The McGregor Family; Gardeners

Text and Images: John McGregor

In the Adelaide Hills, mention of the word “Garden“ might well conjure a picture  of stately homes surrounded by rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and mature trees which have an annual  show of bright autumn colours, all growing over a carpet in spring of daffodils, jonquils, snowdrops and forget-me-nots.
Alternatively, many Hills gardens were of the type visited by Edward Hallack when he toured the area in the early 1890s  i.e.  growing produce for sale so that the proceeds would support a family.

My maternal grandfather, William Henry Roe,(1879- 1948), spent his entire working life employed in the first type of garden mentioned above, first at Duncraig, and eventually at Pomona. In a strange quirk of fate, after I retired from teaching, I spent some years as the gardener at Pomona, too.

On my paternal side, however, the gardening was mostly to produce goods for sale. My great great grandfather, Andrew Davie (1806- 1875), who arrived in S.A. in 1838, bought land at Brownhill Creek for market gardening. In 1845 he was fined 100 pounds for having an illicit still (oops!), and in 1845 my great grandmother was the first white baby born in Brownhill Creek. When Andrew sold his garden he sold it to the Tilley family, who were Gwen (née Tilley) Hewett’s ancestors.

In 1872 Elizabeth Davie married my great grandfather, William McGregor (1846- 1925), and they settled on land opposite the current Crafers Primary School, and which had been bought from the Whibley family. Numerous apple and pear trees were planted and to have an income while waiting for the trees to bear, vegetables were planted. The soil was fertile and there was plenty of water from springs and creeks. As the family grew –  eventually 1 daughter and 4 sons – the idea of the orchard was abandoned and only vegetables were grown.

The McGregor House at 46 Piccadilly Road, Crafers with William snr. and Elizabeth on the verandah with their children. Taken in 1884.

There are still two of the old apple trees surviving, one on the property just down from the  children’s  crossing on Piccadilly Rd and one at 11 Walker Street. They still bear fruit.

Runaway sailors who had jumped ship at Port Adelaide were a plentiful source of cheap labour, and trips to market were generally three times a week with a loaded trolley pulled by a team of three horses. The trip home was always slower than the trip down, not because the home trip was uphill, but because the Eagle on the Hill Hotel presented a formidable barrier, and William would complete the journey sound asleep on the trolley as the horses found their own way home unerringly. No wonder that when I was growing up I got frequent lectures from my grandfather about the evils of alcohol.

William McGregor with his cart and horses leaving the property on his way to market.

Notwithstanding the alcohol problem, William must have had some talent for gardening, because Edward Hallack says of his garden: “The vegetables seen are of a quality which would command the admiration of anyone”, and he particularly mentions celery and onions.

The oldest son, my grandfather, another William (1874 – 1967) took over the property after his father’s death and continued working it along with my father and uncle.

After my  uncle’s death in 1959 , because there was no one interested in going on with the business, most of the land was sold.

Read about other fruit & vegetable growers in our topic about Italian Migrants in the Hills

Do you have memories/photos of the construction of gardens, gardeners or the McGregor Family?

Contact us at mldhsgateways@mtloftyhistoricalsociety.org.au or drop into the History Centre at the Coventry Library, 63 Mount Barker Road, Stirling.