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Wellington Court House and Police Station complex on the Murray River in South Australia. Built in 1864 after the earlier building was condemned. Now a cafe, museum .
Image by denisbin
Morphett selected the area around Wellington and up both banks of the Murray River for the Secondary Towns Association as a Special Survey for £4,000 in 1839. Morphett bought up land in the district for himself as well. The Secondary Towns Association had also paid for the Special Survey at Currency Creek which they foresaw would become the New Orleans of the South. They had the same idea about Wellington (although Morphett wanted to call the town Victoria.) They surveyed the land, selling off 400 forty acre farmlets and they subdivided one thousand town blocks for the town of Wellington. Their high expectations were not met, few town blocks were built upon and Wellington East on the other side of the Murray never developed at all. Wellington was at the end of the Murray and at the entranced to Lake Alexandrina but traffic was slow and when the river trade did begin in 1854 Wellington was just one stop among many. It never became a major river port. Its two ongoing and consistent functions were to provide ferry services across the Murray River and to house the police, Aboriginal Sub-Protection Officer (John Mason for many years) and visiting court officials.
Apart from John Morphett, one of the first buyers of freehold land in Wellington and near Wellington was Allan McFarlane who later built Wellington Lodge. Other early land purchasers were the Cooke brothers and Robert Barr Smith. All saw the potential of Wellington but only McFarlane stayed the distance and reaped the rewards. Although being located at a major crossing point of the Murray and being the gateway town for the land route down to the South East and on to Port Phillip colony, Wellington suffered set backs. In 1879 a new road and rail bridge was opened at Edwards Crossing, now Murray Bridge removing much of the traffic across the Murray at Wellington. The town survived this. But the arrival of the railway at nearby Tailem Bend (1886) took even more traffic away from Wellington. Although there was government talk of a bridge across the Murray at Wellington in 1864 nothing happened at that stage. The feasibility studies were done on several crossing points with Wellington coming in the most expensive as the bedrock soil report was not favourable. Wellington would have been the most expensive option for bridging the Murray. Edwards Crossing, the cheapest, was selected instead in the 1870s.
But before the bridge was built Willington in the 1840s had great potential. Morphett operated the first ferry across the Murray in 1839 before the town was established in 1840. The town had a police presence before the township was established too with a Sub-Protector of Aboriginals based there. The government stationed police there from 1841 to bring law and order to the region. The first police station was built in 1845 but it was probably not much more than a shanty. It was replaced by a new station in 1849. But the soft soils at Wellington meant that this structure was soon in need of replacement and it was condemned in 1862. The current police station, and court house (and originally ferry house too) were erected in 1864. The stables were added in 1865. Although in a good state of repair it has not been a court house and police station for many years. It was owned by the National Trust but it has recently been sold to private occupiers. In the 1840s two hotels were licensed in Wellington but only one survived, the 1846 built Wellington Hotel. Despite modernisation it is still there and still operates.
Perhaps the most famous ferryman at Wellington was the former Police Commissioner Alexander Tolmer. The one time Commissioner of Police, and instigator of the Gold Escort services from the Victorian goldfields in the early 1850s. But by 1857 he was unemployed as his position was made redundant. In that year Tolmer moved to Wellington to become a sheep farmer and the ferry man. He wrote his biography which he called A Chequered Career to explain his demise. He had pioneered a route across the Ninety Mile desert to Victoria to escort gold back to Adelaide to be assayed in the SA office. The first escort in 1852 took nine days to reach Bendigo. The Governor Sir Henry Fox gave a dinner party for Tolmer on his return and a gift of £100. Commissioner Tolmer led two more escorts but in total some 18 escorts were conducted. Some time later when he was away on police business, a review of the police department led to him being demoted to Inspector. Then this inspector position was abolished in 1856. Our gold hero was then unemployed! In 1857 he moved to Wellington and took up a block of land. Tolmer wrote about himself:”I knew no more about sheep farming than the man in the moon.” He gave up farming and was almost destitute but he then he gained a part time job as returning officer for the District of Murray. His main income was rent from his house at Norwood. In 1859/60 he bought a boat from Mr Potts a boat builder (and wine maker) of Langhorne’s Creek and he began a second ferry service across the Murray. He nearly drowned working his ferry and Alan McFarlane, the great pastoralist of Wellington Lodge rescued him and the boat. Then in 1862 Tolmer was appointed Crown Lands Ranger at a salary of £200 per annum. In 1866 he and his family were transferred to Kingston South East and he departed from Wellington. In 1871 he returned to the Valuations Department of the government in Adelaide. He then lived at Mitcham until he died there in 1891.