Obstreperous Kangaroo Island

An article [serialised] dealing with a series of incidents which occurred at Kingscote between September 1836 and January 1837. [By Alfred A. Lendon M.D.]

A second restropective article (written in 1935) provides another perspective.

Historical Records of the Early Settlement on Kangaroo Island. (1931, January 24). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 3 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191249152

THE SCENE OF THE STORY :— The Shores of Nepean Bay (2) between Old Kingscote (3), now known as Reeves' Point (4) and the Morgan (Cygnet) River (5). At anchor off Kingscote the "John Pirie" (6) and off tbe mouth of the Morgan, the Colonisation Commissioners' ship "Cygnet" (7) ; later the Cygnet is anchored in the Bay of Shoals.

THE PERSONNEL OF THE COMMISSION : — George Stevenson, Chairman (8) ; Thomas Bewes Strangways, Member (9) ; Henry Jickling, Secretary (10) ; W. A. Deacon. Chief Constable; W. Williams and J. Lee, Constables.

COLONIAL OFFICIALS :— Captain Lipson, R.N. (11) ; Lieut. Finnis, Late of 82nd. Regt. (12) ; Thomas Gilbert, Merchant (13) ; and John Hallett (14).

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN COMPANIES SERVANTS :— Samuel Stephens, Colonial Manager (16) ; Thomas Hudson Beare, 2nd Officer and Store keeper, (17). Cornelius Birdseye and Nash— (Beare's understudies.)

OLD SETTLERS ON THE ISLAND : 'Governor' Walland. William Day — his partner. Jacob Seaman. George Bates. William Thompson. Chadwiok ("servants" to Walland and Day), William Cooper, Capper.

S.A. COMPANY'S SERVANTS — Henry Mitchell, Butcher; William Wilkins, (18), Charles Simeon Hare (19) ; George Clark ; D. H. Schreyvogel, Clerk ; William West, Laborer (2); Samuel East; Staples; Jones.

Many writers have dealt with the history of those who settled on Kangaroo Island, both prior to the year 1836, and during tbe three years that the South Australian Company had its establishment there, but I have not seen any reference made to incidents which led to the dispatch to the Island of a Special Commission appointed during the first week of Captain Hindmarsh's reign as Governor of the Province. The first glimpse we get of the trouble is in a quaint tetter preserved in the Archives, which deserves to be transcribed in full. The writer is Samuel Stephens, and his office is that of Colonial Manager for the South Australian Company : as a specimen of "English as she was then written" it might be set for criticism for the Leaving Certificate Examination.

"Kingscote, Kangaroo Island, 26th, September, 1836. 11 o'clock, a.m.

Gentlemen, In consequence of a serious disturbance and breach of tbe peace, which occurred at this Settlement yesterday, even to tbe extent of an attempt at murder, and more especially of my own life, and on the property of the South Australian Company having been this moment threatened and being now in jeopardy, and this alarming state of things having, I have good reason to suppose, been mainly produced by the injudicious and illegal sale of ardent spirits yesterday at the store of the Colonization Commissioners, I hereby respectfully but peremptorily require of you in the King's name that you or either of you do immediately proceed to render me the best advice and assistance of which you are capable : and this I am sure as Officers holding His Majesty's Commission and as Loyal Subjects of the King you will not refuse.

I am, Gentlemen, Samuel Stephens.

Messrs. Capt. Lipson R.N. and Lieut. Finniss,

Banks of the Morgan, Kangaroo Island"

What exactly occurred : whether Lipson and Finniss came to the rescue of the unhappy Mr Stephens and saved the situation temporarily, or whether the tumult subsided in manner similar to that classical instance recorded in "Pickwick" where the Mayor of Ipswich is informed, in reply to his query " Is the town quiet, ?" " Pop'lar feeling has in a measure subsided, consekens o' the boys having dispersed to cricket," is not known, but in any case similar disturbances happened and Stephens took the earliest opportunity of coming to Glenelg to report to the Governor on the state of affairs. His second letter reads thus : —

" Glenelg, Jan. 2nd, 1837.

To His Excellency, Captain John Hindmarsh R.N.

May it please you Excellency. On behalf of the South Australian Company, it is my duty thus early to trouble Your Excellency's attention in consequence of the exceedingly lawless state of Society in Kangaroo Island and the imminent peril to which both the lives and the property of his Majesty's subjects resident there are continually exposed. For five months I have at great expense and inconvenience as well as at considerable personal risk done my best to preserve The King's Peace there, and to protect Life and Property, having been especially requested to do so both by Your Excellency and His Majesty's Government previous to my leaving England. I am now obliged for some time to leave Kingscote, and have come to this place for the express purpose of requesting that Your Excellency will immediately take such steps as in your Wisdom you shall deem most fitting for restoring and preserving in Kangaroo Island that peace and good order which I am sure it will ever be Your Excellency's most anxious wish to promote.

