Dawson in the Hundred of Coglin, proclaimed on 31 October 1878, was named after Patrick Boyce Coglin, MP. The town of Dawson itself was proclaimed on 19 May 1881. In its early days the town was often referred to as Coglin. When surveyed as many as 360 allotments were laid out. The origin of the name of the town is somewhat of a problem. Some believe that it was named after Henry Dawson the Mail Contractor of that time. Others will argue that it was named after Robert Kearsley Dawson of the Royal Engineers or after Robert Dawson an instructor at the Royal Engineers.
The first allotments were sold in Adelaide at Auction on 9 June 1881. Among some of the early buyers were William Haslam, William Forsyth and William Brock. Investors, in the hope of making some fast money, also bought lots. In August 1881 George Howel and George Alexander, both of Adelaide, invested in land at Dawson. On the same day they also bought at Bruce on the Willochra Plains.
Dawson came into being, like hundreds of other towns during the 1870s and early 1880s, as a result of the wheat drive beyond Goyder’s Line or the expansion of the railways. Unfortunately its farmers, investors and residents missed out on both. Some good crops were had in the early years but the seasons soon reverted back to normal and yields were very small. The proposed railway line, which the early settlers had hoped and fought for to go through their town, went via Terowie instead. It did wonders for that town but residents from Dawson had to travel by horse or coach to Oodla Wirra to catch a train.
They had more success with their mail. Originally it was delivered once a week but after some agitation this was increased to twice a week by 1881. Just as today news was important and the position of postmaster was seen as important and carried a certain amount of respect as well. There was a fairly rapid turnover of postmasters in the early days at Dawson and it was not until 1893, when Rebecca Watkins became postmistress, that there came some sort of stability. She stayed on the job until 1905. Most of her predecessors, like H. Schuller, S.J. Hamlyn, G. Badger, J.H.R. Hamlyn and H.J. Badger had only lasted from one to three years.
As early as 2 July 1882 the Primitive Methodists opened their church. A hundred years later a stone from its building would be used for a plaque to commemorate the incorporation of members from the Dawson Circuit into the Peterborough congregation. The Methodists were followed by the Church of England in 1883 and the Catholics in 1884. The Catholics had already established a privately run school the year before. The Wesleyans opened their church building in 1885.
Another important building materialised in 1883. This was the Dawson Hotel. Apart from the drinks it supplied, it was also a place to hold meetings as few large rooms were available as yet. Its first publican was Joseph Richardson. In 1886 it was F.C. Staer and a year later William A. Steward. In 1888, when a Total Abstinence Society was formed, A. Brown ran the hotel. Staer was publican again in 1892 and Jason McCartin in 1893. Thomas Holland took over in 1897 and remained until 1899.
Sport played an important role as well in the young community. Even after a hard day’s work on the land many of the young farmers, their wives or children were involved in some kind of sport. The Athletics Club was one of the first followed by a Cricket Club. They regularly played against clubs at Petersburg, Terowie, Oodla Wirra and Nackara. When the local pitch needed upgrading in 1914 they used slate from Mintaro. A football club was also formed as well as several other clubs.
A Public school was opened in November 1885 with Emmeline McDougall,, wife of Rev J. McDougall, being appointed as the first teacher. Nicholas Opie was there from 1892 until 1894 and John H.L. Severin did his best to teach the three R’s from 1894 until 1906.
The town was well served with most of its requirements available right from the start. There were several storekeepers, including Walter Peters and Gibson Badger, who was also the local postmaster in 1887. Hermann Schuller also had a store and Henry Gray operated a blacksmith. With well over a hundred residents and a large number of surrounding farms Dawson was a hive of activity. In 1888 it even had its first race meeting.
By the early 1890s it was decided to have an Institute, after all, almost every town had one. When this was accomplished an Agricultural Bureau was formed in March 1892. At its meeting it discussed topics as diverse as noxious weeds, fruit trees, wheat quality, the planting of trees, seed drills, ploughs and any other topic related to the land and of interest to the farmers. That year proved a particularly busy year. Both P.J. Burns and T.J. Wilkinson had a blacksmith shop and Jason Duggan was the local saddler. More children attended school and Mrs R.C. Calleny also started teaching.
During 1893 C.W. O’Kely ran a store and C.C. Kyd, who also ran a store, became the postmaster. Extra excitement was provided in 1894 when W. McDonough, Robert Jones and T.B. Heaslip discovered gold in the neighbourhood near Mount Grainger. It provided additional work for the storekeepers, saddlers, blacksmiths, hotel, teamsters and even the postmaster. In 1899 it was reported that ‘Our gold mines are now commanding considerable attention, and a trip around some of our reefs shows that a large number of men are at work’.
Mining also resulted in an increase of the town’s population. Some coming from as far away as Kapunda. Among them was Johann Antoine Stephen Kroemer, born in Adelaide in 1853 who had married Alice Jane, nee Trotter. Their stay was very short as he died on 26 February 1887.
Below are SOME of the headstones of the Dawson cemetery. In an attempt to save as much space as possible and increase the speed of downloading, only part of the stone is displayed. Flinders Ranges Research has a full photograph of each of these, and many others.