Strange Tales! of Some Ruins
And How A Castle Vanished
By MAX AFFORD
HALF WAY along Daw's road near Mitcham there is a sec- tion of heavily treed ground which rises abruptly against the gently
undulating foothills. At first glance it might be taken for an ordinary plantation but surely no ordinary plantation owned growths like this! Above the wild and tangled growth of peach, pear. plum, and apple trees, a tall palm raises its fuzzy top. At its foot crouches a tropical cactus with spikey ends aflame with scarlet blos- soms. Here, too, are tropical creepers looping down from scraggly branches and winding up to where the magpies scream their challenge to the sky. Strange and exotic neighbors to find in a deserted plantation. Amid this tangled jungle, glimpsed through the meshed foliage, is a small crudely built cottage. Some yards away is a wide and deep excavation. This small cottage stands on the site of what was once the most talked-of place in South Australia, and the mys- terious plantation and the excavations are monuments to the once-famous "Babbage Castle." Older folk will experience a flood of recollections at the mention of the name. For "Babbage Castle" or "The Rosary." to give the place its right name, was one of the first concrete buildings in this State. And such a building! It was a castle in every sense of the word. A square central tower in front dominated the house. There were a tapering spire at each corner and two smaller spires over an ornate porch way in front. The walls were tessellated in places and the entrance doors domed and pointed. The style of architecture was the last word in baroque—part Italian, part Arabian Nights, and part Grimm's Fairy Tales. No wonder that "The Rosary" was discussed far and wide and people came from all parts or the State to see it. Even the inception of the castle Is interesting. In the "seventies, a family by the name of Daw built a cottage on the block. One night the family was away from home, leaving at the cot tage a servant-maid. This girl, knock ing over a candle, set alight to the cur- tains, and finding the blaze growing beyend her control, immediately took fright. She rushed out of the house and fled, making no attempt to put out the fire. When the family returned, the place was almost burnt to the ground. All that could be saved were a few pictures, but books, personal be longings, and valuable jewellery were destroyed and buried under the ruins when the house fell When Mr. Babbage decided to build his "castle" on the site of the ruins of the old cottage, he determined that his own home would be absolutely safe from fire. Therefore, practically every thing in the house, with the exception of window-frames, doors and attendant fittings, was constructed of concrete. One of the main rooms measured some thing like 30 feet square, and this had a solid concrete roof roughly 6 ft
thick. Another feature was the stair case, every inch of which was solid marble. The place, of two storeys, with a tower, cost about £6.000 to build. It stood well back in a plantation of trees that Mr. Babbage had brought from abroad.
BENJAMIN HERSCHEL BABBAGE was a near relative of the cele- brated inventor of the calculating machine. He was educated as an engineer, and for a considerable time followed his profession in Europe. He was assistant engineer at the Bristol end of the. Great Northern Railway for four years. ar.& afterwards laid out a railway across the Appc'iines. from Genoa to Milan He later constructed a railway from Florence to pistoga. and lived in Tuscany for four years. It is most probable thaT this sojourn in a country given to the picturesque in ar chitecture was rcsixmsible for 1-hc in fluence that later m.idc "TSie Rosary" so outstanding. Mr. Babbaze. arrived in South Aut tralia by the ship Hyriaspcs in Novem ber. 1851. He is well remembered as having been tlie first engineer of the Port railway. He was an explorer of some note. too. and he was elected to the firs!. Parliament under
the new Constitution, wiien he repre sented Encounter Bay in the Assembly. He retained this position for nine months, but resigned in December, 1857, to take command of the northern exploring expedition. He lived for many years at his '-castle,'' where he had an excellent, vineyard, devoting most of his time to wine-making. The great cellars ;n which lie stored the wine may be seen to th:s cay. There aro various stories to account Tor the destruction of the "castle." One is that, concrete building being in its infancy, the construction of the Babbage mansion was naturally an experiment, and. that the cement was wrongly mixed. Another—and cer- tainly more romantic—is that the early builders used sugar to help bind the cement, with the result that, with the coming of the rain, the sugar melted and the concrete cracked, Whatever may have been the cause, the rainy seasons brought disaster to the flamboyant "castle". The huge weight of the concrete fittings caused cracks to appear in the walls, and slowly the building began to crumble Yet, so massive and rambling was the structure, relatives and friends of
COME strange and in- teresting stories cling about Adelaide's old ruins. Here are a few of the many that are told — some true end some, al- though based on fact, embroidered fancifully by the story-tellers.
