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 59 Echunga

By Our Special Representative, No. LIX  -  Extract From Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) dated 24 August 1933

The Story Of Early Echunga  -  Gold In The Mountain, And Silver In The Mine

Gold has been the magic lure of the white man ever since the beginning of civilisation itself.  We all know the stories of the fabulous wealth of King Solomon's mines.  Gold is as much a lure today as it was then, and perhaps more so.  To gain it men face hardship, danger, and death in a thousand guises.  In this article the reader is given a glimpse of the mad fever which seized the people when the first gold in this State was discovered at Echunga.  It is an exciting story.    

Puzzle — Find the reef!  There's gold in the Adelaide hills as sure as you and I exist.  They are getting it at Mount Crawford now in small patches.  And they got it at Echunga eighty-odd years ago — and have been getting it spasmodically ever since.  There hasn't been much of it, it is true.  But where that gold came from there is more. The problem is to find the main lode.  When we do that South Australia will have a goldfield.  This article concerns Echunga.  And I am going to begin it by telling you the story of the Echunga goldfield.  It dates from 1852, and is a romance in itself.

Colony Bled Of Its Males

In various articles I have made passing reference to tbe effect of the discovery of the Victorian goldfields on South Australia.  Up to that time this State was considerably more populous than her eastern neighbor.  The discovery of the yellow magic changed all that.  Crowds flocked into Victoria by the thousand and the hundred thousand.  Every part of the world poured its adventurers into this smallest colony of the mainland.  Even China sent her pig-tailed battalions by the shipload.  Ballarat, Bendigo, Creswick changed the history of Australia.  They gave Victoria a 'kick-off.'  She has never since looked behind.  The population stayed there, and she became a manufacturing centre.  Now she is one of our most thickly populated States.  Then, as now, Victoria benefited at the expense of South Australia.

Our people, bitten by the gold bug, could not get over the border quickly enough.  I wish I could show you a moving picture of the yellow-fever-stricken hordes of South Australia riding it, driving it, and hoofing it to El Dorado.  Every available vehicle was requisitioned.  Broken-down carts were rejuvenated and pressed into service.  Those who couldn't get a cart or a waggon got a hand truck, or a wheelbarrow, and pushed it through the unknown bush.  Thus was South Australia denuded of her males.  They became so scarce that the children of the city, if they saw a masculine biped in the street, would run inside crying — "Mummy, come and see a man."

You cannot suppose that the Government of the day looked on this chapter of Exodus with a friendly eye.  How could the State be carried on?  There were no police — they had bolted for the diggings.  There were no doctors - they had obeyed the imperative call of gold.  There was no civil service, except a disorganised conglomeration of departments — they were streaming through the bush.  In fact, to curtail the tale of woe, there were no men of any calling left to pay taxes or to buy goods — and South Australia was brought to the very brink of bankruptcy.  The money had been taken from the banks and carted to Victoria.  All that were left were the women and the children — and they followed as soon as they could.

Discovery Of Echunga Field

To stem this tide of emigration the South Australian Government offered a reward of £1,000 for the discovery of a goldfield in this province.  Echunga was the answer.  It was early in 1852 that William Chapman was rummaging about a tract of country known locally as "the company's land," not far from the old Wheatsheaf Inn, when he struck gold.  He told his father, Chapman senior, with his mates, Hampton and Hardiman, thereupon began a systematic search around Echunga for signs of the stuff which forms the basis of all evil.  And they found it in plenty — rich gold on the side of a hill above Donkey Gully.  From there they traced the metal until they reached the spot now known as Chapman's Hill.  Chapman senior was standing there, idly looking about him, when his eyes became riveted on an immense gum tree whose roots were exposed and waterworn.  Water was dripping from the leaves, and forming a tiny rivulet at the roots.  He peered into the roots.  They were a gold mine in miniature — a rich "pocket" studded with nuggets, like a jeweller's window is studded with the signs of bondage.  He picked out half an ounce by hand, and later, sluicing the roots in earnest, several ounces were recovered.  South Australia's first goldfield had been found.

Shadowed By The Townsfolk

The finders decided that for the present they would keep the discovery secret.  They couldn't do it.  Then mysterious comings and goings had not escaped the watchful notice of the townspeople.  They were shadowed.  You see, the whole country was talking gold.  The most astonishing reports were coming across the border of the extraordinary finds in the east.  So, when Chapman and Co. were seen carting several bags of dirt into their yard, and putting it through sundry suspicious processes (which, by the way, returned an average of 1 oz. to the bag) tongues began to wag, though up to this point there was nothing more than rumor.  Chapman and his mates kept their mouths shut tight.  They agreed to keep the secret until such time as they made their claim for the reward.

