Journal of a trip to Kangaroo Island 1852

This journal (author unknown) published originally in the Adelaide Observer, on Saturday 15 January 1853, page 3, will not win any literary awards as much of it is unremarkable. But it is re-published here complete, as the reader can easily perceive the conditions that existed for the traveller at that time. The references to the activities of "Nat" Thomas , as well as the Cape Willoughby lighthouse, are of particular interest.

Having a couple of weeks to spare, I determined upon paying a visit to the Sturt Lighthouse at Cape Willoughby; and, for the information of any future visitor, I may at once state that the only means of communication between Adelaide and the Light is by means of a whale-boat belonging to one of the old islanders, who for a moderate consideration undertakes to. convey you over in one day or six, according to wind and weather.

Saturday.—After a very hasty preparation, was whirled off to Brighton, where our whale-boat lay high and dry upon the beach. The wind being unfavourable, the boat could not go. Slept at the old Thatched Inn, under express orders to rise at daybreak. Accordingly went to sleep with a nightmare of daybreak breaking my rest, and rose some time before it was necessary. Posted down to the beach, and found our friend "Nat" smoking his pipe, and no signs of a fair wind, and of course no prospect of a start that day. Laid down on the beach for a couple of hours, and then sauntered up to breakfast.

Sunday.—Very hot—millions of flies—house full of people —all other accompaniments of a house public. Strolled again to the beach; wind from the south-west; a hopeless case. Had what they expressively term on the island a yarn with "Nat"— the man to whom we were about to commit our valuable self upon the treacherous waves. "Nat" was a perfect character; he had been 32 years on Kangaroo Island; and as geologists find it difficult to account for the disposition of boulders—those erratic wanderers from respectable strata—so it may be a difficult problem to account for the singular life such a man has led. There is not an island rock on the shores of our province, or in the Australian Bight, nor a bay, creek, river, or lagoon, but he can give you some reminiscence of his visits or residence, of escapes and adventures, and of perils and dangers. He is a compound of sailor, sealer, farmer, and wild man. He possesses all the resources of the sailor, combined with the instincts of the aboriginal native. Place him on the western end of Kangaroo. Island, with only a dog and a knife, and he will find his way out at the other — a feat that he has done, I believe, more than once. Nothing comes amiss to him in the way of eating, from a frying pan of young ants to a dish of "wakeries" (grubs); and he truly argues that a man knows not what he will eat until he is tried. For years he has lived upon wallaby and seals, never seeing the sight of flour. Being such a very old settler, he is of course intimately acquainted with every leading colonist who landed in the early days at Kingscote; and some very singular tales be can tell. "Nat" belongs to a respectable family; his father having held a lucrative post in the victualling office at home. In his own emphatic language, out of a large family, he was the only "scabby one," and as such ran away to sea during the war; then went whaling; was wrecked on the island ; got away to Sydney; went surveying under King; then took up the life of an islander, that is, went either singly or in a gang sealing ; ships coming at irregular periods, and buying the skins: and so persevering have these men been, that seals are rarely to be met with now on the rocks and islands of our coast ; and Kangaroo Island at this time cannot boast of a kangaroo. They are all killed for their skins: the wallaby only remains. " Nat" is now a sort of farmer and fisherman.

"Nat," like all the islanders, has rejoiced in the possession of a couple of our darker sisters for "gins;" he has children and grandchildren—all fine healthy half-castes, one woman particularly, who cannot be anything under 20 or 25 stone. Their usefulness in the boat in fishing, and all kinds of hunting, is not to be compensated by any white man; and hence their position. At Hog Bay, an old islander has four.

The oldest white resident on the island is "Governor Worley," who has been 50 years on it. By the end of our "yarn " the weather became very hot. Most people ill at Brighton. Dined at the public-house, and finished the day by another stroll on the beach. At 10 p.m. some fishermen were hauling the seine, by which I obtained a fine specimen of a cephalopode.

