After the passing of the Stangways Act in 1869, some excellent rains and the shortage of agricultural lands in the early 1870s, many new agricultural settlements were opened up outside Goyder’s line of rainfall. Many people had demanded that ‘Mr Goyder’s rainfall line be shifted out of the colony’ and that land should be made available on credit. The government relented and Peep Hill became one of the many new agricultural settlements.
One of the earliest settlers at Peep Hill was Johann Gottlieb Dohnt. Born at Balhannah in 1844 he had married Mrs Johanna Christiane Schirmer, nee Altmann in 1871. They lived at Gruenberg until 1876 when they took up land at Peep Hill. In June 1877 it was reported that the 11 year old daughter of Gottlieb had been lost in the Mallee scrub. She had been missing for several days already and the local police with help of residents and troopers from Kapunda made an all out effort to find her. Gottlieb's wife died on 20 February 1923 and Johann five years later on 7 January 1925.
Peep Hill first appeared in the news in January 1877 when it was proposed to have a railway station built there, rather than at Eudunda, on the new line from Kapunda to North West Bend. It was also reported that the town of Eudunda had been in ’a state of violent excitement’ as a result of this.
Two years later, in December 1878 the Minister of Education received a deputation which requested that a school should be built at Peep Hill as there were 41 children of school going age. Mr Wagner even offered a school site of an acre on section 192 or 195. Unfortunately, according to the minister, there was no township yet at Peep Hill so no government expenditure on school buildings.
In 1882 they got their school but now they would like to see H. Bartsch, who was in charge of a private school at Neales Flat, to be appointed to their school. After all most of the settlers were of German extraction and preferred a German teacher, who could understand the parents and was also able to speak ‘the English language properly’. They got their man and the school was opened at the start of 1883 by Hermann Bartsch.
In February 1884 his wife Elizabeth, was appointed Sewing Mistress. A few months later the tender of J.F. Gilbert of £72.5 was accepted for the supply and fixing of a galvanised iron tank, a water closet and fencing of the school property. In March 1889 Lizzie F. Uhrlaub became the new sewing mistress. At the start of 1891 H.A. Kleeman was appointed Head Teacher.
By the mid-1880s the rains, so badly needed for the wheat crops and everything else, had been very poor and many farmers were at their wits end. Not only that, prices for their crops had decreased and the only way to stay ahead seemed to be to select more land and grow more wheat. In June 1884 A. Bewert selected section 179 of 374 acres in the Hundred of Lindley and J.B Thiele, widow, selected section 167 of 475 acres in the Hundred of Brownlow in August 1884.
Other farmers were forced to sell their properties, among them Mrs M.R. Maerkert. She would at least get something out of it. Those who had nothing left to bargain were declared insolvent. Both Johann Gottlob Bartels and Wilhelm August Schmidt suffered this fate in early 1887. By 1889 water supplies had run out everywhere and the government was now petitioned to bore for water at the foot of Peep Hill.
Although services were very few and far between in Peep Hill, a post office was opened on section 214 in 1888. In August 1889 the District Council ordered the crossing on the road from the school to Deep Creek to be repaired as well as further road maintenance.
The Peep Hill School soon became, and remained, the focal point of the community. Although staff turnover was high some teachers remained long enough to keep the pride and success of its students going. In December 1892 Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav Walter was appointed paid monitor and Mr Kleeman took on the agency of the Chronicle newspaper in 1893. On 7 April 1894 Walter resigned as Monitor and Samuel Foster Robinson was appointed Head Teacher in February 1895.
Robinson remained for three years when the position was filled by Richard George Galle from Mount Schanck in January 1898. In January 1900 he was transferred to Laura and replaced by Frank Vernon Cox. He remained for a year but also served at Wallaroo, Gawler, Langhorne Creek, Stone Hut and Brighton. In 1901 Alice Victoria Welsch became the new Head Teacher. At the end of the year the school was visited by members of the Board of Advice. They were very impressed by the children’s neat and tidy appearance and their smart and intelligent answers. Miss Welsch was also congratulated.
