About two hundred kilometres north from Adelaide, the town of Terowie was surveyed in 1877 and was soon an important part of a railway network, made up of three different gauges, supplying the vast station country to the north and north-east as well as the Silverton and Broken Hill area in New South Wales.
As early as the 1840s, land in the area had been taken up by pioneering pastoralists who held it on Occupation Licences. From 1851 the government issued Crown Leases and some of the earliest pastoralists gaining leases in the Terowie area were Alexander McCulloch, the Browne Brothers, James Logan, Daniel Cudmore and Thomas Marchant.
After the passing of the Strangway's Act in 1869, many of the pastoral leases were not renewed but instead broken up into smaller parcels for agricultural purposes. Farmers were able to buy up to 640 acres (1 sq mile) on a deposit of twenty per cent with the balance to be paid in four years. This was later changed to ten per cent and six years. With the resulting closer settlement new Hundreds and Towns were surveyed to cater for the influx of farmers and services industries. The Hundred of Terowie was surveyed and proclaimed on 20 July 1871. The town of Terowie was surveyed in 1877 although as early as 1872 buildings had been erected.
One of the first settlers was John Aver Mitchell, who is recognised as the real founder of Terowie after laying out his private town in 1877. Having arrived from Penzance and lived at the Glen Osmond mines, Mitchell later moved to Hamilton where he had the publican's licence of the Farmers' Home Inn. After buying land in what later became Terowie he put up the Terowie Inn, the first building in town. The government town of Shebbear was surveyed at almost the same time but later absorbed into Terowie.
When the town was officially established Mitchell contributed $100 towards the cost of building a Wesleyan Chapel and in 1878 donated some of his land for the building of the Terowie Institute. The building served many purposes. At times it was used as a local court and at other times different religious denominations used it for services before their own churches were completed. It has also been used as a concert hall and for the local library.
At the start of the 1880s the nucleus of the town was established with most of the essential services available. Since 1876 it had a resident doctor, the first one being Dr Abraham Carter, previously from Mintaro. There was a police station, a post office, a flour mill, a skating rink, the Bleechmore Brothers operated a general store and the local government and two private schools were well attended. Other private schools would be opened later, the last one, in 1911 by the Sisters of St Joseph.
The St Joseph's school was started by Sisters Melita, Aidan and Antoinette when thirty-seven students were enrolled. Several of its students would later join the Order. The school closed in 1966 when the town's population had decreased substantially and only nineteen students were on the roll.
The town also had two Lodges, the Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society, from 1875 and the Lodge of Concord No 27 from 1881. Residents read the latest news in the Terowie Enterprise and from 7 January 1881 the North Eastern Times & Terowie News. The English Scottish and Australian Bank had been open since 1878 and it even had a Literary and Debating Society which had been formed in 1882.
Most important of all was the fact that Terowie became the terminus of the broad gauge northern railway line on 14 December 1880. The narrow gauge line from Petersburg (Peterborough) was first used on 24 February 1881. Apart from the railway, the town was also serviced by Cobb & Co and Hill & Co coaches. There were enough railway men in town to form a branch of the South Australian Railway Service Mutual Association on 9 October 1889.
At its first meeting C. Hill was elected President, W. Mowatt Vice-President, T. Vincent Secretary and W. Elliott Treasurer. Some of its first members were J. Elliott, J. Phillips, D. Griffin, W. Wehr, J. Steadman, G. Edwards and C. Green.
Not all Elliotts would remain in town though. Francis Elliott, born in 1903 and raised by his sister and her family after his parents had died when he was still young, completed his education in Terrowie. After that he worked as a station hand on different properties and in 1927 moved to Talia.
When silver was discovered across the border at Silverton, Thackaringa and Broken Hill teamsters from Terowie had more work than they could handle. Some of them became well known for their large loads and record times. Among them were Stuart Higgins, Thomas Conlon and Arnold Waters. At times more than fifty bullock teams were camped in and around Terowie waiting to be loaded with fire wood, food, wine, beer or whatever was needed at the mines. Until the completion of the railway to Broken Hill travellers could leave Terowie three times a week by coach for New South Wales. The railways, and particularly its break of gauge, has provided continued employment for a large part of Terowie's population for almost ninety years.
By 1884 Terowie was well established. W. Farmer ran the Terowie Hotel and J.T. Winterbottom the Royal Hotel. Both were favourite stopping places for travellers to and from Silverton. The town also had its own Agricultural Implement factory and J.T. Walker was the local Boot and Shoemaker. The Ford Brothers ran the general store, Sarah & Dunstan sold timber and iron and S.J. Eichner was ready to provide his services as a tailor. At the Institute meetings were held by the Freemasons, Oddfellows, Foresters and Rechabites. Edward & Mitchell were the bakers and Dunemann Brothers the butchers. At the Post and Telegraph Office they were busy as well and on 1 June 1890 W.H.A. Woodgate was appointed messenger, folowed three months later by W. Statton. In 1891 J.M. Belcher who already worked for the post office was also appointed Officer of Customs.
During the mid 1880s Terowie also had monthly cattle, horse and sheep sales and A. Pepperhorn provided the service of saddler and J.T. Mullen that of saddle and harness maker. C. McDonald & Co were watchmakers and jewellers, James Eglinton the auctioneer, Miss Shrives the dressmaker and Mrs G. Dawson piano teacher. As in most other towns there was also a cricket and a rifle club. Last but not least Terowie had a Magistrates' Court where James Williams was charged, and fined, with fighting in the main street. A little later William Fowler was charged with riotious behaviour and damaging Trooper E.W. Bertram's uniform. He too was fined.
By the 1890s Terowie had an Eye Hospital, run by Dr Alfred Hill, a Brass Band and a Solicitor. Solicitor Pendlebury, had been operating for several years already from his office in the Main Street and made it now known that he was a Commissioner for taking Affidavits in the Supreme Courts of New South Wales and South Australia. Peter Pendlebury was born on 21 September 1855 at Kensington. He was the youngest child of John and Charlotte Pendlebury who had left England with their seven children aboard the Cromwell in 1849. After completing his education and being admitted to the Bar, Peter practiced in Terowie for sixteen years. He also attended at Petersburg on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-4 pm. On Full Court days he started at 9 am. He left Terowie in 1899 to settle in Adelaide to further his practice and profession.
On 18 June 1890 Peter married Marian Harriet Harvey at St Bedes Church Semaphore. They never had any children. Peter was a community-minded person who was at various times Secretary of the Foresters and Old Fellows Lodge at Terowie. He was also Vice President of Agricultural Society and member of the Dramatic Society.
Peter Pendlebury in his younger days.
The town also supported two hotels, the Terowie Hotel with W. Eglinton as publican and the Imperial Hotel where W.W. Smith looked after his customers. Another business in the Main Street was that of T. Taylor, who provided the services of Machinist, Blacksmith and Wheelwright. The Terowie District Council was formed on 4 February 1888 and from 1889 had its meetings in the old St John's Church which became the Council Chambers. The Council operated until 1935 when it amalgamated with Hallett (MAP) and became known as the District Council of Hallett.