The Koonunga District, situated north of the Barossa Valley and surrounded by Kapunda, Bagot Gap, Greenock, Stockwell, Truro, Dutton, Mt Rufus and Bagot Well was first settled in the early 1840s. Among some of the early, and better known, settlers were Captain Charles Harvey Bagot and his family, the Shannon family and the Duttons. Naturally they had employees, some of whom stayed with them for many years. As a result of the large landholdings amassed by some of the early pastoralists and farmers there never developed a close knit community to give rise to a village or town. Even so, the district has been important to the economic and political development of South Australia.
Captain Charles Harvey Bagot, born on 17 April 1788 in Ireland was the eleventh child of Christopher and Elizabeth Bagot. At the ripe old age, for that time, of 52 Charles and his family boarded the Birman at Cork and set sail for South Australia on 24 August 1840. They arrived at Port Adelaide on 8 December 1840.
Without wasting any time Bagot selected 4 parcels of land, as part of a Special Survey, for Sir Montague Chapman and settled down on one of them, part section 7599, and became the first pastoralist in the area. He called it Koonunga which became his home in May 1841 until 1845. It was really an isolated wilderness and the only ‘road’, which ran through his property, was the Overland Road used by well known overlanders such as Joseph Hawdon, Captain John Hart, the Hawker brothers, Charles Bonney and Edward John Eyre, who brought stock from New South Wales to South Australia.
During the first two years he ran his property in partnership with F.H. Dutton. The last Bagot member left the district in 1856. For most of the time the Bagots had no near neighbours but his homestead provided the only place for miles around where people could find a meal and stay for the night. One of his first visitors was Captain Charles Sturt in 1844 when he was on his way to find the Inland Sea.
Although the Bagots stay was relatively short, their name lives on in some Geographical features such as Bagot Well, Bagot Gap, Bagot Street and the Hundred of Bagot. Charles Bagot also became a road builder using a single furrow plough and bullocks to mark out the road between Gawler and Greenock. On another occasion he used a stump from a She Oak branch. Where he left it the settlement of She Oak Log sprang up, after John Cousins had opened a public house on the very spot.
Another early settler of the Koonunga district was Irishman David Shannon. Born on 28 March 1822 he followed his older brother Abraham to South Australia at the age of twenty and settled at Gumeracha. Within a few years he had bought and was farming land at present day Forreston. On 8 May 1855 he married Sarah Kelly of Woodside. After the birth of their first child the Shannons moved to the Koonunga district in 1856 where they remained for the rest of their lives. Other Shannons stayed in the area until 1996.
David and his young family settled on land he had already bought in 1853. More land was acquired in 1855 and by 1863 he owned 1208 acres. His older brother Abraham, who had migrated in 1839 also settled in the area and called it Duck Ponds Creek. Both brothers fathered large families and had their share of love, happiness and sorrow.
Abraham Shannon’s wife, Eliza Mahood, who had already given birth to 7 children, had a son Abraham on 18 July 1860 and another son Wallace on 28 April 1862. A daughter, Ruth, was born on 7 October 1863 and Mary on 27 November 1865. Abraham died before his wife on 21 July 1875. His wife died on 20 December 1883.
David Shannon was not that lucky. On 8 August 1860 his wife Sarah died at Yatara aged only 28. Barely two months later, on 7 October 1860, his son Abraham died aged 1 year and 17 days. On 19 March 1861 David married Martha Davison, youngest daughter of William Davison of Fairfield near Stockwell. It was also at Stockwell where David and Abraham’s father, William, died after trying to break up a fight on 28 July 1866.
On 10 March 1863 they had a daughter followed by another daughter on 11 October 1864. A son was born on 1 June 1866 after which his wife died. David remarried on 30 December 1866. This time to Deborah Kelly, at Kapunda where the Rev T. Sabine conducted the ceremony. By the mid 1870s the Shannons had become the largest landowners in the district.
Frederick Hansborough Dutton bought his land in the 1840s to establish Anlaby station with the help of Alexander Buchanan, who managed the property for Dutton until his death in 1865. During that time the station size had increased from 48 hectares to 13,000 hectares. The number of sheep had grown from 5,000 to 60,000.
By the 1860s more and more land was surveyed in and around the Koonunga district and many of the large pastoral holdings, and many of the new surveyed blocks were much smaller as the emphasis had changed from pastoral to agricultural pursuits. With the smaller blocks also came more settlers, including a number of Germans, among them Friedrich August Becker and his wife.
There were also some Yorkshiremen with their families who settled at Bagot Well. Among them William Linfoot and John Holden. Both men arrived with their families on the Duke of Wellington in November 1849. William Linfoot and his wife Miriam brought 5 of their 7 children with them. They were Ann, Hannah, Benjamin, Dinah and William. The other two, Thomas and Elizabeth stayed in England. When Dinah, who was baptised on 26 October 1836, was 18 years old she married Thomas Hardcastle on 10 April 1854.
