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Heard about the great Hill River Stone Wall?

Updated: Feb 13, 2021


From Links with the Past! Article 3 CLARE CENTENARY OF 1942 WILL REVIVE MANY MEMORIES OF THE PAST. Northern Argus (Clare, SA : 1869 - 1954) Friday 19 September 1941 p 8 by "Clarion".

  • "This massive boundary wall extends along the ridge of the Camels Hump Range and Brown Hill Range for a total distance of approximately 65 kilometres, following a large part of the eastern boundary of the Clare District Council." (Heritage Listing)

"I do not know whether the inspiration to build the Great Stone Wall, about 40 miles long, at Hill River, was conjured up by someone who read the history of the Great Wall of China, or not, but I do know that. small as it is by comparison it was a colossal feat in our early pioneering days."

"Information, most incomplete in character has come to me from many sources, and I pen below as authentically as it is possible, some of the relevant details, hoping that in the process some valuable data of the actual plans and its sponsors or originators will thus be conjured out of the history of the Past."

7,040.000 stones

  • The wall commences about 11 miles South of the Farrell's Flat road and 4 miles West towards Clare. not far from the late Mr. David Ashby's homestead.

  • It continues Northwards to Gum Creek and Leighton, up big hills and down dales to Spalding and Booborowie on a level with Jamestown, finally ending at the top end of Canowie.

The height is 3 feet with a 3 feet base and 2 ft. 6 in conical top. and in order to work out what a colossal job it was when only drays and ox wagons were in use to cart the stones, a computation gives an approximate estimate that 7,040.000 stones were used to build the 40 mile wall; while the actual weight was 70,400 tons.

The computation was arrived at in this way—

  • 100 stones for every cubic yard.

  • Every mile means 176,000 stones, and 40 miles gives the total of 7.040,000 gibbers. To arrive at the approximate tonnage there is

  • 1.760 yards to a mile.

  • Multiplied by 40 gives us 70,400 yards in length, and

  • as each yard equals one cubic yard of stone—(or 1 ton weight) the weight works out at 70.400 tons.

Who Built it?

It seems fairly certain the Hill River wall was built in the days of the late C. B. Fisher, principally to keep sheep within bounds.

  • Fisher at that time held parts of Bundaleer, the Camel Humps (near Hawker) and Hill River Station (see below).

  • The "Camel Hump Wall" is a drystone wall which runs over 30 kilometres (19 mi) from Booborowie to Farrell Flat,[8] and another equal distance further south to the farm of Mr. David Ashby, totalling 65 kilometres.

South Australian surveyor George Goyder noted that the dry-stone walls helped to stop fires.


Charles Brown Fisher

(25 September 1817 – 6 May 1908), generally referred to as C. B. Fisher, was born in London, he was the eldest son of (later Sir) James Hurtle Fisher and his wife Elizabeth.

Charles Brown Fisher (25 Sept 1817 – 6 May 1908)
  • At around age twenty he spent two years on an uncle's farm at Little Bowden, Northamptonshire, before migrating to South Australia in 1836 with his parents in HMS Buffalo.

  • Early in 1838 his brother James, in partnership with Fred Handcock, bought some sheep and established a squatting station (Fisher and Handcock's Station) near the Little Para River. C.B. Fisher assisted his brother, droving ten of the first lambs bred there on foot to Adelaide for delivery to a Mr. Crispe.[1][2]

  • He began by dealing in cattle in 1851, which proved to be the most lucrative business he could have chosen, as it was just before the Victorian gold rush (within 3 years the price of a fat bullock rose from £2 10/ to £15 or £17).[4]

  • He purchased drafts of cattle wherever he could buy them up, and drove them across to Victoria, where the diggers bought them up at high prices.

  • He was an excellent horseman, and spent most of his time in the saddle at this period, being obliged to make many long and rapid journeys to keep up the supply of stock.

In 1854 he bought Bundaleer station from J. B. Hughes and in the following year acquired Hill River station from William Robinson.

