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Caleb Potter was a tinsmith. He remained in Sussex when many of his relations emigrated to South Australia in 1839, after which his father, Peter Potter, wrote a famously negative report about conditions in the colony. However, the fortunes of the Potter family in South Australia improved so markedly over the next decade that in 1852 Caleb made the trip to Adelaide with his wife and children, ultimately settling in Mount Barker.
Caleb Potter (1813-1885) was a tinsmith from Sussex. Having emigrated in 1852 aboard the Omega with his wife Sarah (1814-1885) and their five children, he worked in Adelaide for fifteen years, then moved to Mount Barker in 1867. There he operated a tinsmith’s shop on the corner of Walker and Gawler Streets, where Bank SA now stands, taking over the business from the previous proprietors Haken Linde and William Fuller. Caleb advertised regularly in the Courier: “C. POTTER, TINSMITH and IRONWORKER, Gawler St, Mount Barker: Large Stock of Tinware of every description always in Stock, and made to order on the Shortest Notice.” When he died in 1885 his son youngest son Arthur (1854-1898) took over the business, followed by his eldest son William (1840-1899).
Compared with the rest of his family, Caleb was a late immigrant to South Australia. For unexplained reasons he and his wife chose not to accompany his father Peter Potter (1793-1864), siblings and in-laws when they made the trip in 1839 aboard the Somersetshire. The tribulations of this earlier group became the subject of public comment in England, briefly turning Peter Potter into one of Adelaide’s most well-known – and controversial – new citizens.
At the time, the likelihood of any more of the Potter clan making the trip to South Australia must have seemed very low. The circumstances were these. Coachsmith Peter Potter, having been persuaded of the many benefits of emigration, had only been in Adelaide a few months when he wrote home to say that he was disgusted by the primitive state of the colony, repelled by the inhabitants, appalled by the “alarmingly hot” weather and horrified by the insects. He complained that his house was “about fit for a pig-sty,” claimed to have seen “seven or eight” dead bodies lying together in the streets, and wrote:
I do assure you it is a most dreadful place to bring a family to; drunkenness and vice of all descriptions are practiced here to an alarming height. The accounts you have sent to England come back to us again, and they are anything but the truth. I do assure you, instead of this being a land of butter and eggs, it is a land of sand and vermin; if we lie down and sleep in the day, the flies will blow our eyes, ears, or nose, and there will be maggots in a few hours.
The letter caused a minor scandal when parts of it found their way to the newspapers. Originally published in the Sussex Advertiser and widely reprinted in the regional press, it alarmed the administrators of the South Australian Company, which was aiming to fund the settlement of South Australia through the sale of land to wealthy potential emigrants and English investors.
In December 1840 a lengthy rejoinder to Potter’s letter appeared in the South Australian Record and Australasian and South African Chronicle. Titled “PETER POTTER V. SOUTH AUSTRALIA,” it characterised the letter as “an effusion of gross ingratitude and injustice, from the pen of a discontented, disaffected man.” As well as taking issue with Potter’s specific complaints, the rejoinder reproduced the text of a more favourable (and considerably more temperate) letter that had been written by Potter’s own son-in-law, Robert Burfield. The rejoinder additionally protested that the newspapers had not treated Potter’s case in good faith, as they had purportedly edited out this mitigating passage: “I write in great haste, as the letter must be sent to-morrow, so there will be plenty to make you all laugh.”
Peter Potter’s letter raised the possibility that he might decamp with his family to New Zealand, “or somewhere else, where it is colder,” but as things turned out he never left South Australia. The family moved to Lyndoch and Rowland Flat, where they established themselves as blacksmiths and farmers. The younger generation fanned out between Gawler and Noarlunga, pursuing a variety of occupations from tinsmith to bureaucrat.
The fact that Caleb Potter decided to bring out his own family in 1852 reflects the increasing confidence and prosperity of the South Australian colony, as well as the changing circumstances of his own relatives. Looking back on the fortunes of the Potter family from the perspective of 1930, the Gawler Bunyip observed that “they for some years experienced much hardship and difficulty, but in less than a dozen years were successful beyond anything they expected at the beginning.”
Caleb’s demise in 1885 occurred just one week after that of his wife, Sarah – she of carditis, and he of bronchitis. The Courier remarked upon this “curious coincidence,” but with an implied shrug observed that in both cases “the limit of three-score years and ten had been passed.” Ellen Potter, also mentioned on their headstone, was Caleb and Sarah’s youngest daughter, born in Adelaide in 1854. She never married, dying at her home in Fullarton in 1940 at the age of 86. Nearby in the cemetery is a headstone for Arthur Potter (1854-1898) and William Potter (1840-1899), “Youngest and eldest sons of the late Caleb Potter of Mt Barker.”