John Holden came with wife Ann and 2 years old daughter Ruth. When his wife died in 1850 he married William Linfoot's 20 year old daughter Ann in 1851. Soon after the Holden family left for the Victorian goldfields where they had a daughter Elizabeth in 1853 followed by John and Marianne. Sadly the last two died at Campbell's Creek near Castlemain. After the birth of William in 1857 the family returned to Bagot Well where Jonathan was born in 1859. Shortly after the family once more left for Victoria.
When Thomas Hardcastle, born at Bradford, Yorkshire in 1834, married Dinah Margaret Linfoot, daughter of William, at Trinity Church Adelaide, she was already 6 months pregnant. Within a few months their first child, William was born on 11 June 1854. Four years later they had a daughter Emily who was born on 5 June 1858. She would later marry Ernst Gotlieb Bensch on 1 March 1878. Thomas died on 30 April 1860 when he was only 26 years old.
On 7 August 1861 William Henry Wareing, born at Yorkshire in 1840, and Dinah Hardcastle, nee Linford, aged 25 were married by the Rev Sabine at Kapunda. Both were from Bagot Gap. Dinah, who already had 2 children was to have another 8 children by Wareing before she died on 18 December 1903 at Lyndoch aged 67.
Marion Pollock who lived at Bagot Well died of diphtheria on 13 April 1863. She was only 19 years old. A few months later, on 1 September, Daniel W.W. Bagot, died he was also 19 years old.
Bagot Well and Bagot Gap seemed to attract more people and were in the news more often than Koonunga Station or homestead. When Bailliere’s South Australian Gazetteer and Road Guide was published in 1866, there was no listing for Koonunga or Yatara but Moppa and Mount Rufus were mentioned. Bagot’s Well was said to be a small agricultural postal settlement in the Hundred of Kapunda. On 2 July 1868 farmer William Logan, of Bagot Well, married Alice Charlotte Allen, also from Bagot Well.
Both Bagot and Shannon were self-sufficient farmers as they could not always rely on supplies from Adelaide. Both grew cereal crops, fruit and some vegetables. As early as 1863 Yatara had 1200 acres fenced and in crop. As the district became more settled farming and cropping became the main occupation. Being within Goyder’s Line of rainfall the district was assured of a reliable rainfall in most years. Bagot had also been the first farmer in the district to make use of Ridley’s Stripper. As early as 1845 he wrote to the Register that he considered the machine 'most perfect, of extraordinary value' and an 'admirable invention'.
There was however much more to Koonunga than farming. It was Charles Bagot’s son Charles who discovered copper in the area. At almost the same time Francis Dutton, brother of Frederick of Anlaby Station also discovered copper. After having purchased the land they were instrumental in reversing South Australia’s very poor economic conditions at that time. It not only resulted in the establishment of the first mine, opened by Johannes Menge, and the first mining town in Australia but it also gave rise to Coppermania within a very short time.
With many Cornish miners now working at Kapunda, or farming, it was not long before other minerals were discovered. Several deposits of marble have been worked and some of it used in the building of the South Australian Parliament House, the State Bank in Rundle Street and the Art Gallery on North Terrace, to name but a few. The Broken Hill smelters used it for a flux in its smelters. Gold was discovered at Moppa and Mt Rufus and in 1904 deposits of phosphate.
Bagot and Dutton did well from the discovery. Charles became Superintendent of the mine and remained in that position until 1859. He entered parliament, from which he resigned at the age of 81 in 1869. Dutton also entered parliament and eventually became Premier of South Australia. David Shannon was elected on 7 September 1858 and remained in parliament for 2 sessions before resigning to concentrate on local government.
Without a railway connection for fast and reliable transport to Adelaide, it was Kapunda that became the major centre for work, travel, commerce, schooling, church services and entertainment. Even from places as far away as Truro, which was established in 1850.
In 1863 the River Light School was opened with Thomas Laidler as teacher. This was followed a year later by the opening of the St Kitts School with Francis Ross as its first teacher, looking after 13 boys and 12 girls. Later several schools were opened by the Sisters of St Joseph who arrived at Kapunda in 1868. There was also a Lutheran school at Neukirch. Finally in 1881 the Koonunga Public School was opened.
In 1876 the residents of the Koonunga district even got their own postal service which was located at the Belvidere Council Chambers. At least this was much closer than a trip to Kapunda. The service has been closed and reopened a few times before it was permanently closed on 30 July 1977.
Several different denominations were among the early settlers of the region and each found it difficult to have a church established. At first services were conducted in private homes until at least some places of worship became available in Truro and Kapunda. Several Koonunga residents found their last resting place at St John Cemetery near Kapunda.