LOCATION: Mount Barker Road - Midway Between Mount Barker and Hahndorf
Nixon’s Mill was designed and constructed for Frederick Robert Nixon, an artist, draughtsman, and surveyor (1817-1860). Nixon arrived in South Australia on 15 May 1838 to take up his appointment with Colonel William Light’s team of surveyors. In 1839 Nixon was in charge of one of the teams surveying 15,000 acres in the Mt Barker district, east of Mount Lofty. Nixon purchased Section 3810 on 6 May 1841 and commissioned a stone tower wind mill to be built on the brow of West Hill (later referred to as Windmill Hill).
This mill was the second wind driven flour mill to be built in the Mount Barker district. It operated between 1842 and 1864 and generated enough power to drive 2 sets of stones although only one set was installed.
The mill tower is the oldest surviving windmill structure in South Australia and is listed in State Heritage Places, Item No. 16183.
Mount Barker District Council was gifted the title to the windmill site in 1929. A major upgrade of the windmill site was undertaken in 2016 by the Mt Barker District Council with the assistance of the Apex Club of Mt Barker, Beerenberg Foundation, Hahndorf Community Association, Hahndorf Lions Club, and the Hahndorf and Mt Barker Branches of the National Trust of South Australia.
1842 - The 12m high stone tower mill was constructed for F.R. Nixon. It had one pair of 1.2m French burr grinding stones, a dressing mill, sails, machinery and mill gear. Two pisé houses were also built on the site.
1844 - The property was purchased by Walter Paterson, a successful farming pioneer for £220 ($440), who was well known for his inventive and manufacturing genius. "For sale by private contract Windmill at Hahndorf, West Hill. The above mill drives one pair of stones four feet French burrs." (Register 28/2/1844)
1853 - Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Wittwer purchased the windmill for £320 ($640) and operated the mill with his son Friedrich Wilhelm. Johann F.W. Wittwer was a German water miller who moved to Hahndorf in 1839. He had built a water mill on Cox's Creek 1842.
1864 - The mill was closed when J.F. Wittwer died, and the millstones and machinery was moved to the steam mill in Hahndorf that was built by F.W. Wittwer.
1880 - Paul Braendler, a farmer of Hahndorf, purchased section 3810 including the windmill.
1912 - A bushfire gutted the windmill. “BUSH FIRES. … early on Sunday morning, 21st January… The old landmark on the top of Windmill Hill was practically shorn of its arms, and now looks a sorry spectacle.” [Observer 27/1/1912]
1928 - Funded by public subscription, a group of prominent businessmen renovated the windmill, adding a new roof, platform and staircase to make the structure function as a lookout tower.
1929 - The windmill site was donated to the Mt. Barker District Council by A.E. Braendler, being officially handed over to The District Council of Mt Barker on the 9th February 1929. The Council “accepted the responsibility of looking after the mill for all time." (Mt Barker Courier 15/2/1929)
1939 - The staircase and windmill top were destroyed by a bushfire.
1965 - A restoration project was commenced by the Mt Barker Apex Club. The tower was patched and painted, a new lookout platform floor built, dummy sail-arms fitted and a tiled domed cap was constructed. Volunteers contributed many hours of labour to the project.
1966 - The newly restored wind mill was opened as a popular tourist attraction.
1975 - A violent storm sheared off a sail arm and vandalism extensively damaged the mill structure.
1979 - Further vandalism at the windmill is reported in 'The Courier' and 'Advertiser' newspapers. As a result, a research and fund-raising program to restore and maintain the windmill was initiated by the National Trust of S.A., Hahndorf Branch.
1983 - A Project Manager was appointed by the Mt Barker District Council to repair the windmill. Stabilisation of the tower structure, masonry repair, water proofing and repairs to door and windows were completed.
1986 - The Mt Barker District Council purchased adjoining land to increase the extent of the reserve.
2015 - The Hahndorf Community Association (HCA) negotiated with the Mt Barker District Council to enhance the amenity of the windmill and surrounds.
