Macclesfield Community History

A Longer History of Macclesfield

Macclesfield and its surrounding area have an interesting and rich history and much of this can be found in our reference book Macclesfield: 'Reflections along the Angas'.

The history of a town involves questions such as:
How and why was this site chosen?
Who has lived here, and why?
What did they do?
What was life like in the past?

We hope to partly answer some of these questions especially relating to the 19th and early 20th centuries.

How and why was this site chosen?

The ‘vision’ of Macclesfield began in the mind of George DAVENPORT who was an Oxford banker and Director of the South Australian Company and therefore well aware of the opportunities available in South Australia. In October 1839 he, with Frederick LUCK and Roger CUNLIFFE agreed to purchase 4,416 acres, and Davenport sent his son George Francis DAVENPORT to SA in Feb 1840 to deal with the selection of the site.

George Francis had to choose the land for the Special Survey and there was also a proviso that 576 acres had to be set aside for a town. He was also responsible for the division of the land into lots for each partner.

Macclesfield features the Angas River and two narrow bands of rock – marble and quartzite – which were quarried intermittently in past years.  The marble is found in various South Australian and other buildings – including the War Memorial on North Terrace and the National War Memorial in Canberra. It was first referenced in the newspaper in 1858 and had its peak years in 1927-1929 when 4,000 tons went to the State’s War Memorial.

In October 1840 approval was given for government surveyors to draw up a town plan.  George Francis DAVENPORT however, left Australia after dealing with these first business matters, and before the plan was finalised.  He left Henry GILES, son of the manager of the SA Company to manage affairs while he was gone.

When George Francis returned in 1843 with his wife Sarah, and brothers Robert, and Samuel with his wife Margaret, they found a good stone cottage had been built at Macclesfield, the Goats Head Inn was in business and there were four flourishing gardens.

It is worth noting that Robert brought with him some willow tree cuttings that he had obtained from Napoleon’s grave at St Helena on his voyage from England. He preserved them inside potatoes until he transplanted them on the banks of the Angas, little knowing the controversy they would cause when they were declared a danger to our waterways and natural vegetation.

However, George Francis did not live long to enjoy what he had started here as he died of typhus about five weeks after returning.  His brothers Robert and Samuel were left to manage their father’s investment. Robert bought a property, which he called Battunga, and moved out of the stone cottage he was sharing with Samuel and Margaret, but of course did not disappear from the history of the township and district. 

The plan for the township was finalised in 1850, features of which are:
• The slight boomerang shape – to take advantage of the Angas River
• The setting aside of Crown lands - which appears to have been general government policy established by Colonel LIGHT.

Macclesfield was named by the Davenport’s in honour of the Earl of Macclesfield in England, for whom George DAVENPORT was a steward. Streets around the town were named for Davenport family members and the two other proprietors – Luck and Cunliffe.

In a letter to his sister Maria, Samuel gave the following account of their first visit to Macclesfield in March 1843 - (at this time Samuel was a 25 year old newly-wed):

“Macclesfield is a place worth visiting - both for the sake of the scenery and the people who live here, especially the inmates of “Love Cottage”.

Maggie and I drove up in a spring cart which by the end of the day so affected our sensibilities that we would have preferred standing to sitting. Tthe road winds by a turnpike gate where they demand sixpence for a horse and one shilling for a chaise and one horse.

Five or six miles in from entering the hills is situated the Creyfors Hotel - a wooden erection with capital accommodation for “man and beast”. Eight miles further through the hills which are well wooded and give you now and then some pretty scenery, even ‘a la’ Devonshire, you come to another inn but one having no accommodation except to give you ale. Two miles further on we reached a place called Watergate.

Past Watergate the road runs on more level ground and is less thickly wooded until you reach this place which you do in ascending a gentle slope from the top of which you have a pretty view of an almost English village lying on the flats before you….the eaten grass, the scattered cottages and the few lofty trees give it quite the appearance of some small village scene. A church steeple a little behind our plain stone cottage would make ours look like the country curate’s house”. 

Samuel mentioned that he had planted 96 cabbages of 3 sorts, plus 80 lettuces and was now milking 2 or 3 cows each morning and evening and had become “quite proficient”.  Samuel’s cottage was standing until 1956 when it had to be demolished because of damage from the 1954 earthquake.

