The Tragedy of Dr. Slater and Mr. Osborne

from the Kangaroo Island Courier 9 Oct 1926

Early History on KI.


We have received through the courtesy of Dr. A. A. Lendon, M.D., a booklet, entitled "Kangaroo Island. The tragedy of Dr. Slater and Mr Osborne. A story of ninety years ago." Dr. Lendon read this paper before the Royal Geographical Society S.A. branch during 1924-5 session. [after having apparently re-enacted the journey himself]

Dr. Slater and Mr Osborne, accompanied by four other young men landed from the barque "Africaine"'at Harvey's Return, near Cape Borda on the 1st of November, 1836, intending to walk overland to the new settlement at Kingscote. They expected to do the journey, which was thought about 50 miles in two days. They only had food enough to last them that period, but they carried guns with them, to provide themselves with fresh food. They found the scrub almost inpenetratable, and after four days wandering reached Vivonne Bay, on the south coast, On the eighth day they reached Mt. Thisby, and by following the coast line four of them reached Kingscote in an exhausted and starving condition on the 12th. Search parties had been out looking for them for several days. They stated that they had left Dr. Slater and Mr Osborn at a spot between Vivonne and DeEstree Bay, as they had become too exhausted to travel any further.

The fate of these two men has never been cleared up, and Dr. Lendon in an Addendum [see below] at the back of the booklet offers a solution of the tragedy. This did not appear in the paper which he read before the Society. That a tragedy did take place seems very probable, from the remarks overheard between two of the party, and we think that Dr. London's solution appears to be very near the mark.

Early History on K I. (1926, October 9). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2.



By A. A. Lendon, M.D.

[Serialised in The Kangaroo Island Courier between 13 November 1926 to 5 February 1927]

How Dr. Slater and his companion Osborne came by their deaths on Kangaroo Island in 1836 must ever remain a mystery, unless—but perhaps it would be better to tell the story first. The story includes a description of the voyage to South Australia of the ship "Africaine" , and an expedition across Kangaroo Island, and its sequel.

— The Voyage of the "Africaine."—

The "Africaine," a barque of 317 tons, chartered by the South Australian Company, left London Docks ou the 28th of Juue, 1836, and when the newly-married skipper, Captain Duff, joined her at Deal on the 1st of July with his bride, there were 99 souls on board. Allowing 20 for the officers and crew, there would be some 79 passengers, all emigrants intending to settle in the new Province of South Australia, then only just recently founded by an Act of Parliament in the fifth year of King William the Fourth's reign.

Of these passengers we must make the more intimate acquaintance of a few, and this we are the better enabled to do because one of them, Mrs Robert Thomas, kept a diary during the passage to Australia, and for a short time afterwards, and also wrote some letters during the next few years to a brother in England. The diary and letters were published in 1915 by her grandson, Mr Evan Kyffin Thomas. In the diary, which has already reached its third edition, we have fleeting glimpses of John Hallett, of Hallett's Cove, who was intending to settle in business in partnership with Captain Duff, and with Mr Hallett there came out two young men named Warren and Baggs. Robert Gouger was also on board, destined to become for a brief period the first Colonial Secretary, and with him was Charles Nantes, later on his clerk in the Government service. Mr Brown (after whom Brown Street was named), the Emigration Agent was an other. More important, certainly numerically, than these individuals was the Thomas family, mustering some eleven persons all told.

Robert Thomas was a master printer in the City of London who first heard of the projected Colony from a Dr. Inman, of Portsmouth, who happened to come up to London to buy sections of land for his sons, one of whom soon became Superintendent of Police in South Australia, and gave his name to Inman River and Valley. Robert Thomas decided to try his fortune in the new country. He sent out one son in advance by the "Cygnet" with Mr Kingston, the Assistant Surveyor, and this son became a member of the Surveying Staff under Lieut. Col. Light (whose firm, Light, Finniss, & Co. he afterward joined in 1838). Mr Thomas engaged passages for the rest of his family in the "Africaine", taking out with him a complete equipment for printing a newspaper, as well as a suitable outfit for camping and roughing it as a settler in a land hitherto occupied only by aboriginals. The terms of settlement were attractive, for on payment of £81 the intending colonist acquired 134 acres of country land, with all rights reserved to him of timber and water on its surface and of possible minerals beneath. He also acquired by lot an acre of the first town laid out as the future capital of the Colony. Town acres thus bought for 12s. have realized since, in some instance well over £1,000 per foot of frontage.

EARLY HISTORY OF K I. (1926, November 13). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 3.

The voyage did not begin auspiciously for the Thomas family. Two girls were recovering from scarlet fever, and one of them was suffering from dropsy, whilst the complaint showed itself in a severe form in the son while the ship was still anchored off Deal. Nor was there accommodation of the best, for being unable to procure berths for the whole family in the after-cabin, they contented themselves with the intermediate or second-class accommodation. This implied no attendance and inferior food, none of the white bread or fresh meat which was daily provided for the first-class passengers. The situations of the intermediate cabins involved them also in the discomforts from the working of an adjacent hatchway.

Nor did the mate of the ship make things more agree able for them — indeed, they had on one occasion to seriously complain to the captain of his outrageous conduct. Nor did Mrs Thomas seem preposed in favor of the ship's surgeon. "We had one on board, at least one who called himself such, but as to his medical skill," etc. This tirade against one who proved himself afterwards a worthy colonist was evoked by the surgeon's apparent neglect of the son before mentioned, who showed the early signs of scarlet fever whilst they were anchored off Deal. Although Dr. Everard's cabin was just opposite that of the Thomas family, and that he was well aware of the illness, he did not proffer his services. When called in he advised blister for the throat. He had a medicine chest, but did not offer to prepare the blister, but went ashore and spent the whole day in Deal. Dr. Everard was berthed in the intermediate cabins, but with his wife and family he messed in the after-cabin with the first-class passengers. Although he was a Unitarian, he officiated on occasions as the ship's chaplain, and gravely offended the Church of England passengers by certain omissions from the Creed and the Litany, which he was subsequently compelled by them to recite.

But there was another surgeon on board, an Irishman named Slater, who occupied a berth in the intermediate cabin near the Thomas's and Dr. Everard's, and be was able to render some assistance to Mrs Thomas on 6th August, when she fell down the companion-way and was stunned. Dr. Slater had previously earlier in the voyage been asked to consult with Dr. Everard in the case of Mrs Gouger, who had been seasick for 18 days. His suggestion of a swinging cot acted like magic, so that in a couple of days the patient was enjoying herself on deck.

Before long, however, Mrs Thomas and Dr. Everard were on good terms again, and on 24th August he seems to have been of some considerable use to the passengers generally on the occasion of an intimation that their allowance of water was to be reduced from three quarts a day to one pint. Dr. Everard conceived the idea that this was a scheme to avoid calling at Cape Town, and he stirred up the steerage passengers to demand the full amount. Their protest was successful, and on the 21st September the ship put in at Simon's Bay and stayed there for four days. With such a scant supply of water the washing of clothes was a problem, but Slater overcame the difficulty by paying such an extravagant price to a woman in the steerage that he arrived at the conclusion that every man on board a sailing vessel should himself be a qualified washerwoman.

On 5th September Dr. Everard attended a passenger in her confinement, and thus brought up the number on board to a round hundred.