Monday.—An intensely hot day. Up at half-past 4, anxiously looking forward for a breeze. "Nat" still smoking on the sandhill; visited our forlorn boat, wandered about and did nothing; thought of giving up the expedition altogether. In the evening the wind came from the eastward, and at sundown finally started with an overloaded boat and nine souls, including two children. As we pushed off the sun sank behind a portentous bank of lurid glare, which gave an unearthly appearance to things on shore. Night drew on and the wind freshened ; we kept coasting along within a furling of the beetling crags, and sometimes considerably nearer. The object of keeping so near shore was, to avoid any chop of a sea, and the inconvenience of pulling in-shore in the event of a change of wind. About 1 a.m. wind lulled, a strong puff of the S. W. wind came tearing down upon us, took timely notice, and put in at "Hanrok's " beach, about eight miles N. of Yankalilla. As it was very dark, the land very high, and the sea all in a jumble, it was no small matter so to run the boat as to avoid the rocks on the one hand and getting swamped on the other. As soon as the boat touched, out we all jumped, at various depths, and, after a battle with the waves, got all the goods on shore, near about a ton; got the boat hauled up, and while the party went into the scrub I laid down by the boat on the sand; about an hour afterwards the tide surrounded me, the boat, and the goods; jumped up, called all hands, removed the goods and boat, which not long after we again had to remove, the tide being very high and the beach very low. Took a walk round, admired the country— splendid hills with a fine estuary filled with water at every tide, fringed with gum trees; was informed that the diggers had bought nearly all the land in the vicinity. Took a couple of sketches, watched the rising sun, and then I had a pannican of tea; reloaded the boat with great trouble, and started again.

Tuesday.—Very calm, had to pull, which went sorely against the grain with "Nat." At about midday "skillicked" the boat at Yankalilla, went ashore for a "tot" of tea and a piece of bread and cheese. A little vessel was loading wheat, the produce of the district. It is a fact strongly in support of the recent memorial of the settlers that, though the harbour is an open roadstead, the swell that sets in is very small, and the water is generally very calm. It is the best landing-place south of Brighton. The spot where poor Meredith was murdered by the natives was pointed out by "Nat ;" it was on a Sunday, and he was speared while reading the Bible. At 5 p.m. reached Rapid Bay, hauled up the boat; in passing the cliffs a very large niche is observable, about 400 or 500 feet high, and in it a huge white stalactite, and of such a form as to resemble a human skeleton : it is a most singular curiosity. Kangaroo Island abounds with caverns full of similar petrifactions. The Rapid Bay cliffs are remarkable for their blackness and their cavernous nature, some of them of most appalling appearance, especially when associated with the roaring of subterraneous waves. On landing, the first thing we did was to kill a death adder, just where we were preparing for our evening's repast. The reptile is of a tawny colour, and fatal in its bite or sting. The sting is at the end of its tail. Snakes abound in Rapid.Bay, and I saw several before I left. Here we were most hospitably received by Mr. B., who has the charge of a cattle station. Milk is the order of the day, in all forms and compounds. Saw the whole process of cheese-making. It is a most admirable place for a dairy, there being, besides many other advantages, a perpetual running stream at the very door. Slept on the beach. After midnight, rain and thunder; got a good soaking, and having had the misfortune to come away without blankets, was all the worse for it.

Wednesday.—Pouring rain, strong winds; no staging for the day. Stopped all day at Mr. B.'s. An extensive fire had happened; 40 acres of wheat burnt. Visited the old mines; took a sketch or two. Saw some snakes. Viewed the operation of milking 55 cows; had supper, and retired.

Thursday.—Wind still unfair. Towards 10 o'clock got more moderate; determined upon a start; and upon passing the N.W. Bluff had to downsail, and pull—wind dead ahead. Off Cape Jervis passed and spoke a whale-boat, which had just returned from the lighthouse, containing the contractor , who had been engaged in putting up a gallery. Exchanged news and condolences, and away we sped, before a beautiful breeze; while we poor weather afflicted mortals toiled on at the rate of a mile and a half per hour. Rounded the reef off Cape Jervis, not without some peril, as the tide rip is so great and so strong that it swept us towards the rocks like a straw. Entered Boat Harbour—a mere rocky opening between furious reefs at the end of which is a small sand beach. Boats can only enter at half and three quarters tide. Anchored the boat for a few hours until the tide served. At sunset got the boat unloaded, and hauled up, wind blowing hard, and very cold; the whole Backstairs Passage before us, through which the tide runs like a mill race, and Kangaroo Island opposite. Boat Harbour contains neither wood nor water. Gathered a potfull of periwinkles for supper, and eat my last saveloy, which species of meat had been a standing joke the whole passage down. Commenced making my bed, always a important matter when bushing. One lot of the party slept in a gully of seaweed; slept in No. 2 gully of the same; and the remainder in No. 3 ; but I certainly had the best accommodation. My bed consisted of a narrow rut, like a coffin, so that I exactly filled it, my face being a little below the surrounding surface; having first taken the spiders out (large brown ones), removed a most uncomfortable bedfellow in the shape of a huge embedded stone, 300 lbs. weight, containing on its surface all the angular fractures that crystallography comprises, and which, with all my ingenuity I could not use, either as pillow, bolster, warming-pan, blanket or bed-post. I laid down a couple of sacks, in one of which I put my lower extremities; I then pulled over me a borrowed blanket, a piece of old table covering, and then my coat for my shoulders; and, to finish off profusely, to the depth of six inches strewed the seaweed all over me, and thus literally buried myself. I then sank down on a coach that a king might envy, and fell asleep with the murmuring ocean, and the glimmering moon just faintly tinging the white crests of the surf. I am informed, on the authority of "Nat," that wet seaweed is the warmest bed that can be slept in—at any rate damp seaweed is, for I experienced it.

