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The colony of South Australia was set up as free and self-supporting under the Wakefield scheme. Land was sold to those in England and Scotland who were prepared to back this new settlement scheme, and the money raised was used for immigration and government. In 1836 the "Buffalo" sailed to South Australia where Governor Hindmarsh proclaimed the colony on December 28th of that year. (1)

James Lawrie and William Wilson were entrusted by the Warnock family (a wealthy manufacturing family of Paisley and Kilmarnock, Scotland) to establish their farming and grazing interests on land they had bought at Noarlunga. (William Wilson on behalf of his uncle John Warnock. James Lawrie because of his brother John's family connections with the Warnocks). Other members of the Lawrie family were also offered employment in South Australia and so prepared for their journey.

James and William sailed for their new home on the "Ariadne" in April 1839, arriving at Port Adelaide 13th August, 1839. With them they brought wheels, shafts, axles etc. for making carts and wagons, also boxes of agricultural machinery and a host of supplies to set up the 350 acre property, a sizeable farm for those days. Immediately on arriving arrangements were made for the transportation of the goods to the Horseshoe (Noarlunga) property called "Mertin Farm" adjoining the Onkaparinga River.

One month later, on 17th. September, 1839, the remainder of the group from Kilmarnock-Newmilns, Robert Lawrie, Archibald and Marion (nee Lawrie) Greenshields and daughter Mary aged two, Thomas Neill and family, and Margaret Mailey who came with relatives (probably the Neills), arrived in South Australia. The Neill family and Margaret Mailey had belonged at one time to the Kilmarnock Scotch Baptist Church . Others on the ship with this party were Hugh Cairns, Barbara Mackay, Mrs. Toseland and William Toseland (who married Jane Greenshields, 1857).

The journey for them in the ship "Recovery" had been hazardous. There were 223 persons on the ship besides the crew, and apart from the dangers of illness, of storms, of rounding the treacherous Cape of Good Hope, a fire broke out on board. Many panicked. Women wailed and fainted, while everyone was seized with terror, dreading the worst. Fortunately the fire was soon controlled with not much damage sustained.

Finally on arriving in Holdfast Bay preparations were made for landing. This was not easy, because at Glenelg there was no jetty. The boats had to be kept out of the surf, and the passengers were carried through it by the sailors. It was said that if the carriers became annoyed by the demands of the passengers a good way of venting their anger was to drop that person into the water, "accidentally", of course. Having made their way ashore, this little party from Scotland set up tent accommodation on the banks of the Torrens River. All eventually were given or attained positions in the colony.

Thomas Neill and family stayed in Adelaide were David MacLaren, Manager of the South Australian Company and an old friend of Thomas gave him work as a storekeeper. Robert Lawrie went to work on Mertin Farm, but the Greenshields stayed in Adelaide for the time, awaiting their employer. Margaret Mailey resided with the Neills. On 9th. November, 1839, she and Robert Lawrie were married in Holy Trinity church, and then established their home at Mertin Farm.

James Craig and Alexander Murray, Scotch Baptists from Glasgow, arrived in South Australia on the ship "India", on 25th. February, 1840, just a few months after the Ayrshire party. They had both bought sections of land at Noarlunga, adjoining each other. Their applications had been made, the land purchased while in Scotland and made available on arrival in the Colony. Craig has financially much better off than Murray, having been a silk merchant in Glasgow. In October 1840, Craig bought a second section of 80 acres not far away from "Craigbank", his home property, and made arrangements for Archibald Greenshields, who was then living in Black Forest, to work the property. Greenshields was to work Craig's property on a

 Bargain for the occupancy for 5 years ... This consideration of this agreement is the receipt by James Craig of half of the increase of certain cows and produce of a certain dairy and two thirds of the farm produce.(2)

Mertin Farm consisted of two sections of land: 240 acres adjoining the Onkaparinga River almost midway between the hills and the sea was managed by James Lawrie assisted by his brother Robert; the other section just north of Port Noarlunga and running down to the sea was managed by William Wilson. Wilson had spent some time not long after arriving in the colony, travelling through the countryside looking for sheep to purchase. It was quite rugged in the bush. Some times he slept in a shepherd's hut and sometimes in the open air. On one occasion he stayed a night with four old convicts who were "rogues", but quite kind to him. Wilson finally purchased a thousand sheep, 700 to be cared for by him and 300 by the Lawries.

The Lawries industriously set out in their first year to experiment with the productiveness of the property. Five acres were sown with wheat, part in June and part in July. This yielded a fair crop although it was slightly smutted. The two acres of barley sown at the beginning of August was a very poor crop. The oats, only a small patch, was almost a failure and had been eaten down by cattle that roamed the countryside at will. (The 9 acres of planted ground had been only partly fenced.) Half an acre of potatoes planted in August was a very middling crop, one acre of maize planted in September turned out to be very good.

