Who were the founders of Renmark?
The town of Renmark is situated on the Murray River in South Australia. It’s an attractive place to live with wide streets and parklands close to the river.
The area was first developed in the latter half of the 19th century. Prior to this point it was home to the Naralte Aborigines who were said to have been welcoming and friendly to the first settlers in this part of the country.
- The settlement at Renmark was founded by Canadian brothers George and William Benjamin (WB) Chaffey.
- The brothers had been asked by the South Australian Government to create an irrigation colony at Mildura in Australia.
- Land was allocated to the Chaffeys based on every £4 they spent on developing irrigation infrastructure. Settlers purchased the irrigated land and were then responsible for their own water supply.
- The Chaffey brothers became bankrupt in December 1895. The Renmark Irrigation Trust took over responsibility for managing the water supply in Renmark. It also eventually undertook District Council duties.
The Renmark area prior to 1887
The name Renmark is said to have come from the Aboriginal word meaning red mud. This would not be surprising given the presence of Naralte Aborigines in the area around the River Murray. These native dwellers had access to plentiful supplies of food including kangaroos, wombats, lizards, fish, birds’ eggs, and snakes.
From the 1860s onwards settlers began to arrive in Renmark. However, it was not until 1887 that the founders of Renmark came onto the scene.
The arrival of the Chaffey brothers
These Renmark founders were George and William Benjamin (WB) Chaffey. The Canadian born brothers were creating an irrigation settlement in Ontario, California, when Victorian Cabinet Minister Alfred Deakin visited the area on a fact-finding mission.
He liked the irrigation settlement model the brothers were applying and spoke to them about opportunities to create an irrigation settlement around the Murray River in Australia. Following this discussion, George and William Chaffey were invited to develop an irrigation colony at Mildura in Australia.
An agreement to establish the irrigation colony was signed on 14 February 1887. The colony was to be based on 30,000 acres of the Robertson brothers Bookmark Station. Charles Chaffey was in charge of the settlement, and he instigated surveys of Renmark in September 1887.
The creation of the Renmark Irrigation Trust
On 23 December 1893, the Renmark Irrigation Trust was created by an Act of the South Australian Parliament. This meant that the conditions of the agreement between the state government and the Chaffey brothers could be enabled.
These conditions included the fact that land was allocated to the Chaffeys based on every £4 they spent on developing irrigation infrastructure. Every settler who purchased irrigated land was then responsible for paying for the water supply annually having acquired water rights and part ownership of the irrigation system.
Following the creation of the Renmark Irrigation Trust, in 1894, the trust liaised with the Chaffey brothers to agree the provision of the water supply for the settlement. The arrangement was place until the Chaffey brothers experienced financial issues.
The bankruptcy of the Chaffey brothers
In 1888, the Chaffey brothers had produced a booklet to entice settlers to buy land in Renmark. It presented the opportunity as one of prosperity and adventure. No mention was made of the fact that the settlement was remote and transport systems were not in place at that point.
Despite the best efforts of the Chaffeys to make a success of the foundation of Renmark as settlement, circumstances were not in their favour. There was a bank collapse followed by a depression and the Chaffeys became bankrupt in December 1895.
At this point, the Renmark Irrigation Trust took over responsibility for managing the water supply in Renmark. The Trust did not find the process easy financially and was helped by a loan from the government that was a result of a Royal Commission. After taking over the role of District Council of the Renmark Irrigation, the Trust was able to repay the loan and oversee the next chapter of the history of Renmark that had begun with its foundation by the Chaffey brothers.