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Christopher Rawson Penfold (1811–1870)

by D. I. McDonald

This article was published:

Christopher Rawson Penfold (1811-1870), by unknown photographer, c1869

Christopher Rawson Penfold (1811-1870), by unknown photographer, c1869

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 22969

Christopher Rawson Penfold (1811-1870), medical practitioner and vigneron, was born on 2 August 1811, son of John Penfold, vicar of Steyning, Sussex, England, and his wife Charlotte Jane, née Brooks. Trained at St Bartholomew's Hospital, he practised medicine at Brighton in 1838-44. On 26 May 1835 he married Mary, only daughter of Thomas Holt, medical practitioner of Edmonton, London.

Penfold arrived in South Australia with his wife and daughter Georgina in the Taglioni on 18 June 1844 and took up land in the foothills of the Mount Lofty Ranges, about four miles (6.4 km) from Adelaide. Before leaving England he had paid a deposit to the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission and soon after arrival paid Edmund Trimmer £1200 for land originally held by Robert Cook and William Ferguson. This property in the district of Magill consisted of 500 acres (202 ha) of 'the choicest land, 200 acres (81 ha) of which [were] under crops'. Within two years he was producing large quantities of grain 'without the smallest attempt at cultivation'.

Before sailing for South Australia, Penfold had obtained vine cuttings from the wine-growing districts of France and these had been carefully nurtured until planting was possible. Believing that wine was a useful medicament, especially for the treatment of anaemia, he carefully selected a site for his vines to produce good quality red wines. A growing demand for his wine led to further development of the vineyard. Through the careful husbandry of Mary and a domestic servant, Ellen Timbrell, the output was gradually increased until in 1871 the stock on hand was 107,000 gallons (486,432 litres), nearly one-eighth of the total production for South Australia in that year. At first Penfold restricted his output to wines of the port and sherry types but clarets and rieslings later became important.

Penfold had started medical practice soon after he arrived but, as the demands of his vineyard increased and his health began to fail, he had difficulty in meeting requests for his professional advice although he continued to practise until 1870. In 1859-63 he was gazetted a legally qualified medical practitioner, with responsibilities to attend inquests and conduct post-mortems as directed and to certify the mental condition of any person suspected of lunacy. He was also prominent in local government. Appointed to the Burnside District Council, he was elected its first chairman in 1856 but after a year resigned from the council. From 1863 he was a member of the vestry of St George's Church, Magill. After a long illness he died at his home, The Grange, on 26 March 1870, survived by his wife and only child. As his funeral cortège passed through the village to St George's Church flags were flown at half-mast and commercial houses closed their doors as a mark of respect to one who through 'the kindness of his disposition' had won many friends.

Mary continued to develop the vineyard assisted by Ellen Timbrell and later by Thomas Francis Hyland, a former member of the Victorian Civil Service who on 24 September 1862 had married Georgina. By 1881 a flourishing trade had been built up within Australia whilst a successful export market had been established in New Zealand. The family later extended its interests to Victoria and New South Wales. Mary Penfold died on 31 December 1895 and was buried beside her husband in St George's churchyard. Her property passed to Georgina Hyland and thence to her descendants who later adopted the name Penfold-Hyland.

Penfold's home is preserved as part of the Magill vineyard and a small portrait is in the cottage. He has been called 'the first scientific vigneron of Australia' but much of his success was the result of the patience and understanding of wine production which Mary had developed whilst her husband was busy in his profession.

Select Bibliography

  • S. A. Mills (ed), Wine Story of Australia (Syd, 1908)
  • Burnside Council, Burnside, South Australia, 1856-1936 (Adel, 1936)
  • E. Keane (ed), The Penfold Story (Syd, 1951)
  • A. Simon, The Wines, Vineyards and Vignerons of Australia (Melb, 1966)
  • M. Lake, Vine and Scalpel (Brisb, 1967)
  • E. Jolly, The Penfold Cottage Story (Adel, nd)
  • Register (Adelaide), 8 Aug 1844, 10 Jan 1846, 15, 28 Aug 1856, 5 Mar 1857, 28, 30 Mar 1870
  • C. R. Penfold notes (State Records of South Australia)
  • Penfold family papers (privately held).

Citation details

D. I. McDonald, 'Penfold, Christopher Rawson (1811–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Christopher Rawson Penfold (1811-1870), by unknown photographer, c1869

Christopher Rawson Penfold (1811-1870), by unknown photographer, c1869

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 22969

Life Summary [details]


2 August, 1811


26 March, 1870 (aged 58)
The Grange, South Australia, Australia

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