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 57 Meadows

By Our Special Representative, No. LVII  -  Extract From Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) dated 10 August 1933

The Story Of Battunga Called The Meadows  -  Rich Run Discovered By A Runaway Horse Thief

When you pass through Meadows you are apt to imagine there is little there to interest you.  That is your mistake.  It is a district charged with episodes in the history of the State.  Some of them are related here.  They will probably surprise you. In any case they are certain to interest you.    

I am not going to comment on the folly of the founder of the Meadows in preferring that designation to the native Battunga.  I am content to leave you to judge for yourself.  If I have any quarrel with the late Charles Flaxman on the subject, it is not on the ground of the unsuitability of the name, for the Meadows was faithfully descriptive of this rich piece of South Australian territory, and, for that matter, still is.  But so was Bill Jim's nomenclature — the place of big trees.  There are not a great number of big trees about this country now.  But there is evidence of them in the multitude of stumps scattered about the fields, denoting the existence a few years ago of a thick forest. 

Charles Flaxman 

The beginning of the Meadows is the story of Charles Flaxman who, on January 21, 1839, acquired a special survey of this country for £4,000-£2,320 paid in cash, and the balance in 21 land orders each for 80 acres.  In return for this outlay Flaxman got 15,000 acres of country surveyed, and received priority in the selection of 4,000 acres.  In case you do not know it, I might tell you that Flaxman was the confidential clerk of George Fife Angas in London.  He was an accomplished German, scholar, and when Angas decided to offer the hospitality of South Australia to the persecuted Lutherans of Prussia in the late thirties, Flaxman, owing to his reputed knowledge of the language, was the man selected by the founder of South Australia to conduct the negotiations.

Finally, towards the end of 1838, when the German settlers came over the sea in search of this new Land of Promise, where they could practice their religion without fear of the persecution to which they were subjected at home, Flaxman accompanied them to Adelaide as the recognised agent of Angas.  He settled his charges on one of Angas sections.   

Angas Nearly Ruined 

Now I will tell you how Flaxman nearly ruined George Fife Angas.  When he left London the confidential clerk was given a power of attorney to act as agent for Angas.  That document did not authorise him to acquire land.  Nevertheless, Flaxman on his arrival saw the opportunities which then existed for making money by speculating in the real estate of the young province.  He acquired large tracts of good country and paid for them by bills drawn on the English merchant Angas, suddenly and unexpectedly confronted by a succession of heavy demands for cash, was seriously embarrassed, and, but for his remarkable standing in the city, and his high reputation as a man of business, would inevitably have crashed.  As it was he met the obligations with difficulty — but he met them. 

But, according to the Angas papers now in the Archives, there was one curious feature about these land transactions.  While the bills which paid for the properties were drawn on the merchant the grants were made out in the name of Flaxman.  I do not know if the Meadows estate was one of these properties.  But I know that Angas gave the ex-clerk particular "beans" for his action, and that a bitter correspondence between the two men followed.  In 1839 Flaxman returned to England.  He had been a worshipper here in the Wesleyan Chapel in Gawler place — unless I am mistaken the old establishment of Simpson and Sons covers the site — and on the eve of his departure was presented by the congregation with a set of silverplate. On that occasion he promised to donate £500 to a fund being raised for a college in the new province.

Flaxman Insolvent 

The next record about this interesting early personality is dated 1841.  That year we find him as chairman of the South Australian Statistical Society.  This was a body in London, formed to collect information about the colony for the use of capitalists and emigrants.  Towards the end of the forties he must have returned to Adelaide, for we find him mentioned as a trustee for the erection of the Pulteney street School, and also a trustee of the Savings Bank in 1848.  He was at that period living in Tavistock Buildings, Rundle street - then an aristocratic quarter of the city.  By this time, however, Flaxman's star was waning.  He had sunk a lot of money in the Wheal Gawler Mines Association, of which he was a director.  It remained sunk.  In 1851 he filed a petition in bankruptcy, setting out his liabilities at £23,913, and his assets at £7,363.  Such, in brief, was the history of the man who pioneered Meadows. 

Dispute Over Survey 

When Flaxman, in 1839, applied for the survey of his 15,000 acres, there was no Government surveyor available to do the job.  So a private man named Cross was employed to do the work for a fee of £200.  The survey was finished on December 23, 1839.  The allotments were soon after taken up, chiefly by agriculturists.  While this survey was in progress a serious dispute broke out between Flaxman and John Barton Hack, who held the adjoining section known as "The Three Brothers," over the boundary between the two properties.  Flaxman contended that Hack had three-quarters of a mile too much country on the south side of the "Brothers."  I do not know how the affair ended, but I know, from the big pile of correspondence on the subject, that it gave the Surveyor-General of the day many a bad headache.  I have an idea that Hack lost the disputed land. 

