Kangaroo Island in 1844

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The Southern Australian.



DURING the recent expedition by Mr Tolmer, Inspector of Police, with a party of men to Kangaroo Island, a great deal of information was collected respecting it, which we now propose to communicate to the public.

In order to make the narrative as perspicuous as possible, we shall commence by a description of the various points, at which settlements or stations have been made. Kangaroo Island is nearly divided into two, by what is called American River, a large expanse of sea water running up about fifteen miles from Nepean Bay. A neck of land about a mile across, separates it from the southern ocean. This river or inlet is twelve miles across. On the eastern side there is a shoal, about six miles in length, by two in breadth, called American Beach. In all other parts the depth ranges from four to six fathoms. At Point Morrison on the western side the coast rises in high bluffs, and the river forms a perfectly safe harbour in all winds, and for vessels of the largest size. This is reported on the in- formation of Mr Dowsett, of the Jane Flaxman, who expressed his surprise that this admirable harbour, so easily accessible, and so important to vessels in the neighbouring seas in case of a gale, was not better known. Close to Morrisons Point several whales have been seen, which is a good proof of deep water. At this point, we may here mention, there is a most extraordinary echo, which distinctly reverberates sounds four or five times. Near to the head of the inlet is the salt lagoon, from which all the salt that has been sent to Port Adelaide was taken.

The eastern part of the island, divided by the isthmus we have mentioned, may be called the head, and the western part the body of the island, the proportion of size between them being similar to those parts in the animal creation. The head of the island contains only two stations, namely, Hog Bay about twelve miles to the east of that river, and Ante Chamber or Creek Bay upon the coast in Backstairs Passage.

At Creek Bay is settled a person named Nat Thomas, who has been on the island 17 years. He has got an excellent farm, and a good house and dairy. He has a herd of 300 goats, and a great number of fowls. A river of excellent water runs the whole year close past his house. At this place there is a considerable extent of good county, and high undulating land in the interior. Nat Thomas has got a native woman who catches wallaby for him. By her he has three very interesting little children, who combine the intelligence of the white with the activity of the native.

On the west side of American River are three houses, one uninhabited belonging to a man named Buck, another the residence of a Mr Potts, who has built a small cutter for the salt trade in which he has been engaged. The next settlers are two brothers named Gardiner, who are also employed in the salt trade. These persons have cleared land of scrub, and have cultivated for their own consumption. The soil is excellent and the crops looked well. At Morrison Point lives an old man named Jacobs who has been 17 years on the island.

Further to the westward from American River, are Kingscote and Threewell River, which though distant several miles may be called one settlement, the residents at Kingscote having their farms at Threewell River. This river is about eight miles to the south of Kingscote, and runs into Kingscote Harbour.

The country in the neighbourhood is mostly covered with dense scrub: the principal clear land is between Kingscote and Threewell river, where there are some grassy plains about six miles in circumference. The soil is saltish, and is covered with a silky grass. At Threewell River about 100 acres of scrubby land have been cleared, and 40 or 50 acres are cultivated. The soil is excellent and the crops both of corn and vegetables have been abundant and good. There are also a number of cattle and goats belonging to the South Australian Company and to the settlers, which chiefly run wild in the bush. There is only one horse on the island, but it is big enough for two, being more than seventeen hands high. A road between Kingscote and Threewell River, partly along the open plains we have mentioned, was cleared by the South Australian Company at an expense of about £500. At Kingscote, as is well known, that Company had at first their principal establishment. They built many excellent houses, and have there still a large amount of property. The whole is in charge of Mr Woodroffe. The houses at Kingscote are built upon the face of a hill which is covered with rich grass, and nearly clear of timber. There are good gardens attached to the houses. The whole scene as viewed from the sea, is beautiful and picturesque.

Along the coast to the west of point Marsden, settlements have been formed at Freestone, Hairseal Beach, St.Georges', BloodyJacks Bay, and Western River, the latter being nearly due south of Althorps Islands. At Freestone there is a good boat harbour, and a river with good water. At Bloody Jacks Bay there is a nice little stream with a constant supply of fresh water. There is also a valley with 20 or 30 acres of good land nearly clear. Indeed the soil is all good for several miles from the sea to the hills, and the gum scrub is easily cleared. This place is at present unoccupied, Mr Purcell the last resident having been drowned, and his widow lately returned to the mainland. Western River is a fine stream of water, which has its sources far in the interior, and runs the whole year. It is navigable for boats during the present season a mile up from the bar. The entrance into it is most romantic, being through an opening between immense piles of rocks at least 250 feet high. Inside there is a little bay. Farther up a beautiful valley opens out, with excellent soil on each bank of the River. The country is beautiful, and wooded with splendid gum trees. Western River was the resort of the prisoners captured by the Police. On the valley facing the river there was an excellent stone house about 20 feet square, with port holes at each end, and a door in front, there was also a field with four acres of wheat, and a nice garden with vegetables, all growing luxuriantly.

On the south side of the island Messrs Hagen & Hart have two fisheries, one at Flour Cask nearly opposite American River, and the other at Doyle's Bay, 35 miles to the west. The party at Flour Cask have caught several fish, but the other party have been unsuccessful.

