burr, by Coombs & CO, under the superintendence of Mr Harrold, of the firm of Harrold Bros, Adelaide, who has a practical knowledge of the nature of the Australian wheat. The flour dresser is one of Ashby’s late patented revolving vertical machines. There are also French silks in the course of erection, which will be working in a week or so. The building is five storeys high. The first floor contains the lying shaft, with driving-wheels for stones and upright shaft; aslo bag-jumper, rolling-screen, and creeper. The second floor contains the five pair of stones, dressing and cleaning machines. The third floor contains wheat bins, pastry and exhaust blast; the fourth, wheat bins and cooler; the fifth hoisting gear, lying shaft, elevator gear, exhaust chamber, and French silks. There are also three sets of elevators-the first set takes the wheat from a hopper outside the door into which it is shot from the drays and conveys it to any part of the building to fill any of the bins; the second set conveys the wheat from the cleaning-machine to the store bins; and the third set conveys the meal from the stones to the silk or wire machines, or to the coolers. After having looked over the mill and sauntered abou for some time, preparations were made for returning, all well satisfied with the enjoyments of the day. The pleasure of the ride home was considerably enhanced by their meeting with Messrs Paltridge’s band, who enlivened them by occasional strains of music.

Advertiser 5/1/1861 - When the company arrived at the mill, they were received with loud and hearty cheers from the men belonging to that branch of their establishment. After a few hours passed in various amusements, abou 60 sat down to a first-rate dinner. Among other things on the table was a monster plum pudding measuring 4’ 6” long and about 1 foot in diameter; this monster having been boiling several days in one of the boilers of the mill, was drawn out by two men with tackle and blocks.

The mill was then started both by water and steam; the water-wheel was then stopped and the engine proceeded without her helpmate in first-rate order. The engine is 18 HP and the water-wheel 20 HP; so that both together are equal to 38 HP. The machinery is of first-class description and fitted up with all the latest and best improvements, including the French silk dressing and cleaning machines; in fact, everything is so completely arranged as to reduce the necessary manual labour to little more than cutting the bags of wheat at the tails of the drays and sewing them up again with flour and bran as the grain passes from the dray-tails through all the cleaning, grinding, cooling, and dressing operations, and comes off the spout ready packed in bags, which merely require to be sewn up.

The wetness of the day prevented the out-door sports from being carried out as intended, it having come on to rain about 2pm, so that the boys and girls had to enjoy themselves in the mill. The party then left for Mt Barker, the riflemen regretting that they could not have a smack at the target which was provided; the swimmers that they could not have a bath in the dam; and the admirers of nature that they could not roam in the hills. When near Hahndorf, they were again met by the Mt Barker Band returning from Woodside. The whole of the party then formed in first-rate order, led by the band, from the Adelaide Road down Gawler-street and Cameron-street, passing Messrs Dunn’s mill, along Dutton-place, and arriving at Mr Dunn’s residence at Mt Pleasant; three hearty cheers were then given for the Messrs Dunn, the band played God save the Queen, and thus closed New Year’s Day at Mt Barker.

Register 22/3/1861 - Mt Barker Show. Potatoes, onions and turnips were first-rate, and there were also exhibited, by Mr Robinson of the Bridgewater Hotel - though no prizes were offered for them - some very fine pumpkins, trombones and cucumbers.

Advertiser 5/1/1864 - On arriving at the mills, everyone was struck with astonishment at the preparations that had been made, especially the roasting a bullock whole. The process of roasting a bullock whole, being a novelty, excited much curiosity. The spit was a stout sapling about 15’ long, and communicated with an iron rod of about 40’ long, which was attached to one of the wheels driven by the waterwheel, causing the bullock to move round at a steady rate, and thereby ensuring all parts to be equally dressed. Since the last picnic, a great many improvements have been made, including the large and splendid new store - a building of immense strength, 40’ x 40’ and 20’ high, with strong buttresses. The centre of the walls is all grouted with hot lime and other materials, and an immense quantity of iron work has been used to strengthen it in every way possible. The store is capable of storing over 30,000 bushels of wheat. one of the new improvements which deserves especially to be mentioned is the new smut machine, superior to anything ever before erected in the colony. The mill now works five pairs of stones, and it is in contemplation to add to that number. What struck many observers was the way in which the wheat was taken from the weighing machine at the front of the mill, and conveying it to the store at the back. The wheat, after weighing, is thrown into a hopper close by the weighing machine, and then conveyed by machinery to the smut machine, and thence to the store. Throughout the whole process from the receiving of the wheat to its delivery as flour the utmost economy of labour is secured, amounting, some say, to the extent of four-fifths. No expense has been spared to import and erect the newest and most improved machinery for maintaining the renown of the Cox Creek flour, which has already won two medals, one at the Exhibition in England, and the other in Melbourne.

At 1pm, dinner was served in the new store, where tables had been laid for 90 persons. … Eighty ladies sat at the first table, 109 males at the second, and 90 at the third, making a total of 279. The beef was in joints, and, with the pork, was of the first quality. Plenty of vegetables of every description accompanied; and monster plum puddings followed, with plenty of ale and gingerbeer.


Please Note:

The previous Annotations information compiled by Reg Butler previously located here is now accessible from the Adelaide Hills - Annotations page.