Bull's Creek Discovered By A Thief 

Most histories will tell you that Bull's Creek, a wonderfully rich valley four to five miles south of Meadows, was discovered by J. W. Bull, pastoralist, historian, and pioneer.  But it wasn't.  It was discovered by a cattle and horse thief named Stone.  It was Stone who told Bull where to find it.  The story is an interesting one.  Mr. Stone was one of those romantic gentry who left his country for his country's good, with various companions of whom one might write "ditto," in one of her Majesty's transports bound for Sydney.  In the course of time Stone eluded the sleepy warders of Port Jackson, and, taking to the bush, made his way overland to South Australia.  Here he spent his time in the Tiers country — the early name for the Mount Lofty Rang e— and what time he was not hiding in the bush from too-inquisitive travelling policemen, he was helping himself to cattle, and an occasional horse or two, the property of the pioneer pastorallsts.  The Tiers, those days, were full of such gentry. 

Now it happened that about the same time as Mr. Stone was endeavoring to elude a squad of police who were anxious to meet him about a certain larcenous transaction, John Wrathall Bull was roaming the same wild country on a more legitimate missions - searching for a run midway between the Murray and the city, where he could fatten a large herd of cattle which were coming overland.  Bull had been out for some time without coming across any country suitable for his purpose.  He was just on the point of returning to the city when he met with a strange adventure, the sequel to which was the discovery and occupation of Bull's Creek. 

Slept With A Convict 

In the wild scrub bordering the River Angas — and you have no idea how wild it was those days — near where the town of Strathalbyn subsequently came into being, Bull was casting about for a place to camp for the night, for dusk was falling, and it was impossible to reach Adelaide that day.  Suddenly he found him self staring at a man leaning against a tree, covering him with a gun.  It was Stone.  Bull recognised the man, and walked towards him boldly.  "Well, Stone," he said, "I am out hunting for a piece of country for a cattle run.  I do not come to disturb you.  Have you any tucker?"  After a moment's hesitation Stone put down the gun.  "No," he answered, "only a small piece of kangaroo."   "Well, I've got some German sausage, ship's biscuit, tea, and sugar," said Bull, "Suppose we share it?"

The thief was agreeable.  He helped Bull to carry saddle and equipment to Stone's camp, and built a fire while Bull went to the creek for water.  Over the meal Stone told his companion that he was on the point of shifting camp.  He was waiting for some blacks to row him across the river in a bark canoe, after which he intended to strike out for Victoria.  Bull promised to keep the secret of his direction, and not to mention the encounter to the police until he was satisfied that Stone had got clear away.  When night fell Stone built a wurley of boughs, and laid down a bed of thick fern leaves, on which the two men slept together side by side.  In the morning they bade each other adieu.  It was then that Stone told Bull how to find the valley now called Bull's Creek.  Bull followed the directions, and soon came on one of the most fertile patches of country in the province.  He promptly "squatted" there, but was subsequently evicted.  But that is another story.  Stone was subsequently captured, lodged in the flimsy Adelaide gaol, and promptly escaped. 

The Gentle Hart — Murderer 

One of the joys of living those days was that one never knew who was who.  It was all right in the city, where everybody knew everybody else, and called them by their Christian names, just as they do now in small country towns.  But in the "country," which in those days included what are now the suburbs of Adelaide, things were different.  The high kangaroo grass was over one's head, the timber was thick, and the scrub was dense.  It hid all sorts of sins.  More especially, it concealed the sinners. 

Well, Bull had only been on his newly acquired "run" a few days when the expected cattle arrived.  He had not even completed the fences for the stockyards.  Among the overlanders who had tended the beasts en route was a man named Hart, whose general demeanor, respectful attitude, and obvious gentleness, greatly impressed the pastoralist.  So, when Hart applied for a job on the "run," Bull readily agreed.  And a more model employe there never was. 

Yet Hart was a murderer with a price on his head! 

But Bull didn't know this.  He came to have such confidence in Hart that he would leave the station in his charge for days at a time, and sometimes Mrs. Bull would be left there alone, except for this trusted servant.  Hart would never take any wages.  He asked Bull to bank them for him — in Bull's own name.  It was a strange request.  But subsequent events proved there was a reason for it.  He asked Bull for a first-class gun, and it was procured for him.  Nothing was too good for this exceptional "find," who could run the property just as well, and perhaps better, than the owner himself. 

