Fowlers Bay History

Matthew Flinders 1802

In 1802, Captain Matthew Flinders commanding his sloop the “Investigator” charted the Southern Coast of Australia, naming coastal features. He attested to the accuracy of the charting which the Dutch had done and believed that he had rediscovered the group of islands at the eastern extremity of Thijssen’s chart. He identified IS Francois and IS Pieter and called them St Peter and St Francis Islands and named the total group of small islands Nuyts Archipelago. On 28th January, 1802 he anchored in waters, which he named Fowlers Bay, after his first Lieutenant, Robert Fowler, who later became Admiral Fowler. The land party found neither water nor fire wood but Flinders noted that the bay would provide useful shelter to ships.

Eyre’s Landing 1840 – 1841

Edward John Eyre set up a base camp at Fowlers Bay on 17th November 1840 and made several forays westward in preparation for his epic journey of exploration to King Georges Sound (Albany) Western Australia, departing finally on 25th February 1841. During his time at Fowlers Bay Eyre received supplies at Eyre’s Landing, via the cutters “Waterwitch” and “Hero”. In his journals, he describes a scene of whaling carnage, evident by the vast quantity of the bones and carcases of animals washed up on the shores of the bay, which he suggests were taken by an American whaling ship (the “Martha”), which he had recently seen in Port Lincoln

The Township of Yalata 1890 later Township of Fowlers Bay 1940

The Township of Yalata 1890 later Township of Fowlers Bay 1940
The first community in the Far West and one of the first of the surveyed townships (what is now called Fowlers Bay), was the outlet for the pastoral leases taken up 1860. It was the nearest landing spot to the original leases and the first buildings of Yalata Station were on the beach at Port Eyre, Fowlers Bay. As the station prospered, it employed many people and a number of facilities were established to serve them. The original Town of Yalata was surveyed by NW Pethick in March 1890 and proclaimed in Government Gazette on 10/07/1890. The town then comprised allotments 1 – 42.In November 1910, addition allotments 43 – 62 were surveyed by AE Poyntz and the Town of Yalata was extended by the inclusion of these allotments, by a proclamation notice published in Government Gazette 19/01/1911. The name Yalata was changed to Fowlers Bay in Government Gazette on 19/09/1940. In 1990 a further ten allotments of crown land were reclaimed from the samphire swamp.

Kent Town

Tom Kent, a kangaroo hunter who was a genial, good natured fellow, was the son of Dr Kent after whom Kent Town in Adelaide was named. Tom Kent set up his own Kent Town behind the sandhills at Fowlers Bay. It was never gazetted as a township and the 1892 survey map shows only a chimney and grave sites. Mr Mick Allen remembered Kent Town as a collection of cottages inhabited by kangarooers and their families; a green patch backed by sandhills, where strings of bottles marked the edge of paths leading to the ‘township’. He said around a dozen families lived there. This cluster of houses no longer exists, having been demolished or enveloped by the encroaching sand many years ago.

Post & Telegraph Office Building

The Fowlers Bay Non-official Post Office was opened in May 1865 and the first recorded Postmaster in January 1866 was ENB Catchlove, who rejoiced in the full name of Edward Napoleon Bonaparte Catchlove. He and his two successors, Thos Waugh and Thomas P Richard, were policemen.Although postal records date back to 1865, it can not be established exactly when the Post Office was built, however extensions were made to accommodate the telegraph facility at the completion of the East West Line in 1877. The building is currently undergoing restoration as a private residence.


Some 10 years after the establishment of the Fowlers Bay settlement, the initiative for an East-West Telegraph line came from Western Australia which wanted to be connected to the Adelaide-Darwin (and thence overseas) link completed in 1873. The South Australian Government approved the construction of an East-West line in 1874 and invited tenders in February 1875. Walter Thompson, an experienced line builder, was given the contract for a line from Port Augusta to Port Lincoln and one from Port Lincoln to Fowlers Bay. The third section, Fowlers Bay to Eucla, attracted no competitive tenders, so it was undertaken by the Posts and Telegraph Department itself, led by overseer RR Knuckey.
The erection of the East-West Telegraph Line was carried out in sections and on 12th January 1876, the Port Augusta to Port Lincoln section was completed. This was followed on 26th September 1876 by the completion of the Port Lincoln to Fowlers Bay section. This line, which passed through the Far West, came up from Port Lincoln via Mount Hope, Sheringa, Bramfield, Streaky Bay and Penong to Fowlers Bay and set the lines of communication up the Coast thereafter. The contractors blazed a pathway, it then became a bush track and later, in many places, it became the main road. The Fowlers Bay to Eucla link was a long and torturous project which Richard Knuckey began in July 1876 with thirty eight men and eighty nine horses. A large supply base was built at Fowlers Bay and all poles and provisions had to be sent along the line from either this base or one set up at Eucla. The section from Fowlers Bay to Eucla was completed on 15th July 1877.

