The agricultural district of Gawler is situated immediately to the south of Ulverstone. The Gawler area was explored by surveyor Nathaniel Kentish in the early 1840s, who named the river after the second Governor of South Australia, Lieutenant-Colonel George Gawler. This name was later given to the whole district.

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How Kenitsh came to name it after a South Australian Governor is a story in itself. Surveyor-General Robert Power, who had the responsibility to open roads to every new settlement, hired the 43 year old Nathaniel Lipscomb Kentish when arrived from South Australia in November 1841 looking for a job. Having impressive credentials endorsed by Governor Gawler of South Australia, Power appointed him to his Survey Department on the spot. Kentish had been the Surveyor of Roads and Bridges in charge of constructing part of the Great Western Road over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst in New South Wales, with nearly 1000 convicts under his supervision. He'd then moved to South Australia, but before completing his contract, he had moved on to Tasmania.

It soon became clear to Power why Gawler had sent him packing so quickly, but with such a glowing reference - the egotistical surveyor possessed a personality trait that compelled him to constantly promote himself and his own abilities while at the same time denigrating and belittling the efforts of everyone else. His ability to rub others up the wrong way, particularly his superiors, had resulting in him being dismissed time and time again from nearly all his previous employment.

Once suspects Kentish had no idea why he'd been shown the door so quickly and yet had been given such glowing credentials. Whether or not he knew, he seemed eternally grateful for the favour, reflected in the fact he named one of the first rivers he came across after his beloved former employer.

A glimpse into the early days of farming in and around the North West hinterland was presented in a series published in the North West Post in July and August 1906 and entitled "Round the Farms". These extracts not only illustrate the wealth of material to be found in the small local newspapers of the past, but shed light on the life and times of Gawler's farming pioneer families.

"The next estate [on the Lower Gawler Road] is occupied and owned by Mr B. Counsel, a son of Gawler's pioneer. In this place is centred much of the district's history. Mr L. Counsel, sen., brought his family from Piper's River, some distance out of Launceston, in 1860, and lived for a few weeks a mile or two up the old Gawler road, then removing to the present property, which was originally bought by Mr c. M'Arthur from Brown and Kennedy, in the fifties, Mr Counsel, sen., purchasing 488 acres from the first-named gentleman. The land was thickly timbered with dogwood and sassafras, and covered with dense scrub. Of roads there were none, just paling tracks, which, as a rule, only misled the wayfarers."

Upper Castra
Upper Castra

"Taking the year 1865 as a guide and going back to the Gawler-Ulverstone boundary, Mr W. Mason, father of the present owner, had an extensive estate. He did not reside on the property, but lived at Longford, and let the farms to tenants.The late James Elliott rented ground, where Mr Henslow now lives, in 1852, and was one of the first four Leven settlers. He planted a willow tree on the grassy flat 53 years ago, and the tree is still to be seen. This ground was owned by the late Alex Clerke."

"Going round the next bend of the [Old Gawler] road, the many homesteads owned and occupied by the McCulloch family are to be seen, forming a community and a village almost of their own. They are the descendants of Gawlers's first pioneer, the late James M'Culloch, who brought six sons with him from Ayrshire, Scotland, and forced his way into the dense, almost impenetrable bush, buying 500 acres of land from the Government under the pre-emptive right system, and thus settling there in the year 1859." Editor's note: that system gave the first settler the first option to purchase a property they settled on and developed.

"The original 500 acres were cut up and divided among the patriach's sons, the estate stretching right from the Gawler River to Abbotsham. It consists of rich river flats and the well-known chocolate soil. Neat hawthorn hedges enclose many of the paddocks, but the former estate has been greatly added to by purchase until now it forms one of the largest and best properties on the North West Coast Mr Hugh M'Culloch's property is at the foot of the hill, joining which is the private burying ground of the clan M'Culloch."

McCulloch family cemetery

"In the early days, the roads were so bad that they were forced to use portion of their estate for a cemetery. The land originally taken t.p is all occupied by the first applicants or their sons, and "Edinburgh", as the place is called is peopled exclusively by the M'Culloch's". The cemetery is at 556 Top Gawler Road, Gawler."

In 1939 the old Barrington Presbyterian church (opened in 1893) was removed to the Gawler Road cemetery where it was rededicated as the ‘McCulloch Memorial Church’. Local people, mostly members of the McCulloch family moved the church in sections and reconstructed the building on the new site. Services at the church, also known as the Gawler Road church, were regularly held serving Presbyterians of the Abbotsham and the Upper Gawler area. The church is no longer on the site.

Gawler Road, 1890s