The weather remained hot but some nice showers fell all night on 11 January 1881. Unfortunately nearby Hammond was disappointed as they only received a short burst. Carting water still had to be continued though, in both Hammond and Morchard. The town’s population increased again during 1881 when the wife of DA Mackay had a son on 15 January. Frederick Christleb Staer and Mary Ann Ryan also had a son on 15 March 1881. He was named Frederick Christleb Arthur. They too had only a short time to enjoy him as he died on 18 June 1882. Six months later after this tragedy they had another son, William Harold, on 28 December 1882. He died of bronchitis and teething problems on 13 November 1883.
High Infant mortality was a very common occurrence in those days as can be seen on many cemeteries, especially in the country where medical services were rarely available. Staer’s two daughters, Mary Ethelberg, born on 22 March 1878 and Evangeline Beatrix, born on 4 July 1879 both lived a long live, dying in 1958 and 1961 respectively. Frederick Senior was born in Prussia on 23 April 1854 and lived until 14 November 1925. At the time of his death he was living at North Adelaide. His wife Mary had died at Peterborough on 12 April 1899.
In March 1881 it was reported that there still had been no rain and ploughing was ready to start. The drought was now assuming a serious aspect. The well was still holding out but couldn’t last much longer. Some of the farmers expected to sow a considerable portion of their land and hoped that they would have favourable weather. They did not. During the past two years the want of rain has been severely felt. The crop failure of 1880-1881 had plunged many of the farmers deeply into debt, but most were determined to struggle on for another year in the hope that the next season would be better.
Six months later there had still been no rain and everything had a parched and dried-up appearance on the Willowie Plains and the drive from Melrose to Morchard had certainly no scenic attractions. Crops were light, straw was short and prospects didn’t look very bright. Rain was badly needed. As it turned out it was the driest season yet. They did have some heavy thunderstorms on 8 November but all it did was blowing off the roof of Reichstein’s house. The resulting harvest of 1881-1882 was declared ‘an utter failure’.
During 1881 monthly meetings of the Farmers Mutual Association had continued at the hotel which was now run by W Hayden, well-known in sporting circles. A busy and profitable night on 31 March was a bonus for Hayden when about 40 electors attended a meeting to listen to E Ward who tried to get them to vote for him in the upcoming election. In July Dr Schomburgh donated some parcels of wheat and books for the branch. At the same meeting W Anderson was appointed to act on behalf of the committee to inspect farming machinery at the Adelaide Exhibition. Last but not least an entertainment was held on 30 November 1881 in aid of the Morchard Cricket Club followed by a Ball.
The Bible Christians, now well established, were talking of combining the Morchard and Orroroo circuits with a senior pastor and perhaps a young man to assist him. In April 1881 Rev. John Dingle was appointed to the chapel at Morchard and Abner Toop Senior Circuit Steward. In July they held a meeting at J Bottrill’s house which was well attended. In the evening Rev. Dingle gave a lecture at the chapel which was well received. Supper was provided for about 70 people. In September a Band of Hope was also formed which seemed to have ‘a fair prospect of success’.
With the harvest declared a total failure, the Register of 29 March 1882 published a special article on the Agricultural Outlook in the North concentrating on the Hundred of Coomooroo. It stated that the soil was well adapted for wheat growing and was composed of both light and dark loam which required more moisture than the heavy clay soils. The great evil which the settler had to content with was the scarcity of water. It included also the average number of bushels of wheat which had been harvested per acre sown since the beginning of farming in Coomooroo.
The harvest of 1877 produced an average of 10 to 12 bushels. In 1878 the number was 10 while the next year it was 12 again. In 1880 farmers only got an average of 6 bushels and the last harvest of 1881 only produced about 3 bushels per acre. It would have been very disheartening for farmers knowing that at other places in South Australia farmers did harvest three or four times that much. It is no wonder that many had financial troubles and became insolvent. Carl August Franke, who went on his selection in March 1881, was declared insolvent two years later ‘due to crop failure’.
Even so, most of the farmers battled on and tried to make the best of it. On Easter Monday 1882 they had their second annual picnic which was well attended and many took part in the different sporting events. Among the prize winners were HW Lamb, JH Moody, R Fullarton, J McKenzie, W Norman and W Loftus. In the evening a concert was given followed by a ball which lasted until the small hours in the morning. In 1883 cricket seemed to have been the game to play. Apart from matches at home, the Morchard Cricket Club also played games at Carrieton and Orroroo, winning both matches.
