The town of Strathalbyn was laid out by Dr John Rankine. He arrived in South Australia on the Fairfield on 4 May 1839 after 159 sailing days from Liverpool. Among the ship's 105 passengers were ten members of the Rankine family and a substantial number of other families who followed Rankine and also settled at Strathalbyn. Andrew Rankine, son of William Rankine was the first child born in Strathalbyn in 1841. By the end of the 1840s the Rankines had acquired large landholdings and built impressive homes on it. Dr John Rankine became a JP. in 1849 and later a member of the South Australian Parliament.
With almost all of the early settlers being from Scotland and staunch Presbyterians, matters of the mind and soul were considered very important. Before they could built a church, services were held in some of the larger Rankine homes. Life was hard for most of them and supplies, which had to come from Adelaide, were few and very expensive. Pork, damper and tea were the order of the day. Many of the huts were neither wind nor watertight. By mid 1843 matters had improved and many of the settlers had cattle, sown a crop and found time, money and labour to built substantial houses.
By 1844 a start was made with a building, used during the day as a school and on weekends as a church. In 1848 it had become too small and a start was made with the present building. Between 1857 and 1865 it was enlarged several times to cater for the growing number of worshippers. It was not until 1869 that St Andrew's Church was considered completed and had a bell tower. The Scottish influence can still be seen today in some of the town's original buildings.
The Wesleyans had their Chapel in Commercial Road in 1854 whereas members of the Christian Chapel conducted their meetings in Colman's store. The Church of England was opened in 1871 but the Catholics had to go to Long Valley. It was not until 1881 before they had their own building in town. The Salvation Army arrived a little later and was much disliked by the locals. Members of the local football club made it a habit of kicking their ball during practice on the roof of their building. The local newspaper wondered 'if it was right that the Army should be allowed to have a monopoly of noise in our town'. Members of the Army Band were fined occasionally for making noise (music) on a Sunday.
One of the early industries was the mining of copper and silver. It started in 1848 with the formation of the Strathalbyn Mining Company. This was followed two years later by the Glenalbyn mine with Dr John and William Rankine among its directors. In 1851 the Breadalbyn mine was started. One of the larger mines was the Wheal Ellen silver mine, discovered by Frederick William Bassett, and named after his wife. It was started in 1857 and employed Henry Richard Hancock in 1858. He would later rule the Moonta and Wallaroo mines, and its miners, for 34 years.
The Wheal Ellen Mining Company also paid the passage for William Arundal Paynter and his family from Cornwall. Paynter was interested and experienced in ore dressing, a skill badly needed at the Wheal Ellen mine. As many as six shafts were sunk to mine the silver ore. Before 1860 the company used as much as 35,000 pounds to develop the mine. During these years 2,000 tons of ore were raised yielding 90,000 ounces of silver.
Private schooling had been conducted from the 1840's but from the 1850's the Central Board of Education took control and employed its own licensed teachers. In 1852 David Mackie was employed to teach 13 boys and 8 girls. A year later it was William Snooke but when numbers had increased to well over a hundred in 1862, the Board gave a grant for the building of a school if the local residents made up the difference. Some 160 years later mining once again contributed to the economy of Strathalbyn when the Angas Zinc Mine started production.
One early settler at Strathalbyn was Donald McLean from Scotland where he was born in 1772. He arrived in South Australia in 1837 on the ship Navarino and was the first farmer to grow wheat in the colony. Agriculture was a major and important occupation at Strathalbyn and in 1855 a meeting was held at Well's Hotel which resulted in the formation of an Agricultural Society. A year later the Strathalbyn Agricultural Society held it first show on 5 March 1856.
Terminus Hotel and National Bank
Some other early settlers were David Bell, Donald Collan, James Dawson, Thomas Gemmell, John Gordon, David Kennedy, all from Scotland, and Richard Carruthers, Alfred Catt, William Colman, Richard Hooper, William Rogers, Edward Stirling, David Stoddart and Edward Sunter. Some of these men were also the first councillors when the District Council was formed in 1854 and the Municipal Council in 1868. The first meeting of the Municipal Council was held in the Terminus Hotel on 29 August 1868. Sunter became the first mayor of Strathalbyn in 1868, Alfred Catt became mayor in 1870, William Colman in 1872, John Gordon in 1879 and Richard Carruthers in 1886. Several of them made a substantial contribution to the town and South Australia and were rewarded them by having streets named after them.
The Terminus Hotel was built on the site of the original Strathalbyn hotel, built in 1840 by Donald Collan. It burnt down in 1867 and a new two storey hotel was built in 1868 by Richard Hooper.
Although the town and surrounding area developed rapidly and was prosperous it took nearly twenty years for the government to have a post office and police station built. One of its policemen was Constable Foelsche who was in 1869 transferred to Port Darwin.
Transport between Adelaide and Strathalbyn was provided by Cobb & Co and Hill & Co. A tramway line to Victor Harbour was opened on 23 February 1869. By this time it already had hotels, a brewery, a telegraph station, flourmill and grain store, butchers, a public pound, hairdresser, carpenter, undertaker, auctioneers, chemist, foundry, solicitor, jeweller, watchmaker, a bank, a court house, resident magistrates, a volunteer rifle corps, several friendly societies and a Mechanics Institute.
Not all of them had been successful or happy though. On 3 January 1868, a warrant was issued for the apprehension of 28 year old George Thompson, for deserting his wife and family. In June 1869, John Bills, carpenter and builder, and Charles Smith, butcher were both declared insolvent.
The town kept on growing and providing more and more facilities for its residents. By the mid 1870s Strathalbyn had its very own newspaper, gas lighting, yearly agricultural shows and plans for building a dam to improve the water supply. Unfortunately this last one was voted out by the government in Adelaide.
Regardless of the hard work carried out during the day such as clearing the land, fencing and building houses, many men found time for sport and other activities at night or on the weekends. A rifle club was established and the first championship belt won by Matthew Rankine in 1862. A cricket club was formed in 1869, a football club in 1879 and a swimming pool, of sorts, opened in 1883. Swimming times were between 9 o'clock at night and 6 o'clock in the morning.
What about the girls??????
The Council was also very much in favour of looking after the environment, as can be seen from these two notices which were issued in the early 1900s.