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 65 Woodside

By Our Special Representative, No. LXV  -  Extract From Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) dated 5 October 1933

Early Days In And About Woodside - Strange Story of Gofton and Stagg

It would be impossible to say exactly when Woodside began.  It was laid out as a town in 1856.  But it led a strange existence prior to then as a "village".  An old document records the mortgaging in 1851 of "Part 5036 and the village of Woodside" to George McLean, of Hobart, for a loan of £600 at 12 per cent.

The story of Woodside hits you right in the eye the moment you get there — at all events, that is what happened in my case.  My first official introduction to this town was encountering a veteran with iron grey hair, an iron grey beard, and a toughly-tanned and wrinkled face out of which peeped a pair of eyes as keen as the south wind which cut across the landscape.  He regarded me with friendly curiosity, and a queer, half-suppressed glance of amusement which made me wonder if he was secretly laughing at me.  He leant against a tree with his hands in his pockets, and I was not certain whether he was supporting the tree or the tree supporting him.  At all events, I could see that he was ready for a yarn. I sensed also that he knew all about my mission, though we had not yet exchanged a single word.

"Who founded Woodside?" I hurled the question at him with the suddenness of a Big Bertha opening a bombardment.

"Jimmy Johnston," said he, and I detected another glint of secret mirth in the blue eyes.

"I've heard of him," I answered, convinced that he was having a joke at my expense.

But he wasn't.  It turned out, when I had delved a little further into the murky past of the interesting old hills town, that it was a fact that Jimmy (James) Johnston had founded Woodside away back in 1850.  You see, the bulk of the local land that was worth while before there was any town, was held by the South Australian Company, but section 5030, on which Woodside now stands, was not regarded with favor by the agent of that august concern, and he passed it over with haughty disdain.  There upon the aforesaid James Johnston, seeing an opportunity for increasing the size of his income tax demand, acquired the block, and cut it into town allotments.  Having no better name at hand, he called it Woodside after a village in Scotland.  This James Johnston was a brewer, of Oakbank.  But even older than Woodside is Inverbrackie.


Yes, the name is Scotch— it shrieks of parritch and haggis!  But Inverbrackie is the mother of Woodside.  I didn't know that until quite recently.  I happened accidentally to pick up an almanack of 1840, and saw a reference to the "mail cart" leaving for Inverbrackie.  Then I set to work to locate the mysterious place with the tang of a Harry Lauder air about it.  I found it a mile and a half south-west from Woodside.  Next I dug up a "Gazatteer" of the early sixties, and found the town masquerading there as "Inverbrachie."  It is described in the sixties as "a pleasant suburb of Woodside," with a "Scotch kirk and a manse, the residence of the pastor, the Rev. J. McBean."

That is hardly fair to Inverbrackie.  How can a settlement which gave birth to a place be a suburb of that place?  It isn't done.  Now you can search the Directory today until your eyes are tired and your head hums like a buzz-saw — but you won't find Inverbrackie, either under that name or any of its aliases.  It doesn't exist — except as a memory.  But it was there before Woodside, and its genesis was a "pub."  It was a small scattered settlement of Scotchmen, and the pub was there before the kirk.

Inverbrackie began in the late thirties, when a local settler named Payne saw the need for a place of refreshment in the valley through which the main track ran from Adelaide to the Reedy Creek mine.  So he turned his residence into one.

Then the Scotch settlers decided it was time to have a "meenister."  They met in a room at the aforesaid hostelry, sent out an "S.O.S.," and built a "kirk."  That was how the Rev. J. McBean came to Inverbrackie.   

But today the Scotchmen are gone, the hotel is gone, the Rev. McBean is gone, and the kirk is gone, except for a mass of ivy-covered plcturesqueness which covers the site of one of South Australia's lost towns — for Inverbrackie itself is gone.

One more historic fact about Inverbrackie.  It was in the vestry of the kirk that the first school was held in the district.  I stood in the little churchyard at Inverbrackie among the weather stained monuments of the pioneer dead.  The ruins of the old church, absolutely hidden in a mass of clinging ivy, seemed centuries old.  In the graveyard lie the remains of the founder of Woodside, and there lies, too, a  young mother of twenty who died in bringing into the world a baby girl — and this baby herself died the other day at the age of 80 odd.  Time is a queer thing!