The length of the line from Port Augusta to Eucla was 759n miles and 12,474 iron poles and 147 tons of wire were used. Because Eyre Peninsula had no suitable timber, galvanised iron poles were used and were spaced five chains apart. Beneath the line, the scrub was cleared for 20 feet on either side and this work was done with axes.

The Western Australian section of the line was completed in December 1877, Jarrah poles being used throughout. Communication was effected between Adelaide and Perth on 8th December 1877, a distance of 1986 miles.

During the ensuing years and particularly during the period of the gold rushes to Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, the galvanised wires carried an enormous amount of traffic.


After 50 years of service, in 1927, the Telegraph equipment was removed following the completion of a new, more northerly route which followed the East-West Railway line.
50 years later, more than 100 years of postal service in Fowlers Bay came to an end when, on 12th May 1967, the Fowlers Bay Post Office was temporarily closed. Subsequently, permanent closure occurred on 18th September 1967.

Police Station & Court House – Est 1883

The Police Station & Courthouse building now houses the Fowlers Bay Holiday Flats Office and private quarters as well as the historic ‘Court House’.

Although Police Constables were stationed at Fowlers Bay from the 1860’s, the stone police station building, which included a residence, was not erected until 1883. In 1867 Police Corporal Thomas Paul Richard had been placed in charge, (he stayed at that post for 17 years and should be remembered as one of the great pioneering policemen of South Australia) and his wife Anne Francis Richard, noted in her personal diary that the builders were the Freeman brothers from Streaky Bay, who sailed to Fowlers Bay in the ‘Woolomai’ to carry out this work. On 21st June 1883 she recorded that she had: “shifted all the things from here to the new place”. Previously she had lived in “my little wooden home of the last 16 years – my first and only home since I became a wife”. She was sad to leave it and found the big new stone house cold and uncomfortable.Up until 1900 the Fowlers Bay station was the only one in the Far West and the officers, who were usually Mounted Constables, were in charge of an enormous territory. They undertook regular patrols over a wide area, during which they had to check on the extent of pests such as rabbits, star thistles and Bathurst Burr; circulate memos from the Surveyor General to settlers; examine fencing, (particularly around government wells) and see that farmland had not be abandoned, as well as uphold the law.In 1913, thirty years after the original stone building had been erected, additions including the prestigious Courthouse were made. Police records show that from the time of Corporal Richard, until the decline of the township in the 1960s, twenty five policemen were stationed at Fowlers Bay. One hundred years after the first police officer was assigned to this isolated outpost, the Fowlers Bay Police Station & Courthouse closed its doors

WH Betts Ltd General Store

The Fowlers Bay Kiosk occupies the former site or the General Store conducted by WH Betts Ltd. William H Betts, native of Suffolk, gold miner, timber cutter, dam sinker, bridge builders’ assistant, storeman and manager, settled in Streaky Bay and established a large chain of general stores in the Far West. Betts, in partnership with HW Darby, opened a store in Fowlers Bay as soon as the township was laid out and at various times during 1900 – 1925 they were involved in business operations in the town including the Globe Hotel, WH Betts Ltd Storekeepers & Merchants, and the South Australian Savings Bank Agencies.

Globe Hotel 1892 – 1936

Globe Hotel 1892 – 1936
The Globe Hotel was built and opened by Mr. James Riddle on June 28th 1892. Other licencees were Mr. Harry W Darby (1897-1906), EH Campbell (1907-12), Hy Fallon (1913), L Laurenti (1914-15), Betts & Co (1916 – 13/12/22). The hotel closed in 1936 and Mr. Harry W Darby was the last licensee (14/12/22 – 26/06/36). Fowlers Bay was the central hub of the Far West in the early days and the hotel was a popular meeting place for the pioneer settlers, pastoralists and kangaroo hunters.