Who lived here and what did they do?

In 1844 records show that land had been leased to:
• S ELLIS - shoemaker - used for a house and garden
• C HOLLOWAY - wheelwright
• S ROBINSON - blacksmith
• S JACKSON - used for the Goats Head Inn (later the Davenport Arms and now The Three Brothers Arms)
• T YATES, C MAIDMENT and W LILLICRAPP all used their land for houses and gardens.

The town acres were being used for crops, cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and horses, potatoes and vegetables. A typical example was Samuel ELLIS who had 4 acres of wheat, ½ acre of garden, 12 cattle and 5 pigs.

Less typical (in terms of size) was Samuel DAVENPORT’S land use - 3 acres of wheat, 2 acres of oats, 2 acres of barley and 100 cattle, 1,000 ewes, 400 wethers, 4 pigs and 4 horses.

Samuel adopted the role of “Squire” in the township. In this role Samuel encouraged, hoped and planned for the establishment of a chapel, a good inn and a school for the village children - all of which were quite quickly achieved.

With regard to the chapel, he first allowed the front room of his cottage to be used for Sunday Services soon after the arrival of Congregationalist minister Rev J.B. AUSTIN, who had purchased land and come to live in the village. The first service was held on 14 Jan 1844.  This soon changed to using a tent on Davenport Square, and soon after the church goers build a gum slab chapel which was replaced in 1848 by a stone church that still stands today - although used for another purpose.

Samuel noted that ‘a well run inn’ was essential for the town to benefit from passing traffic - especially that going through to the Wellington ferry. The Goat’s Head Inn remained untenanted for a time after the first tenant left, but by 1846 it had changed hands to James HACKET and became the Macclesfield Arms.

In 1845/46 a school was established which 15 children attended.  And his plan for having a library was being fulfilled by requests to family and friends to send books.

In 1868 the St Joseph’s Convent School commenced and lessons were conducted in the Church of St James the Less until 1947, when it transferred to a nearby converted army hut. It is now used for the Macclesfield Playgroup and the production of our fortnightly Newsletter.

This very enterprising young man and his wife Margaret left the village after 6 years and moved to Beaumont in 1849 - where he later created Beaumont Common.  Samuel has a long list of achievements to his name.

When Samuel left, Robert took over his responsibilities, but by then the township was becoming independent and the Squire-tenant relationship was weakening.  Robert remained a country gentleman and raised a family of 8 - on strict religious lines - at his property “Battunga”.  He was also first Chairman of the Macclesfield District Council and a member of the Mt Barker Council.  He was very different from his brother Samuel and was disapproving of his ‘management’ role and his ‘extravagance’. Robert on the other hand was very reluctant to sell land. Rather, he preferred to rent/lease it out to those whom he considered to be ‘suitable people’.

The Davenports owned most of the town up to the 1870s although some was owned by absentee landlords. By 1851 there was quite a large group a German families, mostly living towards Bugle Ranges, but they had all but disappeared by the end of the 1850s.

Ferdinand von MUELLER PhD, botanist, arrived in SA in 1847.  He was destined to have a great career that extended to being knighted by Queen Victoria in 1879.  He purchased land at Bugle Ranges and erected a wattle and daub hut, but did not remain long, finding that the arduous work of farming left him no time for botanical research. He moved to Melbourne in 1853 where he was appointed government botanist and later Director of Melbourne Botanic Gardens.

Irish tenant farmers were notable in the district, attracted by the small rentals available for small parcels of land and no doubt by the availability of the first Catholic priest outside Adelaide.  Also in Mt Barker, in 1855, a large country depot for Irish female immigrants was set up - some found employment in Macclesfield and surrounding towns. The Irish tradition was firmly established.

By the early 1850s Macclesfield had become a viable community supported by a rich agricultural hinterland. In 1853 it petitioned for a District Council, supported by farmers, most of who were from the Bugle Ranges area, but also by business people and others from the town.

The farmers were not only small tenant farmers. Several large country estates were set up including “Battunga” (Aboriginal meaning the ‘place of large trees’), “Lashbrooke”, “Glenella”, “Blackwood” and the Paris Creek Estate. These houses were a fine example of early SA architecture and the enduring qualities and good appearance of the local stone.  Some of the homes still stand today.

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What did these early settlers do? How did they earn a living?