The brothers had also built a mud house, a dairy, a stockyard and other small buildings for farm animals. They had sunk two wells one 40 feet and the other 80 feet deep, but there was no water in either. The property carried 300 sheep, 25 cattle and 15 other animals.(3)

There is a story in itself of pioneering grit and hardship. Crop failures that would discourage the most determined farmer. Wells sunk through hard rock and soil to depths of 40 and 80 feet with no water would discourage the fainthearted. But these brothers and hundreds like them had not sailed halfway around the world to give up at the first attempt. They would go on ploughing and sowing, determined to coax their soil into giving up the golden grain that would provide them a good living. How could they know that for most of their lives they would battle nature and its elements to draw out from the almost "desert" soil a meagre living.

When Robert and Margaret’s first child arrived in 1841, Robert built a house of split slabs made from stringy-bark trees. Margaret drove the bullocks, her first baby (also Margaret) tied on her back while Robert guided the plough. (Alick was born in 1843 and Jean in 1844. Janet and John were born in 1847.)

Life in the colony to this time had not been altogether easy. Speculators clung to the city buying and selling property but not adding to the economy of the colony. What little was produced was quickly gone and large amounts of capital were used by Governor Gawler to import materials and food for the infant colony.

An economic crisis developed in South Australian the early 1840's and many property holders suffered the effect of a tightened economy under Governor Grey. Possibly because of this crisis John Warnock came out from Scotland late in 1841 and took over the management of Mertin Farm. The Lawrie brothers continued for a time with Warnock, receiving good financial rewards for their labours, but eventually they sought other employment.

The Craigs and the Murrays suffered the same fate as many others with the bankruptcy of the colony. It wasn't long before they too fell into financial difficulties. Both of Craig's properties were mortgaged to secure a much needed loan. Alexander Murray took Robert Lawrie into partnership, Robert investing his money in Murray's "Mount Pleasant" property. Archibald Greenshield s became a labourer.

James Lawrie moved to Lonyunga in the Myponga Hills about three miles from Willunga some time before he purchased it in January 1845. The Robert Lawries moved to Lonyunga shortly after the Murray property was sold in February 1844. By 1847 Robert had saved enough money to buy 80 acres below the Horseshoe not far from the Craigs and the Greenshields. One day in June 1848, when the two brothers were sawing wood on the Lonyunga property, James fell from the top of the sawpit injuring his back and dying shortly afterwards. Later he was laid to rest at Willunga.

As time went on Robert's children were able to help with the farming activities . Alick drove the bullocks and sometimes Jean took a turn . By this time the family had a variety of farm animals, cattle, sheep, poultry etc. There were no shepherds so Alick and Jean took the sheep out from morning till night. Sometimes they took them to the Bald Hills, and sometimes the other direction on the flat country. Robert would count them every night. One night some of them were missing but as darkness had fallen a search was not possible till morning, when it was found some of the sheep had been killed by dogs.

Jean Ann Caldwell, Robert Lawrie's second daughter wrote of their worship when living in the Myponga Hills:

 Uncle and Aunt (Greenshields) and my parents were Christians and we had family worship morning and evening and we went to one another's place for worship on Sundays. Sometimes at our place and sometimes at Uncle's so the Lord blessed us and prospered us. (4)

There was no school in the early days of the settlement and so Robert and Margaret taught their children to read and write and do some arithmetic. About 1852 the children went to school for a short time. The schoolhouse, a long room made of wooden slabs, was at the foot of the hills near Willunga, about three miles from the farm. The teacher, Mr Grant, a single man, lived in a part of the building. He was kind-hearted and loved to play cricket with the boys and girls.

Crops were harvested with sickles or hooks. There were no reaping machines and the wheat was thrashed out with flails, or tramped out with bullocks.

During 1845 James Craig and Alexander Murray decided that Murray should return to Glasgow and seek the help of a fellow draper and friend, Peter Cumming. Cumming agreed to come to South Australia, wound up his business and he and his family set off with their considerable amount of cargo, arriving with Alexander Murray on the ship "Royal Archer" 11th. December 1846. In the meantime George Morphett acting on behalf of the bank had sold the property belonging to James Craig and worked by Archibald Greenshields. The buyer was Alexander Anderson of Morphett Vale, Innkeeper.

Upon arriving in Adelaide Peter Cumming immediately set up a draper's business in Rundle Street known as Peter Cumming and Sons. Alexander Murray and family moved into t he premises with the Cumming family, and for a time Murray worked for Cumming.

On 9th. November 1850 Alexander Murray purchased a property at Coromandel Valley and named it "Craiglee." Here Murray also built a biscuit factory on a section of land he purchased from Cumming adjoining his property. From advertisements that Cumming ran it would appear that Cumming had a financial interest in the biscuit factory. The Cummings belonged to the Scotch Baptist Church till 1848. (5)


  1.  A.G.Price, Founders and Pioneers of South Australia, Adelaide, 2nd imp. 1978, p.100
  2. South Australian Lands Department Memorials - 451/1
  3. South Australian Archives PRSA
  4. J.Caldwell, "My YouthfuL Days," Feb. 1928, p.2. Unpubl.
  5. Re Franklin Street church see Chapter 5.