Read their story
Thomas and Mary Paltridge and their six children were part of a group of emigrants who left Devon for South Australia in 1846. Mary’s relations, the Dunns, had preceded them, and were already well established in the Adelaide Hills.
The Paltridges settled in Mount Barker where they established a bootmaking business. In 1854 they opened a tannery, which found great commercial success as Thomas Paltridge & Sons. The tanning business formed the basis of the Paltridge family’s fortune and became one of the foundational industries of Mount Barker. It operated until 1975.
In 1846 a party of seventeen emigrants left Okehampton, Devon, bound for Adelaide aboard the Phoebe. They included Thomas Paltridge (46), his wife Mary, née Dunn (47), their children Elizabeth (21), Thomas Jr (18), John (14), William (12), Samuel (11), Mary (7), and Thomas Jr’s fiancée Julia Colling (19). The occasion of their departure was later reported under “Reminiscences” in the Courier newspaper on 19 October 1917:
A relative just before Christmas came to the town with a great English waggon (sic.), covered in to provide shelter, and at 10 p.m. all the travellers left for Plymouth to join the Phoebe under Captain Dale, in which ship the voyage to Australia was made. The ground was white with snow and there was a chill also in the hearts of the elders of the party by reason of the breaking of old associations and the plunge into the unknown. The voyage began three days before Christmas Day 1846, and the transition was to the summer in Australia, for the Phoebe was anchored in Port Adelaide in March.
The Paltridges probably made the voyage with a greater sense of security than many, as they had been preceded by Mary’s relatives, the Dunns, who had emigrated between 1838 and 1842. Her brothers were well established in the Adelaide Hills by the time the Paltridge family arrived. George Dunn was at Mount Torrens, William and Charles were at Mount Charles near Charleston (both named after Charles, who had laid out Charleston village), and John Dunn was already milling flour at Mount Barker (see John Dunn History Post).
The Paltridges chose Mount Barker as having the best prospects for trade, although at the time they arrived there were “only half a dozen slab huts” surveyed for the town, and “white survey pegs were everywhere visible in the ground.” For six months they lived in the office attached to the flour mill while they organised more permanent lodgings and a site for their business as bootmakers.
The elder Paltridges settled permanently in Mount Barker, but their children were more mobile. In 1852 all four sons joined the exodus to the Victorian goldfields, trying their luck at Forrest Creek. They came back after four months empty-handed, but another Mount Barker man who had been digging in the same area, Andreas Hultgren, happened to strike it rich. Before his departure he had been running a small tanning operation at Mount Barker, below the site of the old Methodist Church. When he returned to the town in 1854 he offered his tanning equipment for sale, and it was taken up by Thomas Paltridge junior and his father as a handy adjunct to boot making and leatherworking. Ironically, it turned out that tanning would be the means by which the Paltridges would secure their own fortune.
The Thomas Paltridge & Sons tannery was built on Mount Barker Creek near John Dunn’s flour mill, where Mount Barker Central shopping centre now stands. The Paltridge family also branched out to bark-grinding and leather businesses, and ran a boot and shoe warehouse on Gawler Street. Over time Thomas Paltridge & Sons became one of the defining businesses in Mount Barker, and one of the major employers in the district. Despite burning down more than once (most comprehensively in 1907), at its apex it was the largest tannery in the Southern Hemisphere. Its legacy is not, however, unproblematic, since the tanning process was smelly and polluting, and the stripping of bark contributed to long-term environmental degradation. Consequently the significance of the tannery for Mount Barker is recalled less fondly, and less often, than that of milling and farming.
Mary Paltridge senior died in 1882 of bronchitis, and Thomas senior died the following year, aged 83, of “senile decay.” They left four surviving children, forty grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. By this time Thomas junior had been the driving force in the tannery for some years, and in about 1885 he passed its operations over to four of his locally-based sons. He had become a wealthy man, and had earned a reputation as a public benefactor, also giving his time to the Mount Barker Institute (of which he was a founder), the District Council, the Dramatic Society and the Masonic Lodge.
Thomas retired to ‘Uplands,’ his farm and ‘gentleman’s residence’ just beyond the western edge of Mount Barker; built by William Noah Hedges, the house is still standing on Benjamin Way within the Flaxley Estate. There Thomas could indulge his love of reading, music and theatre with his second wife, Lucinda (née Brady). Most of the Paltridges were keen musicians and performers, and Thomas was a proficient cornet player. He died at home at the age of 78 and was buried at Blakiston. The tannery retained its direct connection with the Paltridge family until the death of Thomas’s fifth son Frank in 1953, and the business finally shut down in 1975.
The other immigrants of the Paltridge family met with varied fortunes:
- Elizabeth married Samuel Heanes, who worked as a shoemaker in Kensington; their families had emigrated together on the Phoebe when she was 21 and he was 22. She did not have children and died in 1867, aged 41. She is interred with her parents. Samuel, who remarried, lived to 87 years of age.
- John married local Mount Barker girl Elizabeth Chapman, with whom he had seven children. He farmed for a while at Red Creek on the Bremer River before returning to Mount Barker and working as a bailiff. In the late 1870s he took out a license as an auctioneer, and is best remembered in this capacity and for his genial nature. For three years he was Chairman of the District Council. He died in 1917, at the age of 86. (His eldest son, Harry (1855-1910), married Hannah Richardson (1857-1940), daughter of William Richardson (1818-1883), whose family features elsewhere in the Richardson Family History Post).
- William, when aged 20, eloped with his 19-year-old cousin Elizabeth Dunn, daughter of John Dunn, much to her father’s chagrin. Having returned to Mt Barker after their marriage in Norwood, they took up farming in the Mount Gambier district. They had seven children. William briefly turned to politics in his late thirties; he was elected to the legislature of the South Australian Parliament in 1870, but only served a year before resigning over a dispute. He subsequently worked as a railway contractor and invested in pastoral land. He predeceased his parents, dying of pneumonia in 1890 at the age of 56.
- Samuel embarked on a career as a bailiff and auctioneer in Mount Barker, but he suffered from depression, especially when he had been drinking. He was separated from his wife, Mary Jane (née Cornelius) and five children when, at the age of 42, he went to Melrose and took a job with the local shoemaker. He was fired after six months, at which point he took his own life. When he died he had only twenty pounds to his name.
- Mary married saddler Roderick McKenzie, who had arrived in Mount Barker from Nova Scotia in 1854 (see Roderick McKenzie History Post). She supported him in his business and subsequently opened her own drapery shop. They had nine children. She died in 1931, aged 91.
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