The family continued to live in one portion of the house when part was in ruins.
Strangely enough, when part of the "castle" collapsed, valuable books and treasures were lost in the ruins, thus repeating the tragedy of the Dawe cottage, on the site of which the castle was raised. Mr. Babbage died on October 22. 1878, at the age of 63. His wife and family continued to live at his home. Until quite recently the concrete remains of the house were still to be seen among the tangled vegetation that enclosed the site, and used to attract many artists. But the ruins have been removed for road-making pur- poses, and now the only traces that remain are the wide excavations and the tall palm rising above the matted plantation. This palm, by the way, is a chili-coco, and is said to be the only one of its kind in the State. The land has been sold in the subdivision of the estate. The cactus flames afresh, and each new spring decks the trees with fresher and finer blossoms. Only the tall palm keeps lonely vigil, a living monument to the glory that has passed away.
STARTING up abruptly out of the bare, flat hills near Normanville, some distance from the sea, one may see the ruins of an old church. Where once psalms were sung, and men and women gathered to prayer, now the pounding of the surf drones like an organ through the bare and roofless walls. A thousand suns have warmed the cold stones, a thousand moons silvered the gaping door and staring, eyeless windows. Yet this heap of ruins has a story all of its own —a tale of a jest that turned to earnest, a legend based on fact, which says that this building owed its genesis to a discussion that is even now talked about in that wide and lovely country- side. Seme little distance away a bare space marks the spot where once stood an old hotel. A Dr. Norman, well-known in that district in the early days, built both the hotel and the church. The story runs that Dr. Norman and his friends were discussing the longevity of those two institutions;—the church and the hotel. A friendly argument ensued, and Dr. Norman offered to build both a. church and a hotel and leave to pos- terity the proor of which building lasted the longer. This was done, according to the old gazeteers, who said that "the Ihotel and the church were built on close vicinity." Yet the church, say these authorities, "was rarely used as such." Who can say why? Perhaps the pious folk, fear ing a house of worship raised to clinch such an experimental discussion, shunned it. However, the story goes that, after a while, the church became used for the stabling of horses belong- ing to the old coach road. Gradually it fell into decay, and. because of its isolated position nobody saw fit to rescue it from destruction. But. the end of the hotel was swifter and more thorough. For, while the ruins of the church gape upon that bare hill, the hotel has vanished, stick and stone. A bare patch of earth remains to mark where the building raised its walls, and a modern world sees the answer to that query which agitated the good doctor and his companions. It is an interesting story and an intriguing problem that the ruins of this old church recall.
Near Reynella stand the ruins of a house which recalls the tempestuous childhood of South Australia, when bands of cattle thieves roamed the hills and terrorised the good farming people- It Is a sturdy struc- ture, even in its present decline, as the 2 ft. thick walls still bear evidence. Ironically enough, it stands amid rich grazing land, and horses and cows now rest under these ill-omened walls from the hear, of the sun. or shelter from the bitter winds that sweep across the bare hills. It is said that these walls once housed a family of cattle stealers. One night, anticipating a raid from the police, the men of the family slaughtered four horses that they had stolen, and which bore identifying brands. They dragged the carcases into one of the rooms, cov- ered them with bags, and locked the door. When the police came, they searched the grounds and, finding no evidence, were forced to depart empty- handed. The carcases were then re- moved and buried in a deep hole at the back of the house. You can see what fc left of this house If you look out for it on the right of the road as you near Reynella from the
Artist's sketch of the castle as it was.
Ruins of house that once shel- tered a gang of cattle stealers.
Large excavation where once the famous "Babbage Castle" stood.
A tall palm At its foot crouches a tropical cac- tus with spikey ends aflame with scarlet blossoms.