Belton, South Australia

Belton

The Hundred of Eurilpa was proclaimed on 18 January 1877. Some three years later there were about sixty settlers who had taken up small farming blocks, hoping for a good life and bountiful harvests. Their first job was to build a shelter for themselves or their family. Next came the task of clearing the land, ploughing it and get a crop in. When this was achieved it would be putting up fences and sinking dams or wells. It was only then that they could start thinking of building a house.

Among some of the early settlers were Owen Smith, John Meers, Arthur Retallick, George Earle, whose five sons later served in WWI and miraculously all returned home and Reinhold Bock. Bock was born on 22 September 1853 at Angaston. He married Johanna Caroline Schilling on 24 July 1877. He had some farm experience and after a short stay at Melrose, where his wife's father Gottfried Schilling farmed, moved with his family to the Belton area. In 1881 it was reported that a total of three hundred acres had been sown, yielding 560 bushels. The next year more than seven thousand acres had been sown giving as many as 20.000 bushels.

The town of Belton, on the Weira Plains in the Hundred of Eurilpa, County Granville, 48 km south-east of Hawker was named by Governor Jervois and proclaimed on 30 March 1882.

Map of Belton

In 1882 the town and district were described in the Register of April as being ‘placed within a stone's throw of a thickly timbered creek thus offering a break to the hot winds and supplying a want which I know is severely felt in many localities in the north, viz., some place out of doors where rest and recreation are possible. In this creek in future days the poet, the sketcher and the solitary lover of nature will find a thing of beauty and a joy forever. The kangaroo still fattens on the streets and terraces of Belton; the eagle hawk and wallaby still haunt the hills; but there is little doubt that, with a favourable turn in the seasons, these present occupiers will have very brief and unceremonious notice to quit...’.


The hot and windy Weira Plains around Belton in 2008.

Unfortunately it did not take all that long before the eager farmers realised that with limited capital and even more limited rain, plus falling wheat prices, the future would not be as rosy as expected. To add to their misery there were the hordes of rabbits, trillions of locusts and the dingoes. If that was not enough there were also the constant hot winds and dust storms. In 1890, Goyder wrote that these people cling to their land with the utmost fortitude, enduring every kind of privation. The hope for better times was their only solace.

At the land sales in Adelaide on 20 April 1882 several blocks were sold, even though 'the country was bearing painful evidence of the terrible want of rain'. All were of 1 rood, about ¼ acre or 1,000 square metres. The upset price was £2.10 per lot. Among the buyers were M. Kenny, 2 lots, T.A. Buerley, 2 lots, J. Torr, 4 lots, W.H. and T. Tremaine, 10 lots, H. Vyne, 1 lot and J. Moody 4 lots. At a meeting held in June a request was signed to have a road constructed between Pamatta Post Office and Belton.

A local reporter went to have a look at the place and described it as ‘a town in embryo’. He gave the directions as 30 kilometres north east of Carrieton on the outskirts of the selected country. After passing Yanyarrie Whim, 'turn right and you will see farmers busily seeding, hoping for a good season, which will recoup their time, labour and capital expended during the last two years. Belton gets its water from the Weira Well and is within a stone’s throw of a thickly timbered creek'.

Regardless of all the hardship the town was making some progress. In 1883 a Post Office was opened with Richard Wallace as first Postmaster. There was a blacksmith, who had plenty of work and a general store, operated by J.C. James. The local political representative, Patrick Coglin, was asked to 'present an address to his Excellency the Governor, praying his Excellency to issue a proclamation declaring Belton a polling place'. In plain English this meant that they weren't going to walk 30km to a polling booth to cast their votes. If Coglin wanted their votes he better made sure there would be a booth in Belton for the coming election.

In 1883 Michael Mulligan took up land in the area. By the end of the year several others had done too. Among them A. Kerr, J. Meers, W. Butler, H.Horton, J.B. Kerr and W. Brown. With more and more people now living in and around Belton a new government well was put down making the supply and carrying of water much easier. There were now also enough people around the area to have Annual Athletic Sports which were attended by hundreds of people, young and old.

