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No108 July 2013

Page history last edited by ghistory.volunteer@gmail.com 6 years, 12 months ago


                                   HISTORY ROOM NEWS

                                             No. 108

July 2013                                                                 by Dawn Juers

*JOHN VARCOE – Of the Goolwa Hotel
(also known as John Varcoe Jnr. or John Varcoe the Younger of Goolwa).

John Varcoe was born 1st June 1825 at the Trerice Mill, near St. Columb Minor, Cornwall, England. He
was the oldest child of Robert and Ann (nee Trebilcock). Four other sons and two daughters survived
to make the family.


The parents identified themselves as farmers and they were able to read and write when they left
Plymouth Harbour on 10th August 1840 on the ship “Orient” as steerage passengers , and arrived at
Port Phillip Bay, Victoria on 13th December 1840. The family first pitched a tent on a site now Collins
St, Melbourne before moving further out in country Victoria.


The first definitive reference to John is found in his marriage as Vercoe(sic) to Mary Laffin at Holy
Trinity Church, Adelaide on 15th December 1845. They were both under age and their marriage was
not witnessed by their parents.


Five months later it was recorded in the SA Government Gazette that John was appointed a Police
Constable. He resigned from the force on 31st March 1850. Three years later John purchased two
allotments -140 & 148 in Cadell Street and the day after the purchase on 14th December 1853, John
Varcoe Jnr. was granted a New General Publican’s Licence for the Goolwa Hotel.


Following the wreck of the “Mozambique” on 21st August 1854, John cared for survivors by providing
them with accommodation, food and dry clothing.


By 1855, John’s parents, and four of his younger brothers and probably his two sisters, had left
Victoria and moved to Hindmarsh Island where they purchased 80 acres of land.

John participated in the local community events such as the Port Elliot and Goolwa Races where two
of his horses competed with his brother Thomas as jockey (1856). The following year John
extensively re-designed and enlarged the Goolwa Hotel.

In July 1866, John and his brother William signed up for the newly-formed Volunteer Force,
becoming members of the No 1 Troop of Encounter Bay.

In October 1868 a newspaper article appeared “Mr and Mrs John Varcoe, who have so long and
satisfactorily conducted the Goolwa Hotel, having retired from that business…….”. Further
newspaper reports confirm that John with his partner, Mr Brown, were starting a large fencing
contract at Mount Murchison and were leaving the area with 14 men, horses, drays etc .on the
vessel “Vesta” and barge. They arrived three weeks later at Wilcannia, N.S.W. John’s wife Mary
stayed in the South Coast region and owned or was licensed to run the Victor Harbor Hotel. By May
1870 it seems that John’s family had left the Goolwa area as his father, Robert, had advertised his
five sections of land on Hindmarsh Island.


John continued with his enterprising schemes as he built a receiving store near Kallara hoping to
become a regular depot for the river steamers (1876). He also conducted a wood-pile business


In August 1889, Goolwa’s Captain Thomas Johnstone, one of the pioneer navigators of the Murray
Darling rivers, became ill and died at Kallara Station. “The Argus” reported “Mr and Mrs Varcoe of
Tilpa, went specially to assist.” This detail confirms that John and Mary maintained contact with their
old Goolwa friends.


On 18th July 1891, Mary Varcoe died at Tilpa aged 63 years. In October 1892, it was reported in the
“Bacchus Marsh Express” of the private township of Tilpa, and the fact that John was in an asylum.
He died in Sydney on 2nd March 1893.


John seemed to be the black sheep of the family but that could be argued as harsh. Unlike the rest of
the family, John chose to be the odd one out by not becoming a farmer, and this may have given rise
to the unfortunate term used.


This is a small précis of a larger autobiography on John Varcoe,written by Margie Anderson, a
volunteer in the History Room,a copy of which is in the History Room Collection with full references
to her sources.

On this weekend the newspaper and television had news on the burial of the remains of five soldiers
from the 32nd Battalion AIF buried yesterday (20th July) at Fromelles, France, 97 years after they
were killed in action. These men had been identified by DNA comparison. Two soldiers were from SA
– private John Gordon McKenzie and William Barber, who came from Goolwa. We have mentioned
William Barber many times, the last being in the May History Room News No 106.


back to History Room Newsletters


* For photos see pdf.file





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