To come back to Dr. Slater, Mrs Thomas subsequently testified (December 12) that he was kind-hearted, of gentlemanly manners and sociable with his fellows, though prone to out bursts of temper. One day in a fit of anger, the cause of which is not stated, he shut himself up to his cabin with a loaded pistol, offering to shoot anyone who ventured to disturb him. A young man named Osborne, however, managed to calm the wild Irishman down, and induced him to lay aside the weapon. Nor was this the only occasion on which Osborne was similarly successful in humoring him. The two soon became sworn friends. Osborn himself was an apprentice who was being brought out by Mr Thomas, under whose special care he was placed by his friends. He was not a pauper, as he had some £30 with him when he left England, though only a small sum was found in his desk later.

Besides Osborne, Mr Robert Thomas had with him a journeyman printer, named Robert Fisher, who was bound by agreement to remain in his employ till December 11, 1838. Of him, more anon.

The ship arrived in due time at Simon's Bay, and Dr. Slater accompanied Mr Gouger, drove over to Cape Town. In his diary Robert Gouger notes on the 23rd of September that Mr Slater, M.R.C.S , intends to found a museum in South Australia. On the details of the voyage, which lasted four calendar months, it is not necessary to dwell any more. There were hardships and unpleasant incidents, but for the matter of that there was no great improvement when I came out with emigrants to Adelaide in 1883—47 years later. On the 1st of November Kangaroo Island was sighted, and on the 2nd the ship anchored in Nepean Bay.

EARLY HISTORY OF [?]. (1926, November 20). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2.

Kangaroo Island is mentioned as having been sighted on November 1st (Tuesday), and on that day in the afternoon, a boat left the ship and landed six young men at a spot called Morrel's Boat Harbour, somewhere between Cape Borda and Cape Forbin, which is situated 10 miles east of Cape Borda. It is probably identical with Harvey's Return, the only possible landing place just there, according to those who know the place well.

Several of the after cabin passengers, fascinated by the delightful appearance of the shores of the island, had asked Captain Duff to land them there, presumably with the idea of walking along the north shore of the island and of picking up the ship again in Nepean Bay, but they abandoned the project. Whereupon Dr. Slater and his friend Osborne combined with Mr. Hallett's two men and with Robert Fisher and Charles Nantes to form the exploring party. Mrs Thomas mentions that another passenger went ashore, but apparently his courage failed him, for he returned to the ship; who he was, we shall hear afterwards.

The excursionists, or explorers, call them what you will, expected only to take a couple of days over the trip, as the distance to Kingscote was reckoned to be about 50 miles, and accordingly they were equipped with provisions sufficient for two days only, and with a bottle of rum each. They carried firearms, as they thought they would be easily able to provide themselves with fresh food. They seemed to have had a compass, and a guidebook in the shape presumably of Edward Gibbon Wakefield's anonymous account of South Australia, published by Knight in 1834, for it is mentioned (November 2) that they sat down and read Captain Sutherland's description of Kangaroo Island, where he spent seven months in the year 1818. Captain Sutherland tracked across she island from Kingscote to a salt water creek (Saltwater River), de//uc/ing between Cape de Couedin and Cape Bouguer, and he found park-like open country with only about three or four trees to an acre. As our party did not strike this paradise, Fisher condemns the account as a tissue of lies.

The men landed with some difficulty about 7 p.m. on Tuesday. As the boat left the ship at about 3 p.m., and did not return till 9 p.m., some alarm was felt on board, especially as three of them were married men. They proceeded about a mile inland and bivouacked for the night. The next day they made an early start after a five o'clock breakfast and walked four miles inland in a north-easterly direction through dense rough prickly scrub in a hilly country. They found it very hot. Altering their course to due north, they managed after an hour's journey to relieve their thirst by drinking some stagnant water found in a valley, where they saw numerous parrots of beautiful and lovely color. They shot seven with a view of preserving their skins. They proceeded along this valley a mile further, and then sat down on boulders that appeared to be a marble outcrop. Here they took out their guidebook in order to discuss their position. After abusing Captain Sutherland, they again turned northeast, hoping still to find the open prairie described by him ; but the further they went the denser the scrub became, and they had to chop their way through it with a hatchet which they fortunately carried with them.

At this early stage Osborne proved to be a drag on the party, as he felt so ill that be even wished the others to proceed without him. They cooked their meal at noon, having fortunately again found water. After s two hours' rest, when he bad been fortified with rum, Osborne recovered sufficiently to proceed a few miles further with the party. The report states that the still continued south- east [sic], sometimes up to their ankles in mud in the marshes or bog, and mentions their crossing three rivers about 20 feat wide. On Thursday they again made an early start, and proceeded due south, through a belt of trees four miles in width that had recently been on fire, and with difficulty they crossed another river. Next after their noontide meal they took a south-easterly course in order to avoid an immense range of hills intersected by marshy valleys, finding plenty of water in the valleys ; indeed in one marsh they sink up to their chests in water. At 6 pm they were all more or less exhausted, and Osborne particularly so. On Friday breakfasted on short rations. Steering due south, they crossed hills with intervening marshes giving rise to pretty rivulets of excellent water. One marsh took them four or five hours to traverse. Except for a little biscuit, they had now finished their provisions, and for the evening meal they had to fall back upon the parrots shot on the 2nd and a black cockatoo brought down that day. On Saturday "Starvation Day," as the writer terms it, they had neither food nor drink. They travelled for a few miles again due south, through thicket after thicket of brushwood, some almost impenetrable, and all they had for dinner was the one remaining parrot.

EARLY HISTORY OF K I. (1926, November 27). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2.

At length from the top of a hill they espied the Southern Ocean and made for it, reaching the beach at about 7 p.m. at a salt-water creek which ran into Vivonne Bay. Here they gathered some periwinkles, which they cooked in salt water, with the result that the next morning (Sunday the 6th.) they awoke with a frightful thirst. They resumed their journey along the coast, but after two miles encountered cliffs 400 to 500 feet high, against which the heavy surf was striking and up which they had to climb.

They next proceeded inland north-east for 15 miles till they sighted Snake Lagoon, which however, they could not reach. For two days now they had had no water to drink, and today their only food was one seagull. The heat was great. At midday they rested a couple of hours. When they had gone a little further Osborne was again taken ill. He then suggested dividing the party, Fisher and Slater to stay behind with him, whilst the remaining three went on. However, he again recovered sufficiently to resume march, and two miles further on they reached Murrell's Lagoon at 7 p.m. They found the footmarks of two persons, one without shoes, and also the footmarks of a dog. Probably those were the tracks of one of the relief parties sent out after them. They kept to the left of this lagoon and heard gun fire, presumably a signal from the "Africaine."

And now finally Slater and Osborne refused to go any further, but urged the rest to do so and to send back assistance. Accordingly, says Fisher, after leaving with them some periwinkles, bottles, and a sponge, the remaining four weary travellers did yet another hour's journey before camping for the night.

On Monday, after travailing 15 to 20 miles to the south-east they again saw the sea and reached D'Estree Bay. Here they shot two seagulls, and, after sucking their blood, cooked them. Travelling along the beach, they found a studding sail boom erected there. Here, sleeping on dry sea weed, they had the best night's rest of any hitherto.

