Captain Henry Wright Harris

Captain Henry Wright Harris worked in Port Adelaide as a Marine Pilot and initially lived on Semaphore Road when he emigrated in 1856. Captain Harris is recognised as the original owner of the land   on the corner of Wills Street and Woolnough Road which was gifted to the citizens of Semaphore in 1881.

Captain Henry Wright Harris worked in Port Adelaide as a Marine Pilot and initially lived on Semaphore Road when he emigrated in 1856. Captain Harris is recognised as the original owner of the land on the corner of Wills Street and Woolnough Road which was gifted to the citizens of Semaphore in 1881. Photo Courtesy of the Port Adelaide Maritime Museum.

Lefevre Peninsula Football Club

The Lefevre Peninsula Football Club as it was known prior to moving to its present home at Largs Reserve, played most of its early games at Bucks Flat at Captain John Hart’s Glanville Estate. There are numerous newspaper references of football matches being played as early as 1873 between football teams of the district including Port Adelaide Football Club. These games were of an ad-hoc nature with varying size teams, no defined length of field or no agreed duration. Usually teams were stacked in order to even up the competition. Many such games were played at Buck’s Flat leading up to the 1880’s until an extension of the lease was unable to be negotiated with The Commissioner of Crown Lands and teams were forced to look for alternative grounds.

Port Adelaide Football Club moved along with the Port Adelaide Cricket Club to establish a ground at Alberton Oval and Lefevre Peninsula Football Club began the process of looking for a suitable ground. It was around this same time that Captain Henry Wright Harris gifted the land to the newly formed Semaphore Municipal Council just prior to its formation. This was done so on the provision that it be used for recreational purposes. At the time Captain Harris was sitting on both the Lefevre Peninsula Football Club Committee as well as a Councillor on the Semaphore Municipal Corporation representing the ward of Exeter. There is little doubt the dedication of land on his part would provide a home for his football team and equally it would be received favourably by his consituents as Captain Harris was sitting for re-ellection the following year. From 1883 onwards there is no further reference to the Lefevre Peninsula Football Club as they have taken up residence of Largs Reserve and in keeping with the newly formed Semaphore Corporation (1883) have changed their name to the Semaphore Football Club.

In the late 1800’s the reserve had not yet been fully developed and was unsuitable as a playing ground being very uneven and interspersed with bush. The original boundary was thought to be bordered by Woolnough Road, Wills St, Mead St and Hargrave St. The only reasonable playing ground in the district was some 4 miles away at Alberton and for many of the locals this involved a long hike over the Port Bridge (Birkenhead Bridge was yet to be built).

Glanville Hall Estate owned by Capt. C. H. T. Hart and the surrounding reserves where early games were played. Port Adelaide, Lefevre Peninsula and other clubs shared these reserves for recreational games.Photo courtesy of the Port Adelaide Historical Society

Glanville Hall Estate owned by Capt. C. H. T. Hart and the surrounding reserves where early games were played. Photograph taken from the south from where Bower Road is today. Port Adelaide, Lefevre Peninsula and other clubs shared these reserves for recreational games until around 1881. Photo courtesy of the Port Adelaide Historical Society

So it appears that in these early days Largs Reserve was used only for training purposes with most of the home games being played at Alberton Oval. During this period occassional games were also played at Bush Oval Swansea (Largs North), Woodville at David Bowers St Clair Estate and later on even Ethelton Oval was used.

Early Life

Henry Wright Harris was born in Kent England in 1828 before moving to Leith, Scotland where he met his future wife. Sometime around 1856 Harris immigrated to South Australia along with his wife and two daughters Helen and Elizabeth. Initially they settled in Semaphore Road but later built a house in what was to become 26 Harris Street. After his arrival in South Australia Captain Harris with his seafaring background commenced working in the coastal trade skippering vessels mainly in the Spencer Gulf and also the far west coast of South Australia and Western Australia.