On 4 June 1885 a meeting was held to get a school established as it was found that the district was 'neglected in Educational Matters'. W. Butler chaired the meeting. M. Cahill was quick off the mark and proposed, ‘that school accommodation is most urgently required at Belton’. There were some 25 children within a radius of 5km unable to attend school. The nearest school at that time was at Carrieton. Owen Smith seconded the motion. Cahill also proposed ‘that a petition be presented to the Minister of Justice and Education’. This was seconded by J. Garon. Both motions were passed. Among those attending were John Meers and J.B. Kerr.

A few months later, on 18 August another large meeting was convened. This time it was chaired by John Meers. Now it was moved by J.B. Kerr that it was absolutely necessary that the government should grant some concessions to the farmers. Seconded by H. Horton it was duly passed as was an older proposition that Belton should be declared a polling place. Once again they were unsuccessful, regardless of the fact that more people had made Belton their home, including James Butler, W. Axford, G. Butler, Caleb, Thomas and Francis Nelson, C.J. Boase and James Waite.

In September 1885 a meeting was organised at J. B. Kerr's place with the object of forming a Branch of the South Australian Farmers Association at Belton. J. Meers took the chair and among those present were W. Russell, E. M. Wilson, M. Cahill, G.B. Kerr, J. Tonkin, W. James and J. King.

Christmas 1885 turned out to be a disaster for the small community. Florence Jane Boothy, who was only five years old, went walking with her brother towards the Prince Alfred mine and got lost. Her body was not found until several days later.


Ruins in 2008, all that remains of Belton.

Some progress was made during 1886 when J.C. James became the agent for the Register, Observer and Evening Journal for Belton and Johnburgh. An even better addition to the town was the opening of a new school in June with Henry James Jackson appointed as teacher. It did not last very long. After only a short time it closed as the teacher could not make a living.

That same month a meeting was held of the SA Farmers Association, chaired by E.M. Wilson. Among the points of discussion were last year's total crop failures and the land tax, which was considered far too high for farms north of Goyder's Line. One topic which brought about some lengthy discussions was the system of wheat storage. It was found that storing it with merchants was highly unsatisfactory. Storing wheat on the farm would be much better as it protected farmers against 'shaky' merchants. Unfortunately the Belton branch of the Farmers Association folded in August 1887.

In 1887 Mr Howe went to Adelaide to see the Minister for Education in the hope of having the school reopened as he could guarantee that at least 15 students would attend. The minister promised to look into the matter. That same year Belton became part of the newly proclaimed District Council of Eurelia. In April 1888 the Land Commission sat in Belton and farmers pressed hard for a reduction in their rents because of the low yields and low prices for their wheat. A year later farmers requested the government for seed wheat at 5 % per annum. Still the farmers had more problems. At a public Meeting held on 24 January 1891 and chaired by W. Russell, they considered the Vermin Proof Fence Act and the Rabbit Suppression Act which did nothing to stop rabbits on Crown Lands. Although W. Butler, J. Meers and H. Duck were very vocal there was nothing they could do about it.

In 1888 William James was the postmaster. Two years later Catherine Nelson was postmistress. In 1894 Benjamin Jones was the postmaster. The Russell family was expanded with the addition of a son on 31 July 1888. A year later Athletic Sports were held which turned out to be a great success. Among the prize winners were Jack Nelson and W. Potts for the boys while the winning girls were K. Russell, M. Leo and A. Smith. On 10 November 1890 a sport and picnic day was held and some 400 people attended.

In 1889 Belton finally got its long anticipated Provisional School with Sarah Davidson as the first teacher, appointed in December. She resigned in March 1892. Three months later M.A. Dowd was appointed. In November 1892 parents asked the Minister for a better and bigger school, one which would accommodate at least 24 children although there were 40 on the roll. The Minister would call for a report. Nothing came of it, as was usually the case. No wonder there was a large turnover of teachers. The next appointment was that of Catherine E. Fawcett on 7 November 1893. The school soon proved to be too small and a tent had to be erected in 1900, when Miss Andrewartha was the teacher, to accommodate the large number of children.

