Kangaroo Island in 1866


[By A. M]


Although baby Beare was the first lawful settler to land upon Kangaroo Island, she was far from being the first to put foot upon its wild shores.

So long previously as 1824 George Bates had landed at Dashwood's Bay, and long before his advent the island had been occupied by a number of adventurous men, mostly sailors who had run away or arranged to be landed from whaling ships. The first settler was Thomas Whalley, who left a whaling ship named the General Gates in the year 1816 [see Comments below - Ed] and landed at Bew's Point (now called Roll's Point), immediately beneath where the Telegraph Station now stands. Two years afterwards he induced a man named Billy Day to leave a whaler which anchored there and join him in his Robinson Crusoe life.

From time to time the population of the island increased by ones and twos, and these wild settlers managed to get wives either by going over to the mainland and stealing the aboriginal women from their tribes or by purchasing them from the trading vessels which called periodically for the seal, wallaby, and kangaroo skins. The first settler had therefore been twenty years upon the island when the legal colonizers landed, and he had, by general consent, been elected chief man, under the title of 'Governor' Whalley.

He had taken a man named George Cooper into partnership, and they had managed to get some lubras, and establish a small farm upon the Three Well River, afterwards called the Cygnet, after the vessel of that name which anchored in Western Cove off the mouth of that creek. Their implements of agriculture consisted of spades, since they had no domestic animals except dogs. From time to time they had obtained seeds of various kinds from the visiting vessels, so that when the first emigrant vessel arrived the old settlers were in a position to supply them with vegetables, and even eggs, fowls, and fresh pork.

There are some queer stories extant about how these men were treated by the new settlers — how 'Governor' Whalley was bullied and persecuted by 'Governor' Stephens, and almost compelled to sell out his live stock at an alarming sacrifice,' and was afterwards refused the chance of buying back a single cock and hen and a sow pig at exorbitant prices. Even to this day poor old George Bates complains that he was robbed of £200 worth of whalebone which he had stacked up on the beach at Encounter Bay, and that whilst he is now living in penury the relatives of the old whaling and trading captain who 'annexed' his property are rolling in wealth.

The old residents upon the island were not the lawless set of men that they have been represented to be. Their ranks had been recruited at times by undesirable characters, but the example of Whalley, perhaps, and the natural honesty of the brave and reckless old salts would not allow them to associate with runaway convicts who occasionally tried to join them, and these fellows were generally glad to reship upon the first opportunity. Still, the sailors' proverbial love of rum and tobacco did lead them into some wild excesses whenever a certain old captain or other traders came round for their pelts. It is said that it was usual to set a keg of rum upon the deck directly the anchor was dropped, knock the head out, and place plenty of pannikins around. Not a word about business was allowed to be spoken until every visitor had well drunken, and then the captains obtained the most liberal bargains. After the orgy was over the men generally found themselves on shore, very seedy, with splitting headaches, fevered circulation, a few groceries, perhaps a bottle or so of rum, and some tobacco, and always a good supply of twine with which to make snares to catch more wallaby. Of course the vessel was gone, and so were all the skins.


This sort of thing had gone on for about twenty years, when 'Governor' Stephens arrived with, the first immigrants in the barque Duke of York. Governor Whalley was at hand, so it is said, clothed in skins and wearing moccasins, and was asked by Mr. Samuel Stephens, 'Who are you? 'I am the Governor" said Whalley. "No ; you are not. I am the Governor, ' answered the little man, strutting to and fro and fuming. 'I tell you I am,' said Whalley, in a positive manner, and continued, 'Who made you a Governor? You a Governor! Why, you are not even one of King John's men; you don't stand 4 feet in your stockings ,' and so the dispute went on. However, the small man was the biggest in the end, and Whalley became reduced and ruined. He dropped suddenly dead in Adelaide about twenty-two years ago. He was a man of some education and abilities, and sent his son to Tasmania to be educated.


The new settlers found a very wild place at Kingscote — a thick forest, with a thicker scrub. Some of the trees were of large size, but they have long since been cut down. There was no water at Kingscote, and they had to send boats across the bay to Point Marsden for it, or else over to the Frenchman's Spring at Hog Bay. It was not till a long time afterwards that they found an abundance of beautiful fresh water by sinking about 3 feet in the sand at the spit close beside them.

The first thing the emigrants had to do was to cut down the trees and scrub to form a township. The South Australian Company was the only employer of labour, and there was, of course, a good deal of discontent amongst a certain class of employee's. They had to depend upon the Company's stores for all they wanted ; the kangaroos that had been so plentiful when Flinders called at the same place in 1802 — being so tame that the sailors knocked them on the head with sticks— were now almost extinct; emus were not to be found anywhere; and even wallabies, which to this day are fairly numerous, could not be found or caught by the inexperienced new chums.