Captain Harris was an avid gardener and when he was not away working he spent most of his time tending to his garden. He erected a glass houses at his Harris Street property and raised seedlings many of which he planted around the district in an effort to beautify the area. Sometime around 1861 he purchased the land later to be known as Largs Reserve which was considerably larger than the boundaries of the current reserve. He planted gum trees, which he had raised in his glass house, around the border of the reserve and painstakingly watered them by hand.

Public Life

He sat on the committee for both the Lefevre Peninsula Football Club and later on the Semaphore Football Club. He was extremely active in public life for many years working as a volunteer with the Semaphore Fire Brigade and he sat initially as a councillor on the District Council of Lefevre Peninsula, and later when the Semaphore Municipal Corporation was formed in 1883 he represented the ward of Exeter.  It was around the same time as the formation of the Semaphore Corporation that Captain Harris gifted the land he owned on the corner of Woolnough and Wills Streets to the Semaphore Council. He did so on the proviso that this land had to be used for recreational use.

Captain Harris along with his wife and daughter taken out the front of their residence in Harris Street, The glass houses can be seen to the left of the dwelling. Captain Harris later erected a viewing platform at the rear of the property which allowed him to view the Semaphore anchorage to see when the next vessel he was scheduled to pilot had arrived. Photo circa 1865 courtesy of the Port Adelaide Historical Society.

Captain Harris along with his wife and daughter taken out the front of their residence in Harris Street, The glass houses can be seen to the left of the dwelling. Captain Harris later erected a viewing platform at the rear of the property which allowed him to view the Semaphore anchorage to see when the next vessel he was scheduled to pilot had arrived. Photo circa 1865 courtesy of the Port Adelaide Historical Society.

Later Life

With a young wife and family to consider and having experienced a life threatening ordeal (see below), Captain Harris decided that his days of seafaring in the coasting trade were over and he applied for a position with the Marine Board as a Marine Pilot which would allow him to spend more time at home. In 1861 he was granted a license as a Marine Pilot in both St Vincent and Spencers Gulf and the following year he obtained a license for Port Adelaide. It was around the same time that he moved to Harris Street and purchased the land later known as Largs Reserve. He erected a 22 metre flagstaff and a landing on his Harris Street premises so he could view both his nearby acreage and also the passage of vessels coming up the Gulf; which allowed him to meet the ships at anchorage before piloting them into port. Unfortunately, Captain Harris’s residence at 26 Harris Street was knocked down some time in the 1980’s.

The Semaphore Council and the residents of Semaphore and Largs were extremely grateful for the gift of this beautiful tree lined reserve to their community.

 Ship Wreck

An interesting side story occurred in 1860 when Captain Harris met with an unusual fate whilst on a voyage from Adelaide to Fremantle, via Saint Georges Sound (Albany, Western Australia). His vessel the Waitemata, a schooner of around 60 tonnes, set sail from Port Adelaide on Friday 27th April 1860 for its destination. However in mid-July alarm bells began to ring when some three months later it was reported that the vessel had not yet arrived at Fremantle. There was much concern about the welfare of the crew and vessel especially as weather conditions over this period had been described in the newspapers as “tempestuous”. An indication of how bad the weather had been was the last known sighting of the vessel had been at St Peters Island (Ceduna) and it had taken the vessel a full month to progress this far west.

The matter was eventually raised in the House of Assembly and belatedly it was decided to despatch a government vessel the “Yatala” to follow the known passage of the Waitemata in the slim chance they may find some survivors or at least establish the site of a wreck.

The “Yatala” was duly despatched on the 17th August 1860 and headed for the last known position of the Waitemata – St Peters Island. General consensus was there was little hope held for the boat, Captain Harris or its crew, as so much time had lapsed between the last sighting of the vessel and the despatch of the search party. Upon arriving at St Peters Island, Captain Carson of the Yatala began working his way westward, searching nearby islands of which there numbered approximately 20 in the close proximity.