I have the honor to be, Your Excellency's Most obedient Humble Servant,

Samuel Stephens. C.M. S.A. Cy."

Historical Records of the Early Settlement on Kangaroo Island. (1931, January 31). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191253933

The Governor lost no time but immediate!y decided to appoint a Commission consisting of Mr George Stevenson (his Private Secretary) and Mr Thomas Bewes Strangways, the first-named acting as Chairman, to investigate the trouble on the spot, to take evidence on oath, and to make a report: these two gentlmen had been appointed Justices of the Peace on January 2nd. The Commission was issued on January 3rd, and the Commissioners appointed as their Secretary Mr Henry Jickling. In the instructions the Commissioners were directed to find out whether any disturbance took place prior to that of the 25th September, and if so, the cause of it. Before leaving the Island it was necessary to take the evidence of tbe Colonial Storekeeper (Thomas Gilbert), as it was inconvenient for him to accompany the Commissioner, and this was done on the 5th. The Cutter "Cygnet" (21) was to be in readiness to convey the party to Kingscote on January 5th, and to remain there at their disposal, and the Storekeeper was directed to make due provision for the accommodation of the Commission while on this service, which it was thought might take a fortnight.

The party left Glenelg, on January 6th (Friday), touched at Rapid Bay next day, (22) and arrived at Settlement on the following Sunday, and placarded the place with an announcement of the purpose of their visit and commanded all persons cognizant of the said transaction to appear. One Chief Constable (W. A. Deacon) and two ordinary constables (William Williams and Joseph Lee) were sworn in.

The enquiry lasted two days, and the evidence given bore chiefly upon the emeute [seditious insurrection] of the 25th September, the subsequent behaviour of the settlers, and the causes which had led to this disturbance or series of disturbances. From what one can gather the settlement was en fete on September 24th (Saturday) in consequence of the wedding of Samuei Stephens : his bride was Miss Charlotte Hudson Beare, (23) a lady considerably his senior, he being only 30 and she 56 years of age. There being no parson ashore the marriage took place on tbe ship "John Pine" which for the purpose was obliged to anchor a little further from the land. (24 ). To celebrate the occasion Mr Stephens, as the Company's Manager, authorised Mr Beare, the Company's storekeeper, to issue from tbe Company's Stores a "tot" of rum for dinner and another ration in the evening to all tbe Company's servants: no ill results ensued, and a similar allowance was ordered to be issued tbe following day (Sunday). Apparently the total amount of spirits issued in this way was not sufficient to intoxicate the whole adult male population of the Settlement, and therefore when a disturbance took place after Sunday's dinner (3 p.m.) Mr Stephens rushed to the conclusion, stated in his first letter, that ardent spirits had been illegally sold from the opposition stores, the property of the Colonization Commissioners. It is somewhat difficult to reconstruct what actually occurred, but it would seem that the Dutch sailor, Jacob Seaman, and another person, both being inebriate, attacked George Clark: that Clark, who swore that he was sober, wielded an axe in self-defence: that Schreyvolge rushed to tell Stephens to come out of his tent to separate the combatants and that on Stephen's arrival he found that his kind offices had been anticipated by Staples. Being a Sunday afternoon it was but natural that this incident should attract an audience, some of whom took a hand in the melee: amongst others we noticed (as the fashionable newspapers say) George Bates, William Thompson, William Cooper, and William West: (19). Mr Stephens computed that no less than twelve of those present were intoxicated. It may have been on this particular occasion that West threatened to take Stephen's life, and to plunder the Company's Store Tent, and so, as the saying is, "got his wind up" and induced him to write letter No 1. We are not told whether in consequence of this brawling the issue of a "night-cap" on Sunday evening was countermanded.

