Edeowie Station was first taken up and stocked by William Marchant in 1859. The land had previously been held by the Browne Brothers from July 1851.
Prospects looked good in the Flinders Ranges at the start of the 1860s. Mining at Blinman, and several other northern mines, above average rainfall and high prices for copper and wool on the world markets, all pointed to good financial returns for everyone involved.
Ore from Blinman was transported by bullock teams, first via Wilpena and Arkaba, but later via Brachina Gorge to Port Augusta. Naturally wherever the teamsters stopped for the night an eating house would be built to cash in on the passing travellers. One of these was built at Edeowie, some distance from the station homestead.
With no railways as yet, the best the government of the day could do was to sink wells at these places and survey a small township at each of them. In February 1863 towns were surveyed at Yarrah, Mount Eyre, Hookina, Mern Merna, Parachilna, Kanyaka, Oratunga, Nuccaleena and Edeowie. The first of the twenty-three town blocks at Edeowie were offered for sale on 15 May 1863.
Most of the blocks were sold to Adelaide residents. Four blocks were bought by Thomas Baker, a builder. One block went to John King Smith, a dealer and another block to Michael Kingborough, a merchant. All were Adelaide men eager to try their luck in the north. On 8 September 1863, lot 96 was sold to George Thompson a storekeeper from nearby Arkaba for $27.00. On 22 December 1863 Thomas Baker opened his hotel, and the store, owned by John King Smith and his wife, was also operating before the end of the year.
Almost a year later, on 11 November 1864, lot 99 at Edeowie was sold to John Llewellyn Williams, blacksmith at Edeowie Station for $21.00. Not many blocks were sold after this date. Drought had set upon the land and pastoralists began to worry about the lack of rain and shortage of stock feed. This also affected the cartage of copper ore from the northern mines. With little or no feed available along the way teamsters were unwilling to risk their animals to transport supplies up north. This also meant that no copper was transported south to be sold. As the drought continued, the mines closed one after the other.
One of the first victims of the drought was John McNeil from Mount James. While at Edeowie in September 1864, his thirsty dog, trying to reach the water in the well, fell in. John tried to save his dog but was unable to climb back out of the thirty metre deep well and drowned in the three metres of water at the bottom.
It was a bad omen. Edeowie would see many more people die at the station or the little township during the next few years. On 16 November 1864, little Sarah Margaret Smith, the nearly two year old daughter of John King Smith, died followed a few days later by his six year old son, Henry James. Both died from dysentery. In January 1866, Pierce Larkins, a shepherd from Mount James, died from distress and want of water. On 30 January 1865 The Register carried this report
On 14 September 1865 James Thomson Berry died after a long illness. It was at about this time that his father, John Berry, became publican of the Edeowie Hotel until the middle of 1866 when George Cox took over. Cox, the fifth son of Robert Cox of Adelaide had married Jane Elizabeth, the second daughter of Thomas Baker at the Melrose District Register on 24 November 1865. They ran the hotel until after the birth of their daughter on 24 February 1868.
Ruins of Edeowie Hotel.
On 8 February 1866, Robert Gladstone, a pensioned shepherd, died at the hotel. Patrick O'Hare, aged 35, died on 18 December 1868. With the drought still as bad as before, conditions in the north deteriorated rapidly. Many stations were almost deserted after sheep and cattle had died by the thousands. Whereas the population in and around Edeowie in 1864 had been 316 people, by 1866 this had been reduced to thirty-six, made up of fifteen men, nine women and twelve children. Needless to say that not too many new buildings were started which resulted in Thomas Baker, builder and contractor of Edeowie, being declared insolvent on 1 February 1867.
When the drought finally broke in 1868, the country was in a sorry state but both miners and pastoralist returned. They picked up where they had left off or started all over again, including Edeowie station manager, David Walter. The hotel changed hands with Charles Jones becoming the new publican. On 22 July tenders were called for the renewal of mail deliveries between Port Augusta and Edeowie. By the end of 1869 a fortnightly mail contract between Edeowie and Mount Margaret, via Beltana Station was advertised and taken up by E. Tracey and A. McInnes for $800 per annum.
To improve travelling conditions for men and beast in the north, the government offered a lease for sale near the town for the term of fourteen years at $10 per year. The conditions were that the lessee was required to erect a whim within three months and also to build a house of public accommodation. At the same time though the lessee was allowed to make a small charge for the water used by travelling stock.
By 1870 conditions had improved enough in the north for the government to open several new post offices, including one at Edeowie, Hookina and Saltia. That year also saw a change at the hotel, the new publican this time being Henry Daw Ryan who kept it until September 1872 when it was transferred to Francis Smedley. Ryan had lived in the north for several years and was well acquainted with its conditions. As early as 1868, while at Yudanamutana and working as a mail contractor, he had tendered for the building of a new police station for $350. at Hamilton Creek. A year later he was at Mount Fitton and reported to Police Trooper Robert Whitbread of the Mount Freeling police station that the Aborigines had stolen some hundred sheep, rations and cooking utensils from shepherds' huts on the Mount Fitton run.
John Kirwan operated the store and Alex G. Warwick was appointed overseer at the station. Kirwan had run an eating house with his wife Jane at Wilpena since 1862. This was now continued by his son Richard. After a year at Edeowie John shot and killed himself but his wife carried on with the store until 1875.
On 15 October 1875 the hotel was confronted with yet another death. This time it was James Johns, a bullock driver of Nilpena Station. James who was about thirty-five years of age, of quiet and sober habits, had died from apoplexy.
A much happier event occurred on 5 August 1873 when Alfred Key 29, and Lavinia Smedley Shaw 17, were married at the Edeowie Hotel by John Parker Buttfield. Alfred and his young wife later moved to Beltana where he worked as a teamster. On 29 September 1878 Lavinia Key had a little girl which was also named Lavinia. In March 1874 Francis Smedley transferred the hotel to Robert Elliot who had run the post office for some time. Elliot stayed on until June 1876 when Giovanni Constantino became the new publican and stayed until 1880 when he moved to Saltia.
Giovanni certainly came at an opportune time, as there were hundreds of extra men in the area working on the new railway line to Parachilna and eventually Farina. The new line was patrolled by Police Trooper Anderson from Hookina police station. During September that year he was kept very busy with both shearers and navvies having a good time at the hotel. In 1880 tenders were asked for the construction of a Goods Platform and Office at Edeowie, Gordon, Kanyaka, Willochra, Hookina and Mern Merna.
In 1881 the new Publican was Michael Martin and although he was still busy the railway workers had moved north reducing his sales considerably. Later that year the licence was transferred to James Vale. He kept it until 1883 after which it was transferred to J.D. Freeman.
As the line did not run through or near the Edeowie township the Government decided to survey new towns at Edeowie and Parachilna. Early in 1884 J.E. Deane-Freeman, the new publican and caretaker of the government well, advertised that his establishment had good accommodation, yards, stabling and forage. He could supply drovers with all necessaries, including the best brands of liquors and fresh water. In December 1885, he transferred the licence of the hotel to W.H. Stephens. However as a result of the depressed conditions in the north the Edeowie hotel was closed during 1886.