On Tuesday the 8th. they kept along the beach in the hope of seeing some shipping. All they found were the staves of two large casks tied up, of the kind used for whaling. They then struck inland due north, and came in sight of Lagoon Bay, where Sutherland had once anchored. During the night it rained, and next morning they were glad to suck the water off the leaves of the trees. On the 9th. they waded through the lagoon and travelled west. They found some brackish water, which upset them, but after two hours rest they recovered. Travelling again inland they made Seal Bay, where they found three huts, and they again cooked periwinkles for their supper. This was their first meal for four days, excepting for the gulls. They had completely worn out their boots, and on the 10th. they travelled bare footed along the beach, and found fresh water, the first such drink for five days.

Five miles further Nepean Bay with its shipping was sighted, but a detour inland had to be made. Before noon Nantes had given in, being to ill to proceed. The remaining three, Fisher, Baggs, and Warner, crossed the Three-well River or the "Cygnet River," as it was afterwards named). As none of the three could swim they were nearly drowned. Finally they arrived at the survey party's settlement at Kingscote. Here they were well looked after by Mr S. Stephens, the Company's Manager, and by Dr. Wright, and a boat was sent for Nantes, who was found the next day.

Early History of K I. (1926, December 4). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2

They learned that the "Africaine" had anchored in Nepean Bay on November 2nd. and remained there till the 6th. and that their fellow passengers and the residents at the settlement were so alarmed at their non-arrival that relief parties had been arranged for and sent away, consisting of white settlers and native women. Further search parties were now again sent out to look for Slater and Osborne, and one black woman was out looking for them for 16 days. She reported that though she had found the tracks she could not discover the men.

Such is the substance of the account published in "The Register" by Robert Fisher on the 8th of July, 1837. The publication of this account of Fisher's provoked a letter from Mr Robert Gouger, the Colonial Secretary. Fisher had blamed Captain Duff for not staying longer at Nepean Bay in order to ascertain what had become of the exploring party. Mr Gouger defended Captain Duff's action, and hinted that these young men went ashore against Captain Duff's advice, who was very reluctant to allow them to land, and that they went on the expedition entirely for their own gratification. Robert Fisher, in a rejoinder, said Captain Duff ought not to have allowed them to land, nor ought Gouger to have been the first to have urged such a "mad-headed" project, and the first, when they neared the shore, to decline going himself. He suggests that if the trip had been successful Gouger would have taken all the credit to himself, just as he did on a previous occasion. To this letter Robert Gouger made no reply.

Comparing this account of Fisher's with that of Mrs Thomas, we find some discrepancies, and allowance must be made for these, for Mrs Thomas's diary was a transcript from her original journal, which has not come to light. She makes some obvious mistakes. For instance as the Editor points out, in the latest edition, the expedition could not have started from Nepean Bay, as she states, to walk across the island to meet the vessel on the other side; again, she spells Bagg's name wrongly, I have no doubt. As compensation, Mrs Thomas gives us a vivid account of the departure of the venturers from the "Africaine" and of the anxiety felt on board when the boat had not returned at 6 p.m. that evening; she mentions also the fact of there being a very extensive bush fire on the island.

In Edwin Hodder's "Founding of South Australia," some excerpts are given from Robert Gouger's "Rough Notes of Voyage." He, too, apparently, makes some mistakes. He states, for instance, that the landing took place on November 2nd. and that when tacking, the ship was frequently within two or three miles of Kangaroo Island. "As the weather seemed peculiarly inviting, some of the young men of our party expressed a wish to land and walk across the island by Captain Sutherland's track. The wish being communicated to Captain Duff, he at once gave his consent." This statement hardly agrees with his letter to "The Register" written in August 1837, some nine months after the event.

In a note of December 11th, he quotes Nantes as saying:—"'After being out nine days Osborne was unable to proceed, and Slater, with characteristic generosity, said be would stay with him, while the rest of the party pushed on in hope of sending relief to the two left behind.' Two days after this Nantes and his party were found by a fishing boat and were conveyed to the settlement. Parties sent out in search of Slater and Osborne say that they found the tracks of but one person, and as he appears to walk in circles or backwards and forwards, they fear he is out of his mind."

Early History of K.I. (1926, December 11). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 3.

As regards the track pursued by the travellers, I have personally been over a good deal of the ground lately with Professor Cleland (March 1926). Reasons have been given for identifying "Morrel's Boat Harbour" with Harvey's Return, the landing place for stores for Cape Borda. Here the precipitous cliffs, some 250 feet high, on each side of this somewhat dangerous rocky cove, guard a steep gully, down which in rainy weather a creek empties itself, which drains three miles of country to the north east. The dense scrub at the bottom of this gully includes the prickly kangaroo bush, mallees wattles, yaccas, monkey-bushes, banksia, and melaleuca, whilst higher up are found scattered sugar-gums and sheaoaks.

The made road is a steep enough ascent nowadays, but the "Africaines" must have found it a tough scramble to reach the top, and it is no wonder that they only proceeded one mile inland before camping for the night. At the top of the gully is situated the Cape Borda burial-place, just off the track leading west to the lighthouse, and known all the way from Kingscote as the Telegraph Line. Going easterly after three miles a very steep descent brings you to one of the most charming spots on the whole Island. Here a bridge crosses the creek, the northernmost branch of the rivulet which, running west, drains the north-west corner of the Island, emptying itself at the Ravine de Cascara. At this bridge there is permanent water which does not look inviting, because it is stained black by the eucalyptus leaves which fall into it. Anywhere nearer civilization this would be a famous spot for picnics — a flat two or three hundred yards in diameter, carpeted with bracken, interspersed with silver wattles, whilst the well-wooded hills surrounding the dell are crowned with handsome red-gums and sugar-gums. The silence of this lovely spot is only broken by the honey-eater calling it mate and the chatter of lorikeets.

This, to my mind, is the place where Fisher mentions they shot their parrots. It is true he says, that they went four miles north-east, but had they done so, they would have reached the coast itself, and then they turned due north, but this would be impossible. Seeing that in the afternoon he states that they still continued south east, we may assume that there has been a printer’s error, that they originally did travel in a south-easterly direction, and by chance hit on this delightful spot. Moreover, a south easterly direction is almost the course they would take in order to break through the other barrier of dense scrub separating them from the open prairie of which they had read in Sutherland's description of the Island. On the 3rd. of November, travelling due south, they may have crossed the head waters of the Bull Creek and of the Rocky River.

One can certify to the marshes and swamps that they might unexpectedly come across. Now, too, they would encounter the hills which form the Backbone Range, which traverses the island, separating the valley of the Cygnet from the south coast. This range constitutes a plateau rising rather abruptly to the north, but undulating gently in tiers to the south coast. Its northern aspect is notched by means of the numerous creeks with unromantic names which feed to the west the Middle River and farther east the Cygnet. The general idea of the country is that of scrub some ten feet in height, consisting of she oaks, banksias, and gumtrees, with mallee, hakea, and many lesser plants.

Early History of K.I. (1926, December 18). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2.

The whole constitutes in places an obstruction tedious and difficult to penetrate through. One can easily estimate the difficulties of a century ago. As to the swamps, even after a five months' drought, a stick can be easily thrust several inches into moist soil. Here especially the obstacles to walking increase, and the cutting grasses and twining plants impede one's course. One also encounters thickets of sugar-gums and occasionally stringybark-trees and wider areas of natural yacca gum plantations which are being exploited.

