Kangaroo Island in 1843


Adelaide, Sept. 18,1843.

Sir - I most heartily congratulate you on the information you have been able to communicate relative to foreign vessels laying at the light ship for supplies. I am the more gratified from having often experienced the very friendly feeling existing on the part of the commanders of those fine ships, the American whalers, during my residence at Nepean Bay. Some of the officers of those vessels hailed even the circumstance of the small settlements of the South Australian Company as a real blessing in these remote seas, and often expressed themselves of Kangaroo Island as having found a sheet anchor. So lively, indeed, was the joy of Capt. Coffin, of the Statesman, whaler of Boston, that he knew no bounds, and appeared utterly at a loss for words to express his gratitude at the unexpected sight of the infant colony. What now must be his feelings upon a visit to our city, and "to a land flowing with milk and honey."

Every inducement was held out to the settlers to trade with them on the most liberal terms, and those who would not purchase were not allowed to leave the vessel without some memento of American good feeling. For our vegetables they were most anxious, and paid most liberally, and from the communicative spirit existing among the traversers of these seas, I am satisfied a great demand will arise for esculents, as also for our melon crop, as well as for our superior beef and mutton.

For vegetables, no place is better suited than Kangaroo Island for their production. Indeed, there are many things connected with that settlement which renders it (if I may use the expression) a valuable appendage to the colony.

As an article of export, I beg to allude to its Wallaby skins ; these when tanned are equal to any French kid. For the article of tanning, I would mention the prickly mimosa, an article but little known here, although it appears a shipment from Sydney to London has been made-it is not the bark only, but the whole plant : this is not all (though I fear I shall trespass on your columns, and exhaust the patience of your readers) ; this simple plant, and of which there are thousands of acres at Kan-garoo Island, is that which must eventually fence in all our lands ; it is of that nature in the Island, that it is in many places perfectly impenetrable ; it is so armed that no animal will approach it ; it is highly valuable, for its seed may be carefully collected, and would amply repay the collector, for many landholders here would gladly avail themselves of the opportunity of purchasing ; it is of quick growth, and will in the course of three years form a most formidable barrier, when our stringy-bark fences are no more, and will annually, by clipping, add another item to the list of our exports.

Another circumstance should be borne in mind, that the time will come that his Excellency may be pleased to order a survey of the Island ; the suburban allotments, I foretell, will realise a great sum, for I can show, that the greater portion of the land might be sold already fenced in, which must render it a very great acquisition to the purchaser. Of the harbour I need say but little, as it is well known to be one of the most secure in the world. A small jetty, a light on the sand spit, a few Artesian wells, and the land surveyed, with good government and power to maintain the peace, would render Kangaroo Island the happy abode of many industrious families. With many apologies for thus trespassing on your valuable space, I remain-Your obedient servant,


P.S.-Should the above be found worthy of a place in your widely circulated journal, I shall, with your leave, at a future day, point out other capabilities of the Island."

"Southern Australian, Tuesday 19 September 1843.


The ancient fable of the goose with the golden eggs, was never better moralized than by the sagacious legislators of South Australia,who, finding an excellent port, to which vessels were attracted by the lowness of its charges, resolved to exact so heavy a sum that no master would enter it unless compelled. Situated on a coast furnishing the finest feeding ground for the southern whale, and in the very centre of the resort of vessels from all parts of the world engaged in that hazardous and protracted occupation, whose masters would gladly avail themselves of the facilities our excellent port affords for refreshing their crews, and refitting, as well as obtaining supplies of almost all descriptions—the late wise Council of the Province have, by their absurd enactments, thrown away all these advantages. 

The experience of two seasons has now proved that the whalers, although anxious for the supplies we can offer them are obliged to evade the heavy impost the Province inflicts on all vessels entering the harbour, instead of coming up to Port Adelaide, where the crews would spend money, they remain at Kangaroo Island, and send coasting vessels at a heavy expense to bring them down their supplies. 

In order to show the folly of these duties, we have made a calculation, founded on, we believe, pretty accurate data. It is supposed that from 150 to 200 vessels visit this coast during the whaling sesson, of whom it may be fairly computed at least 50 would willingly put into our port for refreshments, could they do so without great expense. There would, we believe be no objection on the part of the captains to a moderate charge for pilotage and light dues; the crews would, as a matter of course, expend a considerable sum on duty-paid commodities, probably a much larger amount than the harbour dues would yield, while the South Australian grazier and farmer would be benefited by the considerable demand, which vessels, with crews of from thirty to forty hands would of necessity create. 