At the end of April there was rain. It was such a downpour as had not fallen since 1877. Most reservoirs and tanks were filled but naturally much of the rain had run to waste after having done the usual damage to the roads and causing an enormous amount of erosion. It had resulted in large holes and gutters in the road to Orroroo, making it almost impossible to get along with a respectable load. Often farmers had to mend the roads themselves to be able to transport the wheat. To stop the erosion on their own land as much as possible, it was decided not to plough but to put the wheat in with scarifiers and harrows.
During the winter of 1882 FC Staer decided that it was time to move. On 3 August there was a big auction to get rid of his land, property, farming equipment and whatever else he wouldn’t need any more or could not take with him. All in all it proved that he had a sizable estate. It included town allotment number 2 with a stone house of four rooms, suburban sections 153, 163 and 164, a butcher business and piggeries containing 70 pigs, slaughter house, butcher’s trap, horses and bullocks, 2 reapers, 2 winnowers, 2 scarifiers, 2 sets of harrows, one double plough, a wagon and buggy, a new spring cart, harnesses, a force pump and 20 feet of troughing as well as poultry, geese, ducks and fowls.
It didn’t work out as well as he had hoped. After the auction was over there was still a lot left. He had another sale on 15 January 1884 when he offered allotment 2 with the butcher shop for £160. Allotments 163 and 164, an area of 7½ acres, were offered for £30. He still had about 1000 sheep some horses and other sundries. He eventually moved to run the Pekina Hotel.
Harvesting at the end of 1882 showed a slightly better picture than that of the previous year. This time most farmers made between 4 to 8 bushels per acre. Despite the better harvest, farmers had lost interest in the South Australian Farmers Mutual Association and in April 1883 James Aitchison announced the closure of the local branch. There were a few who still had faith and in early 1883 John McDougall bought section 29 of 112 acres in the Hundred of Woolyama at £1 per acre. Maybe he would have more luck there.
In June 1883 crops were looking good and there was every prospect of a good season. A month later paddocks around Morchard were looking remarkably well. The wheat had made a good start and had a fine healthy appearance. In August it was reported that the crops were looking splendid and farmers being in good spirits. It was also to the liking of James Aitchison who bought another 40 acres. During November it was noted that some fine wheat was growing on J McDougall’s 800 acre property. When harvest time came around at the end of the year, the general opinion was that the whole of Coomooroo would average at least 10 bushels an acre. The problem now was to get enough suitable labour to get it in.
The Bible Christians had a difficult time as well. In June 1883 there was still a debt of £125 to be paid on the chapel. This was on top of another £100 needed to repair its dilapidated state. Somehow they managed to find the money, finish the repairs and re-opened the very neat and comfortable building for Divine worship on 21 October 1883. On 18 and 19 May 1884 they celebrated the first anniversary of their Sunday School which had now 35 children on the roll. At the State School though they were still waiting for as shelter shed to be erected to keep the children dry in winter and cool in summer.
During, and after the latter part of 1883, several babies were born at Morchard. On 31 October the wife of A McDougall had a son, followed by a daughter to the wife of C Bartlett on 22 November. On 18 April 1884 James Scriven’s wife had twin sons and on 8 September 1884 EJ Kitto of Wattle Grove Farm was presented with a daughter. There were even a few marriages. On 26 March 1884 Nathaniel Francis Wait, born in Coomooroo on 17 April 1858, married Louisa Kemp, born at Rhynie on 14 November 1864.
William Toop married Eliza Jane daughter of Elijah Branford and Susanah Lewis of Glengrove, Kangarilla on 22 October 1884. Eliza Jane was born on 13 August 1865 in Dashwood Gully. William, born at Kangarilla on 20 May 1861, went north with his parents Abner Toop and Jane Langden, plus siblings, in 1877. His parents were married in 1851 and arrived i9n South Australia in August 1852. William would make major contributions to the town of Morchard and district.
Donald McKenzie of Morchard married Susan Hoar of Clare on 19 March 1885. Two months later on 23 May the wife of James McKenzie had a daughter. On 16 February 1886 Donald’s wife had a stillborn son. On 18 October 1887 Donald’s wife, had a daughter at Willow Grove in Clare. On 2 April 1886 GA Wickens was presented with a daughter but RJ and EA Hutchens lost their only son, Percy George, on 15 April. He was only two years old. Frederick Forbes, born on 15 August 1863 at North Adelaide married Emily Toop in 1887. They would have 7 children. Frederick was educated at Whinham College and had worked for John McDougall before starting his own business in 1884.
Having survived most domestic problems, as well as excessive heat, drought, thunderstorms, hot winds, dust storms, water shortages, pouring rain, erosion, rust, rabbits and grasshoppers, the people of Morchard were on 20 February 1884 confronted by a new disaster. This time it was a bushfire during intense heat, which ruined some 300 acres of grass, a well, fences and stockfeed on Aitchison and Pascoe’s land. Luckily it did not affect the pound where James Marron was appointed pound keeper and salesman in April. In June he was also granted a slaughtering licence on section 17.
