In 2021 Old Canowie celebrates the 175th Anniversary of its foundation in 1846. This historic homestead, mid-way between Hallett and Jamestown in South Australia’s Mid North, is a remnant of the former Canowie station and Canowie Pastoral Company.
The Company was one of the earliest corporate pastoralists. Most such enterprises are owned by just one family, but the surnames of Canowie station owners and managers reads like a Who’s Who of the leading South Australian pastoralists of the provincial era.
Although the once-renowned Canowie estate has long since been subdivided into highly-productive grain farms, and its famed merino stud now operates elsewhere, for half a century the Company ran one of the most influential and prosperous sheep stud enterprises in Australia.
The genetic strength of the magnificent Canowie sheep evolved into a large framed combing wool merino, known generically as the ‘South Australian strain’. At the 1911 Royal Adelaide Show, Canowie stud rams scooped the prize pool in every category, which was a record.
By 1903 over 2,000 swagmen per year received their customary two meals and a bed at Canowie. By 1905 it was the largest private freehold landholder in South Australia.
With some shareholders having returned to England, land reformers complained that it was the third largest absentee landholder in the State, the largest being the South Australian Company. But, having sought and achieved immunity from the land reformers, the Canowie Pastoral Company was unexpectedly liquidated at the height of its prosperity.
A series of lucrative auctions of Canowie land commenced in 1909, culminating with the homestead and stud in 1925. That of 1910 was the largest single auction of freehold land ever held in South Australia to that time.
Exhaustive research now reveals the fascinating history of Canowie’s exciting frontier origins, its expansion into prosperous corporate pastoralism, and then voluntary liquidation at the peak of its success, leaving a remarkable legacy to the Australian wool industry.