John & Frances Buick

From the K.I.P.A. Newsletter 36

American River was named by American sealers who sheltered there in the 1800's. Matthew Flinders visited the area in 1802 and named many of the local features, including Prospect Hill, Pelican Lagoon, Eastern Cove, and Kangaroo Head. The town boasts the first house on Kangaroo Island, dating from 1854, and built out of pug and split pine by John Buick.

There is also a plaque to the 35 ton American schooner Independence which was built there in 1804 by American sealers and whalers. Along the sandy beach , an interpretive sign notes tht John Buick, the first permanent settler here, built a 36 ton cutter, called Kangaroo with his mate Frank Potts. [Photo included in original newsletter version]

The name "Buick" is part of the heart and soul of American River on Kangaroo Island. With special thanks to our only English member of the Association, Glenda Dove, nee Buick, of Norfolk, U.K., we have been sent a lengthy history of the Buicks. Glenda is the great grand daughter of John and Frances Buick. Glenda has shared with us an article that appeared in

"The Register" newspaper, Adelaide, circa early 1900’s. [KANGAROO ISLAND. (1908, April 29). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 7. ]

"The first time I saw John Buick, he was kneeling before a small heap of barley which he was cleaning for fowls’ food. In consequence of thick grass I was able to approach quite close to him without attracting his attention. Then I called his name softly. In an instant he raised his eyes and gazed squarely into my face, but never uttered a word. I waited, so did he. At last, I was compelled to break the silence, disclose my identity, and told him that I proposed to interview him.

"Do you?", he enquired, with a quizzical smile. "But I can't tell you anything. My memory is very poor."

"I think you will be able to tell me all that I wished to know", I assured him, and suggested that he must have witnessed some striking changes on the island. For a moment he appeared to think deeply, raised himself slowly from the ground , rubbed his knees, and remarked in a manner, which carried conviction. "Yes; I have."

Owing to the necessity for my returning promptly to Kingscote (Mr F.H. Winch had kindly brought me to American River in his motor launch) I had to wish Mr. Buick a hurried good-bye at this stage, but promised to come back within a week or two, and requested him to try to recollect some of his early experiences for the benefit of readers of "The Register". His reply was - "It's no use; I can't do it. Besides, they would not be of any interest."


A fortnight later I stepped in front of Mr. Buick as he was about to enter a lean-to adjoining his cosy and prettily situated cottage on Buick Point. At first he failed to recognise me, but hardly had I enquired whether he had thought over the days gone by, when he exclaimed with a gesture of mock despair:-

"l told you it's no good. I have forgotten almost everything. But come along. We'd better go inside. It's rather warm out here."

Inside we went, and while I made myself comfortable in a roomy chair, Mr. Buick set about brewing me a cup of tea. A more refreshing drink I had never tasted. Meanwhile, my host had been chatting about this, that, and the other subject, and had enabled me to learn that his great aim in life had been to provide for his children.

"I always had their futures in my mind, and I am glad that they never had the misfortunes which I experienced, and are now all well off. Yes, they have much to be thankful for."


Mr. Buick was born at Montrose, Forfarshire, Scotland, on May 16, 1822. His father was a builder, farmer, and manufacturer of farming implements. The farm was about a mile outside of Arbroath and was the scene for Mr. Buick's earliest labours. A prouder youngster than he was not to be found in all the land on the day when he was first given a team of horses to drive in the harrows. After having spent a couple of years on the farm, however, he decided that the blue, bounding sea was the place for him and forthwith entered the merchant service as an apprentice. Four years in that position was followed by twelve months before the mast.

Then his brother, who had been carpenter and first mate on another vessel, died in the West Indies. His tools were returned to his home and on their arrival Mr. Buick acquired them and secured employment in the dockyard at Forfarshire as a ship and boat builder. At the end of four years, he joined his Uncle's ship, "Flora", at Liverpool, in the combined capacities of carpenter and second mate.

On the return of the vessel from the Baltic, Mr. Buick spent a short period in the Arethusa and afterwards joined the brig "Malcolm" of 300 tons. She conveyed a general cargo to Rio de Janeiro, loaded coffee and cocoa at Bahia in Brazil, and then came to South Australia for orders. That was in 1844. From Port Adelaide, the vessel proceeded to Sydney, but without Mr. Buick, who disembarked and has remained here ever since, with credit to the State and to himself.


Mr. Buick had not been on shore many hours when he was engaged to cut mangrove boat knees near to Port Adelaide. After he had been occupied in that pursuit for a month, he was commissioned by Mr. Bell to construct at Wellington a punt for the conveyance of sheep and cattle across the River Murray. At the completion of the undertaking, he returned to the Port and became a boat builder and ship repairer. A period at that work was followed by another trip to the Murray on behalf of Mr. Scott, who had contracted with the Government to build a punt at Wellington. On the way back to the metropolis subsequently, Mr. Buick and his assistants stayed overnight at Warland's Hotel, on the Onkaparinga. During the evening a mounted trooper handed to Mr. Buick a despatch, in which the Government instructed him to erect a bridge at Langhorne's Creek. Mr. Buick's companions, however, were bent upon spending a week in the city and after a vigorous discussion, it was decided to adopt that course. At the end of the seven days, true to the promise which they had given, the men proceeded to the Creek, and the structure which they placed across the stream, under the direction of Mr. Buick, is still there.

