Africaine 1836

The Africaine was the seventh settler ship to arrive in the new colony of South Australia, and the first to disembark emigrants at Holdfast Bay (Glenelg). Part-owned by the Captain, John Finlay Duff, and chartered by the South Australian Company, the Africaine left London in June 1836. On board was the new Colonial Secretary, Robert Gouger, emigration agent John Brown plus 58 new settlers.

As well as provisions, bricks and building materials, the ship carried the printing press belonging to passenger Robert Thomas, who started the colony’s first newspaper (The South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register). The barque offered comfortable accommodation, with the two best cabins assigned to Captain John Duff & his new wife, Anne; and Robert Gouger and his wife Harriet. Forward of them, with less headroom, were the intermediate passengers’ cabins. An open area with tiers of bunks was for assisted emigrants in third class.

The voyage was marred by storms, conflicts between some of the passengers and the loss of two passengers at the end of the journey. The conflicts were documented by two passenger sources: artist and solicitor John Michael Skipper, and Robert Thomas’s wife, Mary who kept a diary.

Mary Thomas clashed with the ship’s surgeon Dr Charles Everard but was taken with the “kind-hearted” Irish doctor, John Slater. Prone to temper outbursts, Slater one day he shut himself up in his cabin with a loaded pistol, threatening to shoot anyone who disturbed him. Robert Thomas’s printer apprentice E.W. Osborne, managed to calm Slater on this and other occasions.

When the Africaine arrived at Cape Borda on the north of Kangaroo Island, Slater & Osborne, together with emigrants Charles Nantes, Robert Fisher, John Bagg and Richard Warren pushed to be set ashore to walk across the Island and meet the ship at Kingscote. Despite the Captain’s reservations, Robert Gouger agreed to the expedition, and the six young men were put ashore at what is now Harvey’s Return with four days’ provisions and what proved to be an inaccurate map, drawn in 1819 by the captain of a trading ship. The men became lost in the bush and after several days, having used all their food and water and worn through their boots, Nantes, Bagg, Warren and Richards reached the settlement, but Slater & Osborne were never seen again.

The Africaine sailed into Nepean Bay on 2 November 1836 and was greeted by the hoisting of the flag and firing of the guns. Alarm was raised when the walkers didn’t appear, and a search party was organised. Island men and one Aboriginal woman set out ‘with provisions and water in a boat’ to land at Harvey’s Return and try to track the men through the bush until they found them.

Having off loaded the South Australian Company’s employees and supplies at Kingscote, Captain Duff made the decision not to wait any longer at Nepean Bay and sail for the new mainland settlement. Travelling via Rapid Bay, the Africaine arrived in bad weather at Holdfast Bay on November 8. The rough weather delayed the landing and small boats were used to get passengers off the Africaine to the sand bar closest to shore. Several passengers expressed their dismay to find that from the sand bar the women and children were to be carried to the beach on the sailors’ shoulders, while the men were expected to wade ashore.

Captain Duff and the Africaine were immediately commissioned to sail to Tasmania to collect desperately needed provisions for the new colony. For the next eighteen months the ship traded between Hobart & Launceston. Sold in 1840, the Africaine returned to the London – Australia route. In November 1841 the ship was sold again, and she traded between Newcastle (UK) and London. The Africaine was lost in a storm in 1843 at Cape St Lawrence on her way to Quebec, Canada.

Anthea Taylor 26 Oct 2021

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