On Monday, August 23, 1852, Chapman and Hampton walked into the Treasury, and startled the Colonial Treasurer (B. T. Finniss), who later became South Australia's first Premier under responsible government) with the intelligence of their find.

Crowd Wants To Lynch The Finders

Finniss was suspicious.  He declared he must see the field for himself.  He must actually watch the gold recovered from the ground before he would admit the precious stuff was in the Adelaide hills.  So he got a party together to set off next day for Echunga to inspect the field.  There was an extraordinary sequel to that historic joy ride.  Early next morning an excited crowd of some 50 to 60 horsemen, headed by Finniss, Chapman, and Hampton, set off for the hills.  The party included a number of mounted police.  It was just as well it did — or Chapman and Hampton might not have lived to tell their tale.

When the place was reached Chapman was ordered to wash a pan of dirt.  He went to a spot that had not previously been tested and filled his pan.  Finniss said he would stand no tricks.  He made Chapman take off his coat and roll up his sleeves.  There was, he said, to be no chance of legerdemain.  Under these circumstances the washing began.

The crowd was seething with excitement.  They surrounded the unfortunate Chapman so closely, peering over his shoulder in an effort to see what he was doing, that he was almost smothered, and his movements were hampered.  To the highly strung, impatient watchers it seemed as if the digger was taking an interminable time to wash the dirt.  They began to grumble.  When he poured off the first lot of muddy liquid, and the onlookers could see no gold, the grumbles broke into an angry roar.

"Fraud," yelled the crowd. "Let us lynch the swindler," shouted others.  There was no doubt of the miner's danger.  Excitement had changed to disappointment.  The onlookers were beside themselves with rage.  Things would just then have gone badly with Chapman had not the troopers moved in to protect him.  The civilians declared they had been brought from Adelaide on a fool's errand.  But, in the midst of all this impatient fury, Chapman was calmly confident of success.  While the townsmen murmured threats he deftly twirled his dish, and finally, with an expert flick, sent the last of the remaining dirt from the pan.  He then handed it to Finniss.  There, in the bottom, reposed several tiny nuggets!

Crowd Went Mad

Crowds are as fickle as fortune.  This one was no better or no worse than others . A moment before they had wanted to hang Chapman from a neighboring tree.  Now they acclaimed him as a hero.  Their shouts of triumph were so spontaneous that they frightened the horses tethered to the surrounding trees.  Several of the animals broke their bridles and galloped off into the bush.  Their owners were too excited to notice this.  For the townsmen had absolutely lost their heads!

There was a general rush to search for gold.  Saucepan lids, "billies," plates, pannikins, old tins, in fact anything that could be made to serve as a container of dirt, was hurriedly pressed into service.  Some men even took off their hats and filled them with the muddy liquid.  Everyone got a little gold.

Finniss took half an ounce of "dust" back to town.  He proclaimed the field a genuine find.  Nevertheless the finders never got the £1,000.  They were not able to prove, as the terms of the offer required, that £10,000 worth of metal had been recovered from the field.  But, after a long controversy, Parliament voted them a special grant of £500.  Within two months 684 licences had been taken out, and Echunga saw scenes it had never witnessed before — and never has since.  That was 81 years ago . All who took part in that historic "rush" have long since passed ever to the place we were taught is paved with the magic metal.

Optimism And Fossicking

Gold miners, especially prospectors, are the world's greatest optimists.  I met one of them at Echunga the other day.  This was Mr. Andrew Leslie.  He has been fossicking the best part of his life.  He is fossicking still, though his hair is white, and his skin wrinkled.

But his face is tanned by the healthy glow of a life spent in the open, and his heart is as young as that of a youth in his teens.  Is he an optimist?  Well, rather. He still has visions of a big goldfield in the Adelaide hills — and you couldn't deprive him of them if you put a thumping tax on them.  The Leslies came to Echunga in 1853 to mind sheep.  At that time the fields were humming with the free life of a mining camp.  The call of the wilds could not be resisted.  So they became fossickers — and they have remained fossickers.  Mr. Leslie told me that three troopers were sent to the field to collect the revenue for licences from the diggers.  These cost 30/- a month for a claim only 8 ft. square.  That was a better proposition for the Government than owning freehold in the city. Whenever the troopers came on the field there was a cry of "Joe!"  That was a signal for the miners to get their money ready.  It was also the signal for those who had no money to lose themselves.  "Joe!" was also the cry of the miners on the Ballarat diggings.  If it hadn't been for "Joe" there would have been no Eureka stockade.  But that doesn't come into this story.  I wish it did — for I know a good deal of that inflammable piece of foolishness.  Mr. Leslie is full of stories.  But he doesn't like talking of men who failed.  Optimists never do.  He told me of one claim from which 12 ounces of gold were taken when the "hole'" was only 6 inches deep, and of a 12-oz. nugget found at Jupiter's Creek, three miles distant.  He told me that 13 tons of gold had been taken out of the Echunga field, with an odd diamond or two of the purest water.

