Mintaro

Mintaro

The area which comprises Mintaro was originally purchased by Henry Gilbert, a solicitor of Gilbert Street, Adelaide in 1845. When copper was discovered at Burra in that same year it did not take long for bullock teams to cart the copper to Adelaide and later along a shorter route, the Great Western or Gulf Road, to Port Wakefield. The bullockies, and from 1853 Spanish muleteers from Uruquay, travelled in long convoys, and where they made camp for the night little inns sprung up and around these small townships grew, each about fifteen kilometres apart.

Map of Mintaro

Along the Great Western Road the towns of Mintaro, Watervale, Balaklava, Leasingham, Bowmans, and Whitwarta grew. Mintaro was laid out in 1849 as a stopping place for the weary bullockies and their beasts. Gilbert soon made it known, through the pages of the Adelaide Register, that many blocks had been sold and prompted people to buy now before missing out. He reminded carters that Mintaro was a very desirable place as there was an abundance of feed and water. It was also a place well adapted for an English or German settlement. In 1850 the Magpie and Stump Hotel was opened and later owned by John Smith. He also owned the flour mill and built a nice four roomed slate cottage in the 1860s on the road to Martindale Hall. After his death in 1876 it had several owners, including James Torr, William Skuse and Frederick Ranson Tennant Mortlock.

Soon after the completion of the Magpie and Stump Hotel the Devonshire Hotel was added as well as three blacksmith shops, a police station, post office, flour mill, several stores, a school and four churches. The late 1850s were busy times. The English and Australian Copper Smelting Company at Port Adelaide paid $40,000 during a seven months period in 1856 for the transport of copper to the port and coal back to the mine. Most of this transport went via Burra Street in Mintaro providing many business opportunities for local tradesmen and shopkeepers. W.A Rabbich, who had operated his store for some time sold out in October 1865 to Richard Lathlean.

The first church built in Mintaro was the Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1854 followed the next year by the Church of Mary Immaculate. The Primitive Methodist Church began in 1859 and was later renovated and used from 1905 onwards as St Peter's Church of England.

When Burra was connected to the railway, traffic along the Burra Road, Mintaro's main street, came to an end and Mintaro became a rather quiet town. It did not die like several of the other places along the Gulf Road as it had developed its own slate mining and farming industries. The slate was discovered by Peter Brady on his property just outside the town in 1858. He leased the area to Thompson Priest who started the excavation and development of the quarry. Priest, a stonecutter and signwriter, sent to England for experienced stone cutters and worked the quarry for nearly thirty years. The skill of his own work is still to be found on tombstones in the local cemeteries. In July 1865 he advertised for a first class stonecutter, offering a wage of twelve shillings a day, guaranteed for the next twelve months.

After his marriage the Priests had several children. Arthur Thompson Priest was born on 18 March 1855 but died on 25 June 1880. Francis Marston, blacksmith, married a daughter of the Priest Family. Priest was an early landowner at Mintaro. In 1867 he acquired an allotment in section 344, and in 1869 allotment 36 at Mintaro North. Later he got a portion of section 315 in Mintaro, which he transferred in 1877 to James Torr. In that same year he also acquired more land at Mintaro North and two further allotments in 1880. As late as 1902 Mary Ann Priest owned land in Mintaro. Priest built a fine house, coach house and office in Hill Street, Mintaro and an office and foreman's residence at the quarry. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1874.

When Thompson Priest died in 1888 the quarry was taken over by a Melbourne firm. In January 1899, W.E. Giles, secretary of the Mintaro Flagstone Quarry Company declared a sixth dividend of six pennies. However it was not until 1911, when the Mintaro Slate and Flagstone Company was formed that some real progress was made. The slate which is of the highest quality found anywhere in Australia soon won major prizes at international exhibitions and created employment for many of the local residents. It has been used extensively in the local area, the Barossa Valley, Clare Valley and Kapunda. Many interstate and Adelaide buildings have used Mintaro slate. It can be found on the steps and floor of the Inter Continental Hotel in Sydney, the forecourt of the Federation Insurance building in Melbourne, the courtyard of the Adelaide Town Hall and as flooring and pavement in the Centennial Park Chapels.

In 1993 Mintaro Slate Quarries exported twenty tons of slate to Nagoya in Japan. After more than 140 years it still produces slate for use in billiard tables and for many other uses.

Slate has given Mintaro a unique and charming appearance as this stone has been used in every possible way. It was used for fencing, paving, roof tiles, floors, hearths, tables, work benches, sills, kerbs, steps, tombstones, blackboards, slates, troughs, vats, pavements, fermenting tanks, cricket pitches, posts and pillars. Even sidewalks in Adelaide and Melbourne were made from slate.

Blacksmiths were in great demand as they produced almost all the equipment used by farmers. In 1861 an Adelaide newspaper reported that at a ploughing match Mr Rowe, blacksmith of Mintaro, had gained the following prizes: Best colonial made plough, Best colonial made harrow and Best plough on the ground.

Wanted a Blacksmith, single man,
one accustomed to Shoeing.
None but steady men need apply.
F. Lighton, Mintaro.
Observer 18 July 1874.

Land and farming made Mintaro prosper and several farms have remained in the same family for up to six generations. As anywhere else in South Australia these farmers had their good and bad times. In August 1870 the local newspaper correspondent wrote, Scarcely a day passes without rain, and a large quantity of water lies in many parts of public thoroughfares, rendering them almost impassable. Trade is exceedingly inactive and money scarce. The crops, though somewhat retarded by the cold and wet, generally appear healthy. Two years later grasshoppers were appearing in myriads. With a good average rainfall of sixty centimetres a year farmers have been able to produce a high quality wheat crop and kept the flour mill operating until 1895.

Some of the local farmers took up new land further north. Samuel Clark Robinson bought land in the Hundred of Mannanarie in 1872. He bought section 69, hoping that the new railway line would pass through his property. He had it surveyed into 55 blocks. At the first sale he made 1,100.

Educational facilities at Mintaro were provided as early as 1853 with Edward James as Head Teacher, who was replaced by Thomas Gibson in 1854. Gibson stayed until 1860. By 1861 there were two schools at Mintaro, one with Mary Ann Moore in charge and the other with James Kelly as Head Teacher. South Australia's first Rhodes Scholar, Norman Jelly, received his early education at Mintaro. James Fry was appointed head teacher of the first government school in 1872 and stayed until 1902 when he was replaced by Alfred March. His son Oliver became another Rhodes Scholar! A Catholic school was opened in 1867, taken over by the Sisters of St Joseph and remained open until 1957. Medical services were provided for several years by Dr Abraham Carter until his departure for Terowie in 1876.

Naturally the town also had its sporting clubs. During the Easter break in 1874 the Mintaro eleven won from Watervale but two days later were beaten by the Auburn eleven. The local paper reported that 'Matches were played on Mr Bowmans' block with numerous ladies and gentlemen present. Picnics and social parties were the order of the day and not much notice was taken of the cricket match'.

In 1877 the District Hall was completed and a year later the Mintaro Institute which held a good and large library. The town now had a population of nearly four hundred and with the Burra mine closed it relied more and more on its slate production. Additional support was provided by the well established farming and pastoral industries which provided employment and income. Two of the best known pastoral properties were Kadlunga and Martindale.

Several of the early pioneers are buried at the Mintaro Cemetery or the Catholic Cemetery.

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