From Kingscote to Middle River in a whaleboat 1863

This 3 part serialised account by Henry Frederick Bates (1846-1936 ) describes the story of a mercy mission by boat from Kingscote to provide assistance to Henry and Elizabeth Snelling, whose family at Middle River was desperate for provisions and medicine. Three years later the family was stricken with typhoid fever. Three of their children died between April and July 1866.

Early Days on Kangaroo Island.

A trip from Kingscote to Middle River and back again in a whale-boat ; during 1863.

(By Mr H. F. BATES).

Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), Saturday 17 March 1928, page 2

My brother the late James Bates [George James Bates (1844-1913)] of Kingscote and myself, were engaged to shear for the Calnan Bros, at their sheep farm on the banks of the Cygnet River, about six miles from Kingscote. The day after the shearing was completed, the Calnan's usual custom was to hold a picnic and sports, to celebrate the occasion. We cleared up the shed as soon as we finished the sheep. And the following day the Calnan's brought out their families and a number of residents were also present, including Messrs Gus. Reeves and H. O. Thompson [Henry Octavius Thomson].

About 3 p.m. just as my brother Jim and Charles Calnan were about to compete in a 100 yards race, a horse man was noticed coming at a gallop from the direction of Kingscote. On arrival, he called Mr Michael Calnan aside. After a few minutes conversation Mt Charles Calnan was called also. They came back to where we were standing and informed us, that the Snelling's at Middle River, (then known as Bloody Jack's Beach) were short of provisions, there was sickness also and a shortage of medical comforts. The horseman had brought the message to the Calnan Bros. asking if they could render any assistance. A vessel had several times tried to land stores, but owing to the rough weather could not do so, and this had put Mr Snelling in a rather awkward position.

We talked the matter over, and Mr Michael Calnan said that if he could get a crew, he would go around in his six pared whale-boat. Being a good boatsman I offered my services, as did my brother Jim and a young man named Tom Williams. None of the others present were able to go. Williams did not know much about boats, but be was a strong and healthy fellow, and this stood him in good stead for before we got back to Kingscote from Middle River we had plenty of the ash. Mr. M. Calnan was quite satisfied and said that four strong men could beach the boat if it was necessary, and could row a long way at a pinch. Mr M. Calnan was a fine man to be with and never shirked his share of the work. He was also a good boatman.

The sports came to an abrupt end and my brother Jim and Tom Williams went into Kingscote that evening in the bullock dray with Mr M. Calnan and I spent the night at the farm, - it being arranged that I should walk into Kingscote next morning and get there in time for breakfast. The day had been hot and no wind, but when I woke up at daylight next morning there was a nice S.E. wind blowing, just the breeze we needed for the trip. It was almost 7 a.m. when I reached Kingscote and breakfast was partaken of. Miss Mary Snelling [1846-1910], (one of Mr Snelling's daughters) had been staying with the Calnan's, waiting the chance to go home. She decided to go with us in the boat, a rather plucky thing for a young woman to do.

As soon as breakfast was finished, we made haste to board the boat, which was tied up to the jetty at tbe Point. (The jetty was then in good condition). The boat was already provisioned and carried a lug-sail, and mizen and a sprit-sail. We pushed and were soon slipping through the water at a good pace up through the Bay of Shoals, for the breeze had freshened. We crossed the Spit close under North Cape and soon after the sea began to get lumpy. It was deemed wise to shorten sail and the mizen sail was taken in, for tbe wind continued to increase in strength, When we got to the pitch of tbe Cape, we had to jibe and head West, so the lug-sail was lowered and a reef taken in for we could not carry the fuil sail. We headed away west at a great rate, the wind still increasing in strength.

Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), Saturday 24 March 1928, page 3

When we got abreast of Emu Bay it blew so hard that it was deemed advisable to take in another reef in the sail. This was done and then we again tore along through the water, for the South East breeze was one of those strong blows, which often come after a spell of hot weather. Even the sail with two reefs in was too much for the boat so we again lowered the lug and put in the third reef. Mr M. Calnan was steering with a 21 ft oar and the strain began to weary him, so he asked me to take a spell at steering, as I was the only other member of the crew capable of doing so.

