Henry McConville

Henry McConville.

Another interesting northern pioneer who stuck it out against all odds was Henry McConville. Born in Belfast in 1831 he arrived in South Australia at the age of 23. He found himself a job at Kanyaka station where he, his wife and young child, stayed for some years while Henry gained some colonial experience. By 1856 McConville considered that he had enough experience and started out on his own. During that year he took up the lease of Myrtle Springs, which he established with the help of several Aborigines.

Two years later he was working on Partacoona Station. In 1861 he was granted a storekeeper's licence to operate near Kanyaka. During his time at Partacoona Henry and his wife Ann, were sponsors at the baptism of Thomas Murphy, son of James and Margaret Murphy, on 22 September 1862 at Marachowie, by one of the Jesuit priests from Sevenhill. While hawking in the neighbourhood one day his home at Partacoona burned to the ground and McConville lost everything. Still he was not the man to give up easily. Being interested in the pastoral industry more than anything else he decided to take up the lease of Ideyaka in 1867, followed in 1873 with a lease of Witchelina.

It was also at this time that he sold Myrtle Springs, on which he had battled through the terrible drought of 1863-66. The station was bought by A. Murray and G. Tinline. In 1874 he took up a lease near Callana. At various times McConville owned stations such as Avondale, Mirrabuckina, Murrapatirinna, Dulkaninna, Artimore, Cowarie, Nilpinna, Callabonna, Berlino, and Angepena. This last one he sold in 1903 for $2,000.

When town blocks, from newly established towns, were sold McConville usually was one of the first buyers. He owned land at Sliding Rock, Beltana and Farina. In Farina alone he owned seventeen town blocks. Being one of the largest land owners in Farina, he was asked to lay the foundation stone for the Telegraph office in September 1878.

There was another side to McConville as well. According to R. Cockburn in his Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia, 'McConville was a man of remarkable courage and determination. Early in his pastoral carrer at Myrtle Springs and during his absence, the blacks broke into and robbed the station store when only the women folk were at home. With the goodwill of a friendly nigger Mr McConville tracked and seized one of the marauders at Beltana'.

'He tied him to a waggon wheel and announced that he would shoot the captive at sundown unless the stolen goods were restored. The niggers pleaded for, and secured an armistice until daylight, produced the missing property, and the Aborigine at the waggon wheel got off with a sound hiding'. Once while carting wool alone from Myrtle Springs to Port Augusta McConville fell off the waggon, trying to cross a particularly difficult creekbed, and broke his leg. He broke up a soap box, put his leg in splints, and drove his team to the nearest boundary rider's hut, from where he was taken to Port Augusta.

His leg was attended to, but when back home he 'found it still crooked'. On his next visit to the Port he asked the doctor to break his leg again and reset it. This time the results were much better. He was known to have ridden a horse almost to a standstill and to have swum three flooded creeks in an effort to bring medical aid from Blinman to a sick child of his, who died at Sliding Rock.

During the Maritime strikes McConville and his son unloaded their own wool from the steamer Ferret at Port Adelaide. However after more than forty years in the far north he declared, 'I am a poorer man today than when I went into it. There were good industrious men north of Port Augusta forty years ago, but I have not known one who has left the country yet with the means to live comfartable in his old age'.

While already in his sixties McConville was activelly involved in mining. During the gold rushes at his Angepena station he charged the miners for their horses using his paddocks. He took out several leases and even found some gold.

Henry died on 28 March 1903, aged 71 and is buried, with other members of his family, at the West Terrace Cemetery.


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