There was really no grass at Kingscote, and very little on the Three Well River, so that the settlers could not keep goats, or sheep, or cows. On one occasion afterwards the captain of a vessel offered to send a nanny goat ashore to supply milk for a young child, but he was asked also to send the hay wherewith to feed her. It was about 9 miles through a dense scrub to Whalley and Cooper's farm, and these men had not provided for so large an influx of customers, so that their scanty supplies of fresh vegetables was soon exhausted. The place was a wilderness, not even a clear piece of ground to stand upon or to establish a garden on; no water, no communication with the civilized world ; and everything the settlers wanted had to be brought over by ships from distant countries. They had nothing but limestone on the surface, but sent to Tasmania for lime. Close by there was a bank of kaolin clay, but they had to send to England for bricks. There was wood without end within reach of their tent doors, but timber for houses, for door frames, window-sashes, floors, joists, &c, must be brought from the uttermost ends of the earth. Cedar came from Sydney, deals from the Baltic, and even Mr. T. H. Beare established himself and family in a tent close by the beach; Mr. Stephens had a commodious house built on the brow of the hill, overlooking the Bay of Shoals; Dr. Menge', the Company's geologist, built himself a kind of Kafir hovel at the bottom of the hill, where he made himself a garden by carrying down bagsful of rich soil from the hills above.

The Company sent out a number of fruit trees, including almonds, mulberries, date palm, and carob. Four or five immense almond-trees and two mulberry trees still remain on the site of the Company's garden, but they are being terribly ill used. Mr. Stephens had some of the trees afterwards sent up to Adelaide, and there are a fine oak and a date-palm in the ' Governor's Kitchen Garden' just by the Rotunda, on the City Bridge-road, and until a few weeks ago there was a carob tree upon North-terrace, at the corner of Stephens-place, which was ruthlessly destroyed by sawing it off close to the ground.

Amongst the first passengers were two fishermen, engaged by the Company at Liverpool at £100 a year each, with two assistants at lower salaries, and found in boats, nets, lines, and gear of all kinds. These men ruined the nets during the first week or two, and somehow never caught any fish. This was doubtless owing to laziness of the most pronounced character, because there are multitudes of fish on the grounds close by, and at that time the seals existed in great numbers about the island, and they would not have congregated there unless there had been food for them.

The passengers included men of all sorts, from agricultural labourers to University scholars. Those who had been brought up to hardships were often the most difficult to please. Everybody had to take whatever employment the Manager could offer him, and it was not an uncommon thing to hear a herdsman quoting Latin or woodcutters addressing each other in Greek. One young gentleman, who had been educated for the Church in England, was proud to get a billet to sort rotten potatoes at Kingscote, and his brother, who had been a gentleman in England, filled a situation as valet in the same locality.

Leigh's account of the settlement in 1837 states that there was a disturbance on the night of June 6, when some of the old islanders came down, setting fire to the scrub and threatening the new settlers. This wants confirmation. On the 27th June he relates that the last sheep was killed and sold at Is. 6d. per lb., the whole colony being present. July 1 — The Cygnet arrived from Sydney; left with 1,400 sheep, landed three; all the rest died through the roughness of the passage. July 5— Settlers buying wallaby at 2s. 6d. to 4s. each and up to 7s. each. July 13 — Started to Whalley's Farm on a road cut by Beare and Stephens. Amongst the multitude of goods and chattels brought to the island were a saw mill, a cornmill, a patent slip capable of accommodating a vessel of 500 tons, and a steam-engine of 20-horsepower. Warehouses and dwelling-houses built in sections — called 'Manning's houses'— also formed part of the equipment.

The mother of the little Beare who was put first on shore in 1836 died in June, 1837, after giving a new sister to the first real legal colonist, and she was buried just above what was then called Company's Point. The name has since been changed to 'Reeves's Point,' and the point itself is called 'The Stony Spit.' The remains were enclosed in a brick vault, the bricks coming from England, and although the grave is unenclosed the vault is quite perfect to this day. Not so the graves in the same cemetery, which have been ploughed over and cropped with barley or some other vulgar cereal by some person who ought to have more respect for the remains of our pioneer colonists.


Of the pre-colonists only one remains George Bates— and he is over 86 years of age. He has not been saving, although during his time he has handled property that ought to have brought him enough to give him a competency in his old age. The Government allows him rations, and he has liberty to live in a stone hovel at Hog Bay. The residents there look after him a bit, but he is still sturdy and independent. He complains that his eyesight is not as good as it used to be, and feels that old age is creeping upon him. His memory for dates and occurrences is quite extraordinary, but he cannot be induced to talk about the doings of the islanders before the advent of the Duke of York party.

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), Tuesday 27 July 1886, page 6National Library of Australia http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44579010