Returning to our travellers, zigzagging across this range they probably got their last fresh-water drink at Grainger's Lagoon on Friday, the 4th of November, and on this date they would have crossed the track depicted on Sutherland's chart. The following day they sighted the Southern Ocean, probably from Mount Taylor, now celebrated on account of the recent discovery of extensive caves. That evening they reached Vivonne Bay, at the mouth of the Harriet River. On the 6th their course was north-east, and they sighted, but did not reach, Snake Lagoon ("so called by the Islanders"), which must be identified with Lake Ada. That evening the climax was reached when they camped near Morrell's (evidently Murray''s) Lagoon. The diminished party of four pursued their journey on the 7th due east till they reached D'Estree Bay. They following day they may have reached and perhaps climbed Mt. Thisby, and thence have seen the whole panorama of Lagoon Bay, as Eastern Cove is termed by Sutherland. On the 9th they skirted round Seal Bay ("Anse de Phoques"), now better known as Western Cove. Finally, on Thursday, the 10th. they crossed the mouth of the Cygnet, having left Nantes behind, and reached the settlement at old Kingscote near Reeves's Point.

Our trip revealed no country such as Sutherland described, and even in 1836 the residents were sceptical as to his ever having crossed the Island though I see no reason to doubt that he did so and that he found those huts marked on his chart on the upper reaches of the Saltwater River. There is yet one other point. I am informed that the late Professor Sir E.O. Sterling had expressed an opinion that the vegetation in 1819 may have presented a different aspect from what it did in 1836, and that in the days of Flinders and the early settlers the kangaroos would have kept down the smaller scrub. Over and over again we wondered, not that any of the party failed to complete the journey, but that four of them should actually have succeeded in doing so in their half-starved condition.

—The Sequel.—

On November 2nd. we left the "Africaine" anchored safely in Nepean Bay. When the infant settlement of Kingscote was reached the residents were concerned to hear of the risky expedition which had started from the Cape Borda end of the island on the previous day. The opinion of the old whalers was that it was very unlikely that the travellers would win their way through. Thereupon Mr Robert Thomas and Mr. 8. Stevens agreed to pay the expenses of parties to be sent out immediately to rescue them. To give an idea of the dangers of the bush, Mrs. Thomas graphically described how she and her husband landed one day at Kingscote and nearly lost their way in the dense scrub. Fortunately, they caught a glimpse of the sea and made their way down a steep hill back to the anchorage. The spot where they landed would be Reeves's Point, where a few of the piles of a boat jetty are still to be seen.

Early History of K.I. (1926, December 23). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2

A few other remains of the abandoned township of Kingscote are pointed out to the visitors—the well near the present abattoirs; the remains of the house put up by Stephens on the hill, which, running westerly, terminates in Rottie's Bluff; the cemetery where Mrs Beare was buried in 1837.

On November 6 (Sunday) the "Africaine" sailed for the mainland, and anchored next day at Holdfast Bay. There was some discussion as to whether she should stay longer at Kingscote in the hope of the wanderers turning up soon, but finally it was decided by Captain Duff that it was desirable to delay no longer there. Mr and Mrs Thomas were the more distressed over the incident because young Osborne had been specially placed under their care.

The passengers by the "Africaine" settled down in tents about a mile inland near some lagoons and not far from the southern bank of the Patawalonga Creek. It was not until the 11th of December that the next sailing vessel, the "Emma", arrived from Kangaroo Island with Nantes and Fisher on board. Warren and Baggs, who followed later on, are not, however, mentioned again in the story.

One can readily imagine the eager questioning Fisher and Nantes had to submit to, but there was something unsatisfactory about their tale, which seemed, according to Mrs Thomas, to be rather contradictory and evasive. They alleged that Dr. Slater and Mr Osborne had been left near a lagoon, unable to proceed any further until they recovered from their fatigue, but that they had plenty of provisions. Although over four weeks had intervened between the date when the survivors reached Kingscote and the date of the sailing of the "Emma" from that port, and although the relief parties sent out had long returned from their futile search, Fisher and Nantes always endeavoured to buoy up Mrs Thomas with the expectation that the 'others' (Slater and Osborne) would turn up ultimately.

As months rolled on the suspicions entertained by Mrs Thomas that there had been some foul play, were fanned by casual allusions made to "the hot-headed Irishman," and by sundry hints dropped from time to time that there had been disagreements amongst the party as to the course they should take. Her son-in-law (J. M. Skipper) reported that he had once overheard Nantes and Fisher quarrelling, when the former (he believed it was) said, "If you say much, I will out with what was done on the Island," to which Fisher replied. "You cannot do that without breaking your oath."

In the year 1858 a man named Boxall was proceeding though the island when he came across the remains of some human skeletons at a spot some 20 miles from Cape Borda and about four miles from the north coast. Speculation immediately became rife as to whether these were the remains of Slater and Osborne. The place where the skeletons were found was some 15 to 20 miles away from any fresh water, according to Boxell.

In 1866 W. H. Porter of the Half-Way House, Port Road, was on a trip to Kangaroo Island. On Good Friday he was out prospecting, when he found a human skeleton. The spot was almost twelve miles from Buick's House on the south coast and three miles west of Mount Thisby. The body was that of a young man and the lower jaw only was missing; the upper teeth were perfect. He seemed to be of ordinary stature. Nearby was a gun with a shot-belt and powder-flask, a pocket compass, a clasp knife, a brace buckle, and a portion of a boot. Everything was rusted. On the powder-flask he deciphered the name of Dixon & Son. There was water within twenty yards. It was decided that this could not be the skeleton of Pennington, who was lost on the island in 1855, as it was alleged that he was not carrying any firearms when he became bushed. On the other hand, it was also stated that the firm of Dixon & Son had only been in existence some 15 years, If that were so, the skeleton was obviously neither that of Osborne nor of Slater, but the actual identification of these skeletons is immaterial. The problem to be solved is whether there was any justification for Mrs Thomas's suspicions.

Early History of K.[?]. (1927, January 15). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 3.

What was done on the Island? What really did take place? Was there foul play? Were the two unfortunates still alive when abandoned by the rest? In a preface to Fisher's account the Editor of "The Register" says:—

"It is only certain that Mr Osborne died before Dr. Slater, as the latter's footsteps were traced singly at some distance from the spot where the two were left, the probability being that after Osborne had perished, the Doctor set out alone, was unable to make his way through the brushwood, and died exhausted."

From whom did the Editor get the information upon which this opinion was based ? Most likely from Fisher himself, his employes.

What sort of a man was Fisher? On arriving at Glenelg he commenced work as Mr Robert Thomas's journeyman printer. In November, 1837, there was an advertisement in the paper intimating that he had absconded from his employ. On December 7th, he was senteneced to two months imprisonment with confinement; an appeal to the Quarter Sessions was not upheld, and presumably, therefore, he served his sentence. In May 1838, he was acting as a reporter for the paper, and as such gave evidence in a libel suit brought against his employer. He married Mary Lillywhite (a young woman whom Mrs Thomas brought out with her) on December 11, 1838.

Now, from these facts we cannot argue that he was a villain of the worst character, but we may ask whether his account of the expedition was accurate and truthful. Its accuracy was never impugned by any one of his three companions. It is an interesting account, and shows considerable literary ability, but one wonders when it was composed. He never alleged that he kept a diary either before or after this episode, yet it is written in diary form.

