Deeply religious Thomas Magarey thrives as a South Australian miller/ pastoralist from 1840s

Thomas Magarey's flour mill in Hindmarsh, about 1870, still incorporating some of John Ridley's equipment.
Images courtesy State Library of South Australia

Thomas Magarey was “brought up to the milling business” during his Lancashire boyhood. At 17, with brother James, he migrated in 1842 to Nelson, New Zealand, where they joined other United Christians dissenters in building a chapel, Sunday school and temperance society. Their unity was disturbed by Anglican and Wesleyan ministers arriving, along with economic hardship.

Interested by the import of wheat from Adelaide, the Magarey brothers moved to South Australia in 1845. Four years later, they succeeded John Ridley as owners of Hindmarsh flour mill.

Thomas Magarey built up extensive markets locally and overseas when he took over the business. In 1859, he leased the Naracoorte run: 87 square miles capable of carrying more than 20,000 sheep plus cattle and horses. He held smaller south-eastern properties and more areas on Eyre Peninsula, including Tulkea at Sleaford Bay. 

Magarey is credited with a public spiritedness in renting rural land at reasonable rates to struggling farmers, giving them the right to buy. After his marriage to Elizabeth Verco, Magarey made his home at Noarlunga, then Hindmarsh, where in 1857 he was elected to the district council. In 1860-63, he represented West Torrens in the House of Assembly, and sat in the Legislative Council 1863-65 where he championed the pastoral industry and advocated Bible reading in public schools.

James Magarey ran Gannawarra Station on Gunbower Creek (a River Murray tributary in Victoria) then moved to Laurel Bank Villa at Geelong. He drowned in 1859 in South Australia’s worst maritime disaster: the wreck of the SS Admella, off Carpenter Rocks, southwest of Mount Gambier. His son William James Magarey also owned flour mills at Hindmarsh and Port Pirie.

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