Some Early Settlers At Woodside

I talked for several hours with Messrs. A. S. Hughes, C. W. Fowler, H. A. Newman, and G. P. Lauterbach, all descendants of the pioneers of Woodside.  They told me many interesting things about the historic town.  Mr. Fowler is 88, and walked to the meeting without aid of a stick. I hope when I am 88 my memory will be as clear as his is.  But I have my doubts.

Among the first settlers in the Woodside district — in the days before the town was named it was called the Onkaparinga district — was one John Brakenridge.  In Scotland he had been a crofter (small farmer) under the Duke of Argyle.  With his wife and six children he came to South Australia in 1839.  He built a slab hut with a roof of reeds near where Oakbank is today, and was employed as a shepherd by the South Australian Company.  Another pioneer was W. S. Whitington, father of the former Audit Commissioner.  Then came the small handful of Scots who formed Inverbrackie, where Dr. William Innes built the first house in that settlement.  The doctor's remains, lie under a weather stained slab in the local cemetery.  All these men were scattered around the country before Woodside came into existence.

The genesis of Woodside was an inn, which stood on the site of the present Woodside hotel.  The licence was transferred from the old inn at Inverbrackie.  This inn seems to have led a precarious existence.  I don't know who had it originally.  But in 1853 John Dean secured a lease of it for five years at £2 per week.  A year later he sold the balance of the lease to Robert Wilkie for £300.  Mrs. Wilkie two years later disposed of it to James Johnston for £200, and the same year Johnston handed it over to a coffee house keeper named Hans Ferk for £2,300.  You can construct an interesting story for yourself if you like to read between the lines.  Next came a store built by J. and R. Hunter, who conducted it continuously until it was taken over by G. P. Lauterbach 30 years ago.

Woodside was an important police centre in pioneer times.  Three mounted men were stationed there.  You can still see the old police cells, with their two to three feet thick walls at the rear of the hotel I have mentioned.

It was at Woodside that the late Mr. Justice Bundey began his long connection with the bar, first as a clerk of the Local court, and then as an articled clerk in the office of a man of law named Gower.  Next he was in partnership with Captain Dashwood.  It was somewhere about this period that some one remarked of him: "He is the most ambitious man in South Australia; he will not be satisfied until he is Governor."  The prophecy was fulfilled.  Bundey became successively solicitor, M.P., judge, and acting Governor.

Dr. Esau

Of all the characters of early Woodside, I suppose Dr. Esau was the most revered.  He had a peppery temper which found expression in quaint broken English.  But it was all bark.  There was no bite.  Everybody loved him.  He would turn out at all hours of the night, and drive twenty to thirty miles through the dark and the rain along atrocious roads.  He grumbled all the time — but be never let a patient down.  When he got back perhaps someone would be waiting from Palmer, forty miles away.

"Goot Gott Almighty," he would cry peevishly, "vhy can't you let a feller schleep?  I tell you I'm done, I'm done."

All the same be would climb back into his trap, and weary and sleepy eyed, would jog back through the wet and the murk on his errand of mercy.  It is no fun being a country doctor today.  It was less fun half a century or more ago.

Once Dr. Esau challenged a man to a duel.  It was this way.  He was a great dancer, and loved a romp.  Some times in a mad gallop he would swing his partner off her feet.  Once he was dancing with the daughter of a resident of Mount Torrens.  The lady was engaged to an Irishman.  After a rough gallop the Irishman, meeting the doctor in the passage of the hall, objected to the doctor's rough handling of his partner.

"Come outside and fight," said the Irishman.  "Vhat!" exclaimed the doctor, horrified.  "Fight on a dunghill?  No, no, no, I do not fight that way.  Tomorrow mornings I vill meet you at 5 o'clock mit the pistols."

The doctor bore to his grave a sabre mark across his face, received in a duel at Bonn in his university days.

Johnston's brewery at Oakbank is still a live industry.  Here is the story of its beginning, before there was any Woodside or any Oakbank.  Old William Johnston had been used to making beer in England.  On his arrival here he settled near the spot where the historic racecourse was to come into existence years later.  He brewed quarter of a cask of beer, put it on a dray drawn by two bullocks, and took it to Hahndorf, where he sold it.  I suppose if you ordered a quarter cask from the firm today they would tell you they only supplied wholesale orders.

