The town of Cradock provides a good example of the rise and fall of a rural service town. It was started in 1878 during the land rush, north of Goyder's line, by farmers who believed that rain would follow the plough. During a meeting of local settlers on 20 July 1878 it was proposed to ask the government to survey a township on the stock route which ran through the University Reserve at Wirreanda. A year later a town was surveyed along with several other new towns such as Amyton, Carrieton, Chapmanton, Gordon, Hammond, Johnburgh and Stephenston, and probably named after the town of Cradock in South Africa or after a Governor of South Africa Sir John Cradock. Both cases though are disputed by some people. The South Australian town of Cradock was officially proclaimed on 5 March 1879.
The farmers went to work ploughing and sowing and before long it was reported that all kinds of methods were used to get the seed into the ground. Unfortunately for them rain did not follow the plough and the vegetation was looking very dry and stock had to be driven a great distance for the necessary water.
In town two blacksmiths had just started, the local storekeeper was appointed postmaster and a start was made with the first of two hotels. The Cradock Hotel, locally known in the early days as the Heartbreak Hotel, as a result of the many crop failures, was open for business in 1881. During the relatively quiet time of winter the locals found enough time to play cricket even beating the visiting Wonoka team on 19 June 1879. However, at the return match a month later the Cradock team, captained by William Warwick of Holowiliena, was defeated.
By 1880 rain was still insufficient and harvest prospects looked very poor. Most farmers did not reap that year but were hopeful that the next year would bring much better results. Many of them still believed that the poor seasons so far had been the exception rather than the rule. The 1881 season proved even worse than the year before. Distress became widespread and farmers petitioned the government for cessation of interest payments and to supply them with seed wheat to forestall abandonment of their land. No help came from the government. It was not until the end of the 1880s that abundant rain finally provided the few remaining farmers with a bumper crop.
In November 1886 it did have rain when 'a most fearful hailstorm fell. There was a thunderstorm in the morning, and the air heavy and oppressive all day. At about two a tremendous dust storm came in followed by hailstones as big as cricket balls. Every house was deluged, all roofs were perforated and windows broken. The Wirreanda, and other creeks, were running a banker after more than seven centimetres of rain'.
As the town grew bigger and more children roamed the streets it became time for a school to be opened. Towards the end of 1881 a weatherboard building was erected and Miss Betty M. Cousin took charge of the first students at Cradock. In 1883 she was presented with a handsome and costly album and writing desk by the parents of her students and the town's residents in general. It was their way of showing their esteem for her and recognition of her ability as a teacher. She had won universal esteem and proved herself not only a clever and painstaking teacher, but also a sincere and tenderhearted Christian gentle woman. By 1895 the school had more than fifty students on its roll.
During 1882 the town was supplied with a Mounted Constable and a portable iron police cell. However before long it was realised that something more substantial would be needed and by 1885 a stone police station was completed at a cost of $1,400. After the exodus of farmers and town's people during the 1890s, the station was closed in 1901 and after 1929 used as a school until 1949. One of the last students to be educated in the policeman's parlor was Colin Hilder.
In 1883 St Gabriel's Catholic Church was opened followed by the Wesleyan Church in 1884. As early as 8 October 1880 a meeting was held at the home of the Moyses Family to build a Wesleyan Church at nearby Hawker. It was chaired by the Rev J. James of Quorn and attended by other Cradock residents and H. Gadd of Hawker.
When Cradock's own Wesleyan Church was opened on 3 August, the Methodist Journal of 22 August 1884 reported that it was capable of seating over hundred persons and that an excellent tea had been provided, by our very kind and willing ladies, for about two hundred persons. The service and a later concert plus subscriptions amounted to $150, 'which was very gratifying indeed'. The building remained in use until 1924 when it was replaced by a new stone building opened on 12 March 1925.
Having church buildings did not always mean that there would be church leaders to look after their congregation. When the Rev E.E. Perrin and his wife were farewelled in September 1897, there was nobody to replace him.
In January 1883, harvest results were once again very poor. Many farmers had hardly enough for seed purposes. There was a great deal of discontent as many had been cropping for four years and each one had been a failure and the local newspaper correspondent wrote that life in Cradock was not a whirl of delirious excitement. As they had just been favoured with yet another dust storm he found Cradock a very pleasant place to live....out of. A year later farmers, including Robert George Crittendon, began to abandon some of their land around Cradock which was swiftly taken up on rental by nearby pastoralist John Whyte.
Still, it would take more than a few poor seasons to defeat the hardy and determined settlers. Early in 1883 farmers from Cradock, Wilson and Hawker were planning the formation of the Northern Areas Amalgamated Agricultural and Horticultural Show Society, just like Adelaide. Patrick Gillick of Wilson was elected President and the first show was held in 1883 at Cradock and proved to be a decided success. On 12 September more than six hundred people attended the most northerly held show so far. Prizes were won by J.Hills, R.Kearney, P.Gillick, R.Crittendon and P.McMahon. To conclude a most successful day a ball was held at Smoker's Wirreanda Hotel, where 'dancing was kept up until the grey hours of morn were visible on the eastern horizon'. On 17 September 1885 Cradock held its second, and last Agricultural Show.
By 1887 the town had some well established services which included H. Armberg who operated as a carpenter, F.H. Button as storekeeper and C.R. Richardson as storekeeper, land agent and auctioneer while Button also conducted the postal business. Richard Harris was the blacksmith, Joshua Iredell and Thomas Wood were the publicans, Spencer Kelly the bank manager and Alfred Rutter the local bootmaker.
A few years later, in 1890, Cradock had a population of 77 living in 17 houses. The postmaster was B. Manson while the manager of the Adelaide Bank was T.M. Leader. J.H. Iredell looked after the Cradock hotel and John Mandnell was in charge at the Wirreanda hotel. Law and order was enforced by Mounted Constable H. Wells and B.A. McCaffery tried to teach the local children to read and write.
The 1898 season gave a bumper crop after nearly 500 mm of rain had fallen in the district. Both Sarah Harris, publican at the Wirreanda Hotel and Joseph H. Iredell, publican of the Cradock Hotel since 1892, had a good year as did Patrick McMahon who ran the local store. For the next six years Cradock was favoured with enough rain to keep all farmers and town people happy.
With the start of better seasons an Agricultural Bureau was opened and people became more involved in sport and other leisure activities. A library was established and Isaac Thomas, local policeman, promoted tennis. His son Ronald later distinguished himself at Wimbledon. Better seasons also gave hope of better prospects and teacher John Drinkwater and Mary Edith Cutt decided it was the right time and were married on 22 December 1894.
A hundred years later the publican of the Cradock Hotel had an even better time when it was reported that Diamond fever had hit the town. Since the 1960s diamonds had been found near Cradock but this time it all seems bigger, better and more of them. According to Patric Barry, president of the Canadian firm Tiger International Resources, the area has enormous potential and they will try to find the source of the diamonds. As one of the sample sites will be in the backyard of the Cradock Hotel, it already has doubled its potential resale value.