2016 - A Conservation Project was undertaken by the Mt Barker District Council. The mill tower was painted, drainage improved, access steps replaced, the boundary was re-fenced, electricity and lighting connected to the site, a shelter for artefacts was constructed and interpretive signage installed.
Little is known about who did the physical work of operating Nixon’s wind mill; however McDonald, Paterson, Jaensch and Wittwer have been mentioned. “Mr Robert S. McDonald, whose father worked for Mr Paterson in the old mill, said they would get up at 2 o'clock in the morning to set the mill going when the wind was favourable, and carry bags of wheat weighing 280 lb (140kg) up a staircase to the top of the mill.” [Mount Barker Courier 15/2/1929]
Extract from 'Hahndorf - A Journey through the Village and its History', by Anni Luur Fox
Born in 1817, Frederick Robert Nixon was barely twenty years old when he left Britain on the hazardous sea voyage to South Australia to take up his appointment by the Colonising Commission as an assistant surveyor. The “Trusty” with Nixon on board arrived in the colony on 15 May 1838. Colonel William Light’s small band of surveyors which Nixon joined, lived under such terrible conditions that they all resigned in July. Their food rations had been barely sufficient to sustain life. Nixon was reappointed in October and so began his rough life in the field punctuated with some home comforts on his brief visits with Captain and Mrs Davison at Blakiston. Elizabeth Davison’s diary contains several references to his visits and those of the washerwomen from “German Town” as Hahndorf was known at that time.
Being in charge of one of the survey parties responsible for the First Special Survey purchased by Dutton, Finnis and Macfarlane in 1839, Nixon was well placed to make use of his knowledge of the countryside and its inhabitants when he was retrenched from the survey department in March 1842. His crime was that he overdrew on official rations supplied to survey parties. Like Mr Wittwer the miller, Nixon was an entrepreneur. Between 1841 and 1845 he had purchased land in the Willunga, Onkaparinga and Mt. Barker districts. Section 3810 where the windmill was later built, was not available for purchase until 1841. Nixon’s application was granted by the Governor on 6 May 1841.
Nixon probably hired tradesmen to build the mill. Construction of the wooden machinery was attributed to Walter Paterson, a practical man described by “Oldest Inhabitant” in “The Adelaide Observer” of August 1900 as a pioneer famous for his inventive and constructive genius. The mill began work in 1842. Two years later in the midst of the colony’s economic depression it was advertised for sale in February 1844. “Windmill at Hahndorf, West Hill, on 12 acres of land containing 2 pise houses and a windmill driving one pair of stones, 4 foot French burrs, with sufficient power for 2 pairs. Machinery, mill gear, rights, members and appurtenances thereto.” Native timber had been used in its construction. The cogs were of sheoak. The wooden roof was shaped like an upturned boat. For $440 Walter Paterson of Mt. Barker became the new owner on 30 October 1844. He worked the mill himself and also leased it out to other millers.
Soon after he purchased the mill there was a battle between the Peramangk Aboriginal people of the Hills and the Moop-pol-tha-wong from the Murray and Encounter Bay regions. Paterson locked his wife and children in the mill while he and two other men tried to stop the battle by reasoning with the leaders of the 2,000 warriors. Mounted troupers with drawn swords put an end to this episode. Sometime later the miller’s daughter became caught in one of the mill’s sails and was tossed in the air. Mabel Baker did a full revolution before her anxious parents were able to extricate her. She was unhurt but impressed with the power of the wind. Writing of her experience in 1928, she referred to the mill’s cap which revolved to catch the prevailing winds. Late 19th Century photographs and a small oil painting by Sir Hans Heysen clearly show the long pole which the miller used to rotate the cap and sails into the wind.
