Riverton, in the Heart of the Gilbert Valley is situated 91 kms north of Adelaide on the Barrier Highway between Tarlee and Burra. For many years Riverton was a railway junction; but today is better known for its 12,500 hectares under cultivation growing various cereals, small seed crops of lucerne, beans, chick peas and canola, sheep, dairy and beef cattle, poultry, pigs and a return to viticulture with several vineyards now established whilst other farmers have diversified into olive growing and processing. With an average rainfall of 490 mms the district thrives in a wonderful Mediterranean climate with residents enjoying a clean and pleasant environment with good facilities, which create a pleasant life style for young families, commuters and retirees.
Prior to European settlement in the area (now known as the Gilbert Valley), the Ngadjuri aborigines (also known as the Peppermint people) roamed the district. The first record of European settlers was in 1847 when Englishman, Mr Peters who was droving a mob of 1000 head of sheep through the fertile valley, camped for a time on the western slopes of the Belvidere range due east of Riverton. His presence here was noted when pastoralist Mr Bagot of the Koonunga Pastoral Company, near Kapunda, made contact with Mr Peters agreeing to purchase the whole flock at a ₤1 per head.
By 1849 James Masters, a Yorkshire-man and licensee of the Commercial Inn, Grenfell Street, Adelaide had taken out an occupational lease on the land surrounded by Saddleworth to the north, the Light River in the east, Tarlee to the south and the Wakefield River to the west. This area was known as “Master’s Run” where shepherds were employed to watch over large flocks of sheep. Masters erected several shepherd’s huts, only two of which have survived the ravages of time.
The Government survey was completed by 1856 when the land was ‘thrown open’ for settlement and James Masters, who had already established the township of Saddleworth then purchased several of the new town allotments together with numerous sections of land both adjoining the township and further afield. It was at this time that Masters sold his interest in the Commercial Hotel, Adelaide and built a fine stone homestead, which he named “Saddleworth Lodge”, on the western bank of the River Gilbert about a km north of the present township. Unfortunately the homestead was destroyed by fire circa 1890.
Together with Mr Fred Hannaford who had purchased a large parcel of farming land on the lower slopes of the Belvidere range, Masters became a prominent benefactor donating land on which was built the first wattle and daub chapel and day school on the site which later became the Parish Hall and more recently the Studio of renowned artist, Robert Hannaford.
Masters also gave the land on which Holy Trinity Church was erected and consecrated in 1858 together with land for the Rectory and sufficient glebe land where the rector grazed his horses and cows – this was later purchased by the Riverton District Council as parklands and became the local golf course. As well as this contribution Masters gave several sections of land to the Church for lease to farmers – this land has only recently been sold, together with the Rectory and the Parish Hall, the funds from which were used to pay for the erection of the James Master’s Hall, built on land adjacent to the church.
Naming of the town –
Riverton was so named when James Masters and his long-time friend, John Jubb Horner were sinking a well near the River Gilbert (named after the first colonial storekeeper) and, having been asked by the Government Surveyor to name the new settlement, Masters sought his friend’s opinion. The name Gilberton was first submitted but this had already been given to a suburb of Adelaide whilst Gilbertown had been gazetted earlier as the name of the new settlement at the green waterholes north of Tarlee and so RIVERTOWN was then suggested and finally the name RIVERTON was accepted.
Following the consecration of the Holy Trinity Church in 1858, James and Elizabeth Masters returned to England where he died in the City of York on October 4th, 1861, aged 60 years. Elizabeth then returned to Riverton where James Master’s nephews, Charles Swinden and John Carrack continued to manage the pastoral interests which covered thousands of acres. The Swinden family were the main beneficiaries of Master’s will, unfortunately Charles died of consumption some five years later. Elizabeth Masters and several members of the Swinden family were buried in the Vault at the original cemetery, now the Pioneer Garden, where named pavers in recognition of those people who over 150 years have “made a difference”.