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John Rounsevell (1836–1902)

The death of Mr. John Rounsevell, which occurred suddenly on Thursday morning, will cause general regret both in Adelaide and the country, for he was well known and universally liked. The sad event occurred at his residence, in Hutt-street, just after he had taken breakfast, the cause of death being failure of the heart's action.

The name of Rounsevell is inseparably associated with the early development of South Australia. The late Mr. William Rounsevell, who was once a member of the staff of the South Australian Company, arrived in this State by the ship City of Adelaide in 1839, bringing with him his infant son, John. For a number of years he was connected with the Police Force, but resigned his position in 1882. It was while he still held office as a protector of the peace that he started an enterprise which subsequently became of vast importance both to the fortunes of the family and the interests of the State. On a small plot of ground in the vicinity of the present stables of Messrs. John Hill & Co., the most important coaching business South Australia has ever boasted had its origin. Mr. Rounsevell, senior, was a man of many parts, and of large enterprise. He was a Cornishman, and had brought with him to his new home many of the characteristics of the people to whom he belonged. Amongst these was the love of adventure and a boldness in undertaking works requiring great power of organisation and ability in management. Probably few people guessed in those pioneer days when the Cornish policeman, seeking to augment his income, and at the same time launch into business on his own account, bought a horse and trap, that the incident was but the nucleus of what would before long become a large livery and coaching concern, to whose care the transit of the bulk of the mails and pasengers of the State would be entrusted. Yet so it was. From this apparently insignificant origin the enterprise grew into proportions which made Mr. Rounsevell the king of the road, and his coaches regularly traversed many hundreds of miles of country extending from Mount Gambier to Port Augusta and Blinman. A memento of the very earliest days of the State stands even now in the grounds of the late Mr. Rounsevell's house in Hutt Street in the shape of a cannon which once belonged to H.M.S. Buffalo, the ship which brought Governor Hindmarsh to South Australia.

Mr. John Rounsevell took a very active part in his father's business, in which he became a partner after having received a liberal education at St. Peter's College, and for a number of years he had the management of the division north of Kapunda. As may easily be supposed, such a position was responsible for many adventures. In his young days Mr. Rounsevell was one of the most expert horsemen and one of the the pluckiest coachdrivers in Australia. His earlier life was full of interesting experiences. The opening up of new country gave constant occasion for the exercise of foresight in making provision for traffic, while driving in days when roads were not of the best suited his adventurous disposition. Many and interesting were his reminiscences of those pioneer times, of the dangers encountered, and the difficulties overcome, and the pluck and enterprise he displayed did much towards the building up of the business which successfully competed against all rivals.

In 1865 Mr. Rounsevell was elected as a member of the Assembly for the district of Light, but he retired from the position two years later. Subsequently he sat in the Assembly for the district of Gumeracha. In the meantime the coaching business was sold out to a small company under the name of Cobb & Co., who a few years later disposed of it to Messrs. John Hill & Co. Mr. Rounsevell also served in the City Council and the Mount Crawford District Council.

Few people know as much of the coach roads or of the bush tracks of the State as Mr. Rounsevell did. His total journeys through the now settled districts would aggregate many thousands of miles, to say nothing of the incursions he had made into less familiar country within our boundaries. He was well acquainted more than 30 years ago with the vicinity of the Worturpa and Tarcoola goldfields, and even in those faraway days the reefs and outcrops there were believed to be highly auriferous.

After retiring from the road Mr. Rounsevell turned his attention to contracting for Government works. The construction of railways gave a sufficient opportunity for the employment of his great energies, and having an abundance of timber on his estate at Corryton Park, near Mount Crawford, it was utilised in the supply of sleepers. When the overland telegraph line to Port Darwin was to be constructed Mr. Rounsevell again came to the fore. An extensive section, comprising 500 miles of the line north of Port Augusta, was carried out by him, and he personally superintended the work, while the carting in connection with another section was also entrusted to him. He also supplied a considerable number of the telegraph poles. To supervise these large works in what was then practically unknown country was no mean undertaking, but he was the type of man for the occasion, and his work remains a testimony to his ability. Enormous numbers of horses and bullocks were required for the work, in addition to an army of camels.

As long ago as 1864 Mr. Rounsevell took up pastoral country in the neighborhood of the Warburton Range and lying north-east and south-east of it, and he put up the main "trig." the first erected, on Rounsevell Hill, to the north-west. He also named Gibraltar, the biggest granite outcrop in the district, and Sturt's Rock, because of the number of Sturt peas in the neighborhood.

After completing his Government contracts Mr. Rounsevell turned his attention to sheepfarming, and spent a considerable portion of his time at Corryton Park. His efforts in this direction were as successful as his previous undertakings had been, and his stud sheep became renowned, while his wool clips had a good reputation both in South Australia and in London. His accomplishments as a whip of the first order were widely recognised, and many feats in this connection are remembered by old colonists. He was a capital judge of horses and stock, and his opinions on questions relating to breeding were of value.

Mr. Rounsevell, who had a wide circle of acquaintances amongst all classes, knew many parts of the State, especially in the north, as only few men do. His death will be deeply regretted, for through it the State loses a conspicuous figure, representative of a time full of difficult pioneer work, of perilous enterprise, and of vast achievement, but not without its attractions and romance--a period in which the foundations of a prosperous nation were well and truly laid.

The deceased gentleman was a brother of the Hon. W. B. Rounsevell, the member for Burra Burra. He was thrice married, the only surviving children of his first wife being Mr. Horace Rounsevell, of the firm of Symon, Rounsevell, & Cleland, and Mrs. Gepp, wife of Mr. T. Gepp, solicitor. He leaves a widow, and there are three younger daughters and two sons.

Mr. Rounsevell had been unwell during the last two days, and on Wednesday was persuaded to stay in bed. On Thursday morning, however, he felt better, and decided to go for a drive. Having shaved, he was walking out of his room when he dropped down dead. For some time has had been suffering from heart disease.

The funeral arrangements are in the hands of Mesrs. Pengelley & Knabe, and the interment will take place in the family vault at the West-terrace Cemetery this afternoon, the procession leaving the late residence of the deceased gentleman in Hutt-street at 3.30 o'clock.

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Citation details

'Rounsevell, John (1836–1902)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 December, 1836
Tregony, Cornwall, England


15 May, 1902 (aged 65)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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