By the way, mention of the Oakbank racecourse reminds me of a fact concerning the great Easter meeting which, I think, has never before been printed.  The Onkaparinga races started in a paddock owned by Mr. G. F. Lauterbach at North Woodside.  The Farmers' Union now have a factory on the site.

Free And Easy Elections— But Exciting

I talked to Mr. C. W. Fowler.  He is the "G.OM." of Woodside — 88 not out, and still able to spin a good yarn about the things that happened before you and I were thought of.  If I tried to tell you all he told me we should need about six issues of "The Chronicle."  But don't be alarmed — I don't intend to.  I must tell you, however, how they fought elections — and each other — in the days when our grandmothers flapped about in crinolines, and our grand fathers sported grey belltoppers and side whiskers.  There wasn't any payment of members.  There wasn't any Labor Party.  Even Jack Lang was lost somewhere in the illimitable world of unborn souls and had to wait another twenty years or so before they found him. 

It was the day of open voting.  No sneaking into a polling booth, hiding yourself behind a curtain, marking your vote in secrecy, and folding your paper so that nobody could see it before you dropped it into the ballot box under the watchful eye of an R.O., who could cite the Electoral Act to you with more ease than he could say the Lord's Prayer.

No. You swaggered up to the polling-place — usually a hotel where free beer was being dispensed by the bucketful — listened to long dreary speeches by the rival candidates, the returning officer, any anyone else in whom the urge of the aforesaid beer had created a furor loquendi.  Then, tugged this way and that by the contending agents of the rival candidates, you arrived dishevelled and tattered at a table, where you sat down and recorded your vote with the opposing agents peering over your shoulder, and hurling abuse or encouragement into your ear, while you paused uncertainly pencil in hand to collect your scattered wits.  Then, if you were extra unlucky, someone favoring the party you had voted against would smack you over the head with a brick or a piece of wood, and you would be carried away limp and senseless, to make room for the next victim. 

They didn't do that at Woodside?  Well, they did — and in every other part of South Australia, too.

Elections those days were exciting affairs.  Everyone wore colors — the emblems of one or the other of the candidates.  The hotels wore them in great strings of flags reaching across the road.  When the beer began to work it was part of the fun to defend the colors.  A mob from the rival camp was certain to come roaring down the road, intent on tearing the pennants of their hated candidate from the pub.  Then there was a free fight.  After the pieces had been collected there was more free beer.

Everything was free and easy — even the imperturbable returning officer.  This was Dr. H. Esau.  The dear old German was a local character.  Everyone loved him.  They cherish his memory still.  But he was a strong partisan.  If he suspected an applicant for enrolment of belonging to a rival party he would say: — "Veil, vell, I vill put you on — dot iss, if I do not forget."  He always did forget when it was convenient to do so.  After he had declared the result he would call to the doorkeeper.  "Harris, you bick oop dese voting papers und you burn dem at vonce — ker-vick."

Good old days! Yes.

There was no limit to what a candidate might spend — and a thousand or two was neither here nor there.  Now our elections are formal and prosaic — and they have to threaten us with a fine to get us to the poll.  Why not return to free beer?

They had one playful habit at Woodside in the days of open voting.  When an argument became warm they tore the pickets from the fences and got to each other in the good old Donnybrook way.

Strange Story Of Gofton And Stagg

One of the drawbacks of pioneering was that the isolated settlers never knew whom they were entertaining.  Visitors just dropped in from nowhere, and next day departed for nowhere.  In the brief interim the unwritten law of the bush demanded that one should give them food and shelter for the night.  And one usually did.  Woodside had scarcely recovered from the surprise of finding itself a settlement in 1840 when one evening two men, garbed as horsemen, but having no mounts with them, appeared at the house of a settler (Charles Newman), and asked for the usual accommodation.  They explained that they were travelling cross country from Mount Crawford, but had lost their steeds.  They were afforded the customary hospitality.  These strangers were Joseph Stagg and John Gofton.  If you don't know these two notorious cattle thieves, you will be interested in the strange tale I am about to tell you; if you do know, you will still be interested, for the story is worth retelling.

