The Early Days - Mount Barker District - An interesting History

Extract from The Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser - Friday 12 January 1917

When a resident of South Australia for 77 years dies, and particularly when that person has lived in our own district for all that time, the minds of the present generation instinctively hark back in imagination as to what things were like so many years ago.  Unfortunately few of our earlier pioneers have left any record.

The late Mr. Benjamin Sanders, whose death was recorded in these columns last month at the ripe age of 88 years, was a pioneer of this district, and fortunately his sister has placed on record the early experiences of the family.  Mr. George Sanders, of Ovingham, a nephew of the late Mr. Benjamin Sanders, has been good enough to lend us the manuscript, in order that we may make any extracts which will be of interest to our readers.

The Arrival

After dealing with the early family history, the decision to come to South Australia, and the voyage, Miss Sanders says that the ship Delhi cast anchor on Saturday, December 34, 1839.  "What a confused scene there was on board, and what a merry chorus the sailors sang as they ran round the capstan."  There were no wharfs to land at in Port Adelaide, and the passengers were carried on the backs of the sailors through the shallow water from the ship's boats.

The family first lived in a small wooden cottage in Rundle street which the father rented from a Mr. George Deane, who was, like Mr. Sanders, a member of the Society of Friends.  The first loaf of bread cost 3/-.  Christmas Day, 1839, was the first day the family spent in Adelaide and the Society of Friends held a religious meeting in Mr. J. B. Hacks parlour.

At Echunga Creek

Only a few weeks were spent in Adelaide, for Mr. Sanders, sen., exchanged his order for a quarter of an acre of land in the city, which every newcomer was then entitled to, for a section on the Echunga Creek, and which was part of a special survey called "The Three Brothers," because it contained three grassy hills — spurs of the main stringy bark range.  At the same time a family named Little, who were fellow passengers with the Sanders, also took up a section at Echunga.  There were no roads in those days, and it was a trying journey in a bullock dray; and three days were spent in reaching the site of the new home.  Tents were erected on a pretty spot where the creek gave a big bend, great gum trees shaded the water, the grass grew tall and rank on the flats and in the gullies, and memory brings back the quiet hush and calm of the place, and the writer says in later years the scent of the withering gum leaves always recalled those happy days.

Expensive Provisions

Fortunately the father had brought from England provisions to last his family for a year, and as early in 1840, flour was £10 per bag, cheese 2/6 per lb., eggs, 5/- a dozen, and every thing else in proportion.  This proved to be a wise precaution.  At this time the Sanders and the Littles were the settlers farthest out from Adelaide in the hills.  To the north, about eight miles away, a cattle company had a station, while some distance to the east Mr. J. B. Hack had a dairy.

Their First House

The first building was a slab hut which served first as a dwelling, but later as a barn.  Soon a stone building — the only stone house in the neighbourhood for many years —was erected higher up the hill.  Numerous kinds of seeds had been brought from England, and these having been planted, a splendid supply of vegetables were soon available, and Miss Sanders says: "I believe ours were the first rhubarb plants to be grown in the colony."  The first income derived by the family was from dairying.  "Our first calves, a steer, and a heifer came in July, 1840"

Want of Education

The writer goes on to say: "The great disadvantage of our life was the utter neglect of education; we ran wild, but I have often thought that this free life established our health."

The Second Christmas

Twelve months after arrival in the colony the family were comfortably settled, and on Christmas Day, 1840, they had wheat, Indian corn, and potatoes growing, a garden fenced and planted with vegetables of all sorts which were doing remarkably well.  The dairy was in full work, and there were some poultry and pigs.  Mr. Benjamin Sanders was then eleven years of age.

Boys Imitate Natives

The boys used to associate, a good deal with the natives; they copied their weapons, and became quite expert in using them; they learned to climb quite high trees by cutting steps for their feet in the bark; they pulled parrots and opposums from their holes, and would go miles from home without fear of being lost.  That second Christmas Day was observed as a holiday to commemorate the landing.  "There were few holidays, but now and again we had a pair of bullocks, Strawberry and Knobby, put into a cart, and we drove in style to Mount Barker to see the Mays who had settled there, or across to Watergate to visit "the Deanes."

The Sanders home was called “The Forest," and was on the Meadows Road.  Father or one of the boys used to drive every week to McFarlane's sheep station for a sheep to kill for meat.  The station was just on the top of the hill where Mount Barker now stands, says Miss Sanders, and this was a treat which I enjoyed when I was taken.

Great Reverses

In 1843 great reverses came over the colony.  We had no export trade, and the production of farmers' produce was far beyond its consumption, and prices fell enormously.  Indeed, there was scarcely any money in the colony, and goods were exchanged by barter.  Then, so high was the price of labour, that many had involved themselves hopelessly.  A few lent money at ruinous interest.  Much land changed hands at that time.

Amongst those who lost everything were the once-flourishing Hacks, who owned Echunga and its neighbourhood.  This now passed into the hands of Jacob Hagen.

Learning a Trade

About this time the brothers George and Benjamin learnt boot and shoe making, and provided the family with footwear, besides earning a little money for themselves.  They made lasts front the native woods, and sold them to settlers.  One employment of ours, in the winter evenings, was the platting of straw for hats and bonnets, which mother used to make up.

The Mails

When letters and papers came from England we had to get them from Adelaide, but later from Mount Barker, then from Hahndorf, until the township of Echunga was laid out.

Early Echunga

Echunga was laid out in 1848 or 1849, by Jacob Hagen, and some Germans named Dosey bought an allotment and found clay suitable for making pots and bricks, and started their manufacture.  I think they were the first made in the colony.

In 1851 the Sanders family bought a section of land on the Three Brothers. and rented another section and a half.

The Goldfields

But in 1852, the Victorian goldfields having been found, the three boys William, Jonathan, and Benjamin, yoked up a team of oxen and went overland.  The boys wandered all over the fields, and when they decided to return home they had made no fortunes but they had more than cleared expenses, and had enjoyed them selves.

When they returned they found a good harvest awaiting them, which they sold at 19/- per bushel.  All provisions were high at that time, the diggers had returned to their homes, and gold was abundant.  These were grand times, but after they were over there was much distress.  Gold was discovered at Echunga at this time.

Tapton Grange

About 1860 Jonathan and Benjamin Sanders bought land towards the Bremer.  The place was called "Tin Pot," but afterwards named "Tapton Grange" by Benjamin Sanders, who also purchased a property on the Murray for cattle and sheep raising.  In 1865 Mr. Benjamin Sanders married Miss Bessie Barritt. whose home was at Lyndoch, the ceremony taking place in the Friends' Meeting House in Adelaide.  They went to live at Tapton Grange, where they resided for about 2O years, when they came to live at Mount Barker.

Mr. Sanders, sen., died in November, 1861, after having lived a useful life in his adopted country, and had established his family in comfortable surroundings; and it may be said that his son Benjamin, who has just passed to his long rest, was a worthy son of a worthy father.