Is it conceivable or likely that a man could have written such full details from day to day as are here given, who was without drinking water in hot weather for five days, and almost without food ; whose boots were worn through ; whose complaints of fatigue and exhaustion were so pathetic. No, in any opinion, the diary was written subsequently and compiled carefully for publication, and I judge it to have been compiled at any time subsequently to their arrival at Kingscote, and most probably after their arrival at Glenelg, when it was found that their tale did not thoroughly satisfy their fellow-passengers of the "Africaine."

Assuming that they had a compass, and knowing that Kingscote was their objective, why did they drift across to the south of the Island, taking five days to cross from sea to sea? From the account it was obviously not because of the facility of travelling in this direction.

If the account be not a truthful one, there could only have been one reason for inventing such a fairy tale, and that reason must have been that there was something to conceal. It seems ridiculous to be constantly reassurmg Mrs Thomas that the others would turn up, when the relief expedition had failed to find them, nor can we reconcile the statement that the survivors left their companions with plenty of food, when the writer himself (Fisher) says that the "food" consisted of some periwinkles, a bottle, and a sponge, while the survivors themselves were all but starving. What was it that was done on the Island," the expression that Skipper over-heard?

Early History of K.I. (1927, January 29). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 3.

(The concluding portion of this story did not appear in the article when Dr. Leudon read it, before the South Australian Branch of the Royal Geographical Society.)

ADDENDUM. [see comment at bottom of this page]

Can one reconstruct the events and the scene ?

Yes, one can almost picture the scene : The forbidding, inhospitable country a few miles from the coast; the dense, almost impenetrable, scrub of the valleys between the hills and the salt marshes, or lagoons ; the afternoon sun beating down fiercely this November day on the little band of exhausted wanderers, almost shoeless, ragged, unkempt, and gaunt looking, with dark sunken eyes, who had tramped on wearily for five successive days ; perhaps becoming very irritable with one another— to dispute their leader's wisdom in travelling in the direction that they had.

And then Osborne fails them once more. Completely exhausted, he can trudge along no further — see, he is actually fainting in Slater's arms ! Then the terrible thirst after two hot days without any water to drink, only relieved by sucking the blood of a gull.

Ah ! here is a real chance ! Osborne is dying : he must die, anyhow : why shouldn't we relieve our thirst!

"You cannibals !" exclaims the hot headed Irish surgeon, on whose lap poor dying Osborne'e head is resting ; "you dare to suggest it !" Fisher raises the gun he is carrying, as Slater approaches to strike him. Slater falls wounded, The mischief is done.

An hour later the four survivors camp a few miles away from the scene : slowly they become aware of the extent of the tragedy they have participated in. "We swear to stand by one another to the end, and never to divulge what was done."

Ting-ting-ting ! "Please, Sir, would you come to the telephone ? ' The fountain pen had dropped out of my hand, and I must have dozed whilst leaning back in my chair. I see that the last words I have written were "Can one reconstruct the events and the scene?" But what a horrid nap I have had! What did I have for lunch? What a curiously vivid dream it was!—but no, it is only a dream. A case of vehement suspicion, as the lawyers say, but only that. The old Scottish verdict, "Not proven," is the only conclusion we can arrive at. The truth we shall never know, unless any of the four survivors left a statement to be some day divulged. The End.

[Dr. A. Lendon of North Terrace Adelaide, the writer of the story just concluded in this issue, would be pleased to have any authentic information on the early history of Kangaroo Island, and any criticism of the story. We thank Dr. Lendon for giving us permission to publish this tragic episode in the early history of Kangaroo Island.—ED.]

Early History of K.I. (1927, February 5). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 3.

[see comment at the bottom of this page]



The delightful appearance of the shore of Kangaroo Island induced the gentlemen in the after cabin, passengers on board the barque Africaine, to propose to Captain Duff, to allow them to go on shore at Morrel's boat harbour, situated between Cape Borda and Cape Forbin, to travel over land to Nepean Bay. This request was complied with, but the gentlemen saw occasion to alter their intentions. The journey was then undertaken by Dr. Slater, Mr. Osborne, Mr. Nantes, Mr. Warren, Mr. Bagg, and myself. About three o'clock in the afternoon we were put ashore in a boat, with provisions enough to last us two days, and six bottles of rum. After considerable difficulty, we effected a landing about seven o'clock, and bivouaced about a mile from the shore, under a thick bush. We agreed to take precautionary measures for the journey; our guns and pistols were to be kept loaded, and a regular watch during each night we might be out.

Wednesday, Nov. 2nd.—We breakfasted at five o'clock, and commenced our journey about six, with a firm determination to make a good day's march. We travelled about four miles N. E., up one hill and down another, experiencing much inconvenience, and making our way through prickly shrubs, with which the hills abounded. It was so bad occasionally that our hands bled a good deal. We now began to think of the difficulty of our undertaking, more especially as we could not find any fresh water. We were all very thirsty, and the sun was oppressively hot.

We now altered our course to due north, in the hopes of finding water, and in about an hour we discovered a stagnant pool in a valley, apparently unfit to drink, but we drank of it heartily and felt no ill effects. Parrots, with plumage of the most beautiful and lively colours, abounded in this valley; we shot seven to take to the ship, in the hope of preserving them; we filled our empty bottles with water, and took our course along the valley for about a mile.

Having a small volume with us containing Captain Sutherland's report of an Excursion into the interior of Kangaroo Island, in the year 1819, we sat down upon stones having the appearance of marble, and one of the party read the following extract from his book :—

" Close on the shore within from a quarter to half a mile from the sea, the wood is very thick; but when this belt of wood is passed, you come on to an open country, covered with grass, where there are often hundreds of acres without a tree ; I calculated, by comparison with New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, their might be on this plain, on the average, three of four trees to an acre. I once crossed the Island, a distance of about sixty miles in two days. Once past the belt of wood which surrounds, the Island, we walked straight on end over the plains, found plenty of water in ponds, saw abundance of kangaroos and emus, and met with no difficulty or trouble. As we crossed the Island I looked to the right and left, and saw everywhere the same open plains, now and then changed in appearance by close timber of great height, on high points and ridges of land."

I have now no hesitation in declaring that nearly the whole of Captain Sutherland's report is one mass of falsehood. Our belief in its truth at that time has been the means of sacrificing two valuable lives; for, as will be seen in the sequel, Dr. Slater and Mr. Osborne perished. Had we not had confidence in Captain Sutherland's report, we should not have been induced to go further into the interior, but have returned to the coast, and made our way along its shores to Nepean Bay. After leaving the valley we altered our course and went about N. E., [sic] in hopes of finding the tract of beautiful level country described by Sutherland, but, the further we went the more impenetrable did the scrub and brushwood appear. We were obliged to chop our way through with a small hatchet, which we fortunately had with us. It was now 12 o'clock, and we sat down to dinner, drank our water, and set off again. The brush and scrub continuing as thick as ever, we began to despair. In the midst of all these troubles, Mr. Osborne was taken seriously ill, declaring he could not proceed any further, and that we might go on without him, which we refused to do. We fortunately found water in a spring, and having lighted a large fire, we cooked a little pork, mixed him some rum and water, laid him under a bush close to the fire, and covered him well over. In two hours Mr. Osborne was sufficiently recovered to proceed a few miles further.

