Cambrai, in the Hundred of Angas, which was named after George Fife Angas and proclaimed in 1860, is about 10 kilometres south of Sedan. It was laid out as Rhine Villa by Abel Pollard Skinner in 1882 about a kilometre north of Rhine River which has its origin in the Eden Valley area. The whole area being part of the Murray Flats which include Towitta, Sedan, Cambrai, Angas Valley and Milendella.
Skinner settled in the town as well and operated its first post office in 1882. Among the early settlers were English, Scottish and German migrants. However for nearly 100 years it were the Germans and later their descendents who were the largest and dominant group. They had very close connections with the Lutherans at Lobethal, Hahndorf, Blumberg, Barossa Valley, Palmer and Milendella.
One early visitor to the area was Johannes Menge who named the creek he discovered the Rhine. Another early visitor was George Melrose who had arrived in South Australia in 1839 on the Palmyra. He liked what he saw and decided to stay. He settled on the Rhine River and established the Rosebank estate. In 1847 he married Euphemia Thomson.
Before long Melrose had completed shearing sheds and quarters with large roofs to collect water for the homestead. At the end of shearing Melrose would organise a ball in the large dining room of 'government house' to celebrate the completion of another successful season.
With so many Lutheran Germans in the area services were provided by Pastor George Adam Heiderich from Bethany from 1875 until 1883. When he was away at Hermannsburg Pastor C. Derks would take his place. A Lutheran Church and school was built at Rheinthal, about 2 kilometres north of Cambrai, and opened in 1876.
Slowly but surely basic services became available from the early 1880s. A post office was opened in 1880 with R. Skinner as postmaster, followed in 1882 by Abel Skinner. Ten years later H.W. Farey was post mistress for the next three years. In 1882 John Wilson and his wife Mary Barr built the first general store and later the hotel. They had previously been employed for many years at Rosebank. When John died in 1893 both businesses were taken over by his daughter Christina.
In 1884 Ferdinand Hecker also built a general store. This one had many different owners and eventually closed down in 1962. As early as 1884 farmers at Rhine Villa were pushing for a railway between Monarto and Sedan. They hoped to reduce their transport costs and make travelling a little easier. Unfortunately 21 years later they were still waiting and hoping. When it finally did reach Cambrai in 1919 most of the first farmers and settlers had passed away.
William and Heinrich Mickan opened a blacksmith shop in 1886 and were later supported in the business by William's sons Johannes and Edwin. They employed a large number of people during the 40 years it was going.
As in most other areas of South Australia farmers did not only have to battle droughts, floods or low prices for their produce, they also had to fight a continuous battle against pests such as rabbits, mice, scrub wallabies, kangaroos and locusts. Somehow most of them managed but others sold their land and looked for other means of income.
On 16 November 1891 the foundation stone was laid for the Institute building. It consisted of only two rooms. After having served the community for twenty years it was decided to build a new and larger Institute. It was started in August 1911 and took nearly 13 months to have the foundation stone put in by Robert Melrose of Rosebank. The building was completed and officially opened on 25 April 1913. It was used not only for its usual purpose but also at times as a school, church and even as District Council Chambers.
Around the turn of the century Wilhelm Neuman had a general store and also used a hawker's van to service out of town customers. Bagots, Shakes & Lewis opened a sheep and cattle market which was later bought by Goldsborough Mort of Mount Pleasant.
In 1907 H. Mickan donated a block of land to be used as a cemetery. Rhine Villa became one of the few country or outback towns where the cemetery was not located some miles away, as was that of Amyton and Carrieton to name just a few, but right on the edge of the build up area. Its first burial was on 26 August 1907.
One can not fail to notice the high rate of infant mortality among the early settlers. This was much the same as in other towns with Milendella, Sedan and Two Wells providing overwhelming evidence. However from the cemeteries on the Murray Flats it can also be seen how the early settlers spread out from the original place of settlement. As farming blocks were generally too small to support extended families, many of the young sons would take up land away from their parents' block. Some went as far as the Murray Mallee to places like Caloote, Karoonda or even to Victoria or New South Wales.
During the early 1900s progress was made in several areas. In 1911 the St John's Church was completed and served for some time as a school as well. A year later the bridge across the Rhine River was finished and a start was made with a new school building.
With the start of WWI in 1914, relationships between descendents of Lutheran and other German migrants and the general population in South Australia took a turn for the worse. In January 1918 Rhine Villa became history when its name was changed to Cambrai and Rhine River to Marne River. They were among numerous other German names of towns, creeks, rivers, schools and other localities which were given English names. Nearby Blumberg became Birdwood and South Rhine changed to Springton.
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