The town of Gladstone originally started as two townships. The private town, on the east of the railway, was laid out in 1872 by Doctor Matthew Moorhouse, the well known and respected protector of Aborigines in the early days of settlement. By the late 1850s Moorhouse had retired from public life and involved himself with the pastoral industry. He settled near Melrose where he lived until his death in 1876. His son Washington later secured the contract to build the railway from Farina to Hergott Springs.

Gladstone Map

Five additional town surveys were made. The last two, Gladstone Extension and Gladstone Extension North, on 24 May 1880. The government town of Booyoolie, named after the Hughes brothers sheep station, was laid out on the western side of the railway in October 1875. One of the first land buyers in this section was H.C. Gleeson. It was not until 1940 that the name of Gladstone was used for both areas.

Gladstone was one of the many towns born of the great wheat drive which followed the proclamation of the Strangways Act in 1869 and the good seasons of the early 1870s. The first wheat crop was grown in 1872 and was followed not only by rain for some time but also the railway. Eventually the town was to have three different railway gauges and a large gaol.

Gladstone soon became a thriving community of farmers, railway men, goal employees and townsmen and their wives and children. All of them were served by an ever increasing number of facilities. Some of the first businesses opened in 1873 were a bank, post office and the Booyoolee Hotel. As early as 1874, J.A. Leak, general storekeeper and druggist, informed the people of Gladstone and vicinity that he had opened a store near the Booyoolee Hotel and hoped by supplying articles of good quality and at reasonable prices to obtain their patronage.

A school was also established in 1874 and the Gladstone Hotel in 1875, run by the father of C.J. Dennis. At the same time there were harness makers, tailors, dressmakers, builders, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, watchmakers, saddlers, masons and carpenters. Shops opened, a flour mill and later a chaff mill were built as well as two churches in 1875 and one in 1876.

A year later it even its own newspaper, The Areas Express and Farmers Journal, in 1877. Peter and David Shearer operated a masonry business for a short time before moving to Mannum. A third hotel, the Commercial Hotel, was completed in 1878 and the Catholic church in 1881 followed by a Convent of the Order of St Joseph in 1891. By 1881 Gladstone had a population of 729 people, two commercial banks, a savings bank, a flour mill and a well stocked library in their Institute.

St Joseph's Catholic School students, June 1933.

Local government began in 1876, with Washington Moorhouse as one of the first councillors, and in 1882 the Municipal Corporation of Gladstone was proclaimed. Oliver Horner became the first Mayor but the longest serving member was Town Clerk, later District Clerk, Charles Budge, MBE. Budge was appointed in 1891 and served for forty-eight years until 1941.

The railway, which ran through the centre of the town, became a very important factor in the early progress and stability of the town and lasted for more than one hundred years. Very few towns in Australia can claim to have a railway station with three different gauges. The narrow gauge went north to Wilmington and beyond, the broad gauge went south to Adelaide and the standard gauge connected Perth in Western Australia with Sydney on the east coast.

Law and order came early to the town. In 1874 Thomas William Ingram was appointed Justice of the Peace. Tenders for the building of the gaol were called on 4 June 1876 with Sara & Dunstan from Aberdeen, Burra being the successful applicants. Their tender for $43,280 was accepted but when completed the cost had increased to $60,000. Work was started in 1879 with the quarrying of local stone for the walls and the carting by bullock drays of slate from Mintaro. On 8 June 1881 the gaol was officially opened and Mr Pollett and his wife, originally from Redruth Goal in Burra, installed as the first Keeper and Matron. The gaol could house 62 prisoners but after later expansion had room for 280 inmates. This made it almost twice the size of the Adelaide Gaol.

In their distinctly marked uniforms male inmates often worked in the Wirrabara forest cutting fire wood and hauling it back to Gladstone for the locals. Firewood and timber for construction were in short supply in Gladstone and most of the carting was done during the autumn when the dirt roads were hard and dry. A round trip, including cutting and loading, could take as many as four or five days. Those inside the prison walls would boil horses' hair and fowl feathers for use as mattress stuffing, whitewashing walls and scrubbing the slate floors. Female prisoners were to knit socks, mend clothes and make shirts.

Being mainly open grassland, there was no need for expensive and time consuming clearing before farming could start. Most of the early settlers in the Gladstone area came from England with a few Irish, Scots and German farmers as well. They grew wheat during this period of closer settlement and continued to do so successfully for another hundred years. Wheat production peaked in the early 1880s after which it declined steadily as a result of infertility and diseases such as rust and smut.

But like other farmers in the newly opened areas they learned to overcome all these problems except the lack of rain over which they had no comtrol. Yields began to improve once more with the introduction of new drought resistent varieties, improved machinery, super phosphate, fallow and rotation and increased farm size.


Gladstone Cemetery

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