Murderer's Escape 

Then one day Hart came to his employer and asked for permission to leave.  In those days laborers of all kinds were under contract, and Hart's term had by no means expired.  His master was disconsolate, but was eventually prevailed upon to agree to the cancellation of the balance of Hart's service.  Hart represented that a wealthy uncle in South Africa had sent for him, and, as there was a boat sailing in a few days, he wanted to take this rare opportunity to travel by her.  Bull considered it would be a poor recompense for Hart's faithful service to refuse to meet his wishes. 

So Hart went to the city, got a passage in the ship as a steward, and was known no more in South Australia.  The boat was scarcely out of the gulf before another overland party arrived at the station, accompanied by a policeman with a warrant for the arrest of Hart on a charge of murdering his previous employer.  Hart, it appeared, was a ticket of leave man.  He had been hired out to a pastoralist and after serving for some time, applied for permission to leave.  His master refused, and threatened to hand him back to the authorities in Sydney.  Thereupon Hart picked up a gun and shot him dead while he was at breakfast. 

It then became obvious why Hart had refused to take his wages from Bull.  He had foreseen this trouble, and intended to steal a horse and gun when it came time to make his escape, knowing that the money held to his credit by Bull would more than compensate his employer for the loss of the horse and gun.  But the departure of the ship made this planned mode of escape unnecessary, and Hart was able to leave the colony with his earnings, £80 in gold, safely in his pocket.  That is another little-known piece of Meadows history. 

John Bull 

Candidly, I was surprised at the mass of historic stories I garnered in Meadows.  You see, I talked in the district council office with Messrs. J. Nicol (chairman), F. Nottage (district clerk), S. Bottrill, Henry Wade, James Masters, W. Moore, M. Hogben, S. Ellis. O. Olsson, S. Smith, and A. Ellis — and they all had some good story to tell of the days that were. 

The John Bull  am writing about was not the old-fashioned portly chap in the belltopper, with the union Jack as a waistcoat, which cartoonists have made so famous in our eyes.  He was a man with a high forehead and kindly eyes, and a mass of white hair which, in his young days, might have been a golden brown.  Anyhow you can see him for yourself on this page. 

John Wrathall Bull was the son of a clergyman.  He happened into this world in Kent in 1804.  He was 34 when he arrived in this country with a wife and family.  There is a coincidence about his coming to this part of South Australia.  Before he left England he wanted experience in dairying, and he got it at a place called Macclesfield, in Cheshire.  When he took up the Bull's Creek property he found himself a close neighbor of a property in the hills which also became Macclesfield — but Bull had nothing to do with the naming.  I am not going to tell you the story of Macclesfield here, because some day I hope to give it an article of its own, but I don't mind letting you into the secret that it was named by the Davenport brothers George, Robert and Sam — after the Earl of Macclesfield, who had nothing to do with South Australia, and possibly didn't care a continental what became of the "beastly colony."  Anyway, we can't blame the earl for the nomenclatural indiscretions of the Davenports. 

Lost In The Bush 

Here is the tale of a tragedy. I can not trace the date, but my impression is that it was sometime in the forties. [1841 - Ed].  It concerns a Miss Harg.  The name might have been McHarg.  It was given to me both ways, but time has obliterated definite evidence on the point.  You must visualise the thickly timbered country about which I have already told you, for if you tried to set it in the atmosphere of the Meadows we know today you would spoil the effect.  You couldn't lose yourself in Meadows now if you tried for a hundred years.  But at the time of the Harg affair every tree looked like every other tree, and you had to be wonderfully versed in the art of bush craft to find your way from place to place with scarcely a landmark to guide you.  The Hargs were local landholders. 

One morning Miss Harg rode off to the home of a neighbor some miles distant to spend a few days there.  She never came back.  She reached her friends safely enough, and spent several days with them.  Then she started for home, and got bushed on the way.  No one worried about her for the reason that her people thought she was still with her friends, and her friends thought she was safely back home.  There were no telephones and telegraphs for quick communication between homesteads — merely a messenger on horseback in urgent cases, or perhaps a blackfellow with a "yabber stick." 

So Miss Harg wandered about the bush for days until she could wander no longer.  There were lots of things she might have done, but did not do.  In the end she just lay down from sheer exhaustion and starvation, and so perished miserably. 