As the day wore on the breeze still increased in strength and things looked so bad that Mr Calnan thought that he would land at Hair Seal Beach, (now known as Stokes Bay) and camp for the night. We made a very wet and rapid passage to Stokes Bay. Here resided Mr John Stokes, better known to Islanders as the ' Little Carpenter.' He was a master mariner and it was known that he had lived there before 1836. We landed and pulled the boat up on the beach. We were cold and wet and so we spent a few minutes running around to warm ourselves. We could see Stokes walking around near his hut and he was carrying a gun about with him. Mr Calnan knew Stokes well and said that at times he appeared funny in the head. We stayed by the boat while Mr Calnan went and spoke to Stokes and explained who we were and a few minutes afterwards he beckoned as to come up to the hut. We did so and found that Stokes was a rather small man and looked feeble. He appeared to be intelligent and said that he was a Sea Captain and he settled therein 1817 and had lived there most of the time, but he would not say how or why he had settled there and lived so many years like a hermit. His hut was a small two roomed affair and he did not like us to go inside. Things looked very poor and miserable and we tried to be nice to him and not make him nervous. If we stayed there the night, Miss Snelling said that she would walk home the rest of the way, which was about 12 miles. Mr Calnan decided to proceed on our journey so we got under way again. We were soon drenched to the skin for the wind continued to blow very hard but we made a quick passage to Bloody Jack's Beach (Middle River).

Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), Saturday 31 March 1928, page 2

The sun was setting as we rounded the point and Snelling's house came in view. There was a bit of surf on the beach and Mr Calnan thought we would have trouble in landing. We lowered the sail and made everything fast. We then put out the oars and pulled in as close as the rollers would permit and then waited for a chance to land. As soon as there appeared to be a smooth patch after several big rollers, Mr Calnan gave the word and we made a dash for the beach. Mr Snelling and some of his family were there to help us beach the boat. They were very pleased to see us and especially to have their daughter home again. We were soon partaking of the hospitality of Mr and Mrs Snelling, and then turned in, for we were both wet and weary and we slept well.

We rose at daylight next morning and found a strong east wind blowing. This was dead ahead. It was too much to try and pull the boat against it so we loafed about all day and made the best of it. Tom Williams was disgusted and called the place Jail Bay. At daylight next morning we found that the wind had died away and there was a flat calm and the weather likely to be hot. We decided to start for home and it looked as if we would have to pull the boat the 50 miles back to Kingscote. We said goodbye to the Snellings, pushed off and sat into it with a will. After pulling about 4 miles a light N.E. wind sprang up and made it hard for us to pull the heavy boat against it.

We reached Stokes Bay just about knocked up and was glad to go ashore. Stokes was on the beach and invited us up to the hut. He seemed more sociable this time and gave us a pot of tea and a good feed. The spell refreshed us and we set off again. The wind hauled more off the land and caused the sea to be come more smooth.

We reached Smiths Bay just before dark, Old Harry Smith was on the beach and be invited us up to his hut for tea. We were all tired and were glad to accept his kind offer. He told us that the tide would he in our favour at 2 a.m. and he advised us to rest until then. He made us up a field bed and we turned in. At 2 a.m. he woke us up and we had a pot of tea before we took to the oars again, for there was a flat calm. After a hard pull we reached North Cape just as the sun was rising. A light north wind sprang up. This was very pleasing to us for it meant a fair wind to Kingscote. The pulling of this six oared whale-boat by us four men had been a tiring task and we were not sorry that it was ended. We set the lugsail, rounded the Cape and went ashore at the Late Mr W. Chapmans landing place.

We found Mr and Mrs Chapman and family at breakfast and we received a hearty invitation to join them, which we were very pleased to accept. After breakfast we again set sail and had a good run down the Bay of Shoals and on to Kingscote. We tied up to the jetty and being due back home at Hog Bay, I said good bye to Mr Calnan and my companions and set off straight away to the farm at Cygnet River to pick up my swag. Mr and Mrs Harry Stokes had charge of the farm and they gave me a dinner and packed up some food for me, as I had decided to make for home that afternoon. My own boat was anchored at the mouth of the Cygnet River. I had a fair wind to Morrisons Point where I spent the night with Mr and Mrs Stenning and had a good run home next morning.

In conclusion I would like to say that Mr Michael Calnans promptitude in organising a party to go to the relief of Mr Snelling, was quite characteristic of him for he was ever ready to do a good turn. As for myself and companions we gave our services freely and willingly. We could not have worked under a finer or more capable leader than Michael Calnan. Perhaps I am the only one of the party now alive and I am 84 years of age.

Early Days on Kangaroo Island. (1928, March 17). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2. Days on Kangaroo Island. (1928, March 24). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 3. Days on Kangaroo Island. (1928, March 31). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2.