The opportunity for John Lawrie to lease a farm of 100 acres came his way mid 1847. The property was at Craigman, New Cumnock, some distance south of Newmilns. Difficult financial times in the area must have prevailed for John to leave his congregation at a critical stage of its life. His father, Alexander was reasonably well-off and loaned John the money to get started.
After his father died in October 1847, John took into his care and provided work for his sister Jean as a dairymaid and a brother Alexander as a farm labourer.
John deliberated for sometime on the necessity of emigrating to South Australia. He was troubled by the reports of the church in Adelaide, of the difficulties of John Aird to keep the people together in the south, of the concerns of his brothers and sister and families. There were of course great advantages and opportunities in the new country for those who were willing to work. The decreasing opportunities in Scotland and the increasing opportunities on the land in South Australia all had a bearing on the decision that John was to make.
Not everyone thought he should go. A Christian friend tried to dissuade him, quoting a verse from a Psalm - "Trust in the Lord and do good; so you will dwell in the land and enjoy security". (Psalm 37:3) (1). In 1853, John decided to emigrate. Passing through Glasgow on his way to Australia, he
went into a bookstall to purchase a polyglot Bible, and the storeman placed before me a ponderous new volume, which he said contained no less than eighty sermons by the most celebrated ministers of the Church of Scotland at the tempting price of one shilling and sixpence; but I declined to purchase. I was sure I had got already, in the purchase of my Bible, possession of all the good ideas there were in those eighty sermons, and in a more convenient and portable form, and that I had plenty of crude thoughts of my own heart to trouble me, without puzzling myself with the crudities of other men's minds. (2)
John was convinced in his mind that the Lord was leading him out into a new and promised land. He had prayed long and given full consideration to the implications of his decision. Not even the death of their four month old son Alexander three weeks before he was due to sail would alter that decision. God was calling him to be one of the pioneers of the faith in the new country and that demanded from him complete commitment and whatever personal sacrifice he may be called upon to make.
John and a friend James Gray, the same age as John and also a farmer, bought a joint ticket and sailed from Liverpool aboard the "Ann Dashwood" of 872 tons, on June 16th 1853.
Arriving in Melbourne, November 10th., John stayed only a few weeks with an aunt who owned a boarding house before setting off overland for South Australia. The road meandered some distance from the coast through Victoria, then to Naracoorte and finally to Mount Barker and Adelaide.
He settled in the Myponga Hills above Willunga with his brother Robert and near to his brother Alexander and sister Marion and their families. One night he slept in the watch box by the sheepfold. It was away up on the hill. Everyone had gone to bed when John was heard calling, "Help' Help' " The wild dogs had frightened the sheep and they rushed to the side of the fold knocking it down. The hurdles and the sheep were scattered all over the place, and the sheep could not be rounded up until daylight. Next day most of the sheep were found to be alright, but the dogs had killed some of them.
Two years later, in 1855, Janet Lawrie (John's wife) and their three daughters Jane, Marion, Elizabeth and sons John and Robert came out from Scotland arriving at Port Adelaide on November 2nd. 1855, on the ship “Theodore” of 1001 tons. Janet was from a well-to-do Dunlop family and it is said that she was given a substantial amount of money before leaving her homeland. (Not proven to be true.) Janet and Jane, the eldest daughter, joined with the Franklin Street church for worship on the next Sunday.
Sister Lawrie, daughter of Brother John Lawrie of the church at Willunga having arrived from Britain, broke bread with the church this day. (3)
With the arrival of Janet and children at the Myponga Hills property Robert and family moved into another new house he had built and John's family moved into the old one.
There were no spectacular increases in the church congregation in the mid-50's in those southern parts. In 1855 the membership was fifteen and the church was meeting at McLaren Vale. The church met at noon and the meeting generally concluded about 3 o'clock. Some of the people came ten or twelve miles to attend. At the close of the meetings held in John Watson's home, the men smoked while the dinner was being prepared. John Aird who had taken such a leading role in the church since its commencement could read printed matter but could not write longhand, so the notes and headings of his discourses he would print in Roman characters as he found them in his Bible.
The colony of South Australia had by this time developed considerably. The devastating effects of the gold-rush on the economy and manpower in the early 50's had subsided. The season of 1855 brought good growth throughout the farming areas The surrounding country-side of Strathalbyn and Milang displayed its fertility with its yellow fields of wheat ready to reap and the tall flourishing stalks of corn yielding to the thrust of the sickle and the reaping hook.
From the hills above Willunga one could look out over the magnificent countryside below bursting with life. As far as the eye could see, were plains, undulating hills, and valleys, with thousands of acres of ripe corn, a patchwork of fallow and unbroken land and trees. To the south of Willunga, beyond Loud's Hill and back in the gullies, the Lawrie families were also busy gathering the harvest. This sureIy was a land of plenty.