Historical Records of the Early Settlement on Kangaroo Island. (1931, February 7). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191248352

The first question the Commissioner had to solve was weather [sic] the "ardent spirits" drunk on this occasion had been sold to the settlers "injudiciously and illegally" from the stores of the Colonization Commissioners which were placed apparently on the banks of the Morgan River. It came out in evidence that a boat had arrived that day at Kingscote from the River, but it was some four hours after the disturbance had taken place and Stephens admitted that so far his charge had failed. But there was a loop-hole left. When the Colonial Storekeeper (Mr Thomas Gilbert) was examined by the Commissioner at Glenelg, he gave positive evidence that his department had never sold a drop of liquor at any time before, or on the date specified (Sunday, September 25th), but explained that they had been in the habit of bartering rum and (salt) provisions for fresh Wallaby flesh and vegetables with Messrs. Walland and Day, who appeared to Mr. Gilbert, as they did to the Commissioners, to be "respectable persons" and who had long been resident on the Island. (25) The "servant" of Walland and Day was William Chadwick, and it was alleged by Henry Mitchell that he (Chadwick) after receiving the liquor in exchange for the stores, had disposed of some to a person who brought it to the Kingscote settlement. Chadwick denies this and said that he took the stores direct to the 'farm' where Walland lived, about four miles inland due west from the river mouth.

It may be mentioned that another point, to which the Commission's attention was to be directed, was to ascertain whether any disturbance had occurred prior to the wedding feast. Witnesses prove clearly that besides such liquor as had been issued as 'rations' to the Company's servants from the Company's stores, there had be no difficulty in purchasing liquor from the store in any quantity "from a two-penny glass to a gallon" — indeed Nash admits (30) that he sold it to the old settlers. It was obvious that Stephens became alarmed at the consequences of this unrestricted sale and Captain Martin (25) was overheard by Birdseye advising him to stave in the casks. Stephens took a middle course and returned to the "John Pirie" a breaker (27) containing about 10 gallons, all that remained of the original 30 gallons brought to Kingscote by the "Lady Mary Pelham": (28) Stephens had previously limited the sale to one bottle a week, but apparently the order did not reach Birdseye. The liquor supplied on September 24th and 25th had been borrowed again from the "John Pirie." It was evident, therefore, that disturbances had occurred prior to September 24th. There was evidence, too, that there were other sources of supply of liquor at this date. There was a Company's servant, one Wilkins, "who "kept a public grog shop" and sold liquor "under the nose of the Company's officers." Matters having reached this climax on September 25th, it was surprising that Stephens did not take decisive measures, as the Commissioners observe, to stop the sale of liquor: Wilkins could easily have been suppressed, as he was the Company's servant. John Hallett arrived at the Settlement on November 2nd and amongst other articles of merchandise he says that he sold spirits, though never less than half a bottle. East wanted Hallett to get some spirits from the "Truelove" of Sydney, Hallett went so far as to make an offer to Stephens to return his supply on board ship, if he requested him so to do, but the request never came. Hallett himself did not think there was much fear of danger to life or property, but he heard a good deal of discontent expressed at deviations from agreements made by the Company with its servants, presumably in regard to the costs of provisions and the issue of notes.

Charles Simeon Hare, always a picturesque figure in the early history of the Colony, told the Commissioners what he knew. He arrived on October 3rd, and at that time he estimated that there were 20 gallons of spirits in the Company's store tent; on one day he had seen fourteen men intoxicated, apparently the record for the Island. Wilkins, he said, kept a grog shop till he was burnt out: he got his supply from the brig "Emma" and as Stephens did not suppress his activities, providence intervened. Master Wilkins, so Hare heard, taking a firebrand, approached too near the parental hut and set fire to it: on this occasion Hare rescued from the burning hut a hopelessly intoxicated man. Even if Wilkins's fire were accidental, Hare is not so sure as to the origin of one that occurred within half an hour in his own tent, nor of another four hours later at Jones's place. Hare had heard men upon occasion breathing slaughter and arson and plunder, hinting at the possibility of the Settlement being deprived of the services of the Company's Manager, and suggesting Bolshevic tactics generally. Chadwick was one of them, and West another: the latter had already been taken as a prisoner to Glenelg. Chadwick and Capper were sober, Hare thought, but West and Walland were in their cups when they uttered these threats. It was clear that there was much latent discontent as well as disturbance. Hare had heard the Settlement blamed in differently for various reasons, some times for its want of water, and sometimes for the scarcity of alcohol, whilst the officers were condemned as rogues. The raising of the price of the provisions, that had been brought out in the Company's ships, to that charged by traders coming from Sydney and Hobart to the Island, was considered a hardship as there was no concomitant increase in the wages of the Company's servants. And the last straw appears to have been the issue of pay notes. Stephens ordered a deduction of 10/ cut of the weekly wage of 16/ of the Company's servants to whom sdvance had been made, and further that no wages were to be paid to such as were not indebted to the Company, who should refuse to take the Company's notes in lieu of sterling.