We still continued S.E., over ankles in mud; we also crossed three beautiful streams of water, each at least twenty feet wide, the banks of one of them having a cascade formed of large slabs of marble or free-stone, the water falling about four feet, the banks of one of the others was almost unapproachable for the tea tree. In the neighbourhood of each of the rivers, the soil appeared to be of a sandy loam, and contiguous to the bogs it was a vegetable mould. We bivouacked for the night in some scrub on the side of the marsh, thickly planted with tall trees, in which were a great number of parrots and wild pigeons.

Thursday, November 3.—This morning we started at five o'clock, after partaking of a little salt beef and pork, in a southerly direction, through a belt of burnt trees about four miles wide. It may be as well to observe, that the trees of the whole island present an appearance of having been recently burnt. After having passed this belt of trees, we descended into a valley, and found another river, which we called "Duff River," after the commander of our vessel; some difficulty was experienced in crossing it, and we found it necessary to steer in a south-easterly direction to avoid the ascent of a steep hill immediately before us. It was now about twelve o'clock ; we lighted a fire and cooked a small quantity of pork and beef, feeling convinced we should not terminate our journey in the time we had supposed.

An immense range of hills lay before us; intersected by marshes in the valleys. At the termination of this range, we found another very wide river, along which we were obliged to travel two miles before we could cross, and then only by means of a tree which had fallen over it. Having done this much we again ascended and descended hill after hill of great height, and found abundance of water in every valley. In the last marsh we had to cross up to our chests in water. We rested for the night (six o'clock) in order to dry our clothing, to prepare for the next day's march. We were all much exhausted, particularly Mr. Osborne, with the difficulty we experienced in travelling through the brushwood and scrub with which the hills and valleys abounded.

Friday, November 4.— At six o'clock this morning we again commenced our journey, after partaking of a little biscuit and pork, steering due south, over hills covered with brushwood, scrub, and marsh of the same character; one of the latter occupying the space of four or five hours to cross it, at the side of which we observed a pretty rivulet of excellent water. Having cleared this marsh, we ascended a hill, and finished the remainder of our provisions, except a small portion of biscuit. After resting about an hour we again proceeded on the same course, over another high hill, of which we could scarcely observe the soil, it being literally covered with freestone; we then crossed another marsh, so thickly studded with prickly bushes resembling furze, that we again experienced the greatest difficulty possible in wading through it. We shot a black cockatoo, and then took up our abode for the night, after having lighted a fire, and dined on six of the parrots shot the first day, which we intended to preserve to take on board with us, and the black cockatoo shot this afternoon.

Saturday, November 5.—Starvation day—no breakfast! no water! We commenced this morning steering due south, and after travelling a few miles through thicket after thicket of brushwood, we came to one which, at the distance of every two or three yards the person at the head of the party was obliged to fall behind, and let the second one go first. We continued pushing and forcing our way for some distance, until we were exhausted and compelled to sit down and rest ourselves in the midst of it for some time. We again proceeded and at last made our way through it. We then sat down and shared the seventh parrot (shot the first day) amongst us; and at the summit of one of the hills still before us we observed the sea, and made our way for it, continuing to pass through brushwood and scrub, and made the coast about seven o'clock in the evening, which proved to be at the entrance of a salt water creek, running into Vivonne Bay. On the beach, which was rocky, we picked up several pints of periwinkles, filled our bottles with salt water, returned to some sand-hills at the side of the creek, lighted a fire, cooked them in a panniken we fortunately has with us, and made a hearty supper.

Sunday, Nov. 6. —We could not partake of any breakfast on account of excessive thirst, caused by the periwinkles eaten the night previous. Our hardships had now fairly commenced. We again made our way to the beach, and travelled along the coast, in the hopes of terminating our journey without going into the interior of the country, but our hopes were soon blasted; for after travelling about two miles, our progress was impeded by a heavy surf striking against immense cliffs at four or five hundred feet high. We were obliged to ascend there, and we did it at the risk of our lives, which we did not then consider of much value to us. When we reached the summit, we went inland in a north-easterly direction, and travelled as usual, through brush-wood, over sand and stony hills, &c, about the distance of fifteen miles, and observed in the distance, at the summit of a very high hill, thickly studded with tall trees and scrub, a lagoon, known to the Islanders by the name of " Snake Lagoon."

We endeavoured to make our way to it, but could not, in consequence of the scrub not allowing us to proceed in the direction we required. It afterwards proved to be fresh water. We had not quenched our thirst for the last two days, nor tasted anything to eat today, with the exception of a sea-gull killed on the beach in the morning. The sun becoming excessively hot, we sat down under some bushes that afforded a little shelter. After resting about two hours, we travelled a short distance further, when Mr. Osborne was again taken ill, sat down, and proposed to divide the party, and leave Dr. Slater and myself with him. This arrangement was not agreed to ; and we induced him in a short time to proceed. When we had travelled about two miles we observed another lagoon, called by the Islanders "Morrell's Lagoon," which we reached about seven o'clock. We here observed the footsteps of two persons, (one without shoes) and a dog. We skirted its left bank, and heard a gun fire, which we supposed to be from the Africaine. At this time I left some periwinkles, bottles, and sponge, on the beach of the lagoon. Mr. Osborne and Dr. Slater said they would not proceed any further, but requested the remainder of the party to go on, and endeavour to get on board the Africaine that night, and send them some assistance in the morning, which we promised to do. We had travelled about an hour when it became dark, without our observing the sea, so that we were obliged to halt for the night.

Monday November 7.—This morning the sea was not visible till we had travelled S.E. from fifteen to twenty miles, when we observed it, and made the coast in the afternoon, at Bay d'Estrée. We shot two sea gulls, immediately cut their throats, and sucked their blood, which afforded us great relief, having had no water for the last three days, nor scarcely anything to eat; we lighted a fire and cooked them, and afterwards travelled along the beach some distance, and observed a studding-sail boom erected there, from which circumstance it is know by the Islanders as "Studding-sail Boom Beach." Here we again lighted a fire, about twenty yards from the beach, and gathered several arms-full of sea-weed for our beds. Before we laid down we observed a large black snake crawl from underneath the weed, but we were too tired to care for snakes, and this night's rest was the most comfortable we had experienced during our excursion.

Tuesday, Nov. 8.—We travelled along the beach nearly the whole day, (observing the staves of two large casks, tied up, of the kind used for whaling) in the hopes of seeing some shipping, and were under the necessity of bathing our faces and mouths with salt water, by means of a sponge, which afforded us some little relief; feeling confident we were at Bay d'Estrée, we again struck inland in a due northerly direction, and came in sight of Lagoon Bay, where Captain Sutherland says he anchored. We lighted our fire and rested for the night.

Wednesday, Nov. 9 — This morning we eagerly sucked the drops of water from off the trees that surrounded us, it having rained somewhat considerably during the night; we then waded through the lagoons, in a westerly direction, and afterwards found some brackish water in a gulley, and drank very heartily of it. From its effects is must have been mineral water, and it made us unable to proceed for about two hours. We again travelled inland through abundance of scrub and underwood, and in the evening we made Seal Bay, and observed on the beach three huts. We picked up a quantity of perriwinkles and cooked them for our supper, being the first meal we had had for four days, except the two gulls shot on Monday.

