John Dunn builds South Australia's second mill at Mount Barker in 1844 and expands to own 11

John Dunn's Bridgewater steam and water mill in 1886.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

John Dunn’s steam mill at Mount Barker, working from 1844, was the second in Australia when South Australia was its only wheat-producing colony. Soon John Ridley's, John Hart’s, Thomas Magarey's and other brands of flour also were exported from South Australia to the other Australian colonies then overseas. But Dunn’s milling and grain business continued to grow to 11 mills, from Hawker to Port Pirie to Murray Bridge, five fitted with more modern roller machinery.

A Devon small farmer’s son, Dunn had worked as a servant at age 10, before being apprenticed to a miller and rising to be a mill manager and then mill owner in 1836. He followed his brothers, who’d emigrated earlier, arriving with his family at Port Adelaide in 1840.

He worked with Borrow & Goodiar before buying land near his brother's property at Hay Valley (near Nairne) that he farmed and, in 1842, built possibly Australia’s first windmill for grinding flour. Wind limited its usefulness and he ordered a small steam engine from England. While waiting, he worked for John Ridley, helping to building his famous reaper and proving its performance on D. McFarlane's land at Mount Barker.

For a time, Dunn managed the South Australian Company’ first steam mill in Adelaide, set up by William Randell Snr.

Dunn’s first steam mill was decommissioned by 1899 and converted to producing leather. Dunn admitted his two sons into partnership as well as son-in-law W. Hill and his brother-in-law G. Shorney.

Dunn was prominent in Mount Barker as district council chairman and representing it in the first Legislative Assembly (1857) and later the Legislative Council. He was a Wesleyan Methodist and paid to build what became Dunn Memorial Church, opened on his 90th birthday in 1884 at Mount Barker. He also paid for houses to benefit invalid elderly of the district. He left big bequests to charities, many associated with the Methodist Church and Prince Alfred College.

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