The great little town of Pekina was surveyed on land originally owned by the Chambers Brothers. Having started in the Adelaide hills the Chambers brothers expanded their empire into the Flinders Ranges. After only just surviving a drought they sold out to Price Maurice in 1846, who stocked the run with 3000 sheep and hired Frederic Hayward as overseer.

Being the most northerly run at that time Hayward had problems with the Aborigines and also wild dingoes. After three years Hayward had gained enough experience to start out on his own. He took up land in the Flinders Ranges and became a very successful pastoralist. Price Maurice also became a large landowner and successful pastoralist.

Map of Pekina

Pekina station expanded year after year and became a stopping place for the Hill & Co coaches on the Burra - Blinman run. During the mid 1860s it was managed by William R. Swan, JP. By 1863 Pekina Station had become a substantial place. It already had a stone homestead, a school, a men's kitchen, a bachelors' hall, some pine huts, a blacksmith shop, woolshed, slaughterhouse, stables, bullock cueing pens and a stone eating house. With the continuous push for land by wheat farmers the leasehold land of Maurice was resumed in 1871 and cut up into small farming blocks. Maurice eventually returned to England where he died in 1894 at the age of 76.

Most of the newly opened land was taken up by Irish farmers and Germans who came from the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley in search of new opportunities. Some came from nearby towns, such as the Travers brothers and William Bowman, both from Mintaro, which had been established much earlier. The first farm land was bought by Michael and Bart Kenny. The first wheat crop was harvested by James Lee in 1874. Another early Irishman was Patrick Daly from County Clare where he was born in 1799. He arrived in South Australia in 1864 and went to work at the Kapunda copper mines. ten years later, in 1874 he took up land at Pekina and settled there with his family.

Another Irish family who came to South Australia in 1866 and took up land in Pekina, after having worked at Kapunda, were Thomas and Bridgett McNamara. Within a few years more than one hundred farms were taken up in the area but by 1880 the good times seemed to be over. Drought was on the land once again, this time lasting for several years. Yields declined rapidly and were even further affected by rust and plaques of locusts. A personal setback was suffered by the Rowe Family when Charles Rowe, a farmer, died on 10 March 1882.

As a result of these setbacks the Town of Pekina grew only very slowly and by the turn of the century only had about seventy-five people living in it. The town's first store was built by Michael Duffy who was also appointed postmaster in 1875. Both the store and post office remained in the Duffy family for nearly one hundred years. Another early settler was Reginald Hinton, a builder from England who arrived at Pekina in 1875. After having built himself a house he was contracted to build the Pekina Hotel in 1877. In 1892 his son, George Hinton, was granted the publican's licence of the hotel.

The Hotel was used for many purposes. At first its licensee used one of the rooms to teach the local children by day and serve customers at night. The large dining room was used for functions such as dances, concerts and any kind of public meeting. Beer supplies were delivered for many years from the Jacka Brothers brewery at Melrose.

With the large number of Irish settlers in the Pekina area, St Patrick Day was celebrated each year. In 1879 there was a procession, started in front of St Catherine's Church, winding its way to M. Clark's paddock where a picnic was held catered for by J.R. Opie. This was followed by a ball at the Pekina Hotel where the dancing was kept up untill the early hours. Proceeds of the day went towards the purchasing of a bell for the church.

The foundation stone of the Pekina St. Catherine Catholic church was laid on 6 October 1875. It was looked after by Father Nevin from Port Augusta who took up permanent residence in Pekina in 1876. From 1881 Father James Maher, who was consecrated Bishop in 1896 remained at Pekina for the next twenty-four years until his death on 20 December 1905.

Several of the early settlers and some of the clergy are buried at the local cemetery.


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