  • Bundaleer with 31,000 sheep was bought for £31,000, Mr. Fisher walking in and Mr. Hughes out;

  • Bundaleer was sold afterwards to Mr. R. Barr Smith for something like £230,000.

  • Then, there was Hill River Estate, for which Mr. Fisher handed, to Mr. W. Robinson an £85,000 cheque.

  • Some 10 or 12 South Australian estates passed through his hands, including Wirrabara, Mount Schank, and Moorak near Port Gawler.

In 1865 Charles Brown Fisher went to Melbourne, and lived in Victoria for upwards of 40 years, becoming the largest pastoralist in Australia.

  • In the early nineties he fell on hard times, in company with many other station-holders throughout Australia. The North Australian Territory Company, which he had floated[6] (secretly in partnership with Goldsbrough Mort & Co.) failed.[7]

His finances steadily worsened and although insolvent, he continued trading until with debts of nearly £1.5million he was forced to declare himself bankrupt.[8]


The builders of the wall

The legendary topic is that the Shepherds built the wall in their spare time—and all I can say is if that he true they must have had a lot of spare time.

Actually it was two English stone-masons, Peter O'Grady, and a Mr. O'Donoghue.

Mr. W. G. Lewcock of Hartley Springs Gardens and Nurseries, who worked at Jamestown as a young man about 50 years ago. tells me that he vividly remembers discussing the wall building project with old-timers. particularly

  • Old Peter O'Grady. who with a man called O'Donoghue. was amongst those who built the first 10 miles of it at the Southern end for £1 a chain.

  • The reason was to have fire breaks,

  • and posts could not be obtained and dragged up the big hills.

  • Mr. Lewcock avers that it must have been built about 75 years ago (~1866)

  • Descendants of Peter O'Grady were living at Jamestown in the last decade and maybe are there still. I understand a daughter worked in Jamestown at one period.

Mr. T. P. Gillen says he remembers a man of that family name who was a prominent jockey in the early racing days at Jamestown.

  • According to Mr. Lewcock, this Mr. O'Grady was a slightly built man, and heavy carting of stones would have been arduous unless he used skids and drays drawn by bullocks.

  • Mr. Jack Dempsey, who lived alongside the stone wall for about 40 years, he being born at Mintaro before his parents occupied a farm at Gum Creek North, says old hands have told him that a man called O'Donoghue worked on part of it with Peter O'Grady.

  • This O'Donoghue used to ride into Clare on pay day on a big draught horse with his wife astride behind him.

Clare c. 1885, Main Street of Clare, Ford's Hotel on left. Photograph, B 727

Mr. Martin McEvoy, of Clare, says his father, the late William Andrew McEvoy, helped to repair the wall between Hill River and Gum Creek 35 to 40 years ago, and will get in touch with relatives at Jamestown, who are said to be acquainted with its early history.

Mr. S. T. McLean, of Clare, tells me, that when a boy he lived with his uncle Mr. David Ashby, where the wall commences.

  • For miles around he knows every stick and stone and yard of the wall.

  • It was beautifully built, and must have been worked out by craftsmen from the old country who specialised in this work.

  • Wherever he was riding, on horseback or walking, Mr McLean said the wall always impressed his boyhood imagination with its strong simplicity, and he would Iike to help in unraveling the mystery that shrouds its past history.

  • Like everyone else, the legend of it being built by shepherds had been handed down to him as it had to other people.

  • However C.B. Fisher is known to have fenced every property he bought, and this stone fence was probably part of this plan, since he owned Hill River Estate for twenty one years (1855-1876), and there was no suitable timber in the area.

This Heritage Stone wall

- Formerly "Hill River Stone Wall"

  1. HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE "This massive boundary wall extends along the ridge of the Camels Hump Range and Brown Hill Range for a total distance of approximately 65 kilometres, following a large part of the eastern boundary of the Clare District Council.

  2. It is believed that the wall was erected after the granting of freehold in the Hundreds of Anne and Ayers in 1864-1866 and that either of the landowners Scott or Browne started the construction and other landowners followed suit.

