The Establishment of Gawler South Australia by Peter Whimpress

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SOME THOUGHTS ON THE ESTABLISHMENT OF GAWLER S.A. An essay by Peter Whimpress

  There are several accounts of how the Town of Gawler arose. Some of these are myths relayed from generation to generation. 

The one most commonly related is that surveyor, Col. William Light, surveyed and laid out the original township. This may be excused to some extent as the work was carried out by Light, Finniss & Co.


Light arrived in South Australia, some weeks after the first four shiploads of settlers disembarked at Kangaroo Island, as the Colonial Commissioner's surveyor. The delay in arrival was due to his ongoing health problems from which later he succumbed. After carrying out his renowned siting of the City of Adelaide and subsequent surveys Light resigned his position refusing to carry out running surveys to enable settlers to get onto their land. He and several of his survey team went into private practice surveying land for private land owners who had priority in their selection of country and township land.


Light and his party had travelled to the Barossa where land surveys were required. Their route was then from Adelaide to the South Gawler River crossing then known as Murray Pass, the name of the then landowner of land in the Gawler area, but later known as Dead Man's Pass. Travellers then proceeded along the foothills to a crossing of the North Para at area now known as Clonlea Park and then to another crossing on property owned by the King family, now known as Kingsford.


On one of his visits to the Barossa, Light recommended to the landowners (Murray and Reid) of the triangle of land bordered by the North and South Para Rivers and the foothills that they lay-out a township on that land. As a depot town for travellers, both to the Barossa and northwards, it was well located. Murray Street now is the path the early travellers trod as they proceeded on their respective journeys.


One should not discount the advantageous position of Gawler as those moving to rural areas had to carry heavy loads of materials for their settlement and also needed to replenish equipment and supplies regularly. Gawler was their convenient market as stores and professions located there to provide necessary services. Travelling conditions required overnight accommodation and the series of hotels along Murray Street catered for those needs.


At the time of the survey of the Gawler land William Light was bed-ridden at his house in Thebarton. Unfortunately, for South Australian historians Light's first diary was destroyed during a fire at his former cottage at the corner of West and North Terraces, and the only record of his connection with the survey of the Gawler site was a brief entry in a new diary in July 1839 that 'Finniss had called with a plan'. It may be speculated that this was the survey plan for laying out the Township of Gawler, and that Light's acquiescence to it was sought by Finniss before proceeding to layout the streets and allotments.


In a most informative book by E.H. Coombe(1) he indicates that William Jacob laid out the Township of Gawler. It is more likely that Finniss or their surveyors did the survey and Jacob knocked in the pegs. Jacob was connected to the family land holding in the Hundred of Moorooroo, known as Roland Flat (honouring Roland Hill who was secretary to the Colonial Commissioners in England, and later famous for his invention of the penny postage stamp). The other notable namesake is Jacobs Creek which runs through Roland Flat.


There is a suggestion that Finniss had designed the area of Lower North Adelaide, which varies from the standard "Grande Modelle" plan given to Light by the Colonial Commissioners and used in laying out Adelaide. Perhaps some similarities in Finniss's style may be evident in a comparison. Later, Gawler was to establish two substantive farm and railway manufacturing companies and was probably the largest township outside of Adelaide It has subsequently expanded its population and in part become absorbed into the Adelaide metropolitan expansion northward. However, the town was named after the then Governor, Lt Col George Gawler, Cal William Light suggested the site, Light Finniss & Co. laid out the town, William Jacob knocked in the pegs, and Mr Schiebiner opened the Old Spot Hotel.

(1) Coombe, E.H. MP, History of Gawler 1837 —1908 p.10 (1978) Reprint AUSTAPRINT, Hampstead Gardens SA.