In the neighbourhood of Kingscote and Three well River, and on the high table land in the centre of the body of the island, are a number of fresh and salt lakes, or lagoons, of considerable extent. In the course of one day the police saw a great number of lakes, and fell in with three fresh ones, one of them is called Rush Lagoon, another the Duck Lagoon, and the largest, which is six miles in circumference, is called Murrell's Lagoon. On these lagoons were vast numbers of geese, swans, ducks, and other water fowl. The banks of the lagoons are lined by a beautiful tract of fine grassy land, covered with shrubs, about a quarter of a mile in breadth, behind which is a light soil covered with low gum scrub. This scrub generally prevails in the interior. There are but few trees, and these chiefly she oak. On some of the ridges of the hills, however, are forests of trees with bare stems fifty to sixty feet high, and tufted at the top like the palm, but with small leaves like those of the fir. The lower parts of these ridges are covered with the prickly acacia, and dead wood. There are also great plains, covered with the grass tree, from six inches to nine or ten feet in height, mingled with scrub. Inside of the leaves of the grass tree is a pulp, which wanderers eat, when at a loss for food. They also eat the cactus, and relish much a grub which is found in the larger gum scrub, near the roots of the plants. But as the pulps of the grass tree is a purgative, people who live on this "bush fare" of the island always get very lean. There is also a short scrub, something like the tea tree on the main land, which the islanders call their bush tea tree. They all use it, by boiling the green leaves. lt is not unpleasant, particularly with sugar and milk. It acts medicinally, and purifies the blood. There is also a small, very low bush, upon, or rather under which, grows a fruit about the size of an English currant. This is a delicious fruit, with a fine acid; and as in some places it covers large tracts among the scrub and prickly bush, it might be exported in tons. It is now in season. The islanders make puddings, and excellent jams of it.

There were twelve black women on the island, several of them Van Diemen's Land natives, and the rest from the mainland of Australia. They are generally between forty and fifty years of age, and have been upwards of seventeen years on the island. They are of the greatest use to the settlers, in catching wallaby, which is the principal employment of many of them. Ten of these blacks remain constantly in the service of the residents, but two of them have always deserted and joined runaways, and caught wallabys for them, without which, in fact, they could not subsist. These two, who are called "Sal" and " Suke," have been brought up by the police to Adelaide.

We may here mention the mode of catching the wallaby. They get a new piece of canvass, with the threads of which they make a set of strings eighteen inches long, with a noose. The set is three hundred, being the number required to make a profit. The wallabys have numerous established pathways through the scrub, in every part of the island, and across these the snares are placed, so that when the wallaby springs along the path, it is almost sure to be caught. These nooses the black women visit at day break, and generally return loaded about nine or ten o'clock. Their masters skin the wallabys : the skins are then extended on sticks till they are dry, and are afterwards put up in bundles, fifty in each. The tails are not skinned; they are put in boiling water, the hair is then scraped off, they are then covered with hot ashes, and make delicious eating. They are much more delicious than the tails of kangaroos.

The police fell in with an old man named Warland, who has been on the island twenty seven years. He had just returned from a three months' cruise after wallaby, and had caught 1,500. These were worth sixpence each in Adelaide, so that he would clear nearly £40. These skins suit admirably for upper leathers of shoes, for which purpose they are freely purchased, and are reckoned superior to kangaroo. They are also made into rugs and coats, by the islanders, with sinews drawn from the tail of the wallaby. A rug of forty skins is worth forty shillings.

The islanders all wear moccasins, which are made by placing the skin of a fresh killed wallaby over the foot. They sew it, and keep on till dry. It can then be put on and off like a shoe.

The islanders also kill sundry seals in caverns under the rocks, along the coast. They all have boats for the purpose, with which they enter the caverns, and kill the seals with clubs. The only mortal part is the nose, which alone they aim at as they may strike and cut at any other part without effect, except spoiling the skin. A seal skin is worth 10s. Another profitable occupation is collecting the eggs of the mutton bird on Althorpe Isles. These birds all lay eggs on one day in the year only, when the islands are actually colored white with the multitude of eggs. These eggs are excellent eating. The birds are also killed in great numbers with sticks, as they cannot fly well. When dried, they taste like red herrings.

It is a circumstance worth recording, that Warland 27 years on the island; a man named Bates 20 years; other settlers, and the black women, 17 years, as well as the more recent settlers, have never had a day's illness.

Indeed, sickness seems absolutely unknown on the island. Another fact regarding the weather, may be noted : it was remarked by the old settlers, that whenever it blew hard during the day it was always calm in the evening, and, on the other hand, when it blew hard during the night it became calm in the morning; and a prediction by Nat Thomas to the police of a calm at night, when a storm occurred during the day, was verified. They had put out to sea, and were obliged to return, but were enabled to sail in the evening. The settlers also said that when the wind blew from the south east, they were sure of settled weather for a week; but the wind from the contrary direction always brought up a heavy swell from the ocean, and generally bad weather.

The coasts of Kangaroo Island abound with fish, particularly snapper, and some of the rivers also teem with fish. On the coasts are found very splendid nautilus shells, some of which we have seen.

Exclusive of the men employed at the fisheries on the south coast, there are now upon Kangaroo Island 33 white men, 13 white women, 10 black women, 21 white children, and 3 half-caste children : in all 80 souls.

The Southern Australian. (1844, September 24). Southern Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1838 - 1844), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71630138