After the conclusion of the annual Christmas Sports on 25 December 1884, which were held in very pleasant weather and with excellent attendance, considering that on the same day similar events were held at Terowie and Spring Creek, a sumptuous dinner was provided at the hotel by new mine host George Alexander Wilkins previously from Clare. Several other businesses had also changed hands during the year. Most of the old hands in town had mixed feelings about the future. Some were optimistic while others just didn’t know which way to turn.
Those who still had to pay instalments on their selection were the ones who worried the most. Business owners tried to expand or diversify to keep their heads above water. John McHugh lost the battle and was declared insolvent in February 1885. The weather continued rather dry and farmers were very doubtful as to the state of the early sown crops which was coming up very thin and irregular.
On 31 July 1885 a large meeting was held and the attendance was almost a who was who at Morchard. Among those present were John McDougall, James Aitchison, A McDougall, Wickens, Charles Longbotham, Scriven, Marron, John Hutchens, B Ward and RJ Hutchens. There were many issues dealt with that night. Among the most important were the need for a daily mail service, road repairs, a new road to Eurelia, widening the road to Orroroo, a local representative on the Northern Road Board and the amending of the Vermin Act. As Chairman of Vermin Board 25, James Aitchison wrote to the newspapers what should and should not be done to solve the rabbit problem.
Aitchison wrote often to the newspapers to air his views on different subjects or issues. In May 1886 he wrote a lengthy piece on the poor mineral collection of the South Australian Museum. The rocks and minerals displayed were seldom given their common name or even their scientific name. There were more specimens from other countries than from Australia or South Australia. Charging 5 shillings for an assay he found far too expensive.
In another letter, dated 9 July 1887, he gave his opinion, as a member of the Road Board, about the terrible state of the roads and what caused it. According to him it was not the amount of traffic but the water erosion caused by rain. Even medium showers resulted in gullying, especially in hilly country. Each storm of rain he wrote, keeps adding to the wearing away of the soil until the road is a dangerous creek. Just diverting the water away from the road into the adjoining paddocks would solve the problem.
Aitchison wasn’t the only letter writer. John Marron too wrote a few in his days at Morchard. On 23 June 1886 he wrote a detailed account of the distress in the North. He was very critical of the banks and the government who didn’t seem to care one way or another as long as they had their fat salaries. How could shopkeepers and tradesmen give credit over long periods of time whereas the government and banks ‘put on the screws to the utmost extent? Scores of farmers have not a bag of flour or the price of it. Many are already living on water and bread only, so what are they going to do? He would like to see the Governor recalled, have only two judges, reduce the salaries of all highly paid officials and start a State Bank.
Three weeks later he wrote about changing the Land Act which had resulted in many farmers groaning under heavy mortgage repayments or becoming insolvent. With bad harvests year after year and having to buy seed wheat, there was not enough, or any, money left to repay the banks or private money lenders. He had the support of Aitchison who wrote to the Commissioner of Public Works requesting free transport of seed wheat for the northern farmers. This time his request was granted. However it was often a case of too little, too late.
By July 1886 farmers who still had teams left had taken to carting goods to Silverton or even Broken Hill and hoping for a return load of ore to Port Pirie. However within a few weeks good soaking rains came down over a wide area and wheat and grass was springing up in all directions. Soon all misery was replaced by renewed hopes that finally the drought had really broken and that there was every appearance of a fair crop being reaped next season.
Indeed the harvest was much better than those of the last few years and with long soaking rains in April 1887, farmers sowed as large an acreage as possible hoping for even better results at the end of the year. In June it was reported that the weather is all that can be desired from an agricultural point of view. Business is brisk and conditions are very prosperous. There was now an abundance of feed and water and many farmers were planting trees. The benefit of planting trees could be seen at A McDougall’s blacksmith works. He had started planting trees some seven years ago which had resulted in an improved appearance of the dreary and dismal looking town.
By the beginning of August, after still more rain, crops were looking first class and so far it was the best season ever known in the district. By the end of the month all agreed that crops, stock and grass never had looked better. Business was still brisk and everybody in good spirits. During the year a Mutual Improvement Society was established and in November a concert was put on in the assembly room of the Morchard Hotel. It turned out a very successful evening. The end of the year saw again a most enjoyable annual sports day with beautiful weather and a good attendance. Prizes were won by H Bambrick, PJ Ryan, S Stone, W Carter, A McDonald, J O’Reiley, M Shannon and H Brown.