The Fels Family

The Fels family provides a good example of an early pioneering family. They arrived from Silesia in 1856 and settled at Sevenhill, with their four grown up children, August, Joseph-Francis, Matilda and Paul. As they were all over twenty years of age they did not stay long with their parents. August-Joseph the youngest, born in 1836, married Ruphine Florence Remont at Sevenhill in 1859. She arrived in South Australia from Boulogne, France. Ruphine was seventeen when she married and with her husband, Joseph, as he became known, was to have eighteen children.

Joseph moved to Clare where he became a successful businessman, had a saddler's shop, was a member of the local council and owned several properties in the town. Both his brothers owned businesses in Clare. Francis had a saddler's shop and Paul a tannery at Sevenhill for many years. After more than twenty years in South Australia, Paul, who was still single, decided that he could do better in America. This he did, and eventually became both the owner of a soap factory and a millionaire. In 1906 he returned to Germany and when he died he left his entire estate to the Catholic Church. Paul certainly is an excellent example of occupational, geographic and above all economic and social mobility.

By 1873 Francis had moved to the Flinders Ranges and acquired a saddlery and harnesshop in Blinman. He married Louisa Dillon and had a daughter whom they named Cecily. Living in Blinman did not prove a very happy experience for this branch of the Fels family. On 22 August 1874 Louisa, at the age of twenty-nine, gave birth to twins. Sadly though, both the twins and Louisa died. All three are buried at the Blinman cemetery.

During July 1876 Francis sold his business to William Russell of Blinman and moved to Melrose. In 1892 his daughter Cecily, born 17 July 1871, married George Moran, member of the district council. They were to have seven daughters. At Melrose, Francis became involved in such local affairs as the formation of a district council in 1877. A year later Francis had extended his outlook and invested in land at the new towns of Willowie, Hammond and also at Melrose.

Francis, who was geographically and occupationally mobile, did not attain the same social and economic upward mobility as his brother Paul. It was rather the opposite. In 1893 his businesses of saddler and storekeeper at both Melrose and Hammond were declared insolvent and "all his real and personal estate conveyed and assigned to George Scarfe of Adelaide". On 8 December a dividend of ten shillings in the Pound was declared and would be paid out to his creditors.

During the late 1870s Joseph also caught the travel bug. Maybe he had been influenced by his brother Francis who had lived in the Northern Flinders Ranges for several years, most of them in Blinman. In 1879 he took up two sections of land in the Hundred of Arkaba, visited several of the northern mining towns and worked in most of them. While still living in Clare he employed McCormack, previously of Rapid Bay, to manage his 3,000 acre property. In 1880 Joseph and Ruphine had a son Philip Leo, born at Sevenhill. By converting his original property and securing leases of sections surrendered by other farmers, Joseph accumulated a total of 3,885 acres. With the help of some of his sons he built a good stone house, large iron house, a large dam and several wells, and stables for thirty horses.

During all these years, while establishing and working this property, known as Mern Merna, his wife never ever joined him. She stayed with the younger children at Clare. In 1888 Joseph made a fresh start in the Hundred of Woolyama, proclaimed in 1880, at the end of the great wheat drive, north of Goyder's line. This property became known as Mern Mora. Here Joseph first lived in a tent, until his son Ted built a dug-out type hut for him. Again he added to his holdings by taking over sections from failed farmers, as well as a block selected by his son Frank. In the end he owned 5,000 acres.

In 1896 Joseph was joined by his sixteen year old son Philip-Leo. Philip stayed with his father and in 1907 married Ellen McDonald from Port Augusta. During lean times though Philip was forced to go "on the track" and look for odd jobs to add to his income to support his growing family. Philip and Ellen eventually had six girls and seven boys. During his travels he worked at many different jobs such as fencing, well sinking and shearing at places as diverse and far apart as Cannuwalkaninna, on the Birdsville Track, Mount Lyndhurst and Murnpeowie on the Strzelecki Track and Cordillo Downs.

He, and his fellow workers, often travelled the lonely and unmade bush tracks for hundreds of kilometres on push bike. Between 1914 and 1918 Philip, Ellen and their children lived at Nichol's Nob where Philip had a try at gold mining. This was started by his brother Ted who had died earlier that year and was buried near the mine. To make a success of the mine, the Fels family applied for a subsidy from the government. A total amount of $300 was received, to be paid back from profits made from this venture. At the end of June 1927 nothing had been repaid yet.

They weren't the only ones either who were never able to repay these subsidies. During their time at Nichol's Nob, Philip and Ellen had a further three children. In 1920 Philip took up his father's leases, and when August-Joseph died in 1925, at the age of eighty-nine, Philip inherited the property. In 1938 he expanded this with the purchase of Moralana Gap from F.P. Pearce and Water Cress from Monte Hausler. His property now had a total area of 22,245 acres and the whole expanse was called Mern Mora.

Finally Philip retired in 1950, sold out to his sons Jim and Leo and with his wife Ellen left for Orroroo, where he died five years later at the age of seventy-five. Ellen Fels died in 1963 aged seventy-four. Two of their younger children still live in the area. Margaret, educated at the Mern Merna railway cottage school, married and lives in Leigh Creek where her husband works for E.T.S.A. Leo married Elsie Anne Barnes of nearby Wilson and still carries on the property started and developed by his grandfather and father.


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