What's in a name?
Picturesque Coromandel Valley in the Adelaide Hills was one of the earliest settlements in the fledgling Colony of South Australia.
The area takes its name from the sailing ship Coromandel, which arrived at Holdfast Bay on 17th January 1837, a fortnight after the proclamation of the colony of South Australia and having spent more than three months at sea.
The emigrants* on the Coromandel, mostly under 26 years of age, were mainly married couples. After the passengers had disembarked and while the ship was anchored in Holdfast Bay, 10 of its crew took provisions and deserted. While desertion was not uncommon, in this case the sailors made their way to the hills and the valley that has since become known as Coromandel Valley.
There are a number of stories as to the route they took, possibly following Brown Hill Creek or Sturt River, but one consistency is that they sheltered in a cave and used an elevated position to observe their ship in Holdfast Bay, awaiting its departure. When they saw that the Coromandel had sailed, they made their way back to the plains where all but one of the men surrendered on 13th March 1837 and were held in custody.
As there was no prosecutor available for their court appearance three days later, they were discharged. None of the sailors returned to the valley.
One can only speculate on the influence that the sailors' story about the area they had found had on the settlement of Coromandel Valley. Their tale would no doubt have been recounted to passengers they had known aboard the ship and spread around the settlement.
In late 1837 one of Coromandel's passengers, James Chambers, took up a sheep commonage licence over 200 acres through which Chambers Creek runs. His brother John built a house ‘Chamberlea’ on this land in 1842.
Note: The tree the absconders used as a lookout was a local landmark for years, as the sailors had cut footholds/steps up the trunk to give an easier climb. It eventually fell victim to bushfire, but survived long enough to be a feature of an entertaining re-enactment staged by Coromandel Valley community groups during the State’s Sesquicentenary (150th Anniversary) celebrations in 1986.
* According to State Library of South Australia records, the ship brought 156 passengers (124 adults and 32 children). A mix of labourers, mechanics and shepherds, they had skills much needed in the new colony.