The Commissioners reported that Stephen's charge as to the sale of liquor by the colonization authorities, was totally unsupported, and contrary to fact that Stephens had exaggerated the degree of demoralisation that had existed, and which still existed to a certain extent, on the Island: that he was "panicky" in fact. The demoralisation they found was due to, the sale of liquor, and that most instances of intoxication and disturbances were due to Stephen's imprudence in sanctioning so disgraceful a practice and taking no decisive steps to stop it. The other causes of discontent were touched upon, but no distinct recommendations made to the Governor.

The Commissioners were paid £2 a day, and the Chairman's incidental expenses amount to £10 : the Secretary (29) (Jickling) received £1 per diem: the cost of the "Cygnet" ran into £16, so that the drain on the funds of the Colony commenced very soon after its establishment, The Commissioners wasted no valuable time on the Island; on the return trip the "Cygnet" locked in at Rapid Bay at 7 p.m. on the 12th and left an hour later, (vide Woodforde's Diary). (22).

Historical Records of the Early Settlement on Kangaroo Island. (1931, February 14). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191251868

Notes of reference to the figures appearing in the article which was concluded last week.

1. The Island owes its name to Capt. Matthew Flinders, who spelt it ' Kanguroo.'

2. Nepean Bay was named after Sir Evan Nepean, the Secretary of the Admiralty in the days of Sir John Jervis (Earl St Vincent), Lord Nelson and Capt. Flinders.

3. So-named after Henry Kingscote, an original director of the South Australian Company.

4. Reeves' Point. After whom and when was this so-named. [Named after Mr Augustus Reeves who came to Kingscote from Tasmania in 1850. He settled at the Point, and for some years was the local Postmaster. He died at the farm near the Bluff, Bay of Shoals.]

5. Originally named the ' Three Wells River,' in 1836 it became known as the ' Morgan' after the Captain of tbe ' Duke of York,' tbe first of tho Company's vessels to reach the Island (27.VII.36). The name was soon afterwards changed to ' Cygnet'?.

6. The 'John Pirie' (Capt. G. Martin) the third ship to arrive (16.VIII.36).

7. The ' Cygnet' arrived Sept. 11th (208 tons, Capt. Lipson, R.N. in charge). She was chartered by the Colonisation Commissioners.

8. Mr Stevenson came out with his wife on board H.M.S. ' Buffalo.' His career is described in the Dictionary of National Biography. [https://archive.org/stream/dictionaryofnati54stepuoft#page/236/mode/2up/search/%22George+stevenson%22 page 237]

9. After whom Strangways Terrace, as well as the Strangways River, is named. He was the discoverer of the Gawler River. Later he was Premier.

10. A Barrister : on the death of Sir John Jeffcott he was appointed Acting-Judge till the arrival of Mr (afterwards Sir) Chas, Cooper.

11. Commander Thos. Lipson R.N. having been appointed by His Majesty's order-in- council, (dated July 13th, 1836), Naval Officer and Harbour Master of the new Province, came out in the ' Cygnet' : he was then 53 years of age: on August 16, 1837, he was gazetted collector of Customs, an office which he only held till 1840. He became a Post Captain on the Retired List, 1856. His name is perpetuated la a street at Port Adelaide and in Lipson's Cove.

12. Lieut. Boyle Travers Finniss was an Ensign of the 56th Regt. (1825); promoted Lieutenant in 1827; transferred in the same year to the 82nd Regt. In 1835 he, sold out from the army, and came out in the ' Cygnet' as an Assistant-Surveyor at £100 per annum; he was appointed Assistant Surveyor-General in 1846. He was Commissioner of Police and Police Magistrate: then Colonial Treasurer and Registrar-General 1846, Colonial Secretary (1848) Acting Governor (1854 56) : Premier of South Australia, (1856). He was connected with the Volunteer Forces from 1840, becoming Lieut. Colonel. In 1864 he was sent as Government Resident to the Northern Territory but recalled. Finniss Street in North Adelaide was named after him.

13. Tbe Colonial Storekeeper: he was no relation to the family which afterwards settled at Pewsey Vale.

14. A passenger by the ' Africaine' ; (Capt. Duff): arrived at Nepean Bay November 2nd, 1836: Hallett's Cove was named after him, but the town of Hallett in tbe North was so called after his brother Alfred. J. Hallett and Capt. Duff went into partnership, as merchants in Adelaide.

15. For an account of these ' old settlers' on Kangaroo Island vide paper by H. P. Moore in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australia (South Australian Branch) Vol. XXV p 81 - 135.

