1. Scraps of Historical Interest

Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 - 1922), Saturday 20 January 1906, page 3


(By Ethel A. Bates, Penneshaw.) Part I.

Taking into consideration the fact that the sea girt shores of Kangaroo Island first proved a safe refuge and harbor for all British ships during the time of the colonisation and civilisation of Australia, the fact presents itself that since its first inhabitants of settlers it has not been progressing as one would imagine the oldest settlement should. When the South Australian Company landed here on November 3, 1836, they established a settlement at Nepean Bay, a short distance from what is now the township of Kingscote, so far back as this the township site was also fixed and building operations commenced, but owing to proving unsuitable as a permanent settlement the Governor and emigrants sailed for Holdfast Bay, and there, on December 28 following, the proclamation of the new colony was solemnised.

It is perhaps unnecessary for me to go so far back into the historic pages of the island, but the fact is evident that as much as might be has not been done to further its settlement and to the general comfort of the people resident there. Doubtless this is due to the fact that, having once been abandoned, people are chary of having further connection with this heretofore neglected little spot.

"Scraps of Historical Interest."

It is a fact generally admitted that Kangaroo Island has played no insignificant part in the history of this State. It must, on account of its many historical landmarks, secure much of the attention and interest of all South Australians. We are justly proud of the fact that it is here we have the first and oldest settlement; here we have the oldest cemetery in South Australia; here, too, is the oldest orchard, some of the trees, even now, bearing fruit abundantly. Almost all have heard of the old mulberry tree at Kingscote; many of its leaves are carried away by well-meaning visitors as mementoes. Then, too, we are proud of the living witness of Baudin's visit to Kangaroo Island early in the nineteenth century, the renowned "Frenchman's Rock;" this has withstood the stormy blast and surging seas for over a century, and even now is in a splendid state of preservation. Through the efforts of a few energetic subscribers it is hoped a canopy will ere long be erected over it. Nowhere else did the early discoverers of South Australia leave behind them such unmistakable proofs of their visit. The rock in question lies on the east end of Freshwater Bay, in the township of Penneshaw, and is in close proximity to the Hog Bay jetty.

At Kingscote an appropriate obelisk has within the last few years been erected to the memory of that brave navigator Flinders. Several notable places on our coastline owe their names to this great explorer, whilst others were discovered and named by the French navigator Baudin. All early pioneers of South Australia had much to contend with, but the life of the early Kangaroo Islander was undoubtedly the most hard and isolated possible to the imagination. A chat with very old settlers is most interesting, and will entirely verify my statements.

Vessels carrying mails, &c., in the early days never called here regularly; perhaps three, and even six, months would pass by before news of the outer world was received; the old flourbag containing the mails was therefore thricely welcome. Sometimes, so driven were the settlers by starvation that it is an old-standing fact that one settler offered a neighbor £90 for a bag of flour, whilst it is equally well known that the old identity George Bates (with whom I cannot claim relationship) subsisted for months on kangaroo, opossum, snakes, and iguanas. As a child I can dimly re-collect this old pioneer, and he is perforce associated with snakes, iguanas, and black gins.

Looking at the splendid fanning land surrounding Penneshaw, one often compares it with what it was 50 years back, when it was nothing but a wilderness. It is amusing to recall the fact that the first soil for farming purposes was broken by an old identity named Cheeseman, with an old wooden plough drawn by a team of goats. This particular spot is now called Dennis Creek. Several parts of the farms now cultivated with modern machinery were in the early days dug in with spade and shovel, or, maybe, if stony ground, picked in.

Harvesting was in those days no laughing matter, as the corn was all threshed with a flail, and later, when horses and bullocks were transhipped here, trodden out. I recently had the pleasure of inspecting one of the very oldest and primitive threshing floors; it should, I think, be preserved as a reminder of the trials and struggles of the first immigrants to Australia. Since those primitive days, when a man farmed whithersoever he willed, the island had all been surveyed, and many of the early settlers have been evicted from the homes they chose for themselves, probably whilst subject to and under the rule of the famous "Governor Wally," an old identity, who, I believe, escaped from some sailing vessel in the very early days, and was proclaimed "king" of the island. His subjects consisted mainly of runaway sailors and escaped convicts from Van Diemen's Land.

This came as a great surprise in latter years to the South Australian Company, who doubtless thought themselves the first to assume command of Kangaroo Island. They, however, found that not only was it inhabited, but laws and statures had already been drawn up with "Governor Wally," installed as "king" of Kangaroo Island, which was at that time a veritable waste of scrub and bush, populated chiefly by wild pigs, wallaby, kangaroo, snakes, and iguanas innumerable.

Governor Wally and his subjects worked some land on the Cygnet River for farming purposes; this he proudly named "The Farm." He also possessed the only horse on the island. "The Farm" was, on the arrival of the South Australian Company, purchased from the famous "king" by the company.

In later years large vessels passing near the island proved almost the only thing to break the continuous routine of their lives. The inhabitants were in the habit oi hailing these and exchanging their wares, such as the skins of the various wild animals, for tobacco, biscuits, preserves, and other delicacies from the men in charge. It is said that the islanders were always treated most politely by those on board, who, too, often proved to be foreigners and unable to interpret their meaning.

As the island became of more importance we were provided with postal arrangements, and soon mails were transhipped fortnightly from Cape Jervis, being brought to the island in whaling boats. Passengers to and from Adelaide were compelled to travel overland from Cape Jervis to Adelaide, after having been brought across the passage in the mailboat. In course of time this gave way to greater convenience, as a steamboat service was finally established between Port Adelaide and the isolated abode of the islander. These at first were the most inferior of steamers, and passengers travelling by them often did so at the risk of their lives. The fares were necessarily exorbitant, and "going to town" in the early days was not what it is now. However, as the trade increased, larger and better equipped boats traded here, and within the last 30 years remarkable changes have taken place; from a sailing boat we now enjoy a twice-a-week steam mail service, and passengers to and from Adelaide will find every convenience in the commodious little vessels now trading here. The fares, too, are comparatively trifling, being at present 15/ return, 10/ single ticket. Constant communication is therefore finally established, and "going to town" is not the event in the lives of the younger generation it once was.