Old Rectory, 30 St Johns Terrace, Willunga

Allotment 61, Section 278.

The arrival of Rev. Arthur Burnett in Willunga in January 1848 marked the beginning of the Church of England presence in the district. Rev. Burnett initially lived in a tent, but, later that year, work started on building a “parsonage” a mile or so south of the Willunga township. A Government land grant of 20 acres was received and another 20 acres were bought by the Church for £1 per acre. Funds came from a Government grant of £150, plus subscriptions from the Bishop’s Fund and local settlers. Funds were limited and Rev. Burnett “out of his own means” did much toward erecting the parsonage and planting the garden.

Rev. Edmund King Miller arrived in the district in February 1863, and found it curious that the original church was about a mile west of the town and the parsonage about a mile south of it. The parsonage, which had not been completely finished, was in a dilapidated state and Reverend Miller immediately expended funds to make it habitable. With a thatched roof, and its position nestled at the base of the range of hills, the house was susceptible to bush fires. Whenever a fire was near, he and his family kept watch all night with water at the ready. It was reported that the rectory “had never been finished…100 pounds needed to be spent to make it habitable and repair fences. The house being thatched, was often in danger from bushfires, and wind-blown embers were a constant threat.. Water had to be carried by bucket from a well on the lower corner of the property.” After many years Rev Miller was able to get the thatch replaced with slate tiles.

The original house, with four chimneys and verandahs all around, was built of local stone, mined from a small quarry behind the house. Some of the original cedar doors, floors and skirtings were later replaced by jarrah and sugar gum. The original roof of straw was replaced by slate, then iron and now cement shingles. Some rooms have Willunga slate floors and tin pressed ceilings. The Rectory stables were in poor repair and a new stable, with buggy shed and chaff shed, was completed in May 1890 at a cost of £31-12s-6d. When inspected in 1892 the rectory was found to be very much out of repair. It is said that a family were sitting in the kitchen eating their meal when the back wall and chimney suddenly fell out. The chimney was never replaced. In 1896 it was necessary to remove the bank at the back of the building, repair the roof on the back room and fix large cracks in the outer wall.

In its early days, the rectory was a picturesque venue for Church picnics and events. The Rector’s wife used one of the rooms to give music lessons to local children.

In 1938 the decision was made to sell the property. The rectory became a private residence after the new rectory was built in St Andrew’s Terrace in around 1940, much closer to the present St Stephen’s Church which had been constructed in 1884. By the 1970s the old rectory building was derelict. It was purchased by Dr and Dr Nicholson who renovated in the 1970s style and landscaped the garden and planted many fruit trees. An upstairs bedroom with dormer windows was added and the western verandah was enclosed.

In 1988 the house was bought by the current owners and carefully restored to reflect its earlier heritage. It has 13 rooms and has an orchard with 20 fruit and nut trees. The old dairy remains but needs repairing. A stone and slate water trough was once the watering place for police horses as they travelled between Adelaide and Encounter Bay. The well which fed the trough closed up during the 1954 earthquake.

This building was included on the City of Onkaparinga’s local heritage list in 1997 (SA Heritage Places database #5424)


Rev. Edmund King Miller Forty-Seven Years Clerical Life in South Australia.
Parish History 150th celebrations Willunga 1999.
Folder 36-10 Willunga Courthouse Museum.
McDougall and Vines Willunga District Heritage Survey 1977.
Notes on the old Rectory by Sharon Hancock 2020.

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