Background to the Research
In June 1996 Dr. Susan Lawerence of the Department of Archaeology, Flinders University of South Australia, with the assistance of Dr. Margaret O’Hea of the Department of Classics, Adelaide University, undertook an excavation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin at the request of the District Council of Willunga. The Council was interested in interpreting and managing the site. Graduate Diploma of Archaeology students and archaeology students from Flinders University provided the willing workers. Dr. Mark Staniforth, now a senior lecturer at Flinders University, undertook to organise tours of the site with a team of student volunteers (local newspaper article ). Uncle Tom’s Cabin is located a short distance from the beach at Port Willunga, south of the city of Adelaide, and is protected from the sea by sand dunes and cliffs. The ruins of the house offers some protection from the elements for surfers using the beach today. Located in a linear park, the site is easily accessable, with a broadwalk allowing access over the tidal pools of the beach.A Brief History of the Site
The Port Willunga Linear Park was once part of a farm owned by the Martin family. Section 386, Hundred of Willunga, was purchased by Thomas Martin Sr. in 1848. Thomas and Mary Martin and their five eldest children arrived in South Australia in 1840. Thomas Sr. was active in developing the local area and by 1850 had subdivided part of Section 386 as the township of Port Willunga; later extensions to the town were laid out on South Australia Company land to the south. After Thomas died in 1862 the land continued to be farmed by his widow, and then by his son, Thomas Jr. and his grandsons Stan and Clad. The land remained in the Martin family until the 1970s.
The farm included at least two houses and numerous stone and timber outbuildings. The largest of the two houses was known as Uncle Tom's Cabin and served as the principal dwelling for the family. It was built in the early 1850s and was licensed as the Pier Hotel between 1852 and 1862. Historical photographs show a two-storey stone structure with a slate roof and a wide verandah on three sides (plan of Uncle Tom's Cabin ). It had 15 rooms, including an upstairs ballroom, and three brick fireplaces, and was a focal point for social activities in the community that grew around the jetty.
The house known as the Harbourmaster's Cottage was built next to Uncle Tom's Cabin some time before 1887. The name reflects the association of the house with Thomas Jr. who was harbourmaster at Port Willunga between December 1883 and September 1885. At that time the colonial government did not provide an official residence for the harbourmaster, so the family continued to live in the farmhouse. The harbourmaster was an important government officer in the settlement, and his cottage was a focal point for economic and bureaucratic activities. Thomas Jr. was also widely remembered locally for his role in the rescue of the survivors of the wreck of the Star of Greece which sank off Port Willunga in 1888. Some of the other farm buildings were built with material from another shipwreck, the Ida.
The standing walls of the Harbourmaster's Cottage continues to be a notable landmark in the park, while the foundations of Uncle Tom's Cabin are only faintly visible. It was vacant for many years before it burnt down in the 1960s, and the walls are now covered with rubble and drifting sand. All that remains of the outbuildings today are concrete floors, but they were painted many times by the artist Horace Trenerry. The ruined buildings of the Martin farm are an important part of the history of the park. The two homes, the surviving stone outbuilding and the various sheds, wells, privies, and tracks, are all evidence of the functioning family farm that was the first European settlement there. (History provided by Dr. Susan Lawerence and Dr. Mark Staniforth with photographs by Dr Susan Piddock, Researcher, Department of Archaeology)
Further Reading :
Susan Lawerence and Greg Jackman, 1995, Historical Archaeological Survey of Port Willunga, Linear ParkReport to the District Council of Willunga, November 1995. [Copies are held by the Flinders University of South Australia Library and the City of Onkaparinga Library]
R. Linn, 1991 Cradle Of Adversity. A History of the Willunga District. Historical consultants Pty. Ltd., Cherry Gardens