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The Mystery of Fry's Clump

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by Steve Hudson (subscribe)
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Published December 16th 2015
Will we ever find out the truth ?
Since the beginning of time, Surveyors have been using cairns, trig points, mountain tops, pickets and pegs to define boundaries and to settle disputes before they happen. But occasionally something else appears that is so steeped in history and superstition that it becomes a point of reference itself. Fry's Clump is one of these.

Fry's Clump, Balaklava, Robert Fry, Fry Flat, Penwortham
Cairn at Fry's Clump - Steve Hudson


Fry's Clump is located on the main Balaklava to Owen Road about 3km south of Balaklava, and some four miles from the abandoned Fry Flat Station. Robert Fry took up an occupation licence in this area in 1844 and was destined to commence a new life on the Adelaide Plains as a farmer and grazier after leaving his beloved England. However things did not go entirely to plan, and in early January 1850, the badly decomposed body of Fry's wife was discovered, and Fry was not to be found.

Fry's Clump, Balaklava, Robert Fry, Fry Flat, Penwortham
Illusion and Mystery near Fry Flat - Steve Hudson


Fry's wife was buried on the spot while the Police returned to his home to question Fry. There they found three unfortunate children, the youngest being in a weak and sickly state of health. With Fry missing, and believed to be lurking in the scrubs in the vicinity of the station, the Police could do little more other than to watch and wait.

Fry's Clump, Balaklava, Robert Fry, Fry Flat, Penwortham
Memorial Plaque - Steve Hudson


Rumours took hold, and Robert Fry was given the name of the Maniac Murderer as reported in The South Australian on 15 February 1850. A letter to the editor stated that Fry had returned momentarily to the house in January, was behaving in a strange manner and had engaged in conversation with the local Aboriginal people of the region. The fear of Fry now took hold and became so great in the neighbourhood of the station, that it was soon abandoned and destined to become an early lost town on the Adelaide Plains.

Fry's Clump, Balaklava, Robert Fry, Fry Flat, Penwortham
Heritage Sign - Steve Hudson


The mystery continued with Fry's prolonged disappearance. However by May 1850 Fry was presumed dead and instructions were given to sell the property, dairy cattle, horses and associated stock run. It was just over a month later when some remains were discovered within half a mile of the spot where the body of Fry's wife was buried, and around four miles from Fry Flat Station. Fry's remains had been scattered by the wild dogs, but remained near his rifle, pistol, pocket-book and also the bonnet of his late wife.

Fry's Clump, Balaklava, Robert Fry, Fry Flat, Penwortham
Fry's Clump - Steve Hudson


The inquest determined that Fry was a murderer who subsequently took his own life, all for reasons unknown. After the inquest, Fry was buried at Penwortham, while his wife remained buried alongside the Main Road south of Balaklava. Superstition and respect combined to leave the clump of trees intact and Fry's Clump has been used as a reference point for Surveyors throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries and is clearly shown on very early Lands Department plans.

The deaths remain a mystery and may never be solved. Importantly though the significance of Fry's Clump saw the site become Heritage Listed in 1988 so as not to become yet another lost icon of the Adelaide Plains.
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Why? One of SA's earliest mysteries
When: Any time
Where: 3km south of Balaklava
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Unintentionally, this clump must have become remnant vegetation and a botanical resource for the Plains. A small economic sideline for whoever owns the place now, in the future.
by daviddon@dodo.com.au (score: 2|555) 1433 days ago
A very interesting story
by Stefano (score: 2|215) 1431 days ago
A very interesting story
by Stefano (score: 2|215) 1431 days ago
fascinating part of our history.somewhere in the Moonta area there is a mine shaft,by a tree,near the edge of a dirt road.at the bottom lies a leather bag of precious minerals,said to have been dumped by a miner,who was prospecting.my grandfather who worked in the mines took me to this place,but I was a boy at the time and the exact road has faded from my memory,how he knew of this i have no idea....the story goes that the shaft was too dangerous to climb down.
by noelp (score: 3|1199) 1431 days ago
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