Mr. Buick then resumed his old trade at the chief seaport, and for years made gratifying progress. During the greater part of this time, he did all the Marine Board's work with the utmost satisfaction. Then the Government offered him the position of master shipwright, which he accepted and held for a couple of years; but finding that he could secure better results from a financial point of view as a private employer, he resigned and went on his own account again.


Now came the turning point in his life. Anxious to secure a first class cutter, Mr. Ranford of Port Adelaide engaged him to build a 46 ton boat. Mr. Buick, with his wife and three children, set out for Kangaroo Island and landed at Point Buick, where the two first named had resided ever since. Assisted principally by his brother, Mr. Buick constructed the vessel on the foreshore just in front of his cottage. As the vessel approached completion, he and his wife frequently consulted about the future and eventually resolved that they could not do better than “go on the land”. The decision was partially influenced by the fact that during her residence on the island, Mrs. Buick’s heath, which hitherto had not been robust, had improved materially.

“At that time,” remarked Mr. Buick, "there were about four dozen people on the whole island, and our nearest neighbour was miles away. The heavy timber and bush which covered the country did not present an inviting aspect; but, determined to do or die, I obtained a lease from the Government, and promptly began clearing for cultivation. The soil here is alluvial, with a clay bottom, and will grow practically anything. Wheat and barley were the first kinds of grain I sowed and the clean up produced between thirty and forty bushels to the acre. As my sons grew into manhood, however, I did less and less farming, and for the last 14 years I have not done any at all. Still, I find plenty of work to occupy my attention".


Mr. Buick is an enthusiastic and expert horticulturist. Half a century ago, he prepared some ground a short distance to the rear of his house and four years later planted it with apple, peach, apricot, pear, quince, orange, lemon, fig, and mulberry trees, all of which made rapid headway. Then two or three dry seasons in succession killed the apricot trees, but the others continued to thrive and today the trunks of some of them measure over two feet in diameter. They have borne tons and tons of delicious fruit, which has won a reputation, not only throughout the island, but on the mainland as well. As the trees developed, the birds showed their appreciation of the dainties by feasting upon the best of the fruit; and, notwithstanding strenuous efforts and innumerable devices to combat them, destroyed vast quantities each year.

Recognising the hopelessness of the battle, Mr. Buick conceived the happy idea, which has succeeded admirably, of establishing a new garden, about 100 yards from the old one. As he briefly explained to me-

“Seeing that the feathered pests and the possums had the upper hand, I thought that if I gave them full freedom to plunder the garden which they frequented for years, they would, perhaps, overlook another nearby. Experience has shown me that my judgement was correct. I planted the new garden with trees similar to those in the other about fourteen years ago, and some of the crops I have gathered have been wonderful. I have also grown magnificent vegetables, but, come — you had better see some of them for yourself.”

I went, and what I saw satisfied me that Mr. Buick has every justification for the pride which he takes in his superb garden.


“This gentleman is a representative of The Register and The Observer, mother.”

The words were written on a slate by the wife of Mr. Malcolm Buick, and served to introduce me to her mother-in-law, one of the sweetest and most delightful old ladies it has been my pleasure to meet. The two had just come in from a short stroll and were accompanied by two of the children of Mrs. Buick, Jnr., the younger of whom carried an apple almost as large as its head, which he had commandeered from Grandfather’s storeroom. Although only a tiny toddler, he attacked that apple with unalloyed joy, and soon disfigured its shining surface. On the table were a number of paper soldiers and sailors, the handiwork of his fond Grandmother, whose unbounded love for him was strikingly manifested in the perpetual fear, which she entertained that he might fall and hurt himself. Through the medium of the slate and pencil, and by speaking loudly, I learned from Mrs. Buick that she was a daughter of the late Mr. Stephen Filmer and was born at St. Stephens, Canterbury, eighty years ago. She arrived in the State with her father a week after the landing of Governor Gawler and has not visited Adelaide for 23 years. She laughingly complains that she is nearly blind and all broken up, but those disabilities have in no way darkened her bright and hopeful spirit.


In answer to the question whether she did not find life — she and her husband live by themselves — somewhat quiet, she assured me with a look of commingled surprise and happiness “Oh no. You see, I have plenty of work to do. We have a lot of visitors, and then nearly all my children are around me. I have a large family — twelve children living out of sixteen, 29 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. I do love children. In the early days, there was no school here and I had to teach my children as best I could.”

Mrs. Buick is a firm believer in the State and its future. “I do like to hear South Australia spoken well of,” she remarked, "Everybody seems to like the colony and the colonials. Now and again they are decried, but that is nothing. We know them, don’t we? I want to see Australia advance, for it is a fine country.”

Mrs. Buick has deep religious convictions and an unshaken faith in the efficacy of prayer, in which she has always engaged whenever difficult problems required to be solved or troubles overcome. One of her sons is an officer in the Salvation Army, of which she is a staunch supporter and of its noble work she sings the highest praises. As I wished her goodbye, she shook me heartily by the hand and fervently exclaimed “May God bless you always!” Yes, they have much to be thankful for.

John & Frances Buick 1845. (Picture from the State Library of South Australia Portrait Collection)

Frances Ann Buick died on 26th June 1913, [1915 ? - Ed.] aged 87. John Buick died on 5th March 1914, aged 92. They are buried in the Penneshaw Cemetery.