History of Strathalbyn

The Town was Settled in 1839

Strathalbyn was settled over 180 years ago by Scottish immigrants.

  • The word ‘Strath’ is used in Scotland to mean a wide, flat river valley
  • ‘Albyn’ is the ancient Celtic name for Scotland

Dr John Rankine is credited with naming Strathalbyn. He was a significant shareholder of the “Albion Iron Mills” in Glasgow, Scotland.  It’s widely believed that Dr Rankine wanted a link to his Scottish business interests, but prefered the spelling of Strathalbyn over Strathalbion.

(Source: Old Strathalbyn and Its People, Nancy Gemmell, 1985).

Dr John Rankine



The site of Strathalbyn is particularly important to these peoples.

Newspaper articles from 1839 reported that Aboriginal people were generally friendly and acted with kindness to many colonists, showing them what was safe to eat, and how to catch small prey.(Source:trove.nla.gov.au)

Early colonists relate that the township district was a meeting place periodically used by Aboriginal people. The banks of the Angas River on the site now known as the Soldiers Memorial Gardens, was the main location used.

In 1873, Aboriginal people still occasionally camped in the township but in smaller groups. In 1886 the Southern Argus newspaper reported that it was unusual to see Aboriginal people camping in the town at all.

Aboriginal people from the lakes area would often conduct raids on the grazing properties south of Strathalbyn. As a result, the Strathalbyn Militia played a part in driving away Aboriginal people from their watering holes along the Angas River. As the town developed and the number of businesses grew, trouble occurred between the townsfolk and Aboriginal people living on a reserve several kilometres to the east of the township near the turnoff to Bletchley.

Many Aboriginal people would work on farm properties or as domestics for food and other supplies. Often they would help by tracking settlers’ children who had wandered off.

(Source: Old Strathalbyn and Its People, Nancy Gemmell, 1985)

Partial view of an Aboriginal encampment by the river at Strathalbyn, South Australia; the large building in the background is the post office, the thatched building is thought to have been the premises of an unidentified school. 1865.
State Library of South Australia.



The Angas Special Survey, purchased by Captain George Hall and William Mein, was approximately 20,000 acres of land located around the lower River Angas. Among the beneficiaries of the Survey were brothers – John and William Rankine.

Matthew Rankine’s 1903 memoirs (William Rankine’s son) tell of John Rankine starting the first cattle station in the district.  In early 1840 cattle was yarded onto the ‘peninsular’ (where the Soldier’s Memorial Garden Rotunda is) and graziers camped on the hillside (the land between the River and Colman Terrace).

The Adelaide Chronicle of 26 August 1840, reported the area as the Strath-Albyn district, and that it was especially well stocked and incorporated 12 stations, with many sheep, cattle and horses, and a town with an inn and store had just been laid out. The inn, known as the Strathalbyn Hotel was located where the Terminus Hotel is now.

By November 1840, William and Jane Rankine, three sons, two daughters and a Miss Patterson (who was under their charge) had settled in temporary accommodation on a property they named Glenbarr. By 1842, a substantial two-storey stone house had been erected replacing the earlier dwelling, which still remains today.

On 16 November 1841, James Dawson and William Rankine took joint and official ownership of Section 2600 (160 acres), the site of the township of Strathalbyn, and became responsible for further leading the development of the town. 

(Source: Old Strathalbyn and Its People)

Strathalbyn. According to a researcher, this is a view looking west. The buildings are situated for left to right, including the Old post office (now demolished), The Southern Argus printing works, the Watervilla and flour mill are on the right. The foreground pictured is the current Soldiers Memorial Gardens. Approx 1913. State Library of South Australia.



Early prosperity came to Strathalbyn from travellers passing through on the way to Victoria’s Goldfields.

Later people came by coach and stayed in the town before crossing Lake Alexandrina via schooner or paddle steamer from Milang. People took Coachs and then changed to the Victor Harbor horse tram at Strathalbyn’s Terminus Hotel.

The railway arrived in town in 1883 from Mt Barker, with the Railway Station completed in 1884 and steam replacing the horse tram to the South Coast in 1885.

The area expanded rapidly due to the quality farming land, suitable for grazing, cropping and vineyards.

Local stone was cleared from paddocks and used to build dry-stone walls on farms (still to be seen today) and the many commercial buildings and homes taking shape in town.

Dawson Street (opposite the Railway Station) became the main commercial centre after the 1920’s. Dawson Street’s spectacular Savings Bank was built in 1930 and is still used as a bank today.

The first St. Andrew’s bridge, Strathalbyn.

More History

Strathalbyn & District Heritage Centre

1 Rankine Street Strathalbyn
Ph: 8536 2656

Visitor Information Centre

20 South Terrace Strathalbyn
Ph: 1300 007 842

Library Local History Service

1 Colman Terrace Strathalbyn
Ph: 8555 7000
Alexandrina Libraries