  3. It has been calculated that approximately 7 ,040,000 stones were used over the total length of the wall. Since the stones were gathered or quarried in the immediate vicinity, the form of the wall varies as the stone type varies from hill to hill. It is a remarkable relic, possibly unique in Australia." Lower North Regional Survey

EARLY HILL RIVER In those days farming was undertaken on such a grand scale

  • it is believed that Hill River was the largest farm in South Australia, if not the largest in Australia.

  • Families at Hill River were big ones; 12 and 13 children were not at all out of the ordinary. - Hill River Station, via Clare SA.

  • An example: Donald Mckinnon, a farmer, and Mary McLeod settled in Clare in the north of South Australia where they leased land (recorded in 1853) and became farmers. Daughter Clara illustrated at right:

  • Later two more sons were born, Lochlan (Lauchlin) Alexander in 1842, and John in 1844. The three brothers lived in Clare with their parents and, when old enough, went to work as labourers/shepherds on the large property near Clare called Hill River Station.

Hill River Station showing long stone walls

I thought the problem almost solved when a book called 'South Australia; its History, Resources and Productions,' edited by William Harcus in 1876, and illustrated, came into my possession.

  • A complete chapter is devoted to the Hill River Estate, 60,000 acres in extent and 25 miles long, the property of Mr. C. B. Fisher.

  • This chapter of Nine pages was compiled by a Melbourne journalist (name not given) of an influential journal, 'The Leader' in 1875.

Shearing at Hill River Farm

The number of sheep shorn was 50,000;

  • 200 horses were used for ploughing and harvesting;

  • a barn to hold 60,000 bushels of wheat was made.

Hill River Station near Clare, South Australia

In 1876. the cereal crops were: —

  • Wheat, 4,250 acres; 40 acres peas;

  • 1,800 acres fallow.

  • Ploughing was done 8 inches deep with 34 horse teams drawing a double plough.

  • The seed was planted the first week in June with six of Adamson's 21 foot broadcast machines.

  1. When reaped the wheat was put through winnowers by men on piece work at one penny a bushel and 2d. for twice. About 800 tons of hay was cut in 1876.

  2. Amongst contemplated station improvements were to be a public library and reading room for each homestead.

Over 200 hands were employed per year.

  • Wages: first class, 20/- a week; 2nd class, 18/-; 3rd class, 16/-.

  • The working hours were —

  • Rise at 5, horses fed and watered;

  • breakfast 6;

  • all teams in field at 7;

  • dinner at noon; afternoon, 1 till 6;

  • supper at 7;

  • horses fed and watered 8.30;

  • dining room and library locked 10 p.m.'

Unfortunately this splendid history does not mention the building of the stone wall.

Hill River Station, via Clare SA.

Farming on a grand scale.. “Hill River Station”, via Clare SA From: Clare - A Backward Glance by Jean Schmaal

The mid-north of South Australia has a fine collection of stately homes, and one of the best-known of these is the historic Hill River Station, near Clare.

  • The Hill River Run was originally taken up in 1841 by William Robinson.

  • The original part of the homestead was built of local sandstone in 1849 with a slate roof (brought to Australia as ballast on the sailing ship).

Hill River Station shearing shed, near Clare SA
  • About 1855 Robinson sold the leasehold run to C.B. Fisher for the sum of 40,000 pounds ($80,000) with 40,000 sheep included off-shears.

  • During the period that Fisher held the lease (from 1855 to 1876) he converted 60,000 acres into freehold at a cost of $180,000 and in addition spent $60,000 on improvements such as subdivisions, fencing and general land cleared for wheat production.

  • In 1875, 50,000 sheep were shorn,

  • while 4,250 acres were sown to wheat annually

  • in addition to 1,800 acres of new land turned up for fallow -

  • one wheat field was three miles long.

