Cygnet 1836

The barque Cygnet anchored in Nepean Bay on Kangaroo Island on 11 September 1836, nearly four weeks after she was expected. The Cygnet had set sail for South Australia on 24 March 1836 – a full six weeks before the Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light, who had arrived on the Rapid on 17 August.

Cygnet had been chartered in 1836 by the South Australian Colonization Commission to carry emigrants, including many of the surveying staff for the new Colony of South Australia, including deputy surveyor George Strickland Kingston and assistant surveyor B. T. Finniss. The delay in the arrival of this ship deprived the Surveyor-General of most of his staff and made a general exploration of the colony in the timeframe set by the Colonial Commissioners impossible.

There were two reasons for the delay. Although larger than the Rapid, it turned out that the Cygnet was slower under sail. It was further delayed due to a heated quarrel between Kingston and the Captain which resulted in threats of mutiny and an unscheduled stop at Rio de Janeiro where heavy drinking while ashore delayed departure even more.

Light had dismissed Kangaroo Island as a site for the new colony and in early November he sent the survey party to Holdfast Bay to work in that area while he went to investigate Port Lincoln. Confirming his decision to establish the settlement on the eastern shore of Gulf St Vincent, Light retuned to Kangaroo Island and proceeded to move personnel and store from there to Holdfast Bay.

Unsuited to this type of work the Cygnet, with Kingston and Captain Lipson, the Harbour Master, was posted to Port Lincoln to await the Governor’s ship and advise him that the new capital would be near Holdfast Bay. Both ships then proceeded to Holdfast Bay together.

The longest river on Kangaroo Island and the related locality of Cygnet River are both named after this ship. The river empties into Nepean Bay.

Anthea Taylor

See also