Students came from far and wide. The Thulburn Family lived three kilometres out of town but their son Richard walked to school every day after having milked the cows. He left school after completing grade four. During the 1920s the family moved to Orroroo where Richard started working, at age 10, for the local butcher delivering meat to customers in town. Richard's father was a drover and often away for long periods of time. His mother Emily tried to make ends meet as a seamstress. During the 1930s depression the Thulburns moved back to Belton where Richard now worked as a rabbit trapper. Emily died in 1944, age 66 and Richard on 23 March 1959, age 75.

During the 1890s and early 1900s there was a small exodus of farmers who had reached the end of the road after many very poor seasons. The number of residents was further depleted by a number of deaths. In 1898 Mrs Ann Jones, widow of Robert Jones, died on 20 March. They had been married at Kapunda in 1859 and in 1878 settled in the Hundred of Walloway. One of her sons, B. Jones was still living in Belton. She was buried at the Orroroo cemetery. That same year Mrs F.E. Schilling retired as Postmistress. On 20 March 1890 Jack Black Kerr died and on 22 July 1899 Charles Alfred Bock fell down a well and drowned. He was only 21 years old. In 1902 Charlotte Gamlen, wife of Eli died on 5 August, aged 77. She was buried at Belton.

However regardless of all the problems the normal life cycle kept going. People still married and had children. On 30 September 1891 Samuel Wilson Jones, eldest son of W.H. Jones, married Laura Constance Tonkin, youngest daughter of James Tonkin of Harcourt, Jamestown. In 1892 James Ramsey, farmer, was thrown from his horse and killed. He left a wife and child to mourn their loss.

William Russell, who had been farming in the district for the last 4 years, was the owner of the school building, which had been open for 3 years. There was a female teacher who lived with the Russells. When Russell left, the teacher resigned and went with them. Average attendance had been 26 students each day. However the building was very small and students were ‘packed in like herrings in a cask’. Residents were adamant that they would have a proper school ‘by hook or by crook’.

On 10 January 1894 Bridget Nelson, widow of Francis, who had died on 12 July 1890, aged 80, died aged 79. They had arrived in South Australia in 1852. They were buried at Carrieton. Her funeral, officiated by the Rev R. Doyle, was largely attended.

When the Hundred of Arkaba was opened up for settlement several Belton farmers visited the area in April 1895 to have a look at the available land, which they thought would give better crop returns. With a decrease in population at Belton services too declined. In April of that year Postal authorities decided on only one mail delivery per week.

By 1897 the drought and lack of feed had become so bad that all horses were removed from the area to keep them alive. It had not rained for a long time and farmers had to cart water from nearby wells as most dams had dried up. Horse feed was very scarce and expensive and shed roofs of old straw were used to feed their horses and the few cattle but still they kept hoping for rain. In February 1897 they were preparing for seeding. A month later seeding was in full swing as they hoped for a good season. With the soil still bone-dry scarifiers and harrows were the chief implements used for cultivation.

Come April there had been no good rain for more than a year. Springs were low and now even most of the wells were dry. However in June it did rain, not only in Belton but over a very large area. Booleroo Whim reported 'nice rains' Rhine Villa had 'beautiful rain', Hawker reported 'nice steady soaking showers, Morchard and Whyte-Yarcowie had 1.2 inches and Mount May nearly 2 inches. Even better rains were recorded in July when Salisbury, Naracoorte, Dawson, Snowtown and Belton had splendid rains again and crops were looking good.

And still the rain kept coming. In April 1898 Melrose and Pinery reported 2 inches and full tanks and dams. Wandearah also had 2 inches but Whyte-Yarcowie only managed half an inch. Belton too was blessed with good rain and seeding had started once again. All this rain had stopped the water carting and most dams were now nearly full. In June Belton had another inch which 'would do inmense good'.

At harvest time in December the wheat yield was very disappointing though, not even one bushel per acre. The harvest in 1900 was a total failure, they didn't even reap enough for seed wheat. Several farmers suggested switching from wheat to stock raising. People were fast loosing heart. Farmers were now forced to leave the district and look for work further south. Reinhold Bock and Alf Chilman found work at the nearby Prince Alfred mine where they lived in tents during the week and went home for the weekend.

