W F Connell

One of the stories from the 2012 project: Who were they? People who shaped Victor Harbor and for whom our parks and reserves are named.

Connell Reserve

Connell Reserve is bounded by Hindmarsh Road, Renown and Peace Avenues and Broadway. It is attractively located. It was named for William F Connell “who rebuilt Mt Breckan after the 1909 fire. Was a Mayor of Victor Harbor, died in 1937, a highly esteemed generous citizen”.

Two great houses, Mt Breckan (Alexander Hay) and Adare (Daniel Cudmore) dominated the township of Victor Harbor and were a focus for the more genteel families of the district.

However, the beginning of the end was in sight for Mt Breckan when on February 25 1909 a fire, begun by a plumber who was mending a leaking tank, set the tower of Mt Breckan alight. Little could be done except to drag out a few pieces of furniture. Only the scorched walls remained at the end of the day.

Later that same year, two members of the Hay family were aboard the Waratah which vanished with all her passengers and crew in July 1909. A man, who had taken passage in the Waratah, was William F Connell. But he cancelled at the last minute because he felt a strong premonition about the safety of the ship.

William Connell was an Irishman who had struck it rich on the Western Australian goldfields and in 1911, made his way to Victor Harbor. He saw the ruins of Mt Breckan and immediately decided to buy them and the associated estate. Naturally, he paid only a fraction of the great sums which had previously been spent on this summer residence.

Connell employed an Adelaide architect and rebuilt the mansion as a Country Club, with rooms for guests and a golf course. He also subdivided portion of the estate into housing blocks. The work progressed slowly and it was not until 1913-1914 that the Country Club was finally opened.

William Connell was also one of the supporters of the proposal to light Victor Harbor with electricity. However, there was a delay with this, with the proposal that Victor Harbor should separate from the District Council of Encounter Bay.

Hopes for an electricity supply revived briefly in August 1916 when William Connell and
P R Cudmore founded the Victor Harbor Electric Supply Company Ltd. They issued shares hoping the Council would buy the bulk of these and would eventually take over the Company. A ratepayers meeting approved the scheme but it did not get off the ground.

It was around 1924 that William Connell became Mayor of Victor Harbor (recorded on the wall in the Encounter Room at the Council Offices).

However, his Mt Breckan Country Club had not flourished as well as he expected – he had spent lavishly on the building and extended the establishment exceedingly, but for some reason it did not appeal to the average visitor. So, in 1926 the building and 148 acres of the estate were offered for sale at $25,000. The Victor Harbor Council tried to persuade the State government to buy it for use as a ‘hostel’. But local hostelries were so enraged the Council quickly gave up the idea.

Local lad, Walter Buxton Bruce had stayed at school until he was 16 years of age. Then in 1914 Mrs Connell asked him to work at Mt Breckan. He says the Connells were good to him. He referred to them as ‘Fred’ and ‘Adelaide’. Also their daughter, Madie, he says, was always the same, a nice girl and pleasant. Bruce says Mrs Connell was determined to make Mt Breckan pay, and it did! The furnishings came from Marshalls in Adelaide (which is now Myers). He cleaned shoes and generally helped around the place getting 7/6 a week, rising to 10/- with 5/- extra on his birthday. He records that Mrs Connell was not afraid of hard work and would often be in the kitchen giving a hand. Miss Connell worked in the office, typing. There is a very graphic description of life behind the kitchen scenes in his record.

Bruce also records that Miss Connell turned 21 while he was at Mt Breckan, and that she could play the piano. It seems there was only one child, the daughter.

The Advertiser Saturday 12 June 1926

WEDDINGS
MILTON – CONNELL
The marriage was celebrated on June 2nd at St Augustines Church Victor Harbor of Hayward, eldest son of Mr & Mrs W Milton, Mt Gambier, and Mavis only daughter of Mr & Mrs Connell of Mt Breckan, Victor Harbor.
As the bride entered the church with her father the choir sang “The Voice that Breathed o’er Eden”. The bride was frocked in a handsome gown of blue georgette and silver lace with long scarf and hat to match, and also wore a beautiful cloak of moonlight blue velvet with large collar of silver fox fur. The shower bouquet was of autumn tints with narrow ribbon streamers. The only jewel worn was a diamond brooch, the gift of the bridegroom. The bridesmaid, Miss Nancy Milton, sister of the bridegroom, wore pastel pink georgette, the hem of the dress being edged with large flat roses of a deeper tone. She wore a becoming hat of black panne velvet with long streamers, and carried a bouquet of sweet peas and carnations. She also wore the bridegroom’s gift, a gold wristlet watch. Mr Jack Norris was best man. During the signing of the register the “Wedding March” was played. After the ceremony the wedding breakfast was held at Mt. Breckan. The Rev T. M. Boyer presided. The bride’s travelling frock was saxe blue and worn with velour hat to match and skunk furs. The happy couple left the same day for Sydney for the honeymoon.

From DIGGER – South Australian Death registrations 1916 to 1972.
William Frederick CONNELL. Died 17-01-1938, aged 77 years. Residence North Adelaide. Died at North Adelaide.
Augusta Elizabeth Adelaide CONNELL. Died 07-10-1958, aged 93 years. Residence North Adelaide. Died at North Adelaide.

Acknowledgements

  • Settlers Around The Bay, Anthony Laube
  • Victor Harbor: From Pioneer Port to Seaside Resort, Michael Page
  • Trove digital newspapers www.trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper
  • Digger database
  • State Library of South Australia for images