John Wilson arrived in Australia on 21 March 1839 aboard Buckinghamshire from London, England with his wife Elizabeth (née Simmons) and their five children. Elizabeth Wilson passed away in 1844 in Adelaide and John remarried to Emma Amy (formerly Whitbread, née Mills) in August 1845. Emma brought her four children to the marriage, and they had two more children of their own. Around 1846 John Wilson built a private residence for his family that by 1848 included ten children (son Edward had died in 1843, aged 5 years) at Aldinga Bay and later become known as Port Willunga.

John Wilson tried to obtain a license for what he called the “Port Hotel” in 1850 but it was denied. There was already a hotel in the Port Willunga area at the mouth of the permanent stream called the “Pier Hotel” or, as it was known locally, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, which was owned by a local farmer named Thomas Martin. John saw the potential of opening another hotel as there was much traffic in the busy little port during this time. By 1856 he had extended the building by adding a second gable-fronted section to accommodate the hotel, which was first licensed as the “Lewis Arms” in 1857.

Seaview Hotel by an unknown artist (c.1900) (collection of the Willunga National Trust)

Unfortunately, John Wilson was declared insolvent in 1860 and all of his buildings, land, livestock, liquor/stock, machinery and equipment were sold off. He seems to have disappeared from South Australia but ended up passing away at Rosedale in Victoria where he and his wife are both buried in the Rosedale Cemetery. Other publicans during this early period included William Henry Marsh (1857-1858), William Bowering (1860-1863) and George Lush (1863-1864).

In 1865, Jane How, another well-known local became the licensee after her husband, William Crosby How passed away in December 1864. William and Jane (née Guy) had arrived in Port Adelaide in 1855 aboard The Mallard from Southampton with their two eldest children, Henry William and Amelia Mary, and they went on to have four more children at Port Willunga. William was a local stonemason/bricklayer and would-be publican, and they were residing in Port Willunga by 1856. Their son Henry also followed in his father’s footsteps and became a stonemason while their grandsons, Stanley and William How, became well-known local fisherman of the district and were responsible for creating the dugout caves at Port Willunga Beach.

Jane How ran the Lewis Arms Hotel very successfully for over eight years until she remarried to George South in 1873 and she subsequently transferred the license to Thomas Hooper. Jane moved away to Kingston to be with her new husband as he was the licensee of the Royal Mail Hotel there. George South died in 1887 and Jane probably came back to Port Willunga to be with her family. She eventually moved away to Pingelly in Western Australia to be with her youngest daughter Lavinia and her family where she died in 1917, aged 85. A series of publicans came and went over the years from 1873 including Arthur Drury Stuart (1874-1879), George Mills (1879), William Bowering (1879-1880, 1881 & 1883-1887), William Giles (1880-1881) and William Stirling (1881-1883). The Lewis Arms was renamed the Seaview Hotel by William Stirling around 1882.

Seaview Hotel in 1884 (courtesy of the State Library of South Australia B 7814)

Then in 1887 William Kimber, a local butcher, took over the license for the Seaview Hotel (renamed in 1884) but he abruptly died leaving his wife Eliza (née Harris) to run the hotel. She was left with ten children and was expecting another one when her husband died. She was the licensee when the Star of Greece shipwreck disaster took place in 1888, which was only a week after her husband’s death. The official inquest into the sinking of Star of Greece took place within the Salon Bar of the Seaview hotel just one day after the tragedy happened on Friday 13 July 1888. The captain and 17 of his crew perished. Some of the survivors rested here and it is said that Eliza took good care of them. One of the survivors described his experience of their stay:

“When I awoke, I found myself in a nice little cottage belonging to Mrs Bowering and I can always picture before me how we laid out those bodies on the floor of the shed ready for burial.”

Seaview Hotel (1888 or shortly after) note the Star of Greece figurehead at lower right.