Jupiter Creek

By the way, let me tell you, incidentally, how Jupiter Creek got its name.  One of J. B. Hack's bullocks was called Jupiter, and it showed a decided preference for this small watercourse about midway between Echunga and Meadows.  When my lord Jupiter was missing, the searchers could always rely on finding him "fossicking" in the vicinity of the creek.  Possibly a future Mrs. Jupiter was located thereabouts.  Anyhow, Jupiter has long ago gone the way of all bovines — but he is immortalised in the officially recognised nomenclature of the State.

Similarly, the Bugle Ranges, some eight miles distant, were named because of the predilection of an ox called Bugle for that part of the universe.

Hack's Old Dairy

Like a Chinaman or an Irishman or an Indian, or a representative of any other nation but Australia, I began the story of Echunga in the middle.  I do not want you to imagine — and I don't suppose you are foolish enough to do so — that the history of Echunga began with the discovery of gold in the early fifties.  It is older than that — much older, as we reckon time in this newly manufactured portion of the globe.  For Echunga was founded by John Barton Hack in 1839.  From time to time in the course of these articles we have come across this interesting old pioneer.  But the real story of Hack belongs to Echunga.  It was here he established "the Old Dairy," the nucleus of the town of today — and the "Old Dairy'" is still in existence.  It now belongs to Mr. Pat Kavanagh.  The “Old Dairy” was Hack's first property in this district.  It was so named to distinguish it from the "New Dairy," nearer Mount Barker, also owned by Hack.  The "New Dairy" now belongs to Mr. C. A. Langrehr.  The "Old Dairy" is located two miles south-west of Echunga.  It was there the town originally started.

Story Of Echunga

In the late thirties (1838-9) Echunga did not exist.  Officially it was known as "country south of Mount Barker."  It was surveyed in 1839, and immediately afterwards Hack took up the section.  He planted a garden of 12 acres with trees imported from Hobart.  He built a residence, and in 1840 removed his family to the place.  At the same time he continued to conduct a business he was running in Hindley Street.  Here you got a glimpse of the active sort of life our forebears led.  Hack resided on the property alternate days, and ran his shop in town the other days.  He left Echunga in the morning in time to be in the city by 10 a.m.  That sounds nothing in these days of automobiles.  But you must remember there were no motors then, nor roads to run them on — not even tracks.  This journey to town three or four times a week was a prodigious feat.  Of course, that sort of thing couldn't go on.  Neither the business nor the dairy could prosper under this system of divided management.

Hack soon found himself involved in heavy losses.  We have his own word for it that he was worth £30,000 in 1840, and practically nothing in 1843.  That was a disastrous term in the career of this energetic pastoralist.  It saw the loss of practically all his assets.

Days Of Distress

Let me give you a picture of South Australia about this period.  It might hearten you in these days of low prices.  Bad as things were during the world crash from which we of 1933 are slowly and painfully emerging, they were never so bad as they were in South Australia in the distressful days of 1840-3.  Sir George Grey was Governor.  The little colony did not number more than 17,000 souls all told.  Of this small number no fewer than 2,000 men and women were receiving relief as paupers.  The Government had cut their expenditure by at least two thirds.  Property values, depreciated enormously, bringing ruin and disaster to many.  Unemployed migrants were receiving 1/2 per day, without rations.  The workless army was threatening "rapine and pillage."  South Australia sent £227,000 abroad to purchase the necessaries of life.  From his salary of £1,000 a year the Governor gave £400 annually to charity.

Government House For Sale

To such a state of financial embarrassment did the Treasury descend that no expedient for raising money was overlooked.  It was at this period that some genius conceived the idea of selling the Government Farm (National Park), as I told you in a previous article, and was only stopped because the Government found they had no legal title to the ground.  But, of all the desperate suggestions put forward to raise the needed cash, none perhaps was so extraordinary as that advanced by Sir George Grey himself.  He proposed selling Government House.  You will find that advice tendered to the Secretary of State for the Colonies - Lord Stanley) in one of Grey's dispatches.  Negotiations, I believe, were actually entered into to lease the vice regal residence as a warehouse.  We haven't come to that in 1933!