Thursday, November 10th.—We travelled along the beach without shoes or stockings, (they being entirely worn out,) a short distance, where, in a gully running down from the mountains, we found some fresh water, being the first we had drunk for five days ; —we then proceeded about five miles further, and observed the Shipping in Nepean Bay, but were obliged to go inland again, the rocks being too bold for us to pass. At about 11 o'clock, we again made the beach, when Mr. Nantes was taken ill. He lay down on the beach, and desired us to proceed and send him assistance. It being low water, we waded through the shoalest part, until we came to Three-well River, which we experienced much difficulty in crossing. None of us were able to swim, but we crossed over opposite to a Settlement formed by the Surveying Party, where the writer of this nearly lost his life for the second time since the party left the ship, by drowning. He was only saved by Mr. Bagg's taking hold of the hair of his head, and his being so much taller, enabled him to do so.

In about an hour after this, we arrived at Kingscote, the settlement of the South Australian company. Immediately on our arrival, Mr. Samuel Stephens took the greatest care of us; and under the directions of Dr. Wright, (whose attention I cannot forget to mention) had some nourishing food prepared for us; he then despatched a boat for Mr. Nantes, whom they did not find till the next day. The next morning we found that the greatest anxiety was entertained for our safety by those of the Settlement, and by our fellow-passengers on board the Africaine; that the Islanders with their wives had been despatched in various directions over the Island; and a boat sent about the coast to trace us, if possible, immediately on the arrival of the Africaine. Each night we were out, cannonades were fired, and fires made on the highest hills in various directions. The footsteps we observed, and the guns we heard fire at Morrell's Lagoon, proved to have been made by one of the parties who were in search of us. All this was done under the immediate directions of Mr. Samuel Stephens, Manager of the South Australian Company, Dr. Wright and Mr. Hallett, whose exertions and anxiety on this occasion, deserve our warmest thanks.

To divert from the subject before me I cannot help speaking of Captain Duff only in terms of reproach, when he heard from Mr. Stephens, it was unlikely we should ever return, he was in duty bound to have kept his vessel in Nepean Bay a few days longer, to have ascertained the result, and not allow some of us to remain on the Island at least a month before we could proceed to the main, and then only by the indulgence of Mr. Samuel Stephens. Up to the time I write, nothing, unfortunately, has been heard of Dr. Slater or Mr. Osborne, except that the islanders had observed their track and followed it some considerable distance. One black woman was out sixteen days, without being able to discover them, so that there is not much doubt they must have perished, and what has become of their bodies I cannot think of without feelings of deep regret.


SOUTH AUSTRALIAN COMPANY. (1837, July 8). South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (Adelaide, SA : 1836 - 1839), p. 3.

Note that this "diary" was published 8 months after the event. Some believe he had not kept a diary at the time, but this account was created later from memory - in order to stave off criticism from those who doubted his story.


Adelaide, 27th July 1837.

To the Editor of the South Australian Gazette.

Sir,—My attention has been called by Captain Duff of the Africaine, to the following paragraph contained in your journal of the 8th instant. Mr. Robert Fisher, in his account of an Excursion into the interior of Kangaroo Island, says,

"I cannot help speaking of Captain Duff only in terms of reproach; when he heard from Mr. Stephens it was unlikely we should ever return, he was in duty bound to have kept his vessel in Nepean Bay a few days longer, to have ascertained the result, and not allow some of us to remain on the Island at least a month before we could proceed to the main, and then only by the indulgence of Mr. Samuel Stephens."

The gentlemen who undertook the unfortunate excursion alluded to, did so merely for their own gratification and contrary to the advice of Captain Duff, who, with great reluctance, [this is contradictory to an early statement made by Gouger - according to A. A. Lendon] acceded to their wish to land. On reaching Nepean Bay, and learning the little prospect which existed of any of the party returning, Captain Duff was earnest in his attempt to get a party of Islanders to go in search of the wanderers; and a few hours after landing, some sealers and natives actually started in quest of them. Mr. Hallett, a partner with Captain Duff, being compelled by some mercantile arrangements, to remain upon the Island, undertook to render every assistance in his power to recover the party, and to supply them with all necessaries, should they happily be found alive. Mr. Stephens also, the Colonial Manager of the South Australian Company promised to use every exertion in unison with Mr. Hallett, both to find and restore to health the lost pedestrians.

Having thus done what he could for Mr. Fisher and his friends, Captain Duff yielded to the earnest wish of the emigrants on board (about sixty in number) to proceed to their destination; nor could he in justice have acted otherwise, for, as the voyage was considered as terminating on arrival at Kangaroo Island, the passengers on board were compelled to pay at a rate agreed on per diem for their maintenance in the ship, added to which, if the Africaine had long remained at Nepean Bay, according to Mr. Fisher's idea of Captain Duff's duty, a heavy demurrage would have commenced, the payment of which would have fallen on the passengers. I shall only add to this statement of facts, that Captain Duff's conduct during the voyage to all his passengers was highly to be recommended; he was uniformly kind and conciliating, and he certainly merits from all the passengers of the Africaine the application of other language than terms of reproach.

I am, Sir, Your most obedient Servant,


CAPTAIN DUFF OF THE AFRICAINE. (1837, August 12). South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (Adelaide, SA : 1836 - 1839), p. 6.

Robert Gouger, a fellow Africaine passenger, was Colonial Secretary at the time. - Ed.


September 1st, 1837.

To the Editor of the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register, [from Robert Fisher]

SIR—I am reluctantly compelled to notice the letter in your last number, pretending to be explanatory of Captain Duff's proceedings at Kangaroo Island, signed "Robert Gouger."

Why Mr. Gouger should take upon himself to defend Captain Duff, I know not. I suppose Mr. Gouger had reasons for not daring to refuse Captain Duff's orders.

My brother "wanderers" were unaware, as well as myself, of the dangers and difficulties we had to encounter, and I unhesitatingly assert that Captain Duff had no right whatever to have allowed us to land, much less to have treated us with the cool inhumanity he did after our safe arrival; nor ought Mr. Robert Gouger to have been the first to urge such a mad-headed project, and the first to decline going. Such was the fact.

What does Mr. Gouger mean by saying we "did it for our own gratification, and contrary to the advice of Captain Duff, who, with great reluctance, acceeded to our wish to land"? Did not Mr. Gouger particularly wish Mr. Osborne to go, and obtain a promise from him that he would, while his real friends advised him to the contrary; and thus one life was sacrificed? And did not Mr. Gouger himself urge us to the expedition because he wished some information about the soil of the Island?

If Captain Duff was at all reluctant, he would not have ordered two days' provisions, six bottles of rum, and a little brandy to be got ready, and allowed us the use of a boat, and desired the chief mate to go with us to see that we were safely landed.

It is too bad that Mr. Gouger, who himself planned the journey, and was the readiest to shirk the danger it presented, should now come forward to slander those who had the courage which he wanted!! I have no scruple in declaring that I attribute the loss of Dr. Slater and Mr. Osborne, and all the sufferings the survivors endured, to their following Mr. Gouger's own scheme, for which had it been successful, he would probably have claimed the credit, as he did, of writing letters from Sydney to his grandmother, but of which he was the copyist only, the author being Mr. Wakefield. By a rather singular coincidence it happens that I know this fact, having printed these letters, and therefore had more to do with their composition than their title-page author.

I am. Sir, Your most obedient Servant,


GOUGER'S DEFENCE OF CAPT. DUFF. (1837, September 16). South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (Adelaide, SA : 1836 - 1839), p. 6.

There was no rejoinder by Robert Gouger.