We conversed the other day with an experienced whaling captain who assured us that, were it known how cheaply and abundantly the vessels engaged in the fisheries could be supplied here with fresh and salt provisions, butter, cheese, flour, potatoes, and other vegetables, that there is no port to which they would resort so numerously as ours, if the burden of port charges were removed."

South Australian Register, Wednesday 20 September 1843




SIR - I exceedingly regret to find that a cargo of bark has been procured from Kangaroo Island ; and the more so, as it is well known this article cannot be obtained in that locality without destroying the whole plant, thus at once destroying the natural fences of the land. The parties procuring bark surely cannot be aware, that the whole tree, or bush, of the mimosa is available as an article of tannin, and the tan extract therefrom would, in London or Sydney, realize a good price.

I beg also to allude to the articles of grindstones, with which that island abound. I apprehend, that if a few of these stones were exposed for sale at a moderate price at the doors of our ironmongers, a ready sale would be effected-an article, I need scarcely say, in great request in the bush, and by not a few persons in the city.

It has often struck me, that a most important improvement might be effected by a " cross " (to use a breeding term) with the mutton-bird (met with in that vicinity in prodigious numbers) and our domestic pigeon, as the mutton-bird, when killed and opened, very much resembles an extraordinary fat mutton chop, whereas, our pigeons are destitute of this desiderátum. Could we once domesticate these wanderers, they would become, with their eggs, a valuable article of export; indeed, I very much question if our domestic poultry might not be much improved by the same means.

Among other minor productions to he found in a state of nature on the island, is the article of pipe-clay: this, as a renovator for our ceilings and cottages, far exceeds anything similar, as it is of that nature as to require no size, in using thus the unpleasantness of adhesion to our garments is avoided : this, if brought into the city, might be disposed of to advantage. Millstones, we are informed by Mr Menge, are in abundance on its southern shore, and on its northern shore is the material for lime in abundance.

In the woods are found the finest poles in the world, and when our hop plantations are formed, we must look to Kangaroo Island for a support for the vines. The salt in the lagoons is as fine as any in the world. The fish on its shores are in myriads. The principal trees appear to be a species of camphor, and would, there is no doubt, if properly managed, produce the drug in abundance. All the vegetation is highly inflammable, which accounts for the facility with which the island was nearly cleared of its kangaroos twenty-three years since, for it is a fact, that however green the wood is, the more rapid is the combustion.

The naturalist will also here find great scope for his talents on the beach or sand spit, which he can freely explore at the receding of the tide. The woods abound with the most splendid specimens of lizards and guana [goanna?] as also of the insect tribe.

A short inspection of the shrubs will satisfy the most sceptical of the quality of the land : in the vicinity of the hills, on the western side, land has been cultivated to some extent by two Americans, until "ardent spirits" became their master, and undid the labour of years. Leading to this land is a creek, of fresh water , its mouth is nearly parallel with Althorp's Island ; it is scarcely perceptible until well in land to effect this a good sea boat is necessary, as this is an iron-bound coast, and very similar to that of Dorsetshire. Seals play about here in great numbers on the rocks, and a sealing station on this spot, I have no doubt, would realize the most sanguine expectations, and at the termination of the whaling at Encounter Bay, something might be effected, as the whales are often seen playing in this vicinity, and come here to calve.

There are other advantages attending this island, but having already trespassed on your time and space of your publication, I must apologise, and beg to subscribe myself, 

Your very obliged, 


CORRESPONDENCE. CAPABILITIES OF KANGAROO ISLAND. (1843, October 17). Southern Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1838 - 1844), p. 3.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71618215

Five months later, the same (anonymous) correspondent wrote again, apparently frustrated that no one was listening to him:



SIR - I again respectfully call the attention of our land-owners, through the columns of your widely-circulated journal, to the dilapidated state of their fences, and to the fleeting season of sowing, and for procuring a lasting fence by means of the prickly mimosa, which abounds so plentifully on the South Australian breakwater (Kangaroo Island) the approaching season should by no means be lost sight of.

The wallaby tribe, we hear, have very materially increased since the first settlement was broken up, and several kangaroos have made their appearance in the island.

A party have also availed themselves of the hints thrown out some time since by myself, relative to the adjacent isles, a flock of sheep being just purchased for shipment to Thistle Island, the owners having a small craft for their own use.

I beg to call your attention, once more to the article of pipe-clay, which, among others, abounds in the isle, though not to be purchased in this city at any price ; this article in its natural state will supersede manufactured whiting, which we have hitherto imported.

I most ardently hope that on the return of a party from the island, its natural products will be more fully made known and developed ; and believe me, sir,

Your obedient servant,


KANGAROO ISLAND. (1844, March 22). Southern Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1838 - 1844), p. 2.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71628624