Travel had improved. Bridges had been built, roads developed and coach transport provided, a far cry from a dozen years previous. In those early days of the colony all necessities such as food and clothing had to be transported from Adelaide in bullock drays, and the journey on the rough bush tracks over the steep inclines had usually taken three days to get to Willunga.
There were also encouraging signs in the work of the church in the south. A Mr Jones, a recent member of the congregation, offered a section of land on which to erect a building for their meetings. It was considered that by having more room and being a public place of worship this would encourage others to more readily worship with them.
Certainly a larger meeting house was needed. John had opened his house for worship and most of the neighbouring people now attended. The kitchen was crowded. The wet weather and impassable roads during the winter had brought about the decision to hold meetings in the Myponga Hills. But even when the weather improved and it was suggested they should return to John Watson's home, John Lawrie was reluctant to stop the local meetings. He had always had success among his neighbours and acquaintances, and he firmly believed that without a local place of worship most of the people just would not receive any Christian teaching.
A school-house in McLaren Vale was next offered as a meeting place and Henry Hussey, who was secretary of the Franklin Street church, travelled to the area to assist in the negotiations. After spending Saturday night with the Craig family, they all travelled the next day to McLaren Vale where the brethren were gathering for worship. People had travelled for miles around. It was the occasion of the week. After two hours of worship, followed by a luncheon, the offer of the school house was discussed. Difficulties in coming to a satisfactory agreement as to the use of the building during the week and at weekends resulted in the rejection of the offer.
Life was often difficult and primitive. At times it was a struggle to make a real go of it in "those wiId parts" . The disruption of an ordered church life by the winter weather was very disturbing to John. The scattered nature of the congregation made it very difficult to provide adequate oversight. Having farmed in the Myponga Hills for nearly ten years, and the land now giving poor returns, Robert agreed with his brothers John and Sandy (Alexander) to sell out and go north to farm the new land being opened up there. They had heard that at Alma Plains, for instance, there were few trees, the "plain" being covered with just black grass, and one simply had to plough up the land, put in the seed, and reap the harvest. This was certainly different from the hard, slow work of grubbing the big trees in the Myponga Hills.
Thomas Magarey, who knew the Lawries quite well - Robert from his Noarlunga days and John from his involvement in church life- was very generous in his support and advice. In November 1857 Magarey sold to Robert Lawrie a section of land he had bought some years before as a Land Grant costing £80, for that original price. This allowed Robert to sell this section to his neighbour William Budd seven months later for £205. With this money he paid off the mortgage on the remaining sections of his Myponga property as well as buying into the property at Alma.
The two Magarey brothers, James and Thomas, bought John Ridley's mill at Hindmarsh in 1850. Ridley also owned property at Alma Plains and Magarey was able to assist the parties in their negotiations with the result that John and Alexander Lawrie bought Ridley's property between them Not long after this, Thomas Magarey bought a property a little to the north of John's, Robert's property was just a short distance south.
The move to Alma in 1857-8 was recorded by Jean Caldwell, a daughter of Robert.
It was goodbye, so we packed up all our things. I think we had the bullocks in the dray and the horse in the wagon. We had our tents with us. We stayed one night in Adelaide. It was the first time any of us (i.e. Robert's children) had seen Adelaide. There were a good many shops about then. I forget how many days we were on the road, between two and three I think. However we arrived there safely and pitched our tent on the edge of the scrub, in amongst the mallee. We had a long tent divided into three or four parts with beds on each side. We lived in that tent for three months whilst father was building our house and we enjoyed it very much. Father also fenced in our paddocks and put in some crops. But unfortunately we struck a dry year. There was little grass for the bullocks to eat. The men had to cut down the sheoaks for them to feed on. (4)
The Greenshields stayed on in the Myponga Hills for some time and the little congregation John had meeting in his home transferred to theirs. Henry Hussey secretary of the Adelaide church advised that letters and communications for the brethren in the south would best now be sent through James Craig at Morphett Vale.
The District Council of Stockport (of which Alma was a part), was constituted in 1865, and the first councillors appointed by government proclamation were John Lawrie, John Watts, Elisha Manuel, John Young and Andrew Brakenbridge. J.Watts was later elected chairman.
In 1866 Stockport township five miles south east from John's farm was described as being situated on the Gilbert River in an agricultural area of which wheat was the staple product.
There is a post office in the township, a good store and a flour mill, and the Kapunda mines are about 12 miles distant east. Stockport has a good mechanics institute which is well attended. There is one hotel the "Stockport" and a public pound, and an aboriginal station in the township...The communication is by horse and dray. With Adelaide 67 miles south the communication is by horse or private conveyance to Kapunda or Freeling, and thence by rail. The surrounding country is undulating, and the soil is good for agriculture. It consists generally of alluvial drift overlaying ferruginous sandstone. The population numbers about 93 persons. (5)