Eventually her people became anxious over her prolonged stay, and communicated with her friends.  It was only then that a tragedy was sensed.  Both families combined to comb the bush for the lost woman.  They found her body on the Black Swamp, and a note pencilled on the fly-leaf of her prayer book giving the details of her death.  [the following words have been traced, scratched with a pin :— Dear Elizabeth (a sister of the deceased) grieve not for me, I am resigned to my fate.]   The name of this family is commemorated in Mt. Harg and Harg's Creek. 

Story Of John Lewis 

I suppose everybody who is interested in pioneer times has read the Hon. John Lewis's "Fought and Won."  You will remember that this grand old man relates how he ran away from home, and tramped the hills in search of work and adventure.  Well, it was at Meadows that he found it.  The Hon. John tells that he ran away, leaving his horses in the field.  He was ploughing at the time.  Well, he reached Meadows by way of Clarendon with sixpence in his pocket.  There he apprenticed himself to a local blacksmith named Simpson, with whom he lived.  You will find a picture of Simpson's cottage in the supplement, but the smithy, which was alongside the house, has disappeared this many a year.

It was in this house that those two amusing incidents occurred of which Lewis tells us — that of the iron in the boot and that of the scalding soup.  I make no apology for summarising them here.  The one was the sequel of the other.  Simpson was a good-hearted Yorkshireman with a weakness — he loved a practical joke. 

One day when Lewis was fashioning a horseshoe he cut off a red-hot piece of metal which fell into his boot.  The boy danced round with pain, but Simpson only saw the funny side.  Putting his hands on his hips he roared with laughter, crying between spasms — "Why don't you spit on it?  Why don't you spit on it?" 

Lewis was nettled.  But he soon had his revenge.  A few days later there was soup for dinner, and young Lewis, made wiser by existence, detected that Simpson had prepared another joke.  For while Simpson's soup was lukewarm, that of Lewis's was scalding hot.  Now, it was the custom of Simpson to bustle the boy through the meal with remarks such as, "Quick, boy, sup; time is money."  However, Simpson went into his bed room to wash his hands.  While he was absent Lewis changed the plates.  When the boss returned he found the apprentice vigorously blowing at the lukewarm soup as though to cool it.  "Come, boy, hurry!" cried Simpson, with a merry twinkle in his eye, "time is money."  At the same moment he picked up the substituted plate of soup, and, putting it to his mouth, took a long drink.  Next instant he sputtered the burning pottage over the table.  There was every sign of agony on his face.  "What's the matter?" enquired Lewis, quietly sipping his own liquid.  "The soup is hot," complained the boss.  "You'd better spit on it," Lewis observed dryly. 

Who Was Commander Servante?   

There was one question I put to the little meeting in the council chamber, and nobody could answer it.  "Who was Commander Servante?"  Some of my friends looked at me in a curious way, as if they suspected that the mantle of the joke loving Simpson had fallen on me.  They had never heard of such a name in their lives.  They didn't believe "there was no sich person."  Yet from where we sat, I could have tossed a stone easily on to an old weatherbeaten slab in the tiny Anglican churchyard, erected "to the memory of Commander Frederick Servante, R.N., born March 19, 1798. died April 30, 1872, aged 74.

It was an old story — the newcomer seeing more of the town than the life long residents.  Most of my friends had never heard the name.  Some few of them had a hazy recollection of the stone, but they knew nothing of the man who lay beneath it.  That stone has been intriguing me ever since. I am certain it hides a story of some kind.  I have an uncanny instinct for sniffing out such things. 

On my return to town I made a beeline for the Archives, feeling certain my constant mentor, Mr. Pitt, who has elucidated so many of my pressing problems, could enlighten me on the point . But he couldn't.  I am still asking, "Who was Com mander Servante?"  If anyone can tell me I should like to know. 

Captain Dashwood, R.N. 

Sleeping almost beside Commander Servante is another old naval officer, Captain Dashwood, who gave his name to Dashwood's Gully, and his distinguished son Charles, former Crown Solicitor, about whom I told you in my Clarendon outburst.  Captain Dashwood's chief claim to fame is his membership of the first Legislative Council, whose main job it was to register the decrees of the Governors.  He was an early collector of Customs, this old sailor, and when he grew tired of extracting cash from the importing Public, he left for England to act as Emigration Officer.  On his return he became a police magistrate. 


  • Meadows in 1866. Birdseye view showing the thick nature of the timber. Reading from the right— W Haddock's cottage and carpenter's shop; D. Woodgate's surveyor's office; Jesse Catt's butcher's shop, with G Ellis's roof showing above. — Courtesy Miss Catt.
  • J. W. Bull
  • Mr. J. Nicol, chairman district council.