Friday .—The last day of our tedious voyage, which under ordinary circumstances lasts only two days down and one day up. Rose a little after 4 a.m. Very little wind, and the passage rough. After a very scanty meal, mouldy bread and a pannican of tea, commenced loading the boat; I then took the steer-oar, and we stood over to Cuttle-fish Bay. About 11 o'clock reached Antechamber Bay. One singularity is observable on the coast of Kangaroo Island, viz., a gigantic letter M. A stratum of yellow rock has run through a mass of black rock, precisely, and without any exaggeration of fancy, in the form of this letter; of this I took a sketch; it is near Cuttle-fish Bay, about 6 miles W. from Cape Snapper. On jumping ashore on the beach I thought all my troubles were at an end. I was mistaken: the boat had to be hauled over on skids into a salt creek, a distance of at least 300 yards, which was no joke in a hot day, and a boat 30 feet long, besides unloading and reloading. This pleasure of travelling being duly accomplished, we pulled up rather a pretty looking creek for about a mile, and then for the thirteenth and last time, we unloaded the boat, having done more manual labour in six days than in the previous 12 months.

Half-a-mile brought as to the first hut or huts, the house of " Nat's" son-in-law; here we found about 20 dogs, wallabies, parrots, "Old Wab"' and "Long-lun," both native Van Diemen's Land women, with "Nat's" big daughter and a baby. We then started for the squire's place—" Nat's." Found a weather boarded house, nice and clean; about sixty pigs, chattering parrots, twenty or thirty dogs, a dozen mountain ducks, goats, geese, wallabies, &c., &c. Had a first-rate cup of tea and took a turn round. A salt lagoon is near the house, visited by hundreds of ducks, pelicans, geese, and swans, and surrounded by marsh and scrub, filled with snakes. In the meanwhile the coach was preparing, and after a ride of about three hours—through a country very like that from Mount Jagged to Encounter Bay, but very much more sterile, the verdure being chiefly broom, grass, stick, prickly-bush, heath, and scrub—the bullock-dray brought us to the residence of the head light-keeper on Cape Willoughby, amidst solitude profound, and about half a-mile or more from; the Lighthouse, whose grim aspect added little to the scenery in the way of beauty. About midnight went to the Lighthouse, to see the machinery wound-up, the lamps trimmed, &c., and was much pleased with all I saw.

Saturday.-—Strolled about, was duly cautioned about snakes—Upwards of 120 were killed in the first year of the building of the Lighthouse; they are everywhere; three dogs were killed by them just before I arrived. These with the hawks, guanas, and blowflies, are the pests of the places. As to the latter, they exceed credibility. The guanas come boldly and seize a chicken, and even when caught will not release their bite.

Sunday.—Visited a bay on the S E. coast. All round the Cape there are no sandy beaches, all round or oval granite boulders, from one pound weight to tons. They are most tiresome to walk upon. Found a great variety of sponges. The country around is a dense carpet of matted grass. Saw the gigantic rollers that set in, which, when they break, cause the very earth to vibrate. Perhaps some of those grand undulations had come from the South Pole, and, like the lives of many, finished their career upon a wild, barren, and unknown spot.