Eliza Kimber ran the Seaview Hotel for about 7 years with help from her son Walter. William Rylance Dickenson purchased the property in 1895 and that was the end of it as a licensed hotel. He ran it as the “Seaview Temperance Hotel” or “Reckley’s Seaview Temperance Hotel “ and it was now an alcohol free establishment that served mainly as guest accommodation. There was a balcony on the upper story, which was added around 1899 to improve the ambience where patrons could sit and admire the coastal views.

By 1904/1905 George Mills owned the property and Edward Gustav Linn and his wife were resident. The Seaview Hotel (Temperance) advertised “First-class accommodation. Good fishing, good shooting, picturesque coast, ocean breezes: moderate tariff” in 1910. Mrs Ada McAlister (or McAllister) was the proprietress of the Seaview Temperence Hotel from about 1912 to 1919. Among the guests at Easter 1915 was the mayor of Adelaide Mr A. A .Simpson. In 1917-1918 the Seaview Temperance Hotel at Port Willunga advertised that is had the ”best accommodation for visitors, all refreshments available”.

Red Cross War Effort when Ada McAlister was running the Seaview Hotel (c. 1914-1918) (collection of the Willunga National Trust donated courtesy of Lynn Irwin)

The property was advertised for sale in May 1920 as “a going concern” but does not appear to have sold. In April 1921 Oswald Herbert Lutz purchased the property that became known as the “Residential Cafe” and was advertised as “up to date with every modern convenience. Visitors can rely on receiving the best of attention. An ideal spot to spend your weekends.” They even offered to pick up their guests up from the Willunga train station.

In 1932 a prominent artist named Kathleen Sauerbier moved into the property that was owned at the time by Charles Francis Muller, a building contractor form Adelaide and she probably paid a small rent with an agreement to keep it in good condition. She was part of a group of artists that came to Port Willunga to paint during the 1930’s. Her style was quite modern with bold brushstrokes and muted colours. Horace Trenerry, another artist and friend of hers also moved to Port Willunga in 1934 and they would often paint together. In 1938 the bank repossessed the property from Muller and it was sold to Geoffrey Horton Ring.  

Kathleen eventually purchased the property in 1940 with her husband John Bryce. By now she was living in Melbourne full time but visited Port Willunga regularly to paint and she called the building “the Manor House” She had a terrible accident in 1947 when the kerosene fridge at the property exploded in her face and left her badly burnt and scarred. She had to recuperate in the Royal Adelaide Hospital for 9 months and she never stayed there again. She did still visit Port Willunga but would stay at the Christies Beach Hotel on her visits.

Then in 1952 the property was purchased by Sir Edward Hayward and his wife Ursula from the Bryces. They were friends of Kathleen who were great collectors of art and knew many of the contemporary artists of the day They did crucial restorations on the building as it was almost in disrepair by then. Sir Edward was the managing director of John Martin’s Department Store in Adelaide where regular art exhibitions were held in the John Martin’s building.

Margaret Eleanor (“Peg“) Dowie purchased the property from the Haywards in 1974 and renamed it “Holtham House”. She was the sister-in-law of the famous Adelaide sculptor and artist John Dowie. He was very good friends with the Haywards and also knew Kathleen Sauerbier, so hence her connection to the property. After spending many wonderful years there, Peg auctioned the property in 1988 once she had decided it was too large for her to manage anymore.

The building itself comprises of two main rectangular two-storey buildings. The section facing the road does not have a high peaked gable end like the rear section does. It is constructed from stone that is said to have come from Burra, with red brick lintels on the front and rendered quoins on the sides. It has 11 rooms over two floors. There are three bedrooms upstairs with open fireplaces and solid Baltic pine floors. The downstairs side wing consists of kitchen, bedroom, laundry and bake-house with bread ovens. A well with original hand pump is located just outside the bake-house\’s back door. The kitchen has a large open-hearth fireplace with hooks to hang kettles/pots. There are original slate floors on the ground level and a dry cellar. This beautiful building is State Heritage Listed.

Sara Livsey

National Trust of South Australia

Willunga Branch

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