The first land use in the area was for stock grazing by ‘overlanders’. The first record of this was in April 1838, when 300 cattle were brought overland from Port Phillip Bay. Use of the land became more formalised after the first sale of land and arrival of settlers, although many did not farm, except for the Davenports.

Samuel DAVENPORT launched an imaginative farming program and by 1844 had planted 1,600 almond trees, 200 vine cuttings, olive and fig trees.  However a more typical farm was mixed crops, garden, and animals, including a milking cow for household milk, butter and cheese.

Land was difficult to clear but very productive once cleared, so the first 10 years were hard, but there was prosperity after that - especially as SA became a thriving and more populous colony and the gold rush in Victoria (early 1850s) provided a huge market for wheat.

There was a preference to use bullocks rather than horses for work because of the hilly terrain and the less expensive diet required. In talking about the exchange of a working bullock with Mr YATES in a letter to an aunt in 1843, Mary FAIRFIELD of Mt Barker said:

“Macclesfield is a really tidy little village, the houses are built of stone, brick, slabs, turfs, terrapisa and bark … some have gardens in front, others behind the dwelling; some have a few acres of wheat, others wheat and potatoes, then stock yards, cow bails, pig sties and fowl houses interspersed with quiet effect”

At the Annual Exhibition of the SA Agricultural and Horticultural Society held in 1850, farmers from Macclesfield were winning impressive prizes for such crops as wheat and potatoes. Small farms clustered around Macclesfield and the German community at Bugle Ranges.

Tenant farmers were a feature of the farming community but there were actually 3 classes of landowners:
• The landed gentry with large country estates, such as Robert DAVENPORT
• Mixed farmers with land averaging 80 acres
• Tenant farmers - mostly poor Irish who farmed 10 to 20 acres.

Many of the larger farmers were noteworthy because of their distinguished careers in public life including terms in parliament and Councils, like Friedrich KRICHAUFF (KRIKOFF). He was born in Denmark in 1824 but emigrated to South Australia when there was a period of political unrest in his own country. He was elected to the first District Council of Macclesfield and held many other important offices.  He was also elected to the first Parliament of SA and over the years served in both the House of Representatives and the Legislative Council.  He was a very public spirited man with a great interest in scientific farming.

However, many of the smaller properties were worked by poor yeoman farmers, poorly educated and therefore not given to keeping written records and diaries.

The fortunes of wheat declined rapidly.  Bushfires, diseases, hard land to work and its labour intensive quality, the depletion of the soil, rising production costs and decreasing sale prices - all contributed to the decline.  For instance, the sale price in 1856 was 15 shillings a bushel and only 2 shillings and threepence in 1893. 

A good source of income for a long time was the cutting and carting of timber and the production of charcoal. The timber of the area was a valuable resource for firewood, fencing posts and rails and wooden shingles (from the stringy bark trees). As the railways extended through the hills the provision of red gum sleepers became a profitable sideline and steam saw mills were set up at Blackwood Park - on the southern outskirts of Macclesfield, between there and Strathalbyn as early as the 1840s and in Mt Barker in 1884.

The extension of the railway from Mt Barker to Strathalbyn in 1884 made Macclesfield more accessible - the 2 day trip to Adelaide, by horse and cart, became 3 hours by train which was accessed at Bugle Ranges, a decent road having been put through for just this purpose.

Garden fruit and vegetables were used for household requirements but some people had sufficient to establish a green grocery delivery run to nearby towns.  The advent of the railroad meant that fruit and vegetables could be transported to the market in Adelaide, so production increased in the 1880s.

Although carefully nurtured at the beginning by Samuel DAVENPORT, the growing of wine grapes declined in the 1880s since the yields were too low.

Hay production was established and continued as an important  use of land. Animal husbandry increased as wheat production declined and dairy farming was a major part of this. Honey production, poultry and rabbits all provided additional income for farmers and others.

Sheep increased from 1869 to 1889. Establishing pasture was difficult until the advancement made by the discovery, in 1889, of subterranean clover by Amos HOWARD near Nairne. That, and the use of superphosphate, revolutionised the carrying capacity of the land from the early 1900s and revitalised the dairy industry.

Women, especially during the earliest times, had many varied duties. Louisa DYKE recalled how she “grew from a little girl into a big one and learned to make bread, butter and cheese, to milk cows, wash iron and do all sorts of useful things.”

