Matthew Burnett's trip to Kangaroo Island 1882


We have received the following interesting account from Mr. Burnett : — For some time past Kangaroo Island has laid on my heart as a place which needed a visit, perhaps more than any other part of South Australia, I have heard frequently that though the population of the island numbered over 400 souls no resident minister of religion was to be found there. I determined six months ago that prior to leaving South Australia I would visit the island and see for myself the true state of its inhabitants.

On Saturday, December 9, I left Glenelg in the Fishing Company's steamer Dolphin for Kingscote, a distance of seventy miles, which was accomplished in ten hours. Kingscote was the first place on the island where the South Australian Company settled forty-six years ago. At the present time there is a Telegraph Station, Post-Office, and about half a dozen houses. Kingscote is considered by medical men peculiarly adapted for invalids. The greater part of the place has suitable accommodation for visitors. On the Sabbath morning I collected the people together and addressed them in a large room, belonging to Mr. Wilson, the contractor. The same evening I spoke at Wisanger, or the Gap, at the residence of Mr. H. Partridge. There were twenty-five present.

On Monday I visited one of the oldest inhabitants of the island, Harry Smith. The old man, who lives at Smith's Bay, landed on the island in a sealing vessel from Launceston in 1832. I found Smith very communicative. He is now eighty years old. and bids fair to live ten years longer. The Government have granted the old man 40 acres of land for life.

Emu Bay, three miles from the Gap, possesses a good beach, and will in time become a favourite resort for visitors. On Monday evening I delivered by request an address on 'Temperance' at Mr. Partridge's. Mr. H. O. Thompson, an old settler, presided. The people appeared much pleased.

On Tuesday I traveled to Salt Lagoon, and on to Cygnet River. Mr. Daw, J.P., courteously placed his large room at my disposal, where I addressed the settlers, some of whom had travelled fifteen miles. After speaking on a religious subject, the people requested me to address them on temperance. I spoke for two hours on ' Pictures from Real Life.' Mr. Daw, J.P., presided. The meeting throughout was the most enthusiastic I held on the island. A majority of the audience signed the pledge.

Early next morning I started with my guide for American River, which we reached in the evening after a long uninteresting drive through scrub country. Mr. James Buick, who has resided at the American River for thirtv years, gave us a warm welcome at his hospitable home. Mr. Buick spoke with evident pleasure of the fact that he had been visited from time to time by Governors, Judges, statesmen, representatives of the Press, &c. His house is on the highway to Hog Bay. I conducted service with the family on the night of my arrival, and left next morning for Kangaroo Head, the residence oi Mr. James Buick, jun. After crossing the river, I found another guide waiting with horses. The first part of the ride is along the beach, where we found a number of choice shells. After leaving the beach we rode along the coast until we reached Kangaroo Head.

The same evening I delivered my first address at Penneshaw, better known as Hog Bay. Notwithstanding that the farmers were busy with their harvest, the State school (courteously granted) was filled for Divine worship. The second night the crowd was greater; ere the services closed the building was quite inadequate to hold the people, Penneshaw, named after the Governor's Private Secretary, contains at the present time eighteen houses ; whilst the district extending as far as Cape Willoughby, the extreme eastern part of the island, twenty miles distant, contains in all thirty-five families, representing a population of 200 souls. On Saturday, December 16, I visited Hog Bay River and Cape Willoughby, where I addressed the lighthouse-keepers and their families at midday. Mr. Carter, the head keeper, has been connected with the Government of the colony over forty years. I returned on the coastline by Antechamber Bay and Scuttle Fish, reaching Hog Bay at 8 p.m., after a forty miles ride. At 8.30 p.m. I conducted a temperance meeting under the presidency of Mr. Willson, J.P. The building was crowded; over thirty signed the pledge. On Sabbath evening, the 17th, I delivered my farewell address at Hog Bay. The building was too small to hold the people, who were gathered from near and far.

From information gathered from the most reliable source I find that the island is 100 miles long, and between thirty and forty miles broad. There are in all twenty-five sheep-stations, though a great deal of the land is scrubby. There are patches here and there which are good. Wheat will yield 20, 25, and 30 bushels to the acre. Barley, for which the soil appears well adapted, yields from 30 to 40, and occasionally 50 bushels. As a climate I should think Kangaroo Island equal to Tasmania. The thermometer is frequently 15° lower than Adelaide. Hot winds are scarcely felt. There is a weekly mail between Adelaide and the island, which arrives every Saturday at Hog Bay and Kingscote, and leaves again on Monday for Cape Jervis, where the letters remain until Tuesday night, and do not reach Adelaide until Wednesday morning.

