Spargo’s Cottage, 5 St Judes St, Willunga

This charming early cottage is one of the most-photographed buildings in Willunga township. Visiting artists cannot resist sketching it or painting it. It is next door to the old Bell Tree and opposite the former Wesleyan Methodist (Uniting) Church and Cemetery.

It was built in about 1855 by Robert Spargo He was a semi-literate quarryman and labourer who came to live in Willunga in 1853, only a few weeks after he, his wife Grace, and their five daughters (Mary Jane, Eliza Ann, Rebecca, Caroline, Louisa) arrived on the ship Magdalena from Cornwall. Unfortunately, their fourteen-year old daughter Grace had died at sea on the voyage out. Within a few months of arriving in Willunga another daughter Elizabeth was born but, sadly, was found dead in bed three weeks later. (She was probably buried at Willunga but there is no record of this). Then in 1855 another child was born – this was George, their first son! Two daughters followed, Elizabeth who died as an infant and Emily who later married George Melville.

As we look at Spargo’s cottage from St Jude’s Street we can see, on the left, the large stone and brick ‘rubble’ chimney which was part of a small single-roomed, lean-to cottage, with a thatched roof that was later replaced with slate. To the right of this is a slightly later two-roomed cottage with front verandah which was the main living area for the Spargo family.

Robert Spargo built his home himself. He used local material to produce the ‘cob’ walls – straw and mud, perhaps with a bit of gravel thrown in, mixed with water. Quite a few bricks have been used in the eastern (right) side wall. When the front wall was rendered in 1996 the original ‘cob’ construction was exposed and is still there under the new surface. Local bricks frame the small-paned casement windows, still in place but now protected by clear alsinite. Local slate was used for the roof and in recent years it has been re-roofed with Welsh slate. In the 1920s a rear room of brick and grey cement render was added – a new iron roof was put on this room in 1937. All rooms have large blocks of slate flagging on the floors.

It seems a small home for a large family. The family were very poor. As soon as they were old enough, the daughters took up casual employment or ‘live-in’ positions with local families as servants or housemaids. Daughter Eliza was employed as a nursemaid by Edward and Mary Loud at their Willunga property called ‘Thornaville’. Tragically she was drowned in a waterhole in the summer of 1865, when only 23. She had arranged a special outing with the Loud’s two children and her brother George, who was celebrating his tenth birthday. They went to a lovely gully in the hills just west of Willunga, called by the Aboriginals Wykera Wonjerilla, which contained an attractive cooling-off spot which the new settlers called “The Carey Hole’. Eliza was reportedly drowned while saving the life of her young mistress (Miss Loud). Eliza was buried in St Stephens Anglican Cemetery on Aldinga Road, Willunga.

Robert Spargo’s health was not good and Eliza’s accidental death would not have helped. In 1867 he was admitted to the Adelaide Hospital with emphysema. He struggled on, but two years later in 1869 he was forced to ask the Council to provide rations for himself and his family, which they did. Robert died in 1871, aged only 57. He, too, was buried in St. Stephens Anglican Cemetery. His wife Grace stayed in the cottage until 1883 when she moved to Adelaide to be near her son George and his family. She died in 1894, aged 75 years and was buried in the West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide.

In 1875, Spargo’s Cottage featured in the first Riparian Rights Court case in the colony of South Australia. (See separate article).

Grace Spargo left the cottage in 1883, after living in it for nearly 30 years. It then changed hands several times before being purchased by Hubert Brown in 1925 and passed to his daughter Olive May de Caux in 1963. The Shrubsole family were tenants in the 1950s and 1960s when it is said the rent was 5 shillings a week. An interstate descendant regularly visited the cottage and left a bunch of flowers at the front entrance in memory of his grandmother Shrubsole, as she had no grave or memorial (she left her body to science).

Margaret Cameron owned the cottage from about 1970. The kitchen of the cottage was used as a pottery with a gas-fired kiln built into the large stone fireplace. Margaret planted grape vines beside the cottage as a hobby, but removed them around 2009. The property was sub-divided and sold in August 2009 to the Edwards family who stabilized and renovated the cottage and built a new house at the rear of the block. Re-roofing was undertaken after substantial damage from a falling tree in 2002.

This building is on the City of Onkaparinga’s local heritage list (SA Heritage Places database #5511)

References:

Faye Lush Spargo’s Cottage, 5 St Jude’s St, Willunga, 2002.
Geoffrey C Vaudrey, Water under the Bridge: the story of Robert and Grace Spargo. Willunga, 1991.
Margaret Cameron, owner from 1970s to 2009.

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