So, during the 19th century we see that land use was flexible and inventive as landowners adapted to new demands, opportunities and markets.  At the start of the 1840s the Macclesfield area had been an unfenced wilderness of stringybark, red gums and natural grasses. By 1909 it was an orderly pattern of farms, mostly effectively fenced, with established farmhouses mostly made of local stone. Large stands of timber had been steadily cleared and the exhausted wheat fields were gradually being replaced by perennial pastures.

What was life like?

Probably very similar to many other farming villages in South Australia. Births, deaths and marriages; triumphs and tragedies; good times and bad; bushfires and floods. Through it all a very strong community spirit was established and remains today.

By 1855 the district showed 714 people and 130 houses, with 2 families living in tents. 186 people were in the labour force and the vast majority were farmers or farm labourers (118 in all). The next largest occupation was domestic servants (19) and then a sprinkling of tradesmen (eg. blacksmiths (4), brewer (1) ,plasterers (3), shoe makers (7), carpenters (7)), some businessmen (shopkeepers etc) and 4 professional people (2 ministers of religion, the schoolmaster and 1 nurse).

The village was an important stop on the overland coach route from Adelaide to Melbourne via the Wellington ferry. There was a large amount of traffic, especially during the Victorian gold rush, and a second hotel was established in the 1850s (The Macclesfield Hotel, which still stands, as does the Three Brothers Arms).

The number of churches expanded - the Methodists and Anglicans in 1857 and Catholics in 1858.

In all, the 1850s was the period of greatest town development in Macclesfield - stimulated by the gold rushes, not just in Victoria but also in the local Echunga area.

The District Council of Macclesfield was established in 1853, and an additional hotel was built, a brewery was established, the marble quarry was being used, and the Mechanics Institute building was planned.

The Macclesfield Council mainly over-sighted the making and maintaining of roads in the beginning but also administered various State Government Boards (eg. the Destitute Board).

It is interesting to note that “the care of destitute people occupied a great deal of Councillors’ time, and when visited to get details of their situation, it was often “at risk of life and limb”!” 

Many Irish settlers were desperately poor and, for example, 6 people were provided with rations over 1884/5. The hotelier was reimbursed for maintaining a destitute women at the hotel for four days while she was waiting for a free seat on the coach to enter the Destitute Asylum. Councillor EDMONDS at one stage proposed, and it was agreed, that a letter of protest should be sent about the quality of the clothing provided for distributing to those on relief - he was surprised that in winter more older people had ‘not succumbed’.

The Council also made by-laws and appointed constables, and it remained until 1935. The Council controlled an area of 35 square miles with a population of 600 people and 157 dwellings.

Many of the buildings seen in Macclesfield today were built before 1879, including the hotels, dwellings and shops. The Council was superseded and absorbed into the Meadows Council in 1935.

The building of the Institute was an important step forward for the town. Tenders were called for in October 1880 by the Mechanics Institute which appears to have been part of a State wide educational movement and held meetings first in the schoolroom. The purpose was to provide public instruction and social intercourse. Lectures etc were given on educational topics.

The Institute building was opened on 24 May 1881 amid much celebration in spite of torrential rain. Celebrations included the firing of carronades, the Mt Barker Brass Band, a public lunch and tea, sports and a grand opening concert followed by a Ball in the Hall.

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Missing out on the railway

In the 1870’s and 1880’s there was much agitation in South Australia to have a railway built through the southern hills area. It was argued that a link was needed between the Nairne railway in the hills and Strathalbyn. If the Macclesfield route to Strathalbyn was chosen it would be necessary for the line to cross the Angas River seven times with bridges varying from 60 feet to 80 feet in length. A less costly alternative was chosen and the railway line and stations were put in at Philcox Hill, Bugle Ranges and Gemmels. The line was opened in 1884.

The coach-mail service that operated daily from Strathalbyn to Aldgate via Macclesfield was discontinued and there was no made road from Macclesfield to Bugle Ranges. This was eventually rectified but a railway station five miles from town was poor compensation for one that could have been right in the centre of town. Strathalbyn and Mount Barker benefitted enormously by being connected to the railway and Macclesfield suffered a decline.