To refer again to the moral and religious condition of the people, it is inexplicable why the Churches have not long ere this done more for the island. The Rev. C. Morse (Episcopalian) has visited the island for years at intervals of three, four, and six months. The Rev. Mr. Sinclair (Presbyterian), now in Victoria, also the Rev. J. Watt (Wesleyan) have paid flying visits. The people spoke in high terms of appreciation of the services of the gentlemen named. Messrs. James and Stephen Buick have conducted for nearly twelve months a Sunday-school and service at Hog Bay. Mr. Partridge has done a similar work on the other side of the island. The efforts of these lay gentlemen are above all praise. They with many others feel that the time has come for a resident minister to reside on the island. During my eight days' sojourn I travelled 120 miles ; visited many of the settlers; spoke twelve times; and was received everywhere with the greatest kindness, and my message with the greatest possible respect.

Before leaving Hog Bay I interviewed at length George Bates, who is mentioned by Mr. Bull in his book on ' The Early History of South Australia.' Bates supplied me with the following information, which many of our old colonists will read with more than ordinary interest : —

I was born in London on April 13, 1800, so you see I shall soon, please God, be eighty-three. I went to sea when I was only eleven years old on board the 74guns, commanded by Lord Torrington. I remained four years in the service. I then joined one of the King's yachts, commanded by Sir Thomas Hardy, who fought with the gallant Nelson at Trafalgar. I remained with Sir Thomas Hardy for twelve months. I then entered the merchant service, and went on a voyage which lasted twelve months. We were then paid off. I then joined an expedition ship, the Stephen Lushington, chartered by the Spanish Government. Remained in this service three years. I then engaged myself on shore as gardener to Captain Bacon. Stayed with him nine months. I still had a desire for the sea, and joined the ship Commodore Hayes in London. We brought out 320 prisoners to Van Dieman's Land, and after landing them at Hobart Town, we proceeded to Sydney, where I left my ship and joined a sealing party coming to King George's Sound in the brig Nearest of Sydney, which had twentythree men and three boats. We cruised about for twelve months. We signed articles to proceed to New Zealand, but having heard of the wild state of the natives there, for they were then cannibals, I resolved in my own mind, if possible, to escape from my ship. In the course of our cruisings we called at American River, on Kangaroo Island. That was in the year 1824. Myself and another escaped from our ship, and landed at American River just fifty-eight years ago. There were on the island at that time five men sealing and kangaroo-hunting. Their names were Wally, Everett, Currey, Randall, and Andrews. These have all passed away. Nathaniel Thomas died on the island two years ago. I am therefore the oldest inhabitant left on the island, and though in my eighty-third year I can see to read without glasses. . . . When the South Australian Company was formed, and I remember it well, in the year 1836, there were only six of us on the island, and eight aboriginal women, four belonging to Cape Jervis tribe, and the rest from Tasmania. In reply to the question how did you live before the colony was formed, Oh ! we got on fine ; we hunted for kangaroo and sealskins. Captain John Hart, of the schooner Isabella, cf Launceston, traded here. I have seen as many as 12,000 kangaroo-skins shipped at once. We also shipped 2,000 sealskins a year. The kangaroo-skins then sold at 30s. per hundred, and the sealskins 10s. each. Things were very dear at that time. Why, we actually had to pay £3 10s. for a gallon of rum, 10s. for a pound of tobacco, and actually 10s. for a common shirt.

Bates then gave me a deeply interesting account of the pioneers of the colony — several of whom have joined, the great majority— and others, notably Sir John Morphett. I remarked, ' Why, Mr. Bates, with all the golden opportunities you have had you should have been a millionaire.' ' Ah, you see,' shaking his head, ' if I had always taken care of my money ; but, as you said last Saturday night, drink has been the ruin of multitudes.' I had the pleasure before I left the old man of receiving his name to the pledge, and presenting him with the gold ribbon badge as the oldest inhabitant on he island and in the colony. Where I went (thanks to the Press) I found myself and work in all parts of the colony known to the people.

On Monday, the 18th, I crossed in a boat to Cape Jervis, and the same night spoke at Finnis Vale ; on Tuesday at Yankalilla, and subsequently came to Port Elliot, where I remain until I leave for Western Australia.

MATTHEW BURNETT'S VISIT TO KANGAROO ISLAND. (1883, January 3). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 6.