This area was occupied by white pastoralists from the late 1840s who carted their wool by bullock drays across the sand hills and swamps to the port at Kingston. In the early years some were not sure if their properties were in South Australia or Victoria and the border lands were in dispute for many decades. The largest pastoral station here was that of Henry Jones of Binnum station. But once the narrow gauge railway line had been constructed from Kingston to Naracoorte in 1876 the South Australian government developed bigger ideas and in 1881 the line from Naracoorte was extended to Custon near Frances. The railway bill was discussed in parliament in 1878 and passed in December 1880 with work on the line beginning in 1800. In 1884 it was extended to Wolseley and Bordertown.
Parts of the Hundred of Binnum were declared in December 1872. The survey included a nameless government town right on the border beside Lake Cadnite a few miles north of Binnum homestead. The town of the Hundred was surveyed in 1874 and named Frances by Governor Fergusson after the wife of Henry Binnum. The rest of the Hundred was surveyed in 1895. The town of Frances seems to have begun to emerge around 1883 after the railway from Naracoorte to Custon was being extended to Wolseley. The Railway Hotel was licensed and built in 1883 and the first general store opened the same year. The population must have been low at that time because the school did not open until 1888. A new timber framed school opened north of the parklands in 1902 and by 1913 it had 46 enrolled pupils. The Congregationalists were especially strong in the Tatiara and the Frances church was founded by Rev David Milne of Bordertown in 1891.But fund raising for a Congregational Church only began in 1901 with the church being built in 1902. For many years it was known throughout the Tatiara for its annual flower show and fete. It was replaced with a new stone and glass church in the 1950s which is now a vacant residence. Probably the first public building in the town was the timber and iron Institute which was operational with a library and reading room by 1894. In 1913 this original institute was replaced with a new one which was opened by the Premier of SA Mr Peake. Alas this structure was destroyed by fire in February 1941. A third institute, by then called a public hall, opened in November 1943. It was removed and sold and replaced with a fourth hall in 1953 during the boom period for wool sales.
The boom period of the 1950s saw a number of changes in Frances. Firstly the Catholic congregation began to plan for a church. They had begun holding masses in the school or hall from around 1884 and although they began fund raising in 1891 there was still no Catholic Church in Frances in 1949. Then a couple of years later Mr C Koch a local grazier bequeathed £5,000 for the construction of a church. The community then raised another £1,000 and construction began in 1953. This Catholic Church opened later that year and was consecrated by the Catholic Bishop as St Bernard’s. Alas this beautiful church was demolished in 2014. In the same year of 1953 the Anglicans began planning the building of St Martin’s Anglican Church which was not consecrated until January 1960. The Methodist community in Frances opened their church in the early 1950s. Another change of the 1950s was the conversion of the narrow gauge railway line to broad gauge in 1950. This meant that passengers could travel from Adelaide to Frances and on to Mt Gambier without changing trains because of the rail gauge change at Wolseley. The first overnight sleeper trains to Mt Gambier operated from 1950. This service stopped in 1990 and the line finally closed completely in 1995. Today the boom period of the 1950s has passed and Frances has no churches, but it still has an oval and sports facilities, a school (with 46 students), a general store/Post Office, a hotel, a motel, a public hall and a cemetery.
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