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Port Victoria

Early days

Two early surveys on Yorke Peninsula eventuated in nothing: a false start. Robert Cock was sent out by the Adelaide Survey Association in 1839 and reported glowingly on the harbour he had discovered behind Matthew Flinders's Point Pearce: '...  completely sheltered from every wind, with a safe and easy anchorage.' (quoted in Heinrich p. 12). The land abutting the bay was also considered rich and fertile. A township was surveyed, Port Victoria, with an adjacent town Spencer, between them containing 749 blocks. Nothing came of this work. The Port Victoria Survey failed due to the exaggerated reports of the country and the lack of a dependable water supply, coupled with an economic downturn in the South Australian economy at that time.

Pastoral days

If the land could not be taken up by farmers yet, the Crown Land could be occupied by graziers looking for new pasturing for their flocks and herds. They reasoned that if native animals could occupy the land then so could their herds. By 1846 they were moving into the Peninsula: Alexander Anderson had a property at Urania east of Port Victoria. To the south was Gum Flat station held by Anstey and Giles. Anstey and Giles also held land in what would become the Hundred of Wauraltee. Life was not easy: drought and bushfire destroyed the bush and the stock; the wool price dropped as did the price for sheep. In the late 1860s surveying began again. This time the peninsula would be surveyed into Hundreds with the towns placed at regular intervals. The land would be sold to farmers for cropping.

Surveyed

The Hundred of Wauraltee was proclaimed 31 December 1874. Nine months elapsed before the survey teams began work; two months later the first sections were available for purchase. Good harvests in the adjacent Hundreds of Maitland and Kilkerran boosted sales. Wauraltee was proclaimed a township in 1876; town allotments were auctioned on 5 October 1876. Confusingly a private town called Wauraltee had grown up several miles to the south east. Port Victoria, the name of the harbour, was used increasingly to avoid the confusion, until the name was officially changed in September 1940.

Lot 49 closest to the harbour fetched the highest bid and in 1876 the hotel was built there.  The contract for the jetty was signed on 29 May 1877. This was completed in late January 1878 and the first overseas ship to take grain from the port to Europe sailed just 13 months later. Churches and a school followed. The foundation stone for an Institute was laid in September 1892 and books and a piano acquired. Functions included fund raising concerts for distressed farmers, Arbor Day, the school, and from 1912 picture shows. A Soldiers' Memorial Hall was erected alongside the Institute to honour the soldiers of World War I. To raise funds for this part of the town's parklands had been cropped with the profit going towards the construction work.

The Post Office was opened in May 1877; prior to this, residents had had to travel to Maitland to collect their mail. In February 1879 Port Victoria was connected to Ardrossan with a telegraph line, and in 1910 a telephone exchange was installed, with the automatic service not available until September 1966.

A wheat store was erected by Albert Waterman of Maitland and in 1880 Elder Smith & Co. established an agency in the town. By the 1930s the number of grain merchants had increased to six. Henry Hincks built his store in 1877, and another was opened in 1890 by Robert Sandilands. For many years there was also a hawker who sold clothing, cloth, haberdashery and jewellery from his horse drawn van. There were no banks in the town until 1886.

In March 1883 a flour mill was opened with the most modern equipment. 1000 bags of flour an hour could be milled. The mill was upgraded in 1888. It covered five blocks and could hold 20000 bags, and was reputed to produce flour of the highest quality. The mill burned down in 1928, a valuable source of employment in the town destroyed.

The port

When the jetty was built  in 1877 seven decades of activity at Port Victoria began with its harbour filled after harvest with dozens of sailing ships and ketches. Port Victoria was not a deep water port; the holds of the large vessels were filled from those of the dozens of ketches and lighters that plied the waters between jetty and the moorings. Because the ships moored in deep water well beyond the jetty, there were no wharf fees or the need for pilots: this made it a cheap port where sailing ships that were not tied to schedules could linger while the labour-intensive work of loading the wheat harvest was carried out. The Cardigan Castle was the first overseas ship loaded with 1800 tons of wheat and it sailed in February 1879.

In 1883 an L-shaped extension was added to the jetty, providing shelter for the small craft

Port Victoria rapidly became the fifth largest port in South Australia in terms of tonnage.  The ketches did not just ply Port Victoria's waters loading off-shore ships, but loaded wheat at the smaller Gulf ports of Port Minlacowie, Port Rickaby, Point Turton and Balgowan and carried this to the ships at Port Victoria moorings. For a while Wallaroo took some of Port Victoria's trade, but when it increased its wharfage fees the ships returned to Port Victoria.

The use of superphosphate increased the productivity of the farms on the peninsula and the amount of wheat shipped from Port Victoria also increased; in 1906 110,000 bags were delivered to the port, and in 1910 160,000 bags, with one farmer alone delivering 10,000 bags. The sailing ships' life was prolonged well into the age of steam and diesel-powered vessels, as they arrived in ballast to load the Australian harvest for Europe. Port Victoria was the last of the Australian ports to fill the holds of European sailing ships. The two square-riggers Pamir and Passat were the last to sail from the port in May and June 1949. In the end bulk handling facilities at Ardrossan and Wallaroo took over, and from being a port of significance, Port Victoria became a service town and a tourist centre with holiday homes increasing.

Reading:

Heinrich, Rhoda Wide Sails and wheat stacks:  a history of Port Victoria and the Hundred of Wauraltee Port Victoria, S.A. : Port Victoria Centenary Committee, 1976

Cormack, Neil. Port Victoria 50 years on Port Victoria, S. Aust.: Windjammer 50 Committee, 1999

Port Victoria 1934
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Port Victoria Cafe
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Port Victoria flour mill
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Seafront at Port Victoria
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Wauraltee Hotel, Port Victoria
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Wheat stacks at Port Victoria
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