Robe History

Situated on Guichen Bay, about 350 km south east of Adelaide, Robe remains one of the few South Australian towns little altered since the 19th century. Today's visitor can walk the same streets flanked by the buildings so familiar to the pioneers of the days gone by. Nicholas Baudin first viewed the bay which he named in honour of Admiral de Guichen in 1802. Sealers, whalers and sailors visited this area long before the settlement of the State, and even governor Grey passed by during the exploration trip in 1844.

Because of their excellent knowledge of the South Coast, Captain John Hart and Underwood were requested to assist the South Australian Commission and the government of the State to decide on a suitable place for a port. In 1846 the Lapwing arrived, carrying Major Frederick Holt Robe, Governor of South Australia, who selected the site for the town which was named after him. The port of Robe was proclaimed in 1847.

With increasing prosperity the population grew rapidly. Many Irish female migrants and Scottish families arrived in 1855 followed by large numbers of Chinese on their way to the Victorian Goldfields in 1857. they were evading the Victorian Government's tax of $20 per Chinese landing in that State. As this sum of money equalled their fare to Australia, Chinese passengers landed at the free port of Robe only 150 km west of the unguarded Victorian border, and walked to the nearest goldfields. Over 17,000 Chinese passed through in one year. During this period, ship owners sought cargo for their ships emptied of human passengers. The Robe district eventually supplied the Indian Army with horses as well as selling wool, tallow, and sheepskins to Europe. At times more than 50 wagons would wait to reach the Royal Circus to unload their wool for shipment to Europe. Before a series of jetties were built in the 1860's these wagons were unloaded by driving into the sea to transfer their load to small boats which were then rowed out to ships farther out.

Years ago the majority of people travelling to Robe Town arrived by sailing vessel, bullock wagon or horseback. After eight months at sea from London the sight of Guichen Bay marked by the obelisk must have been a welcome sight to ship passengers as well as bullockies from across the border and the north who had to travel for weeks averaging only 40km per day. The eight hotels in the area would have seen some of the great horsemen of the day at regular customers exchanging exciting tales with each other and with the squatters and merchants of the South East.

Sister Mary MacKillop visited her sisters of the Josephite Order in Robe. She stayed at the St. Marys Star of the Sea Church in Hagen Street, which was a school and convent. It still remains in its original condition, complete with chimney at the rear of the building. Even in the early days Robe was a "trendsetter" with drilling for oil and gas being carried out as early as 1915. Also in its colourful past Robe had a canning factory which canned swans (sold as Robe geese), parrots (as Robe snipe) and canned rabbit.