Grey's Bills Dishonored

"Ahah!" I hear you cry, "you are confusing Grey with [George] Gawler."  But I'm not.  It is curious that the proverbial Tom, Dick and Harry know all about the disaster which overtook South Australia's second Governor in the matter of dishonored bills, but very few seem to recall that Sir George Grey with his eyes fully open to the risk he was taking, and the disgrace which fell upon his predecessor, deliberately committed the same "crime."  His bills were also dishonored.  This is the story.  Although the Imperial Government refused to pay the bills Gawler had drawn on them, on the ground that the Governor had exceeded his authority, they eventually discovered that Gawler was legally justified in drawing the bills.  So, putting a good face on the situation, they eventually paid them.  When this came to the knowledge of Grey, just about the time he was wondering where on earth he was going to get the next "thrippenn' bit" for Sunday's collection plate, he metaphorically yelled — "Hurrah — a precedent!"  Anybody who knows anything about governors knows how they adore a precedent.  So Grey issued his "I.O.U.'s" in the name of her Majesty's Imperial Government.  But her Majesty's Imperial Government, in the parlance of the vulgar, "wern't having any," and they returned the bills to Grey, with a heartless covering letter telling him in effect to "go and chase himself."  So the crestfallen Grey had to issue colonial 5 per cent. debentures which eventually proved rather expensive shaving papers for those who took them up.

Men March To Work

Before I leave this doleful scrap of South Australian history I would like to give, you a glimpse of how the ration workers of 1841 went to work, and I will give it in the language of a chronicler of the day: — "A number of over 700 immigrants, most of them good working men, were, under compulsion at first, furnished with work at wages reduced to the lowest point at which they were able to subsist, and were marched out daily under inspectors, the majority employed on road making at a Government stroke."

"Very interesting," you say, "but what has it to do with Echunga?"  Merely this: that the crash which brought many of South Australia's business men to the ground in the early days of the forties numbered John Barton Hack amongst the victims, and cost him the Echunga property.

Loss Of The Echunga Home

I suppose the loss of this estate was the most bitter blow Hack received in a long list of reverses.  His own opinion was that he was deliberately deprived of the property because someone else coveted it.  He had sunk a big lot of money in improvements, and it was soon one of the show places in the colony.  When he had spent his available cash, he applied to a bank for assistance.  This was his undoing.  Referring to the circumstances in his memoirs.  Hack wrote: — "Assistance was readily granted (by the bank) while the colony flourished, but as summarily called in when the crisis came."  When the bank began to press him he sold the Hindley street business for £4,000, and raised a mortgage of £1,500 on the Echunga property, "to pay off the claims, and, in part, the overdrafts."

Then he felt secure.  "In 1843 the worst of the storm seemed past," he wrote.  “The manager seemed satisfied with what had been done. I was satisfied I would have the support of the bank. I only required time.”  This was the general position in the colony those days.  Almost every merchant was in the same box — he had to make arrangements with his creditors, or become insolvent.

One morning, just when Hack was feeling satisfied that disaster had been averted, and he could see the sun silvering the edges of the clouds preparatory to emerging, he was looking out of his window, when be saw two men ride into the yard at Echunga.  He went to meet them. "What do you want?" he enquired.  "We are bailiffs," was the unexpected reply.  "We have come to take possession on behalf of the bank."  Hack was staggered.  Here was his life's work wrecked, and wrecked at the very moment he believed himself to be in calm waters!  Here is Hack's own bitter lament about the incident: — "At the time there was only one director of the bank, and an English friend of mine, with whom I had large dealings, and who held a mortgage on a portion of the Echunga land.  The latter was married to a sister of the director, and it was determined to obtain my improved property.  This could only be done by my being compelled to insolvency, and this was carried out, and the whole of the Echunga estate passed for a small amount over the mortgage to my English friend and schoolfellow.  Judge Cooper was sometimes a guest at Echunga, and little thought when he talked to me over the new insolvency law he was preparing, that I should be one of its first victims."  Such is the history of the man who pioneered Echunga.


  • Hack's original house at Echunga. It was a mansion in its day. In the picture the old thatched roof has been replaced by iron.— Morton photo.

  • Relic of the forties. One of the original red gum posts erected by J. B. Hack, cutto take five slip panels.— Morton photo.

  • Mr. A. W. Cobble dick, chairman district council.

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