The school may have been ‘out in the sticks’, it didn’t stop it from taking part in several historic events. In June 1900 a Patriotic demonstration was held at Eudunda in support of the war in South Africa. Among the many schools represented were Peep Hill, Robertstown, Australia Plains, Emmaus, Neales Flat, Sutherlands, Marrabel and Frederichswalde. In June 1902 the children took part in the Coronation Celebrations with Mildred Annie Mabel Drinkwater at Eudunda. By the end of the year Miss Drinkwater organised a large and successful entertainment which was enjoyed by the whole community. Among the students taking part were M. Radloff, W. and F. Seery, E., A. and S. Eckert, E. Zerna, E. Schubert, B. Jenke and B. Henschke.
In March 1903 Edith Adelaide Heath was appointed and in September a farewell social was given to Miss Drinkwater as she was getting married. She was presented with some handsome pieces of silver-mounted glassware. June 1905 saw the resignation of Augusta Louise Morick. In October 1907 a concert was given at the school by Miss Koschade and her scholars before a large audience.
The 1890s were even harder times for South Australians. The economy had gone from bad to worse resulting in bank crashes and many individuals having next to nothing to continue or even to live on. To break the monotony and to provide some food at the same time, a big hunt was organised on 1 August 1894 through the range to Deep Creek and back. The total catch after a very enjoyable day was well over a hundred, including 25 hares, numerous rabbits and some wallabies. At a similar outing in August 1911 Charles Dohnt lost his index finger after a cartridge exploded.
The day of reckoning for August Wilhelm Zerna came in August 1895 when his liabilities were assessed at £123.13.11. His total assets only amounted to £81.16. He saw no other way out than to declare himself insolvent. Zerna, who had previously worked for his father, began farming for himself on 1 September 1892. He had nothing to start with but his father had lent him seven horses and two ploughs while his brother had also assisted him.
It had been too late in the season of 1892 to start a crop and he had decided to fallow the land instead. His first harvest gave him 340 bags which earned him £112.10. His second crop only amounted to 28 bags. The causes of his failure were mainly the very poor seasons, no rain, and the lack of capital. He was not the only one struggling. In November 1896 many farmers attended a meeting at Eudunda to get the government to supply seed wheat.
In 1899 a reporter suggested that if farming was to be successful in and around Peep Hill ‘fallowing and the keeping of a few sheep (not too many, to overstock) will have to be resorted to, and the farmers will have to pay more attention to the breeding of pigs and fowls, combined with a little dairying. In short, though it is possible to play a tune with one string, the farmers will have to have more strings to their bow than they have at present. The greatest difficulty is the scarcity of water.’ His advice had not fallen on deaf ears as during the Eudunda Show in September 1901 M Voigt's apples were recommended by the judges.
Finally some goods rain fell on 27 August 1901. In fact it was a downpour at Peep Hill, Brownlow, Neales Flat and Australia Plains not seen for a long time. A setback followed when Bartsch lost six dairy cows and E Ratsch several horses from some unknown disease. Tuberculosis was expected but later Anthrax was proven. Early December 1902 the rainy spectacle of the previous year was repeated when there was so much water that they had floods at Australia Plains, Peep Hill and even at Bower. After more splendid rains in April 1903 farmers were convinced that the long drought had really broken.
The Advertiser of 30 April 1903 reported, SPLENDID RAINS ON THE MURRAY FLATS. Bountiful rains have fallen over the whole of the recent drought-affected Murray Flats. Taking Eudunda as a starting point since Friday night there was a fall of 1.36 points. It has extended to Morgan. 'A splendid rain has fallen at Point Pass, seven miles north, and at Robertstown, 14 miles farther on. Easterly Peep Hill, Australia Plain, Sutherlands, Bower, and Eba, and the Hundreds of Lindley, Schomburgk, and Bright have shared in the welcome downpour.