The account by Fisher was more or less verified by the diary published in 1915 by her grandson Evan Kyffin THOMAS, of Mrs. Mary THOMAS (the wife of the Robert THOMAS, the government printer, who also arrived on the Africaine, and who professed guardianship of the 19 year old Osborne, an East Indian half-caste). FISHER was employed by Robert THOMAS as a printer.

Fisher's account was also similar to a letter published by fellow trekker Charles James NANTES who wrote from Geelong, Victoria, when some human remains were discovered on Kangaroo Island, nearly 30 years later. Incidentally, in his letter, Nantes also observed:

I might remark that it was thought somewhat singular by us that the four who kept up best, and were finally saved, were those who smoked, and we considered that the effect of smoking in raising the saliva to the mouth relieved in some measure the great thirst which tormented us.

HUMAN REMAINS IN KANGAROO ISLAND. (1866, May 1).South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 3.

The account was also verified, more or less, by Alfred Austin Lendon, M.D., a member of the Royal Geographical Society, with a paper published in its Proceedings for 1924-25.

Alfred Austin Lendon, M.D., The Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch, Proceedings for the Society, Session 1924-1925 Vol XXVI

For his paper, Lendon set out to follow the exact route. "Our trip revealed no country such as Sutherland described..." " Over and again we wondered, not that any of the party failed to complete the journey, but that four of them should actually have succeeded in doing so in their half starved condition." (Lendon, p.80)

Now, Mr and Mrs Thomas, distressed by the late arrival of the stragglers at Nepean Bay, and the unsuccessful searches for Slater and their charge Osborne, were not fully convinced of the verbal account given by the survivors. "there was something unsatisfactory about their tale, which seemed, according to Mrs. Thomas, to be rather contradictory and evasive." (Lendon, p.81). Despite the general belief that there was no hope remaining, Fisher and Nantes were remarkably optimistic, asserting they Slater and Osborne would soon turn up.

"As months rolled on the suspicions entertained by Mrs Thomas that there had been some foul play were fanned by casual allusions made to 'that hot-headed Irishman,' and by sundry hints dropped from time to time that there had been disagreements amongst the party as to the course they should take. . Her son-in-law (J. M. Skipper) reported that he had once overheard Nantes and Fisher quarrelling, when the former (he believed it was) said 'If you say much, I will out with what was done on the island," to which Fisher replied 'You can't do that without breaking your oath.' " (Lendon, p.82)

In 1858 (by Boxall) and also in 1866 (by Porter) there was much excitement and speculation on the discovery of human remains on Kangaroo Island, but there was no conclusive proof that the remains were either Slater or Osborne.

Human Bones Discovered on Kangaroo Island (1858, July 30). The South Australian Advertiser(Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1889), p. 2. Also see

It transpires that Fisher was not of an impeccable character (Lendon, p.82), and subsequently "we may ask whether his account of the Kangaroo Island expedition was accurate and truthful." The publication of the "diary" had been compiled "most probably after their arrival at Glenelg, where it was found that their tale did not thoroughly satisfy their fellow passengers of the Africaine." "If the account be not a truthful one, there could have been only one reason for inventing such a fairy tale, and that reason must have been that three was something to conceal." (Lendon p.84)

See also Thomas, E K (ed), 1983, The Diary and Letters of Mary Thomas (1836-1866); being a record of the early days of South Australia (3rd edition) Gillingham Printers - "I could not divest myself of the idea that there had been some foul play somewhere, and I think so still" p.88, and "they had a joint oath to keep secret" p.90.


The day following the landing of Dr. Slater and party at Harvey's Return the Africaine anchored in Nepean Bay. Upon the officials enquiring when the pedestrian party was likely to arrive they were shocked to hear that the possibility of their reaching the settlement unaided was almost inconceivable. Mr. Gouger writes in his diary, "All agree in saying it is impossible, but that they should be lost in the woods, and unless very fortunate in finding water would be starved to death." Search parties were at once organised under the immediate supervision of Mr. Stephens, Dr. Wright, and Mr. Hallett, and dispatched in various directions. As these parties consisted of islanders well acquainted with the country, accompanied by their native women, great hopes were entertained of their ultimate success in finding the unfortunate wanderers. Each night the highest hills on every side were lighted up with beacon fires, and cannons were fired at intervals in the hope that either by sight or sound the party might be guided to safety. While the search was continuing, and before the Africaine left for Holdfast Bay, Mr. R. Gouger and four others made an excursion inland. After pushing their way for several miles through thick bush and bramble, and scrambling almost continually over logs of dead timber, two or three of the party reached a stream called by the islanders the "Three Well River," renamed by the early settlers the Morgan River, after the captain of the Duke of York, and eventually and finally christened the Cygnet. On the river and adjacent lagoons were "millions of wild ducks and black swans." They wandered many miles, and finally after an exciting battle with a wild sow and four young ones, in which they were hard put to it to gain the victory, they arrived at "Governor” Warland's farm. Mr. Gouger praises Warland's hospitality, industry, and general behaviour. He regaled the visitors with roast pork and damper, washed down by ti-tree tea, which Gouger highly commends. Warland had four acres of fine wheat, a large, well stocked garden, and a farmyard with substantial and well filled pigsties, and large stock of poultry of all descriptions.

HISTORY OF KANGAROO ISLAND. (1914, September 12).The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954), p. 8.

The Human Remains on Kangaroo Island.

1866. Mr. Porter, who some months ago discovered a skeleton on Kangaroo Island supposed to be that of Dr. Slater, of the ship Africaine, one of the first which reached the colony, informs us that he has since been again to the place, and found the skeleton as it had been left. This will, no doubt, surprise and perhaps offend many who are aware of all the circumstances, for it was understood that the Government would immediately do something to get the remains brought over, identified if possible, and then decently buried. But it has done nothing at all, we believe, except send to Mr. Porter for the relics he had fetched away, which he very properly refused until some steps should be taken to trace their ownership. When over last time Mr. Porter, who was accompanied by Mr. T. A. Woods, made a temporary tomb of loose stones — for there was not soil enough to dig a grave in— and placed the body in it, covering it up as close as possible. Thus it remains; but we hope soon to hear of the authorities doing what is, if not a literal duty, at least an act of decency which every-body would say should be done. There are many of Dr. Slater's fellow-passengers still alive -eg.. Dr. Everard, Captain Duff, and various others. To get the remains inspected by them might help to settle the question of their identity. Messrs. Woods and Porter inform us also that they examined the place more minutely than before, in order to judge of the probable cause of death. The beach along which the party are known to have travelled is there interrupted by a steep cliff, about nine hundred feet high. The deceased had made some progress upward when he evidently became exhausted. It is not probable that he had died of hunger, for penguins fly over the spot in thousands; nor of thirst, for there was a permanent pool of fresh water just over his head. The place is like a large crevice in the rock, only large enough for the person to have stretched himself in comfortably. It is admirably protected both from wind and sun, and from the washing of the sex From this fact, and the position of the body, it might be inferred that he had deliberately laid himself down to die, worn out with past exertion, and despairing of succour. Mr. Woods measured the principal bones of the skeleton, and found them under the average length, but unusually thick. He believes it to be that of a very strong thick-set man, under middle height. This description, it is supposed, would better accord with Osborne than with Dr. Slater. But whoever may have been the unfortunate sufferer, respect to his memory, and humanity to his friends, who may be still alive, demand that a more thorough enquiry should be instituted.

MISCELLANEOUS. (1866, July 28). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 6. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from