The naming of this district is a tale of tragedy and few people these days would have ever heard of Henry Bryan. He was a young lad of 18 years who worked as a servant at Government House in Adelaide. In November 1839 recently arrived Governor Gawler ( he arrived October 1838) with his wife and daughter set out to explore the country between Adelaide and Big Bend which we now know as Morgan on the Murray. Their party consisted of about 20 people. The Governor’s party travelled along the Murray River banks from Wellington to Big Bend and they intended to return to Adelaide via Burra Creek and the central pastoral country which was then uninhabited beyond Gawler. When the party was camped at Big Bend the Governor, Captain Charles Sturt, Henry Bryan and Mr Inman set off for a few days to explore the high mountains visible from Big Bend. They discovered Razorback and Mt Bryan and the high country around it. The party departed the Big Bend camp on the 10th of December and returned to the women folk on the 15th of December. The governor was anxious to return to camp quickly as he appeared to be suffering from heat exhaustion and on the last day Henry Bryan offered his horse as it was fresher than the Governor’s horse. Bryan was in the rear of the exploring party and never caught up with them again and never reached the camp. Three guides went out to search for Henry Bryan but no trace was found except his coat, telescope, saddle and blanket. He had set out walking because of exhaustion and the terrible heat. His horse was found several years later by early settlers. It was presumed that Henry Bryan was either killed by Aboriginal people or perished from the summer heat and lack of water. The governor and his party returned to Adelaide on the 20th December and the district was named in honour of the lost Henry Bryan because the Governor and his family were so upset about the loss of young Henry Bryan. The Adelaide newspapers criticised the governor for heading an exploration party which included women and seemed to be more of a pleasure journey, at public expense than an exploration trip. More searches were made for Henry Bryan but to no avail.
The dominant geographical feature of this area is Mt Bryan at 936 metres (or 3,070 feet). Nearby is Mount Razorback which is 863 metres (or 2,831 feet.) Mt Lofty is a mere 727 metres! The pastoralists moved into this high country from 1842 when Alfred Hallett took out a lease over the Mount Bryan Range. Across the ranges to the west Drs William and John Browne took out Booborowie run about the same time. These early leases were annual only and Joseph Gilbert of Pewsey Vale in the Barossa (and Gilberton in Adelaide) took out a 14 year lease over the Mt Bryan Range in 1851 totalling 156 square miles (100,000 acres). Following the development of the great copper mine at nearby Burra more pastoralists moved in on small leaseholds during the 1850s. John Tyler took out a small run on the flat which was later to become the township of Mount Bryan.
The Hundred of Kingston (named after Surveyor George Strickland Kingston) was declared in 1860 and farmers rather than pastoralists moved into the district. Several had been employed in Burra and then moved onto the land to make their fortunes or otherwise. One was Henry Collins who established his Lucernedale property which later became Collinsville merino sheep stud. He was the first to buy freehold land in the Hundred of Kingston starting with just 176 acres. His son established the sheep stud in 1884 but this was further east in drier country. (John Collins soon had 14,000 acres which became his Collinsville Stud.) Henry Collins near Mt Bryan planted lucerne on the flat land of his property hence his property name. Lucernedale occupied the land immediately to the south of present day Mount Bryan until it abutted Gebhardt’s Mackerode station .It also covered land to the south east of Mt Bryan. The lucerne that Collins grew was used to feed the sheep grazed on the eastern dryer parts of his estate. Another freehold settler from Burra was Gustav Gebhardt a butcher from Burra. He soon purchased 2,000 acres and continually added to it to create his Mackerode property. With his leased land he was the only German background immigrant to join the top ranks of pastoralists in SA. He later owned Pareora near Port Wakefield and other properties. The property was only sold out of the Gebhardt family in the 1990s. Charles Ullman another German descent butcher from Burra also purchased land here but he never became one of the wealthy men of the district but more about him later.
