Historical Towns Directory

By clicking on a state or territory on the map, you can access a regional guide to Australia's historic towns, including a wealth of information about organizations, museums and locations.

We invite organisations to submit information for inclusion on this site. Please click here to email your information to the Directory Editor, Ros Stirling.



Find Robe

Robe is today a small holiday resort town and fishing port located 336 kilometres south of Adelaide. It retains many historic buildings that were constructed in the mid-1880s when it was south-east South Australia's major port.

The rugged coastline around Robe was charted in 1802 by French navigator Nicholas Baudin, who named Guichen Bay, on which the current-day town is situated.

In 1839 Charles Bonney and party overlanded 300 cattle into the south-east region of South Australia and settled in the area.

Robe was surveyed in 1846 at a site for a south-east port chosen by then-Governor of South Australia, Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Holt Robe, after whom the town is named. The port was proclaimed the next year.

A courthouse was built at the site in 1848.

The town slowly grew as an export centre for horses and wool. The overland bullock teams that transported produce into town were accommodated by the wide Royal Circus, which was large enough for a bullock dray to turn around. The stone Cape Dombey Obelisk (1855) was originally painted white and was intended to provide a shipping guide along the coastline. Red stripes were later added to improve its visibility.

George Ormerod, a successful merchant at Robe, was integral to the development of the township, building wool stores (1853 and still standing), workers' cottages (circa 1863) and his own 12-room Moorakyne House, which was constructed using local stone circa 1856.

When the Victorian authorities placed a ten-pound toll tax on Chinese prospectors entering the colony through their ports, the Chinese attempted to circumvent the levy by landing in South Australia and travelling overland to the Victorian goldfields. During the peak of the Victorian gold rush around 1857 between 16,000 and 17,000 Chinese prospectors and their families arrived at the Robe port, where entry was free. Enterprising locals did, however, charge substantial fees to row the Chinese ashore and guide them to the Victorian border. A monument now stands near the customs house honour of the Chinese miners who passed through the port.

Obelisk, coastline, Robe (courtesy South Australian Tourism Commission)

Between 1857 and 1863 many buildings were constructed in Robe as the local economy thrived.

One sign of Robe's prosperity at this time was the fact that up to 10 hotels were operating at the site during the 1860s. The Bonnie Owl (1847) was Robe's first licensed premises. This building was used as a laundry after the Robe Hotel was built in front of the old hotel. The double-storey Robe Hotel remains but the original Bonnie Owl premises are now in ruins.

The Bush Inn, built in 1852 and licensed three years later, was a bullockies' wayside stop during its early years of operation. It also traded as Mac's Hotel and the Carrier's Arms and is now a craft shop.

Robe's telegraph station was built in 1858. The building is now a private residence.

The Caledonian Inn was but by Scotsman Peter McQueen in 1859. Some of the materials used in its original construction were salvaged from shipwrecks in Guichen Bay. One of the hotel's more famous guests was poet Adam Lindsay Gordon, who convalesced here in 1862 after falling from a horse. Gordon was cared for by the licensee’s daughter, Maggie Park. The pair subsequently married.

The Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church was also completed in 1859.

A stone gaol was established at Robe in 1861 but closed 20 years later. The building is now in ruins.

The limestone customs house was constructed in 1863. It was later used as the council chambers and is now a museum.

Robe's heyday as a trading centre came to an end during the 1860s as it was bypassed by sea traffic and the railway. It then became a fishing port.

Smillie Street, Robe (courtesy South Australian Tourism Commission)

The stone Karatta House mansion on the shore of Lake Butler in Robe was used by Sir James Fergusson, then-Governor of South Australia, as a summer residence during the early 1870s.

After WWII Robe also developed into a well-known tourist resort as motor vehicles began to open up Guichen Bay to travel by holidaymakers.

Robe Visitor Information Centre
Phone: 08 8768 2465
Fax: 08 8768 2863

Robe Library, Mundy Terrace
Robe SA 5276

Postal Address:

PO Box 448
Robe SA 5276

Email: robetourism@plain.sa.gov.au
Website: http://www.council.robe.sa.gov.au/



Index of all
Australian Heritage articles