Local Identities


HD Melville

-stationed at Robe from February 1856 to August 1868 as Sub-Collector of Customs, Receiver of Wrecks, Harbour Master, etc.

Originally Mr. Melville wrote 6 books in indelible pencil containing the story of what he considered unfair treatment concerning a payment for compensation to him, by the South Australia Govt. in whose employment he was for many years. He contended that the duties he was asked to perform in South Australia and the Northern Territory, contributed to the deterioration of his eyesight to such an extent that he had to give up his position with the Government years before he would have otherwise. As will be seen in the early part of the Book No. 1, it must have been his intention to have his story put into book form. I think that it is unfortunate that he did not go on with that idea, as the story of his life from the approximate age of 15 onwards covers many most interesting episodes of life in the very early years of South Australia.

Who else would have been able to boast having been involved in some of the following exploits:- In the first party to swim cattle across the Murray near Woods Point where the South Australian Company were to establish a Station near Wellington; having to deal diplomatically with neighbouring blacks who were the ones considered responsible for the murdering of the crew of the Maria; going on a Gold Escort with Tolmer; be in charge of the Port of Robe during the Chinese invasion and attending the wrecks of about six boats in Guichen Bar, as well as that of the Admella further down the SE Coast; spending 10 years under Insp. Tolmer in the South Australian Police Force; and so it goes on, even a stint in Darwin as Warden in charge of gold mining leases and Clerk to the Government Resident in the territory at that time (1872-3).

Whilst stationed at Robe as Officer in Charge of the local Police District, I obtained 5 of the original 6 books from Mounted Constable Jack McDonald who was stationed at nearby Lucindale intending to return them to him after reading them. Before being able to do this, I found that Jack had either resigned or been transferred to another Police Station. On endeavouring to locate his whereabouts, I was saddened to learn that he has died suddenly at quite a youthful stag of his life. I was never able to find out from anyone as to just where Jack McDonald had obtained 'The Melville Story' or what happened to Book No. 5.

The Books remained in my possession for about 44 years when I realized where they should be, namely the Mortlock Library on North Terrace. About 25 years ago I contacted a Mr. Melville in the Lands Department who was a descendant of the original Mr. HDM just prior to him moving to Queensland. He was not interested in the books, so I held on to them.

It is somewhat of a coincidence that the young man with whom I did most of the dealing in the Archives Section of the Mortlock Library, concerning the handing over of the Melville Story, was a Rodger Andre. This young man and his family have lived in the South East of South Australia for a possible 80-100 years. His grandfather fondly known as 'Baldy' Engelhardt owned Mt. Benson Station, just out of Robe. I can remember when I was at Robe hearing that Mr. Engelhardt got a pound per pound for some of his best wool.

Those wishing to read the Diaries will need plenty of patience as the writing is far from copy book standard. I found that after a few pages the unusual formation of some of the letters become legible or understandable. It is a challenge I would suggest that anyone interested in early South Australia especially the Robe area must take.

Jack Rosie


Adam Lindsay Gordon

Near Port MacDonnell, off the Bay Road, is Dingley Dell, the one time home of Adam Lindsay Gordon, in his day, Australia's leading steeplechase jockey, and hailed, since his death, as her national poet.

The cottage has been restored and purchased by the Government. The original roof was of shingles and the fig tree in the garden and the fuschia bush flourished when Gordon and his wife lived there in 1864-5. Relics of Gordon can be seen in the front room, including the baton, handcuffs and leggings he used when a trooper in the South Australia Mounted Police, together with enlargements of some of his drawings and his wife's saddle.

Adam Lindsay Gordon was born October 19, 1833, in Horta, chief town of Fayal in the Azores, and was one of he first scholars at the English College of Cheltenham. He lad a stormy life and in 1848 we find him at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich.

After several horseracing events, he eventually left for Australia in the barque "Julia" of 520 tons, and arrived in Adelaide November of 1848, where he applied for and was accepted into the South Australia Mounted Police, and, during 1853-1855 was stationed at Mount Gambier and Penola, but resigned to take up horse breaking. From 1861-63 he entered for many races and rode many a steeplechase winner. During this time he was left a legacy of £7,000 and in 1864 he purchased the cottage "Dingley Dell," at Port MacDonnell.

In 1865 he was elected to the South Australia Parliament, but kept his list of many engagements in races and his life was a succession of "wins: and "nowheres" on many racecourses. Throughout this time he was contributing much poetry to many journals, and on November 20, 1866, resigned from Parliament and went to Western Australia, returning again to South Australia in 1867. He had married Margaret Park in 1862. In 1867 a daughter was born, but died 11 months later.

We next find him living in Victoria, and in 1870 he received news that the Esslemont entail money has been swept away. On June 23, 1870, he left the cottage at Brighton (Victoria), where he was living with his wife, at 7.30 am, taking his rifle, sat in the scrub, smoking for a little while, threw his pipe together with his last shilling, into a bushman's hat - and shot himself. He was only 37 years of age.

In 1887, the foundation stone for the Obelisk to his memory was laid, and in 1915 a tree from his grave at Brighton, in Victoria, was planted in Vansittart Park. In 1922, the South Australian Government purchased Dingley Dell, and in 1932 a statue was unveiled in Spring Street, Melbourne. This was followed in 1932 by the unveiling of a tablet on a house in Cheltenham, and in 1934, H.R.H. the Duke of York unveiled a bust in Westminster Abbey.

A tall, gaunt, gloomy man with a ragged, reddish beard, he justified his nickname of "Reckless." He loved horses and riding, as the following extract from one of his poems shows: -

   "Yet if man of all the Creator planned

   His noblest work is reckoned,

   Of the works of His hand, by sea or by land,

   The horse may at least rank second."



Robe SA Map

The District Council of Robe is located in one of the most diverse and exciting areas within the state of South Australia. Situated along SA's magnificent Limestone Coast, this historic seaside port has an abundance of attractions on offer.

Contact Council

Royal Circus, Robe SA 5276

Phone: 08 8768 2003

Email: council@robe.sa.gov.au