School 1893 – 1959

The timber and iron building with accommodation for 24 children and a room for a teacher was constructed in 1893, at a cost of two hundred and twenty one pounds and eighteen shillings ($445.60). The school was the first built by the Education Dept in the Far West and the first school teacher was James Williams who stayed only briefly. After closing in 1894 the school re-opened in 1898. This, however, only lasted for 10 years, closing again in 1908. Once again the school opened in 1913 prior to World War I, and remained open until it finally closed its doors in 1959. During the early 1900’s the school was half time with Glen Boree.

Jetty – 1896

The jetty was built in 1896 and it was extended in the years 1907, 1914 and 1948. Prior to the building of the jetty, the schooners were loaded from the beach by lighter boats. Over the years, many sailing and steam ships called at Fowlers Bay. Amongst them were the sailing ships Violet, Falie and Woolomai and steam ships, the Grace Darling, Jessie Darling (later the ‘Coorabie’), Enfield, and Wookata. The last ship to call at Fowlers Bay was the M.V. Yalata on April 2nd 1966. The incoming cargo on this ship was twelve tons of groceries and fruit and the outgoing cargo was one bundle of furniture wrappings. The present length is 1187 feet and the width is nine feet six inches. The depth of the berth is eight feet six inches at low water and the height of the jetty deck is thirteen feet nine inches above low water. There was at one time a “fixed white light” on the seaward end.

Harbour Facilities

Various sheds were erected over the years to facilitate the conveyance of goods. In latter years there was a 100′ x 50′ wheat shed (demolished in 1971), a 45′ x 35′ superphosphate shed and a 50′ x 28′ goods shed. The goods shed was a convenient place for many a ‘spree’ over the years and locals found it to be a sheltered venue for their lunch and tea on social occasions such as the Fowlers Bay Sports.

Harbour Master’s House

Mervyn Warmington was the last harbourmaster at Fowlers Bay when in 1966 the coastal service ceased to operate. The stone building, which was formerly the Harbour Master’s house, is now a private residence.

Fowlers Bay Institute – Est 1922

The Fowlers Bay Institute was built in 1922 by Tom Giles and Alf May and the Foundation Stone was laid by George Murray of Yalata Station. Following the Sports in January 1923 a dance was held where Mr Fred Smart formally opened the building. It was used for many functions through the years – concerts, weddings, birthdays, church services and the wonderful dances held after the Fowlers Bay Sports. In the 1960’s, when the township declined, the hall fell into disrepair, however, in the 1970s the Coorabie & Districts Progress Association took steps to have restoration work carried out. Letters were sent to every landholder asking for their help to save the hall and generous donations were received. Since that time, the Fowlers Bay Progress Association has undertaken considerable restoration work on the building and completion of this was acknowledged at a ceremony in 2015.

Jetty Upgrade – 2002

During a three month period (12th April – 15th July 2002) a party of six men undertook the $35,000 project to upgrade the Fowlers Bay Jetty. This entailed re-decking the entire length of the jetty, replacing much of the deck supporting structure and strengthening the jetty’s superstructure by the insertion of a total of 30 steel pylons at the seaward and shore extremities. The handrails, the timber steps at the broad section, and the ladders servicing the landing were all replaced and a navigation light installed on the seaward end. The rails which had born the transportation of cargo on the goods trolleys to and from the many and varied vessels during the past century, were however, not replaced. For the convenience of fishers, a Fish Measuring Station is situated at the shore end of the jetty.

Solar Lighting – 2003

The Coorabie & Districts Progress Association auctioned off the demolition jetty timbers that had been donated to them and utilised the $10,000 proceeds together with a 1:1 subsidy from the Outback Areas Community Development Trust, to purchase 5 solar lights worth $4,000 each. These were erected in January 2003 and now enhance jetty fishing and the commercial use of the facility and act as a clear beacon to all who ply the waters of the bay.

Fowlers Bay Caravan Park

The Fowlers Bay Caravan Park was established by the Coorabie & Districts Progress Association and is now leased and run by private enterprise.

Fowlers Bay Today

Fowlers Bay is situated in the unincorporated area of the State. (Only 15% of South Australia is under Local Government, the western extremity of which is the western reaches of the District Council of Ceduna extending approx 40 kms west of Ceduna.) There is no reticulated power or water to Fowlers Bay and as a consequence each property in the township generates it’s own power (diesel/wind/solar) and either relies on catching rain water or accesses water trapped in the adjoining sandhills by digging shallow soaks and pumping the water to the town.
After a period of more than twenty years as a ghost town, Fowlers by is enjoying a resurgence in popularity both as an overnight and a recreational destination.