Dams and tanks everywhere are full. What this means to the settlers in these parts is beyond computation. Many of the farmers have been carting water for their stock in some instances for years, but that is finished now. Already the feed has started to grow, and in a week or so will be abundant. The land has been flooded, and early-sown wheat is coming on splendidly. The people here are now full of hope again, and are rejoicing at the general breakup of the drought. April, 1903, especially as regards the Murray Flats, will be long remembered. Six years later, also in April, they had cause to remember another aspect of the unpredictable weather when during a storm many of the houses, sheds, stables and barns lost their roofs. Several wind mills were also wrecked and the church lost its ridge capping.
Johann Gottfried Schubert was one of the happy farmers. Born in Germany in 1826 he arrived at Port Adelaide with his parents in 1839. They settled at Klemzig and later Langmeil. For many years Johann farmed at North Rhine and Neales Flat. He married Louise Diedrich of Tanunda in 1849. Since 1898 they had lived with their children at Peep Hill. Louise died in 1899. Johann died in July 1912. By this time there were 9 children, 56 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren.
In 1906 J.T.G. Henschke, born at Krondorf near Tanunda in 1854, decided that it was time to look further afield for better prospects. In 1880 he had married Maria Elizabeth Heinrich and established a farm at Peep Hill. He now successfully applied for section 313 of the Anlaby Estate which had been allotted to him by the Land Board. When they had first come on the market J.G. Schubert had bought lot 7 of 156 acres in 1911.
After the outbreak of the First World War patriotic demonstrations were held everywhere. In September 1914 it was Eudunda’s turn. The Education Department had allowed schools to take part and Peep Hill was represented by 29 students and their teacher Miss Helen Fead. There were also four private German schools to show their loyalty to King and Country.
Regular contributions were made by the students for the Belgian Relief Fund or the South Australian Soldiers’ Fund. Their parents regularly donated part of their wheat crop. In 1915 F. Zerna, H. and F. Sander and J.G. Schubert each donated the harvest on one acre. Both Harold Lundsten and Paul Heinrich Wagner enlisted for active service. Wagner, born in July 1897, survived the ordeal and enlisted once more for service in World War II.
In July 1916 the parents of the Peep Hill school children tendered a social to Helen Fead, who had been teaching their children for four and a half years but was transferred to Hanson. Geo. Hunter, chairman of the school committee, spoke highly of Miss Fead as a teacher, and presented her with a china tea set and silver cake stand on behalf of the parents.
Several of the students took part in the success of the evening including Paul Jenke, Bertie Zerner, and Miss D. Schwartz. Mr Keen was transferred from Bruce and Murray Cameron was appointed to take charge of the school. Some of the students attending the Peep Hill School in 1920 were P. and Hilda Pfitzner, Paul Jenke, Edwin Schubert, Bert Zerna, Arthur Sander and Alwine Jenke.
The 1920s saw the departure of several older residents and some of the younger ones as well. In 1922 August Friedrich Schubert, who had lived at Peep Hill for 27 years, bought a garden property at Angaston where he lived with his wife until his death Angaston in April 1939. He was the third son of the late Mr and Mrs Gottfried Schubert, and was born at North Rhine on October 5, 1859.
He was educated at North Rhine, and afterwards accompanied his parents to Neales Flat and Peep Hill. On 23 November 1882, Schubert married Auguste Ernstine, third daughter of the late Mr and Mrs G. Schirmer, in the Neales Flat Church. Later on they acquired their own farm at Peep Hill where they lived ever since. He was a member of the Angaston Lutheran Church. He is survived by a family of two sons and six daughters. There are 23 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
When Selma Jenke wrote to ‘Aunt Dorothy’, an Adelaide newspaper column, in 1922 she stated that she was 9 years old and Mr Harding was her teacher. She walked to school, a distance of nearly five kilometres to join 28 other students. Two years later she informed ‘Aunt Dorothy’ that she now rode a bike sometimes and was in Grade VI. Mr Harding was still there, as were 20 other students. In March 1925 the Peep Hill School picnic was held at Semaphore. Harding was transferred to Port MacDonnell in July 1928. Eventually school enrolments declined to such low levels that it was closed in 1939. During October 1948 the school on Part Section 192, Hundred of Neales, containing 1 acre, was put up for sale.