As it turned out Captain Carson did not have to look very long. Less than two weeks into his search he came across an uninhabited island – St Francis Island; some 15 nautical miles south west of St Peters Island (and 30 nautical miles from the mainland) and to his surprise as he pulled into Petrel Bay he came across the wreck of the Waitemata and a campsite of tents. Whilst the vessel had completely broken up all of the crew along with Captain Harris were still alive having survived from eating the supplies from the vessel as well as some of the cargo.

Captain Harris and his wife and daughter Helen in his glass house at 26 Harris Street Exeter. Photo taken circa 1865 (Courtesy of Port Adelaide Historical Society)

Captain Harris and his wife and daughter Helen in his glass house at 26 Harris Street Exeter. Photo taken circa 1865 (Courtesy of Port Adelaide Historical Society)

On his return Captain Harris stated that “although all lives were saved, and the cargo landed in a damaged state, yet so great were their sufferings from want of water, he did not think they could have lasted another week, had not the opportune arrival of the Yatala been the means of rescuing them from their perilous and forlorn situation”. One could only imagine what it must have been like with depleted supplies of food and no water living a forlorn, solitary life on a desolate island with little hope of being found. As each day passed it would become less likely they would be rescued and after over 100 days on the barren island – they must have given up all hope. They would have been absolutely joyous when they saw the schooner Yatala appear in their little bay.

An inspection of the Waitemata’s cargo manifest showed its main cargoes consisted of iron bar, a small parcel of nuts but significant portions of flour, wine, brandy and beer. The lack of water was no doubt a serious concern for Captain Harris; luckily there were plenty of other lubricants on-board that ensured the survival of Captain and crew. In November what was left of the Waitemata’s cargo and rigging was salvaged and repatriated to Port Adelaide by the schooner “Alexander”. The vessel salvage manifest from the Alexander showed the nuts had been completely eaten along with significant portions of the flour, beer, brandy and wine. If not for lack of water it appears the crew may have been able to survive for an even longer period.

Court Case

A curious twist to this saga occurred when a court case was heard in the Adelaide Police Courts on August 24th 1860 in relation to a thief – James Reid who was found in possession of 42 ingots of stolen copper. Unable to account for how the ingots had come into his possession he implicated Captain Harris; suggesting he in fact was the owner and Reid was simply minding them pending his return on his current voyage on the Waitemata. No doubt James Reid thought he had a fairly sound alibi given it was generally accepted that both Captain Harris and his crew had long been given up for dead. In August Reid was acquitted of the charge of theft due to lack of evidence; however his entire defense case went out the window when Captain Harris miraculously re-appeared in port, alive and well on the Tuesday, September 4th. Reid was subsequently re-arrested charged with theft and jailed.

Largs Reserve

Captain Harris's residence at 26 Harris Street taken just prior to its demolition  in mid 1980's. The house at lasted for well over 100 years along with its original fencing. Photo courtesy of the Port Adelaide Historical Society.

Captain Harris’s residence at 26 Harris Street taken just prior to its demolition in mid 1980’s. The house was the original dwelling in Harris Street and stood for well over 100 years – along with its original wooden fencing. Photo courtesy of the Port Adelaide Historical Society.

As a result of the formation of The Semaphore Municipal Corporation and the move from Buck’s Flat (Glanville Estate) to Largs Reserve the Lefevre Peninsula Football Club changed its name to reflect its new surroundings – Semaphore (Largs was yest to be developed). From 1883 the club was known as Semaphore Football Club and it was not until 1898 that it took on the name of Semaphore Central Football Club with the merger of some minor teams that shared Largs Reserve. These teams included Clairville, Semaphore Wanderers as well as a number of church based teams. From 1881-1883 the Lefevre Peninsula Football Club unsucessfully searched for a home ground. If not for the generosity of Captain Harris the proud history we know today may never have eventuated. The residents of the Semaphore and Largs district owe Captain Harris a debt of gratitude for the gift of land that is now home to Port District Football Club.

A Letter from the Great Granddaughter of  Capt. Henry Wright Harris