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Ravensthorpe Historical Society

About the Buffalo Pitts Engine

In 1898 a goldrush ensued in the area when gold was first discovered near Cocanarup, on the Phillips River. Among prospectors who arrived from various directions, were several from the Dundas field including Stevenson brothers, John and William. Their cousin Robert arrived later. They originated from New Zealand.

Craig and Stevenson were credited with finding the Floater gold reef in 1899, which they later sold to Mr AE Morgans.

Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun towns were surveyed in 1900 and gazetted in 1901. The district was called the Phillips River Goldfield.

That same year, in July Stevenson Bros took out a mining lease near the Annabel Creek. They were credited with naming the creek in honour of Miss Annabel Broom, a girl friend Robert had left behind in New Zealand. The same year William Stevenson purchased Lot 95 Spence Street in Ravensthorpe.

Former farmers among the prospectors became enthusiastic about the rich red soil in the area and in April 1901, seven of them applied for Miner’s Homestead Leases. Among them were the Stevenson brothers who in 1903 secured Miner’s Homestead Lease No 3 of 500 acres, west of Ravensthorpe and named it The Gums.

The Stevenson Bros were dedicated Christian men of the Presbyterian faith. When the first Ravensthorpe Church was established in 1901 by the Baptist Movement, it was known as the Mission Church and served the needs of all denominations. Two members of the first Church Committee were John and William Stevenson.

John and William appear to have continued their farming, but in 1905 it seems that R Stevenson and party were listed as holders of the Sunset Mine, Miner’s Lease No 115. Several years later R Stevenson is listed as a local Insurance Agent.

The local newspaper, The Phillips River Times, reported in February 1907 that Stevenson Bros imported a 14 hp Buffalo Pitts traction engine for work on their farm at Ravensthorpe. The traction engine, now holding pride of place in the museum grounds, is stamped Buffalo Pitts Company, Buffalo, N.Y. U.S.A. They purchased the engine to clear their land, which had many large Salmon Gum ( Eucalyptus salmonophloia) trees.

When a WA State ministerial party visited the Phillips River Goldfield in June 1910, they were escorted on a survey of local farms. One of them was the Stevenson property, Wingatui, named after the place from which they came in New Zealand. In the same year W Stevenson was listed as a Director of the Phillips River Finance Co.

Robert‘s girl friend, Annabel Broom, came over from New Zealand and they married in 1913. She was appointed infant school teacher at the Ravensthorpe School, a position she held for 13 years. Stevenson Bros farmed Wingatui until after WWI.

When in 1920 the Stevenson Bros moved to a smaller farm near Hopetoun on the edge of Culham Inlet, they took the Buffalo Pitts traction engine with them.

Eventually, the heavy engine was abandonned. It lay half buried in sand, near the Culham Inlet for many years until the remaining pieces of it were salvaged and put together at the Dance Cottage Museum, Ravensthorpe in 1990.

Amongst the funny incidents associated with the Buffalo Pitts engine is Mr William Coleman's (born Ravensthorpe 1900) narrative: Stevenson Bros had one of these big old steam tractors. It used to clank along the road, and was always accompanied by a horse and cart for the simple reason that they had to keep the water up to it and the wood for the fuel. Often it broke down somewhere. Once it was standing halfway down Jamieson Street for months and months before they got it fixed. They would drive it back and forward from Wingatui through Ravensthorpe to The Gums.

The steam traction engine being very slow moving, was towed to Stevenson Bros’ Hopetoun farm, about 70 km, by well-known teamster, and later farmer, Kyran Malachi O’Dea, known as Boulder O’Dea. O’Dea was an experienced teamster, but had no mechanical knowledge at that time. He claimed the engine was so heavy to pull it nearly killed his horses! However, on arrival at Hopetoun it was discovered the engine was in gear!

© Ravensthorpe Historical Society archives. Compiled by A. Williams, archivist, 2007
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