Breaking new ground at Hill River Station near Clare SA
  • The ploughing was carried out by 34 horse teams, each drawing a double-farrow plough and covering from two to three acres per day.

  • Six 22-foot broadcasting machines sowed 40 acres of wheat per day and harvesting was by 37 strippers, each drawn by a 4 horse team. Some 600 working horses were needed for these operations, requiring over 800 tons of hay to be kept as feed for them annually.

c. 1871, Photograph, B 7908 Reaping operations using horse drawn machinery on C.B. Fisher's farm at Hill River Station
  • As many as 200 farm labourers were employed during harvest, wages varying from 16/- to 1 pound per week.

Hill River Station - Sold

In those days when farming was undertaken on such a grand scale, it is believed that Hill River was the largest farm in South Australia, if not the largest in Australia.

The Honourable John Howard Angas

In 1876 C.B. Fisher sold Hill River to John Howard Angas for 220,000 pounds ($440,000).

  • The clearing sale took 18 days and was described at the time as the largest sale of its class ever held in the colony, or indeed in Australia.

J.H. Angas died in 1904 and most of Hill River was sold by auction, principally in two sales, one in 1910 and the other in 1912.

  • Of the original 60,000 acres the family retained 4,000 in addition to the homestead and main station buildings.

  • Of the original main stone buildings, the woolshed, situated three miles up the valley, and the barn, east of the present boundary, went at the time of the sale.

  • Mr Dudley Angas (father of the present occupier, Mr Alastair Angas) came to Hill River to live in 1917. He was the first member of the Angas family to actually live there, the property being operated previously by a manager.

After his marriage in 1925 Mr Dudley Angas commenced expensive alterations and additions to the original home.

  • The north wing was added, using the same local stone, which was obtained by demolishing an old cottage.

  • The original slate roof was brought to Australia as ballast on a sailing ship. It is hard for the casual observer to tell where the original building of 1849 ends and the additions of 1827-1928 begins.

  • Since Mr Angas's death in 1942 the flock numbers have been increased gradually, and from 1955 to the present day the emphasis has been on pasture development and the establishment of lucerne stands for which most of the property is well suited.

Today the property carries a breeding flock of 4,000 ewes in addition to dry sheep and a heard of stud Poll Shorthorn cattle, while a new stud of Sussex cattle is being developed through artificial insemination.

  • At Hill River the days of "the greatest farm in Australia" have passed, but the sturdy wide-spread oaks and the massive colonial buildings remain to remind us of the times when the vast holding was a great hive of industry. Updated October 2003, courtesy of Mr & Mrs Alastair Angas

  • From:

  • See also: Lally, Gerald A. (2004), HILL RIVER A Valley of History $30

Hill River Station and outbuildings

  1. The building complex was part of the extensive Hill River Station property, probably built during the period of occupation by Charles Brown Fisher between 1855 and 1876, although Hill River was established by William Robinson in the early 1840s.

  2. The picturesque kitchens, yards, quarters and outbuildings are well preserved and interesting relics of the major development period of Hill River.

  3. The substantial stone walled horse enclosure is of particular significance.

  4. Up to 600 working horses were engaged on wheat farming at the property.

Bundaleer Station in 1870


  1. NEWS DATED APRIL 9. 1875 Mr. C. B. Fisher has disposed of his extensive freehold station, Bundaleer, to Mr. Barr Smith, Adelaide.

  2. The land was valued at £3 per acre, and the sheep at 15/ per head, which amounted to £20,000,

  3. but with the horse stock and cattle, the total purchase money is £240,000.

  4. Bundaleer had been farmed under occupational licences since 1841, following the reports of explorer Edward John Eyre that good pastoral land was located in the mid north of the colony.

  5. The property was originally selected by J B Hughes under occupational licence in 1841, and he became the first settler beyond the River Broughton.

  6. Subsequent owners included Charles B Fisher and Robert Barr Smith. The ownership of the property eventually ended up with Robert John Maslin, who divided Bundaleer, encompassing approximately 60,000 acres in 1898, between two of his sons.

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