Stagg and Gofton were notorious cattle duffers.  They came into the hills in search of unguarded animals, which they conveyed to their lair in the Black Forest, now a suburb of Adelaide, with only the name to remind the present generation of the thick, almost impenetrable forest which once stretched between the city and Glenelg.  In the heart of this jungle, composed of magnificent old gum trees, with a dense undergrowth of scrub, they had made a clearing, and here they slaughtered the stolen cattle, burnt the skins, and put the meat in barrels for sale to certain city butchers.

For a long time the little police force of the colony had been trying to locate the headquarters of the gang, but could not get the slightest clue.  Then one day, an officer accidentally got a hint as to its location.  He decided to raid the lair with a large force of police the following night.

A Premature Raid

But first it was necessary to make a preliminary survey of the position.  So he and a junior straight away plunged into the bush, leading the horses by their bridles, and worked towards the centre of the wood.  Presently they could see the glow of distant fires and black shadows moving backwards and forwards near them.  Eventually they reached the edge of the clearing, having penetrated much nearer the scene of operations than they had intended.  They stood there for some time watching the cattle duffers at work. 

Then there was an unexpected contretemps.  Sergeant Major Alford's horse whinnied, and was answered by one of the horses of the thieves.         

The outlaws were on the alert in an instant.

This forced Alford's hand.  He attempted a big bluff.  Hurriedly sending his companion to gallop among the trees about the stockyard, Alford rushed into the centre of the ring with his pistol in his hand, shouting — "Men, surround the prisoners.  Shoot any who attempt to escape!"

There was a general scatter of the gang.  Alford caught one man — the driver of a cart standing near the salting barrels — and his companion caught another.  The rest escaped.  Neither of the prisoners was a ringleader.  But on the way out of the scrub Alford induced his man to give him "certain information" — That they would find Gofton hiding in a sly-grog shop on South terrace.

The police were admitted to this doubtful place after a long delay.  They found Gofton lying on a sofa apparently in a drunken sleep.  He pretended to be intoxicated, and said he had been there all night.     

"I see." said Alford dryly, "That will explain the fresh blood on your moleskins and shirt."  So they lodged Gofton in Adelaide wooden gaol.

Murder Of Gofton

A wooden gaol is not a formidable proposition at any time.  That of Adelaide in the forties was notorious for the number of prisoners who left it without saying "good-bye."  Gofton was one of them.  Although it sounds impossible in 1933, the fact is that Stagg tied a horse to the gaol fence.  Gofton, breaking out of prison, jumped on this animal and made his escape.

The next scene in the drama was Port Adelaide.  The police learnt that Gofton was hiding somewhere among the mangroves of the Port River, and that Stagg was supplying him with food.  Stagg came and went as he liked, for, although it was known that he was, Gofton's partner in the cattle duffing business, the authorities had been unable to obtain evidence against him.  With the aid of black trackers the law began to hunt for Gofton among the mangroves.  And they found him — not the Gofton they were looking for, but his corpse.

He had been murdered, and his body thrown into a backwash of the river.  Suspicion fell on Stagg.  He was charged with the crime, found guilty, and executed on November 18, 1840.  Was he guilty?  Well, I suppose he was though I would not convict on the evidence given at the trial.

Act III in this amazing story is the most remarkable of all.  Several years after the execution of Stagg the Governor received a communication from the Colonial Office in London.  It stated that a man named Lomas, then incarcerated in a madhouse in England, had declared that he was an ex-officer of the South Australian police, and had murdered a man named Gofton at Port Adelaide.  Although the self confessed murderer was a lunatic, said the letter, the authorities were so impressed by the circumstantial account of the tragedy given, that they deemed it wise to make further enquiries.  Now, here is the strange point — The policeman who arrested Stagg was Trooper Lomas.  Of course an investigation was held in Adelaide.  It was found that Stagg had been properly convicted, and it was deemed likely that Lomas was suffering from an hallucination.  Still— I wonder!

Story Of An Old Diary

Mr. Newman produced his father's written reminiscences — a priceless story of Adelaide in 1837.  I wish I had room to give it here.  He helped to make the first bricks in South Australia.  He was employed by the South Australian Company; and when they secured the special survey of the sources of the Onkaparinga in 1838 he was transferred to the Woodside district as a shepherd.  The family has been there ever since.  It was at Newman's house that Stagg and Gofton stayed the night under the circumstances I have just related.

