Land around Murtho today is used for vineyards and orchards irrigated from the Murray River, and cereal crops. It has a boat ramp and shop which supports campers and recreational fishing.
A village settlement was established at Murtho, 2–3 miles (3–5 km) upstream of Renmark (on the opposite bank) in the 1890s as a socialist colony. The Village Settlements established under Part VII of the Crown Lands Amendment Act 1893 was mostly used by unemployed people seeking a fresh start during an economic depression. Murtho was different in that it required financial commitment by the members and no government handouts. Chairman of the Murtho Co-operative Village Settlement Association was Henry Cordeaux ( –1902). By 1897, Murtho had 60–70 acres (24–28 ha) under irrigation. However, by 1899, Murtho settlement had, like many others, been largely abandoned. The settlement failed chiefly through inadequate irrigation — the settlement was atop a 120 feet (37 m) cliff. This was initially seen as an advantage, as the land sloped away from the banks, thus easier to irrigate but the double-acting plunger pump required to raise water to this height was expensive, inefficient, and could barely cope with 20 feet (6.1 m) of suction lift during "normal" low river levels, and failed utterly when the river dropped further. The cost of transporting provisions and produce by river was exorbitant (dearer per ton than from London to Adelaide), and rabbits took much of their crop: they bypassed the wire netting fences by scaling the cliffs! Among the Murtho settlers were brothers John Napier Birks (1845–1929) and Walter Richard Birks (1847–1900), of Adelaide's prominent Birks family.
Before Australian federation in 1900, Murtho was the site of the South Australian customs house known as Border Cliffs, charging import duty on goods being brought down the river from New South Wales and Victoria.
In the 1960s, Murtho almost became the south bank (actually east end of the dam wall) of the Chowilla Dam. This dam would have impounded a vast area (mostly upstream of the state borders in New South Wales and Victoria) in a relatively shallow reservoir to provide security of water supply to South Australia. Preparations were made to build the dam, including a railway line built in 1967 to cart rock for the construction, however the increasing cost estimates and environmental concerns meant that the dam was deferred then cancelled.
Murtho has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:
- Lock 6 Road: Graves of Passengers of the PS Bunyip
- Wilkinson Road: Wilkadene
- Murtho Road: Border Cliffs Customs House
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Murtho". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
- "The River Murray Village Settlements". South Australian Register. Adelaide. 17 October 1894. p. 6. Retrieved 4 October 2015 – via National Library of Australia.
- "The Crown Lands Amendment Act, 1893 (SA )". Part VII. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
- "The Murray Villages". South Australian Register. Adelaide. 15 January 1897. p. 7. Retrieved 4 October 2015 – via National Library of Australia.
- "The Village Settlements". The Chronicle. Adelaide. 5 July 1902. p. 32. Retrieved 4 October 2015 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Legislative Council Elections". The Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle. Vol. XVI, no. 1228. South Australia. 20 April 1894. p. 2. Retrieved 7 November 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
- David Mack Irrigation Settlement pub. Cobdogla Irrigation and Steam Museum pp.149–152
- "Dr. Melville Birks". Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record. Vol. 32, no. 18. South Australia. 9 May 1924. p. 24. Retrieved 2 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Customs House on the South Australian / Victorian border". Discover Murray River. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
- "Graves of Passengers of the PS Bunyip". South Australian Heritage Register. Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
- "Dwelling ('Wilkadene'), including c1860 cottage and 1913 house". South Australian Heritage Register. Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
- "Former Border Cliffs Customs House, Chowilla Game Reserve [Part of Bookmark Biosphere Reserve Buffer Zone]". South Australian Heritage Register. Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Retrieved 28 May 2016.