Inneston, on southern Yorke Peninsula, was a small mining and processing town with a population of about 150 people. Its short history began as Cape Spencer in 1913 and lasted until the depression years of the 1930s. Although Gypsum had been mined on Yorke Peninsula from the 1870s, the deposits at its southern tip were not worked until after the start of the twentieth century when the Permasite Company was taken over by W.R.D. Innes. He began to mine near Cape Spencer and with his brother formed the Peninsula Plaster Company and shipped the gypsum to Melbourne until 1916 when it was processed on site.
To overcome the isolation of the settlement, the company established its own postal services and Innes constructed fifteen kilometres of telephone line which he later handed over to the South Australian Post and Telegraph Department. Imagine his surprise when he was told that his company would be charged for using it!!!
An attempt was also made to dig a canal from the lake to drain it into the sea to make access to the gypsum a little easier. However this project was abandoned when it was realised that the sea level was higher than the lake. After the mining of the gypsum from the lake, the mineral was processed at the Inneston Plaster Company's factory. When finished the plaster was stored in 160-lb bags.
The bags were later loaded onto railway trucks and pulled by two teams of Clydesdale horses nearly six kilometres to the Stenhouse Bay jetty for loading into the waiting ships. (The Stenhouse Bay Jetty was named after Andrew Stenhouse, a Scotsman from Dumbarton, and one of the directors of the Peninsula Plaster Company.) The teams were managed by Bill Thomson and Adolf Pfitzner until replaced by locomotives. Originally made of stringybark and mallee sleepers in 1914, the line was later replaced by steel.
Wood was one of the most important raw materials. Apart from being used for the early railway line, it was also used for building material, for domestic fires and most of all to fuel the boilers for the steam engine, dryer and kettles of the plaster factory. It kept a large number of men busy day in day out all year round.
In the early days most people lived under canvas but as the works became more established and the company did well, it built stone cottages for its managers and workers. When the supply of bread and meat became unsatisfactory the company appointed one of its own workers to bake and slaughter.
In 1927, when the company employed eighty men and the town of Cape Spencer had a population of nearly 150, electric light in all buildings, a public hall, a school, post office, general store, cricket oval, tennis court, chemist, butcher and bakery, a successful request was made to the Nomenclature Committee to change the name to Inneston, after its founder.
Being isolated from larger settlements on the Peninsula, and Adelaide in particular, the town soon became self sufficient and used most of the local resources available for its nearly fifty buildings. Only sawn timber, roofing iron and floorboards were shipped from Adelaide.
The Hougomont, after having been severely damaged in a storm on 21 April 1932, this steel-hulled, four-masted barque was just able to limp into Semaphore. After a thorough inspection it was decided to scuttle her. On 8 January 1933 this vessel, built in 1879 in Scotland was towed to Stenhouse Bay. Here the wreck was sunk near the jetty to provide a breakwater for ships loading the gypsum produced at Inneston.
The town was not only self sufficient but also self reliant. The local hall became the focal point for cultural and social functions. During the day it served as a school whereas at night and on weekends it became the venue for films, dances, card games and even wrestling.
Being a company town, Inneston was wholly dependent on the demand for the company's products. When the Inneston Plaster Company, which had been the main employer of the town's people closed, the town, like so many other mining towns also closed and by 1970 had become a ghost town.
The buildings and mine area of Inneston were listed on the Register of State Heritage Items on 14 August 1986, and are now managed by the South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Services. Several of the old houses have been restored and are now available for hire.