Although many farmers had left the district, among them Reinhold Bock in 1901 to Queensland, there were also a few newcomers. In 1896 Gottfried and Louise Schilling, with their son Albert, moved to Belton to live in retirement and be close to their children who had moved there some years before.

Johann Gottfried Schilling was born in Langmeil, Prussia on 23 April 1828 and arrived in South Australia at the age of 9. On 13 May 1852 he married Johanne Louise Klemm, born 3 October 1834 at Kruschten, Prussia, at Light Pass. They were to have seven children. Johann died 2 September 1904 and his wife Johanne on 26 January 1905.

Gottfried had a variety of jobs such as teamster, constable, interpreter, councillor and farmer. During 1877 the Schilling family moved to Melrose where, with the help of their sons, they farmed for many years. When land was opened up in the Bendleby-Belton area they moved out and established their own farms. On 13 May 1902 Gottfried and Louise celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary but two years later, on 2 September, Gottfried died, aged 75, and was buried at Belton. His wife Louisa died a few months later on 26 January 1905, aged 70. She also had her final resting place at Belton.

Other new arrivals at Belton were Jack Hardy and his wife Edith in 1905. They bought Harrington's property and with the help of their three sons hoped to make a go of it. Laurence Garen, labourer of Belton, died on 24 August 1906 aged 86. In 1916 Michael Mulligan, born County Cavan, Ireland in 1837, died on 31 July. He had arrived in SA when 27 years old. Priviously he had worked at Kapunda, Manoora, Mintaro and Pekina. In 1883 he selected land in the Hundred of Eurilpa. He remained a bachelor all his life. He had become a successful stock raiser and left considerable property to Roman Catholic charities.

In 1913 Patrick Smith had the post office and store, Miss M. Murphy was the local teacher, George Earl was the butcher and the Broadbent family were listed as farmers, including George, Matilda and Robert. W.D. Broadbent operated as a teamster.

The year 1919 proved to be eventful. With the war finished many of the South Australian towns welcomed home their 'lads'. In July Private L. Earle was welcomed and it was reported that 'a good crowd was present and an enjoyable time was spent by all. Earle was the fourth son to return with one brother still in Egypt. Mr and Mrs Earle are to be congratulated, so also are the lads on their splendid record'.

On 8 August 1919 Mrs John Meers, a resident of more than 40 years died. She was born in 1851 at Bendigo, Victoria. Married in 1870 at Marrabel she and her husband came to Belton around 1880 where she lived until her death. They had ten children. A month later, on 12 September the Belton Hall was again the scene of great merriment when Privates R. Hooper and H. Gregory were welcomed home. They were the last of the Belton boys to return from the war. They were each presented with seven guineas as a small token of appreciation 'of services faithfully and nobly rendered.

In October C. Burt, who had been overseer of Rasheed's Station Bagalowie for many years, resigned and took up the Overvale Station from W. Glasson on a share basis. That same month a farewell social was given to John Gregory who had farmed successfully for many years. During these years at Belton he was a lay reader in the Methodist Church and considered a good living, straight and honourable man. He left the management of his farm to his son Norman while he would settle down in Adelaide.

The owner of the Belton store had no plans to leave. He had just started building a four roomed house next to his shop. He had high expectations but they were dashed by the end of the year when it became clear that the 1919 harvest had been a total failure. Most of the farmers turned their stock on the little wheat that had managed to grow. None of them even got seed wheat for next year.

Eli Gamlen died on 28 August 1936, aged 92 and was buried at Belton. Emily Priscilla Thulburn died in 1944, aged 66. Her husband, John Thulburn, died on 25 March 1959, aged 75. Both were buried at Belton.


'a thickly timbered creek'

During all these years the Post Office had been kept open with P.J. Smith as postmaster from 1918 until 1930. As more and more farmers and town people left the district it was finally closed on 31 March 1969 when O.L. Smith was its last office bearer. In 1982 descendants of the Smith, Clarke and Heaslip families were still living in the area.

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Belton Cemetery

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