Why Nixon sold the mill for such a bargain price is open to conjecture. He may have overcapitalised, or perhaps the amount of grist was not sufficient to make a profit. Samuel Davenport left us an insight into the vagaries of the milling business in his letter of December 1843, “We have mills in the Mount Barker district – one near Mt. Barker – but the wind is not steady enough for working with regularity and the grinding stones are too soft, as to leave a quantity of grit in the flour, that it does not get much custom. Another a watermill – but at this season the water is not sufficient to keep it going ….” The owner of the watermill, Mr Wittwer, came to work the windmill when disaster struck his own enterprise. He became the owner in 1853 when the track to the windmill was lined with cottages whose occupants, male and female, toiled up the steep hill with sacks of grain on their backs or in wooden wheelbarrows to be delivered for grinding at the mill. Drivers of bullock drays loaded with bags of grain favoured the route along the Old Paechtown Road which is now cut by the South Eastern Freeway. Its gradual ascent was easier to negotiate and the teams could be rested at the hamlet or four fachwerk houses built by the Paech family. They usually returned to Hahndorf along the main track. German farmers from the distant Murray River and Mallee districts brought their crops to the mill in distinctive wooden wagons painted blue, yellow and red.
After J.F.W. Wittwer died his son, F.W. Wittwer, dismantled the machinery and installed it with the stones in his steam mill in Hahndorf Main Street. For people travelling to Mt. Barker the gutted windmill remained a favourite landmark. The sight of its broken sails heralded the end of their bumpy journey along the bush tracks that linked hills townships to Adelaide. Reg Butler in his superlative history of the Hahndorf Academy, “A College in the Wattles” described some of these impressions and the fascination the mill held for the school’s boarders. They were convinced it was haunted by Spring-heeled Jack! No doubt the creaking sails and howling winds on stormy nights added to vivid imaginations of boys out on a dare.
In 1880 the land on which the mill stood, Section 3810, was purchased by Paul Braendler to expand his magnificent “Model Farm” next door. Paul and his family donated the mill and a small section of land to the District Council of Barker in 1928. A severe bushfire in 1912 had destroyed the remaining timbers. A small committee was formed to preserve the mill. The grand opening ceremony took place on 9 February 1929. A decade later, the mill was once again gutted by bushfire. People who played within its walls in the 1940’s remembered its sooty interior minus the staircase and flooring erected with such care in 1928-29.
Little attention was paid to the structure until 1961 when Dr. W.S. Lawson brought its historical significance to Mt. Barker Council’s notice. The Apex Club took on the responsibility of renovation. By July 1966 members had spent hundreds of hours repairing the plaster, painting, constructing the tiled roof and installing a new floor in the upper section. They also attached fixed sails and prepared the grounds for display of historical artefacts. The mill was opened to the public in November 1966. Access was free but the wind and the vandals ensured that this public treasure deteriorated rapidly. In the late 1970’s the “Courier” newspaper started running articles about the mill’s decrepit state, inspiring “Letters to the Editor” and the formation of a “Windmill Restoratation Committee.” A catalyst in raising public interest was Robert Ayliffe, an art teacher at Mt. Barker High School. The Hahndorf Branch National Trust of S.A. mounted a research and fundraising campaign. $7,000 was raised by selling Bleasdale “Windmill” Port swelled by Federal and State Government grants totalling $13,000 to cover the cost of stabilising the structure. Today, the structure remains stable, awaiting the time when we can raise the funds to replace the machinery and sails that kept the mill operating from 1842 to 1864.
“And what happened to Nixon,” I am often asked. Always the entrepreneur, Nixon accompanied by a female companion left the colony for ever on 10 May 1846 on the “Roseanna” bound for Mauritius. On board was a cargo of flour, potatoes, bran and bread. A self-taught artist, he had produced some watercolours of “Life in the Army” and, in February 1845, a folio of etchings entitled “Twelve Views of Adelaide and its Vicinity”. He had managed to manufacture all of the machinery and equipment required for preparing and printing his work. Although Nixon’s drawing technique was rather crude, his etchings warrant a mention because they were the first to be produced in South Australia. Nixon alienated Adelaide’s Establishment by criticising in public the work of George French Angas, a son of one of the colony’s founders, George Fife Angas. A scathing editorial in “The Southern Australian” in June could hardly have advanced his artistic career. He applied for a position in the police force in November 1845 but seems to have changed course once again in his short life when he decided to fill the growing demand for flour in Mauritius. Apart from more artistic publications, little is known about his subsequent movements except that he died in 1860 aged forty–three.