The Mail Run Connecting with Lyndoch
The Royal Mail Coaches had served the district for many years. The mail run from Adelaide to Truro, went through Gawler Town, Sandy Creek, Lyndoch, Jacobs Creek, Tanunda, and Angaston. Travel time from Adelaide to Gawler was five hours, and Gawler Town to Tanunda three hours. In 1854, the mail contractor, James Rossiter, received 45 pound per annum for a thrice weekly mail service from Gawler to Truro. The mail was contracted to private persons or companies, amongst the well known of these were Cobb & Co, Rounsevell, and Hill & Co, who contracted mail runs all over South Australia (1&2). Staging post and livery stables were established where horses were changed, paddocked, groomed, shod, and vehicles repaired. A journey from Adelaide to the Barossa was a memorable experience:
Early journeys from Adelaide to the Barossa went through rough, untracked and forested plain. The Enfield and Prospect area was covered in huge pine forests, which thinned into undulating, tree covered plains, and the expanses were covered by waist high kangaroo grass. Those were the days when the bullock drays were a slow, tortuous form of transport: Adelaide to Gawler was a long uncomfortable journey – it took 1 ½ hot, thirsty days simply to reach the little Para River! However, 25 years later, progress had been made. Christmas shopping and New Year sales involved a five-hour journey in a mail coach. The fair was 10/- each way, and did not include insurance against injury suffered during the trip. The coach left Gawler at 5 a.m. and was supposed to reach “Morcom’s Temperance Hotel” in Adelaide at 10 a.m. The driver was fined for every minute over that time, and if anything happened to the coach he had to ride on ahead with the mail, leaving the passengers to wait until his return (3).
It was fairly common for the early settlers to see a bullock team bogged almost axle deep in a mud patch, and it usually took a long time before the bogged team could be pulled out. A traveler who visited the Barossa in 1851 described the road in the following terms:
“The road from Lyndoch Valley to Tanunda is in many parts of a very indifferent description from the frequent occurrence of ravines and hollows across the highway, forming one of the exceptions to the generality of the roads in the north. These ravines seem to have remained pretty much in their original state, notwithstanding the traffic … The road next to Mr. Jacob’s is very bad: further on it appeared to us not simply bad, but exceedingly dangerous. Our vehicle was piloted over two execrable ravines with difficulty; while a bullock driver with his team and dray, going on the same way, declared his intention not to pass without more help at the risk of breaking his beasts’ neck. Just at this time two other teams were descending the gully from the opposite side. All attempts to control the first proved vain, a bullock in the rush down got his leg over the chains, and the dray, bullocks, and driver, finished their career at the top of the next rise in a muddle and a mess, of which we had not time to see the result.”
Coach journey were full of hazards as the road went through sandy patches and down into creek beds at fords, which during wet periods, ran with torrents of water (2). The mailman of necessity knew his fords extremely well and at the one nearest Lyndoch he kept a wary eye on one particular post nearby (2). If the water had risen to a certain mark, he new it was not safe to cross, and many times passengers and coachman have sat and waited, sometimes for hours, for the water to recede. One particular bridge some distance out of the town was built after the mail coach have attempted to ford the creek in flood, and the horses were swept off their feet. Fortunately there were no passengers on board, for the coach was wrecked and the horses lost, and the driver saved his life by clinging to wire fence until help reached him. On the other side of the town, near what is now known as Sandy Creek, the difficulties arose from the loose, deep sand through which it was necessary to drive. Horses were set at a gallop, passengers screamed, and through they went if their luck held. But often the wheels sank too deeply and the men would push and turn the wheels with their hands while horses pulled. (2).
One of the worst places on the Gawler to Tanunda road was Jacob’s Creek, which had to be forded. Often this creek had a very strong current and great care had to be taken. Newspaper reports give graphic illustrations of how the road in the road had to be crossed at times.
“The Jacob Creek has often been an insurmountable object to our postman and his horse. There is fortunately a dead tree lying across the creek, on which on several occasions, the mail deliver crept across with Her Majesty’s mail on his back, not I believe without danger to himself and his important burden.” A newspaper report of 15 August 1862 (1)
“A bugle is much needed for the mail driver, as he leaves here at 4.40 a.m. and sometimes meets many teams along the road, which might result in an accident through collision on one of these dark winter mornings. A horn would answer the purpose of warning teamsters and relieve driver and passengers of much anxiety .” An1864 newspaper report of the Truro mailman (1).
“After such a long drought the rain has now commenced in real earnest. During the last few days the rainfall has been exceptionally heavy, and the river is higher than it has been for several seasons at this early period of the year. Jacob’s Creek near Lyndoch, was so swollen on Wednesday morning that the Tanunda mail coach could not get past, and had to return to Gawler; and we are informed that a portion of the road in the neighbourhood of Lyndoch is several feet under water.” [Extract from The Bunyip (Gawler newspaper) 17.5.1875]
As the main road to the River Murray and New South Wales went through the Barossa, the conveyance of mail and passengers became very important to the town en route, and efforts to improve the road conditions began by the early settlers:
There was good reason for T.R. Jones of the Lord Lyndoch Hotel, Lyndoch Valley, as reported in the Deutsche Post in 1849, to offer board and lodging to all who were willing to assist in the improvement of the road ‘zwischen den Fenzen’ (as the English-German phrase ran, i.e. between the fences). [Extract from Bethany, A Dwelling Place by H.F.W. Lutheran Publishing House. Page 25]