Monday.—Inspected the Lighthouse from top to bottom. Everything very clean and orderly. It is a huge circular pillar, built of large blocks of granite, and the facings of the door and windows of a fine yellow sandstone. There are five flights of stairs containing 100 steps. The light room is all iron and plate glass, in the centre of which stands a revolving iron stem containing 15 lamps, with parabolic reflectors. This stem is moved round at different rates, when required, by clockwork machinery. Five lamps form a group, and produce a concentrated flash of great brilliancy. Outside the light-room is an iron railing, and at the 'panes of glass, at night time, thousands of insects of all kinds flutter and congregate together. There could not be a better place for an entomologist, the Lighthouse stands on the very pitch of the Cape, exposed to all the fury of the elements. Massive as it is, the rain has managed to penetrate on one side so as to cause the walls to drip with dampness. This must be seen to before it becomes a serious matter. A coat of stucco, I believe, is the only remedy. The tanks also have given way, so that in the event of a drought of water, the nearest spot would be eight miles. The present distance is about a mile and a half, over a huge hill. Water is water at Kangaroo Island.

Tuesday.—Started on a trip to " Nat's," via Antechamber Bay; very squally and rain. Picked up two nautili, and some fine specimens of radiatæ. Tried to have a pop at some ducks. Three were shot. Was nearly bit by an ugly black snake; 50 yards further brought us upon another, which we killed; it measured six feet. Took a few sketches; returned in the evening, having walked about 20 miles.

Wednesday.—Dined off a Cape Barren goose. Two of these creatures actually alighted near the head light keeper's house, and strove to get into the garden. He then went out, caught one by the leg, and shot the other. Very fine eating. Killed a snake at the hole where the water is obtained; he was eating small frogs. Saw several "emu wrens" and tried to shoot some young hawks.

Thursday.—Shot a fine eagle that had done sundry damage amongst the poultry. One of the keepers brought in a live guana and a wallaby which be had caught in his snares. Assisted in taking out some potatoes, which grow very fine on Kangaroo Island, as well as all vegetables.

Friday.— Went fishing off the rocks; caught a few "leather jackets," "rock fish," and "sweeps," but no crawfish. It is rather dangerous employment, as the seas run very high, and you rarely return without a good "ducking;" lost hooks and lead. As the poor keepers have no regular communication with town, they are frequently very hard up for the want of provision; salt meat of course is the staple article, varied with goat and pork when " Nat" can spare them. When I arrived, they were smoking hops for tobacco, and using roasted peas for coffee. Wallaby hunting and fishing require a great deal of time, more than they can spare, and, besides, very precarious; a bit of fresh mutton or beef would be a delicacy.

Saturday.—Christmas day—All hands in their best, in honour of the day. Fowls and green peas, and plum pudding—no despicable fare; the fatted calf that had been treasured up for many a day. Long conversations upon Christmases past and Christmases future. Visited, in company of the head light-keeper, the light at midnight.

Sunday.—The dray from " Nat's " came to take away our goods for the morrow, as we intended to start to Adelaide; our "watch" drawing nearly to a close. Magnificent night; saw an eclipse of the moon.

Monday.—Rose a little after 4 p.m. Had breakfast, and started for the beach at Antechamber Bay, eight miles away. About 11, pushed off; fair wind until we reached the middle of the passage, when down came a roaring N. W. breeze, and we had to reef and run back for our lives. Landed in the afternoon, greatly annoyed; had something to eat, and laid down on the beach with a skid for a pillow and tried to sleep.

Tuesday.—Wind dead against us; walked down to the beach; a brig standing in, and anchored. "Nat" went off and secured a passage; was soon bundled on board. It was the Phantom, from Melbourne, with about 90 diggers ; weighed anchor and beat up, with a strong wind blowing, and rain. In the evening off Rapid Bay; the diggers very jolly; singing, recitations, and drinking, and a little fighting; vessel infected with rats; a female one with three little rats had her residence just under my ear, which rather prevented sleep.

Wednesday.—The Tug took us in tow early. A. little after noon we bid adieu to the good brig Phantom and her kind captain. The last infliction was an additional shilling as the fare up in the Port-cart, because it was races!

Through the want of space we have been necessarily brief. The botany, entomology, natural history, and geology of Kangaroo Island would be most interesting topics to the scientific, but a longer stay than a casual visit would be required to treat upon them.

Through the kindness of the head light keeper I am enabled to subjoin the following. For his other meteorological observations there would be no space:—

The highest and lowest register of the Thermometer taken in the shade.


At 10 A.M. At 3 P. M.

Highest. Lowest. Highest Lowest.

May 66 66 65 51

June 72 51 72 62

July 57 43 61 47

August 60 49 61 47

September 68 62 69 67

October 68 52 74 54

November 82 52 87 60

Adelaide, 1st January, 1853.