Cowell - Places to See

National Trust Folk Museum
The National Trust Folk Museum, which is located in the Main Street next to the Franklin Harbour District Council, is situated in the old Post Office and Post Master's Residence which was built around 1882.

The museum's displays include a dining room, kitchen and bedroom furnished in the style common on the Eyre Peninsula around the turn of the century. The other rooms house the usual folk museum local memorabilia - household utensils, photographs, gemstones, shells etc. The museum can be opened on request by contacting the District Council Office next door.

An outdoor collection of agricultural equipment is located on the Lincoln Highway (en route to Whyalla) just beyond the main street. The collection includes an extensive display of local farm machinery including a fully restored 1910 Ruston Proctor Steam Traction Engine.

Franklin Harbour Hotel
Just over the road from the National Trust Folk Museum is the gracious Franklin Harbour Hotel, originally built as a single storey hotel in 1881 with the second storey being added around 1907. During the course of excavations it was discovered that the hotel was the site where four Aborigines, executed in 1856, had been buried by members of their tribe.

The story of the executions is one of those bizarre little episodes of frontier Australia. In 1853 the McKechnie brothers had taken up land in the Cleve-Cowell area (see Cleve for details) and in 1855 some local Aborigines had attacked and killed a shepherd, Peter Brown, at one of the Wangaraleednie Station outstations. Seven Aborigines (six men and one woman) were tracked and captured. It was planned that they would be taken to Port Lincoln and shipped across to Adelaide for trial. While in custody at the Salt Creek Police Station (at Arno Bay) all seven escaped and a subsequent search only recaptured four of the accused. The four were shipped to Adelaide where they were found guilty and shipped back to Franklin Harbour for execution.

In his diary Inspector Holroyd recounts the event which took place on 14 January 1856: 'In the presence of some forty blacks of the local tribe mustered for the occasion by the police, four gallows were erected on the site...Placed upon the scaffolds, a cap was drawn over their faces, and as the New South Wales convict executioner dropped a white handkerchief, the sailors from the Yatala let go the ropes and the four hung helpless and convulsed. One was quiet in a moment, but the rest kicked and struggled for some time. To complete the job, the hangman caught their legs, pressing them together and hanging on till all was over. At the gruesome sight the wild natives howled and cowered in the sand, then when all was over begged for their fellows' prison clothes. Permission was given for them to take these if they dug the graves, which they did.' Over thirty years later the graves were discovered on the site where the Franklin Harbour Hotel now stands.

The Black Stump
On the corner of Main Street and High Street, opposite the Commercial Hotel, is a rather grandiose 'black stump' which, as the plaque explains: 'The Black Stump. As a New Year prank in 1972, a large stump was placed between two hotels on which signs read 'Best pub this side of the black stump'. The original stump was stolen. This larger stump was erected in its place. Also paying tribute to the pioneer land clearing battles after several fires.' The weight is 2060 kg.

Cowell Jade Factory
The history of jade in the Cowell area is a recent development. In 1965, Harry Schiller, a local farmer first discovered significant deposits of nephrite jade near Cowell. The next decade saw little real development and it wasn't until 1974, when the South Australian government became involved, that the potential of the area was realised. A geological assessment found a total of 91 separate jade outcrops (this has subsequently been increased to 115) in a small 10 sq km area which is now known as the Cowell Jade Province. The deposit is recognised as containing about 80 000 tonnes which means that it represents about 90 per cent of the world's known jade reserves (this excludes China for which figures are not available). In the decade to 1987 over 1500 tonnes of jade had been extracted of which 40 per cent was either dark green or black. Cowell jade is now exported to countries as diverse as India, West Germany, USA, Japan, Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy and New Zealand.


The Cowell Jade Factory on the corner of West Tce and Second St, which is run by the Gemstone Corporation of Australia Ltd, is open for inspection between 10.00 a.m. - 10.30 a.m. and between 3.00 p.m. - 3.30 p.m. while the associated shop, with a wide range of jade jewellery, is open from 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. The shop also has an informative booklet titled Jade in South Australia which is published by the SA Department of Mines and Energy.

Today Cowell, and particularly Franklin Harbour, is a popular place for fishing holidays. The waters of the harbour and the Spencer Gulf abound with whiting, snapper, salmon, tommy ruff, mullet, flathead, garfish, and squid and in season it is possible to go night crabbing in the shallows of the harbour.

Cowell Historical Brochure
The Cowell & Franklin Harbour brochure is available around the town and provides an excellent map of the area which, apart from listing the best fishing spots, provides precise directions to such important historical sites as the ruins of Wangaraleednie Station where the McKechnie brothers first established themselves in 1853 (it is just off the road between Cowell and Cleve) and the Middlecamp Shearing Shed and Crofter's Cottage which was used as a halfway stopping point between the harbour and Wangaraleednie Station.

A detailed, if somewhat dated and rather florid account, of the history of Franklin Harbour, Cowell and Cleve is available in Frank Masters interesting book Saga of Wangaraleednie (Hill of the West Wind) first published in 1950 and republished by the Franklin Harbour and Cleve National Trust in 1974.