"No doubt," says the diary, "they were spying with a view to stealing cattle.  I knew Gofton at once, for he had been engaged with another man to put up the fence dividing the park lands" (at Hackney).  The diary throws new light on the capture of the bushrangers Curran, Hughes, and Fox.  It says Bull, the historian, erred in saying Fox was taken with his companions at the Crafers Hotel.  As a matter of fact he was captured at Inverbrackie, where he was working with a survey party.  It was Newman who directed the police to the place where Fox was taken.

Here is an entry which bears out my contention that one never knew who was who those times.  "A shepherd named Bone greatly dreaded a visit from these bushrangers.  One day, during the excitement caused by their exploits in the district, a stranger called at Bone's hut.  He asked for a cup of tea.  Bone gave him the tea, and invited him to stay the night, as he did not wish to be left alone while the bushrangers were in the vicinity.  So the stranger stayed.  He left next morning without saying who he was.  It was later than Bone discovered his guest was Fox himself."

Bird-in-Hand— And Other Mines

I wonder if South Australia will ever own a gold mine?  She has no fewer than thirteen about Woodside — of a sort.  Some of them have paid their way and some haven't — and the majority are of the latter kind.  It was some time in 1882 that Woodside deluded itself into a belief that it was a Ballarat in embryo, when prospectors stumbled across "traces," and "experts" pronounced the interior of Old Earth to be "promising."  It has been promising ever since.  It is still promising.  The most famous of these mines was the Bird-in-Hand.  This first began to take itself seriously in 1881, and by 1882 it had ten stamps at work, later increased to twenty.  It was said to be averaging an ounce and a half to the ton.  I cannot find any official figures to justify that claim, but it is noted in the old diary of an "expert."

What you can ascertain officially is that the Bird in Hand produced some £9,000 worth of the yellow stuff during its long but rather irregular life, at a time when nothing was known about cyaniding.  When the newer process was announced someone went over the old tailings, and added another £5,000 worth of golden metal to the record.  But £14,000 does not sound impressive from a mine which people still refer to as "famous," and the average of which, over an intermittent working life of half a century, was only 12½ dwts.

Other mines in the vicinity are the Two in the Bush, the Ridge, Brind, Fountain Head, Nest Egg, New Eclipse, Bird in Hand Extended, and New Era, and some others with even less claim to fame.  But Woodside long ago gave up dreams of El Dorado.  And South Australia is still waiting for its mine.  In the whole of its existence the State has not produced much more than a million and a half pounds worth of the much-wanted commodity, against £33,000,000 for copper, and £10,000,000 for iron.  There's a moral in those figures — if you like to search for it.

Ingenious Hiding Place.

Here is the story of a resourceful blackfellow, though his ingenuity did not save him from hanging in the end.  He was a Queensland black, and was wanted for rape and murder.  The police hunted him for a long time, but were never able to locate him.  They knew his favorite haunt was a lagoon on Baker's station at Tungkillo.  This lake was surrounded by thick rushes.  Time and again the officers traced their quarry to the brink of the lagoon.  Then all signs of him ceased.  The whole business was mysterious.  It was not until after his capture — he was surprised one day — that the secret came out.  Whenever he was hard-pressed by the police he retired to the swamp.  There he cut a reed from the edge, removed the pith, and plunged into the water.  He laid there motionless, breathing through the straw until his enemies had retired baffled.  This black was eventually captured in the scrub near Mount Barker.  He was taken to Adelaide for trial by a police officer named Nixon.  When they were in the vicinity of the Mountain Hunt one day, the black suddenly drew the trooper's sword from its scabbard, slashed the officer over the head, and flung him down a gully.  Nixon, however, was not killed.  But the black was — they hanged him.


  • The ivy-covered mass which was Inverbrackie kirk nearly a century ago. The ruins are now completely bidden by growth, except for the window shown in the picture.
  • Old police cells in the yard behind the Woodside Hotel. The walls are three feet thick. The door on the left is  an original fitting. Note the gratings over the doors.