Franklin Harbour district is one of the older established areas on Eyre Peninsula. This area was first seen by Captain Matthew Flinders in the "Investigator" in 1802, when he reported a large lagoon (Franklin Harbour) visible from the mast-head, and gave the name Elbow Hill to a point in the coastal range. In 1840, Governor Gawler visited the area from Port Lincoln, and named Franklin Harbour after a midshipman on Flinders' vessel - John (later Sir John) Franklin. The name of Cowell was applied to the township in 1880 by Governor Jervois, after Sir John Cowell, a brilliant English Army Engineer.

The first settlers in the area were Dr James McKechnie and his brothers Donald and Peter, who came from Scotland in 1853 and took up their "run" which became known as Wangaraleednie Station. The name is considered to be an anglicised version of an Aboriginal word meaning "hill of the west wind". The original pine and pug home is now a ruin, but the present homestead dates from 1879. The old Middlecamp outstation nearer to Cowell is classified "B" by the National Trust.

Franklin Harbour is virtually a land locked harbour, with a narrow entrance about 300 meters wide through which vessels have entry. The entrance is like a fast flowing river when the tide is running. In the early part of this century, and until the advent of reliable motor transport, it was an important shipping port and it was a common sight to see three coastal vessels tied to the jetty several times a week.

Today the town of Cowell is the service centre for the surrounding rural areas, and for the professional fishers and aquaculture farmers who make their living from the harbour and gulf waters.

Further historic information can be found in the following books:
"Saga of Wangaraleednie" by Frank Masters
"Franklin Harbour District Council 1888 - 1988"
Both of these books are available for sale at the Council Office, phone 8629 2019.