It became very isolated. A newspaper correspondent noted in 1886 “This place is not so prosperous as it once was. The overland mail coach from Melbourne is no longer heard drawing up in front of the hotel. The traffic of the important town of Strathalbyn no longer brings trade to Macclesfield. It is as if some Rip Van Winkle has gone to sleep in the neighbourhood.”

However the township was still active. In 1884 a new post and telegraph office was built in the main street and a bank agency was opened. Production of the brewery expanded in the late 1880’s and the Mount Barker Dairy Produce Company opened a creamery in 1893. In 1906 the telephone was connected to Macclesfield.

The swimming pool in the River Angas was one of the biggest ventures undertaken by the town. A working committee was appointed in 1930 to look at the feasibility of such a thing. On Arbor Day 1931 prominent townspeople planted pine trees to beautify the area and they are still there in all their majesty.

The Crystal Lake swimming pool was opened on in 1932 with over 400 people in attendance. The day included swimming competitions and exhibitions in the pool, a dinner at the Davenport Arms and a Ball.

The Ball for the opening event was only one of many Balls held in the Macclesfield Institute. Macclesfield Balls and Dances were known far and wide and, as remember by Vin TONKIN, “Supper was a sit down, usually about 4 courses comprising turkey and all kinds of poultry, every salad and sweets, cream puffs, the lot – truly magnificent”.

The pool was an enormous success. Council drew up a list of rules which included:
• Scanty bathing costumes are strictly prohibited
• No parading in the Park in bathing costumes without a wrap covering
• Loitering, Smoking or Bad Language within dressing shed strictly prohibited.

They were tough times!

The history of Crystal Lake and Lord Robinson Park in which it is situated is documented in the book ‘The Politics of a People’s Park’ published in 2013. We have a copy here today.

In September last year the Park was re-opened for community and general public access, with the installation of “Watersong”, a beautiful sculpture produced by Yoshin Ogata, at the first Adelaide Hills International Sculpture Symposium which will, after two more Symposia, have created a Hills Sculpture Trail with twenty-four sculptures through various towns in the Hills.

At the opening event last year we were pleased to welcome ninety seven year old Alan SARGEANT of Mt Barker who was at the original opening in 1932. He was 14 years old at the time and remembered the event vividly.

The main feature of farming in the 20th century has been the trend towards diversification. The hilly wood terrain had been turned into an agricultural landscape supporting dairying, fat lambs, sheep and cattle, garden and orchard produce. More recently horse studs, alpaca farming and various hobby farm activities have been added to this list.

Wood cutting and carting and wattle barking continued to be a good source of income and by 1910, when dairy farming was more organised, Davis’s Butter and Cheese Factory was flourishing on the site of the old brewery. The DAVIS family expanded into the new factory on Searle Street in 1937 and sold the business  to Jacobs Dairy Produce Company in 1944.

From its beginning the Cheese Factory was a significant feature of the town. Not only was it the main Employer in the town and the central point of a thriving dairy industry, it was the catalyst for the establishment of other businesses. What a thriving, noisy place it must have been sometimes. From eight o’clock in the morning when the siren sounded and throughout the day, the milk trucks and the rattle of cans must have been heard all over town. The noise and smells from the piggery, the brickworks and ice works all adding to a sense of vitality. In 1975 when Southern Farmers bought the factory and closed it down it was devastating for the town.

Our history group had been involved in a very interesting Oral history project - ‘The Butter & Cheese factory 1937-1975’. For the past year we have been working with the State Library of SA to interview and record the stories of  past employees of the factory. As a way of thanking everyone who shared their stories with us we held a launch day last week. They are a valuable source of Macclesfield history and will form part of the J D SOMERVILLE Oral History collection at the State Library of SA.

A strong community spirit still exists in the town and is fostered by the Macclesfield Community Association, local Churches, the primary school, sporting groups, Bushcare and the newsletter committee. They all come together to help with community events. The biggest of these began as the Annual Catholic Picnic on New Years Day in 1883 and has changed from primarily a sports day into a horses-in-action day known as the Macclesfield Horse Show, held in January each year.
The Strawberry Fete is another big occasion in November each year.

 Today Macclesfield still retains a quiet rural charm. The quiet and easy life-style appeals to many people who commute to the city for work.

Come and see for yourselves. Bring a picnic and enjoy the tranquility of Crystal Lake Park and maybe take an historic walk around the town.


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