Pioneer John Horsnell

In Program 5, the work being done by volunteers from the Friends of Black Hill and Morialta Inc in Horsnell Gully was featured in the interview with Joy and Bruce Stewart. Ken Horsnell of Adelaide, a descendant of John Horsnell, has written about his pioneer ancestor and his arrival in the new province of South Australia in 1839. Ken Horsnell has kindly given permission to use an edited extract from this story as part of  the Park Friends project. The reader in Program 5 is Norman Athersmith.

I’m sure that if you live in Adelaide and have travelled along the Old Norton Summit Road from the city centre towards the Adelaide Hills, you will have seen the turn-off to Horsnell Gully. Arriving in Adelaide in 1839, just two or three years after Adelaide was established, John Horsnell was a true Pioneer in South Australia. And there is an interesting link between the Horsnell family and the now very famous Penfold Hermitage red wines. More on that in a moment.

Planting in Horsnell Gully, with Joy Stewart and Pembroke School cubs

Born in Essex, England in 1812, John Horsnell and a younger brother were farmers. John married and he and his wife moved to Norfolk. As he had contracted tuberculosis, his doctor told him that he should get out of England for a less severe climate. He and his wife decided to go to New Zealand where two of his brothers, both veterans of the Battle of Waterloo, had already migrated.

Accordingly, they set out from Liverpool on the Lysander. But disaster struck — Smallpox broke out on board, killing a number of the crew and many passengers – John’s wife being one of the casualties. She was buried at sea. The Captain of the ship (William Currie) then elected to sail to Port Misery (now known as Port Adelaide) where, it is said, the remaining crew walked off, leaving John Horsnell and the other passengers high and dry.

Nature Trail and elm trees at Horsnell Gully

John was kept in quarantine for a month or so as he himself had been mildly stricken with Smallpox. After his release from quarantine, John took it upon himself to walk to Adelaide – he only had 2/6d to his name. When he reached the emerging settlement, he collapsed, faint and bleeding on the side of the track, but was rescued by James Cobbledick, a recent arrival from England.

James Cobbledick knew Lieutenant-Colonel George Gawler, the second Governor of South Australia and introduced Horsnell to him. Soon, John had been appointed Coachman to the Governor. One of his very first tasks was to explore the creek systems of the Adelaide Hills. This influenced him towards buying property adjacent to Third Creek, more so as the main road from Adelaide to Melbourne was along Magill Road to the Old Coach Road, to Ashton then to Summertown, on to Piccadilly, and through to Stirling and the present road eastwards.

All that remains of John Horsnell's original dairy

Whilst tending his orchard one day, John Horsnell was gored by a bull. He managed to get himself to a doctor. His next door neighbour was Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold. After tending to Horsnell’s injuries, Dr Penfold then employed John to plant some grapevines which he had brought to Australia from France. The year was 1844 – and Christopher Penfold named it ‘The Grange Vineyard’

While working for Dr. Penfold, John met Elizabeth Smyth – the maid servant to Mrs. Penfold, assisting her with the making of medicines. John and Elizabeth married in 1847 at St. Johns of the Wilderness ….. it is now known as St. Johns Church in Halifax Street, Adelaide. John and his wife raised their fourteen children in the house which still stands in what we now know as Horsnell Gully.