Mount Bryan emerged as a town over thirty years as unusually the Hundred of Kingston had no government town surveyed in it because of its proximity to Burra. The Mt Bryan Hotel opened in 1864 to service travellers and teamsters going further north. There was no rush to build churches in the Mt Bryan area because several pastoralists had small chapels on their own land- the Gebhardts had a Primitive Methodist chapel, Henry Collins had a Wesleyan Methodist chapel and Edward Godden had a Bible Christian Methodist chapel. But in 1874 the District Council of Mt Bryan was formed and the government was talking of extending the railway line from Burra north to Hallett. So in 1878 a rail siding was set to be established at Mt Bryan with the first train reaching the town in 1880. The station closed in 1972 some ninety years later. Charles Ullman subdivided part of his land in 1878 to create the private township of Mt Bryan immediately east of the rail siding with one street being Ullman Street. In 1881 another farmer Henry Skews subdivided part of his land to create town blocks west of the railway line near the hotel. Finally in 1907 the government created a government town which surrounded Ullman’s early Mt Bryan. There were plans for the Post Office and Police Station to be built in the new government town but nothing happened. But four identical stone railway workers cottages were erected in the government town. A state school opened in Mount Bryan in 1885 with an attached headmaster’s residence but it closed around 1990. The institute was officially opened in 1910 and is still in use. The Wesleyan Methodist church on Mr Collin’s property became the first Council Chambers and temporary school from 1878 to 1885 when the state school in the town opened. A general store and unofficial Post Office opened in 1879 in the emerging town. The Council later got its own Council Chamber with the new hall and institute and this was rented to the Anglicans and the Lutherans for church. In 1914 the foundation stone for the Anglican Church was laid and the church opened in 1915. The land for the church was donated by Mr Gebhardt. The lych-gate was added in 1964. It is now closed as a church. In 1913 land was donated for a new Methodist church and a wood and iron building called the ‘Cook House” was opened. It served the Methodists until a Romanesque style red brick church was opened next door in 1938. The Catholics held services in the Mt Bryan Hall for some years before they built St Brendan’s Catholic Church in 1925. Today only the hotel and hall survives as the school, churches and store and railway have all been closed.
Mount Bryan East and Sir Hubert Wilkins.
We leave the main road at the township of Mt Bryan and head east towards the former settlement of Mt Bryan East, which is within Goyder’s Line, as it is not saltbush country like that near Terowie. But Mt Bryan East was marginal in terms of rainfall, especially the reliability of the rainfall. The higher land in the district has around 450 mm (15+ inches) of rain but east of the mountains the rainfall quickly drops to 250 mm (about 10 inches) per year. Near the high peaks like Mt Bryan it is Blue Gum and Red Gum country, but just a few kilometres away at Mt Bryan East it is typical Mallee country. Mt Bryan East was never gazetted as a town, but it was a thriving community.
The early pastoralists in the area were those of the wider district and included the Hallett brothers who were based at Willogoleche near Hallett. At the foot of Mt Bryan a run of the same name was established by Joseph Gilbert of Pewsey Vale (and Gilberton) when he purchased leasehold land from the Hallett brothers in the late 1850s. He added more freehold land once the hundred was surveyed after 1869. Eventually this run was bought by Edmund and Charles Bowman (of Martindale Hall fame) in 1883 after the death of Joseph Gilbert. Within ten years they had sold out to members of the Angas family (of Angaston and Hill River outside of Clare), the largest landowners in the state. Other early pastoralists in this area included Chewings and Dare.
The first farmers settled in the area after the hundred was surveyed in the mid 1870s. The focus of the district was the Mt Bryan East School which was established by 1884. About fifty families lived in the district by then. A Methodist Bible Christian Church was built in 1881 at a cost of £161 about one mile away from the school. Edward Gare a pastoralist was one of the trustees in the 1880s but he sold his Mt Bryan East property in 1891. A later church replaced the original church in 1913. The school finally closed in 1945 after the Second World War.
The Wilkins family were early farmers here with Harry Wilkins taking up 1,000 acres around 1878 which they farmed until 1910. A small stone farm house was built on the farm and the thirteenth child of the marriage, George Hubert Wilkins was born here in 1888. He went on to become the most famous student of the Mount Bryan East School and he became an internationally applauded and revered polar explorer, geographer, meteorologist, photographer and naturalist. He revisited Mt Bryan East in 1938 from his home in America. He was the last of 13 children born in the Wilkins family. He attended the Methodist Church at Mt Bryan East and the school there. He then studied engineering at the School of Mines on North Terrace. His time in Adelaide allowed him to pursue his other interests of photography and cinematography which were both new activities in the early days of Federation. In 1908 he sailed from Port Adelaide to England to work in movies and as a journalist. He learned to fly and experimented with aerial photography as he travelled to many countries as a journalist. In 1913-1916 he was a leader of explorations of the Arctic. In 1917 he returned to Australia and joined the Australian Imperial Force as a pilot for World War One and he was awarded the Military Cross for his efforts. After the War he explored Antarctic for the first time in 1920/21 and the following year he joined Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. Wilkins later published his records of the geographical features, the birds, mammals and etc. From 1926 to 1929 he experimented with polar aerial exploration and for this and his publications he was awarded significant awards from both the American and British Geographical Societies. Hubert Wilkins also married in America in 1929 and settled there for the rest of his life. He died in Massachusetts in 1958. He was knighted in England in 1929. He made a further four Antarctic expeditions in the 1930s and served as a geographical consultant to the US Army during World War Two and also as a meteorological advisor to the US government. The home where he grew up is called “Wilkins” and is still standing and has been fully rebuilt and restored. Donations from the public and entrepreneur Dick Smith helped this to happen.
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