Not every man who passes into the honored ranks of the octogenarians bear the burden of his years as well as does Mr. George McLeish. This gentleman, who resides with his niece (Mrs. A. W. Brown), at Princes-street, Alberton, celebrates his eighty-first birthday to-day. Mr. McLeish has passed 76 years in South Australia, and the vigorous life of the early settler seems to have agreed with his northern blood. He comes from Glasgow. He is still active and takes much delight in gardening. He came to South Australia with his parents in the brig Dauntless in 1839. Though he was very young, he remembers the arrival at the “Old Port” in March of 1840. Like the women and other children, he was carried ashore in the safe arms of a sailor.
The Early Days.
“We lived for two or three years at what was then called Immigration Square—a place close to the site of West Terrace Cemetery,” said Mr. McLeish, conversing with a representative of “The Advertiser.” “Our rations we obtained from a Government store at the foot of Montefiore Hill.
[Mr. George McLeish.]
My father was employed in quarrying for the Government at a point near the spot on which the present Government House was afterwards built. My job was to carry to him his dinner. My father decided to go on the land, and so we moved out to a section a mile from Modbury, in the Upper Dry Creek district. The country was thickly covered with scrub and the work was hard. I wore my first pair of boots when 12 years of age and at 13 I drove a pair of bullocks with loads of dry wattle for fuel to North Adelaide. The payment was 2/6 for each load. This work and the use of the crosscut saw kept me busy. After some months we possessed four bullocks, and then I carted sheaoak to the limekilns near the Windmill Hotel on the North-road, and also to Margarey’s flourmill at Hindmarsh and Cook’s mill at Hackney. The price for sheaoak was 15/- a load. I remember Adelaide of those days well. The streets were muddy, and there were heavily timbered patches in the city. Bullock teams were constantly seen in the streets. The houses were thatched with reeds from the Reedbeds. Our second move was made about 1850. Father obtained some sections near Mintaro with allotments in the town. Until we had a three-roomed house built we had to live in tents. My work now became the cartage of ore from the Burra copper mines to Port Adelaide and Port Wakefield. The transport of coal or coke made the return trips profitable. My six bullock team hauled a load of 3½ tons, and the payment was £2 to £2 10/ a ton each way. The times were certainly prosperous, but hardships had to be borne. During the summer months water was scarce and the dust was choking. In order to avoid the heat we did most of the travelling at night. The last rest on the way to Port Wakefield was about 18 miles from the port, on the Wakefield River. ‘Jimmy Dunn’s Bridge” it was called.
The Gold Rush.
When I was 17 years old we received news that gold had been discovered in Victoria. My two brothers immediately set off for the fields, and were soon doing so well that they sent for my father and myself. They provided us with gold to the weight of 1 lb. to pay our passages. We shipped in a brig that took three weeks to make Port Melbourne. Then, carrying swags and provisions, we tramped for a week. Upon our arrival at the place where my brothers were working, we received disappointing news. The claim reserved for us had been jumped, and the new owner afterwards removed from it 40 lb. of gold. We joined a prospecting party, but made no more than a living. My father returned to South Australia, and I followed him about a year later. Later I went to Castlemaine with William Cook, but I became ill and all my cash was swamped up in bills for medical attention. We could not equip ourselves for digging, and so we accepted work at Back Creek, five miles from Castlemaine. We started off at 30/- a week and our keep, after a few days the boss found that we could manage bullocks better than the others, and we were rewarded with £3 a week. Eventually we managed to purchase a horse and dray, and we journeyed overland to South Australia, passing through the desert and over the Coorong. I married in 1858 and then set out after gold once more. My brother-in-law (Mr. John Tickle), who now lives at Prospect, started with me on a journey to the Snowy River. At Beechworth, however, we met thousands of men returning from the scene of this latest rush. We then invested and lost, our money in a claim at Spring Creek. A contract on the railway being constructed from Melbourne to Beechworth came the way of a party of eight we had joined. We bought a horse and cart, but we lost all on account of the hardness of blasting. I had sufficient money to take me home. Mr. Tickle, and my brother Martin, now residing at Unley, started to walk to Adelaide by the River Murray route—about 800 miles.”
Fortune Smiles.
When he returned to Mintaro, Mr. McLeish did contracting work for the Lower Midland and North Midland Road Boards. At the rate of about £11 a chain, he made several roads, bridges, embankments, and culverts. Stonebreakers, to whom he sublet contracts, made as much as £8 weekly. Success at last came to the man who had borne many vicissitudes, and he was able to retire for a few years. He was one of the promoters of the Mintaro Slate Company, and on the first directorate became associated with Mr. Weston (manager of the late Sir Samuel Way’s Kadlunga estate) and Mr. James Torr. Mr. E. W. Giles was made secretary. After an uphill fight, the company was able to pay sixpenny dividends. Mr McLeish remained on the directorate until 1900, when his wife died. He then sold his interest in the company and came to reside at North Adelaide. Before coming to the city he represented Mintaro ward as councillor in the district of Stanley for six years. Share dealings proved unfortunate for Mr. McLeish, but still he is happy and contented. He enjoys fairly good health. “One can only marvel at the development of the State, he remarked, “and imagine the picture the future will present.”