16. Samuel Stephens arrived in the ' Duke of York' : he was replaced as Manager by David McLaren. Soon after leaving the Island for the Mainland be was thrown from a horse and killed.

17. Dr. Frank Howard Beare is a grandchild; another is Sir Thomas Hudson Beare, Professor of Eugineering at Edinburgh University.

18. Vide the story of Dr. Edward Wright, published in the Adelaide University Medical Students' Society's 'Review,' Vol. XIX. July 1927. Sir Hubert Wilkins is a grandson W. Wilkins came out in the ' Emma' (164 tons) which arrived on October 5th 1836.

19. Member of the first elective Legislative Council and of the House of Assembly in the first Parliament of 1857. Manager of Railways, but ' removed from office with compensation' in 1867.

20. West at the date of enquiry was awaiting his trial in Adelaide. His case was to be taken on January 4th.

21. Chap. XXIV.

22. A camp was pitched here on Sept. 9th, whence expeditions were sent to find the river described by Capt. Jones, whilst Col. Light himself investigated the Port Lincoln district. Dr. Woodforde was in medical charge and from his diary published in the ' Port Augusta and Quorn Dispatch' (13,VII.94), the following notes are copied : Sunday, 8th January, 1837: Yesterday the ' Cygnet' hove in sight from Holdfast Bay. She came into our Bay (Rapid) on her way to Kaugaroo Island with three magistrates who are going to settle some disturbance at Stephens' settlement. January 12th : The ' Cygnet' arrived from the Island at 7 p.m. while a boat came on shore bringing a letter from Mr Stephenson, one of the magistrates (pro tem) stating that if our party was ready to embark before 8, he would take us on board, but that be would wait no longer — Impossible and rediculous, Finniss tried to stop her with an official letter: His daughter wae born at Rapid Bay on January 1st.

23. A sister we may assume of the storekeeper.

24. So as to be ' at sea,' when the Captain of a ship is able to perform the marriage ceremony.

25. Walland for instance had been on the Island for 22 years: his name is variously spelt. [Walland or Wallen died in Adelaide during the first week of May 1856. The report of the inquest on his body appeared in the Register of 3/5/1856. It was reprinted in tbe ' Courier' in the issue of 3/9/1910. Ed]

26. Capt. G. Martin of tbe ' John Pirie.'

27. A small water cask used on board ship.

28. Lady Mary Pelham — the name of a daughter of the Duke of Newcastle. I gather from Admiral of the Fleet Sir Harry Keppel's reminiscences that it was originally a vessel belonging to the Navy : the vessel (202 tons) arrived July 30th, 1836.

[References 29. and 30. were not shown]

Historical Records of the Early Settlement on Kangaroo Island (1931, February 21). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191248798

Robert Wallen (for that appears to have been his true name) died in May, 1856. A notice of his death appeared in the newspapers. "The Register" of 9th May, 1856, had the following: — The cutter 'Breeze,' which will leave this evening for Kangaroo Island, will take down for interment in the cemetery at Kingscote, the body of Robert Wallen (or Governor Wallen, a name by which he is better known), whose recent sudden death in Adelaide is fresh in the memory of our readers. We believe that Mr Goodiar, truly interpreting the sentiment entertained towards the deceased by the settlers on the Island, has made arrangements for having his remains removed for burial to the place where he had spent the mature days of his life in rude independence as one of the pioneers of South Australia.

Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), Thursday 11 April 1935, page 48


Lawlessness On Kangaroo Island ...


The first three ships to arrive in South Australia landed their settlers on Kangaroo Island during the middle months of 1836. From the beginning of this settlement trouble was brewing. There were hard feelings between the officers of the South Australian Company; there was insubordination among the laborers and the crews; and threats were made upon the life of Samuel Stephens, the manager. Finally there was a drunken riot at Kingscote, whereupon Stephens wrote a report of the existing conditions for Governor Hindmarsh, who sent magistrates to make an inquiry. Many interesting facts were forthcoming. The whole story is told below. ...

Two articles ago I mentioned that the first Adelaide number of the 'South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register' appeared from Mr. Thomas's printing establishment in Hindley street, in June, 1837. Actually an earlier number had been published in London in June, 1836, a month before the first ship, the Duke of York, arrived at Nepean Bay. The next two ships to put in an appearance were the Lady Mary Pelham and the John Pirie. The captain ol the John Pirie, George Martin, has left a careful description of the state of affairs at Kangaroo Island on his arrival.

'I found everything in an uproar,' he wrote. 'In the first place, the Duke of York's crew would not land the company's cargo until Mr. Stephens paid them £50 in hard cash, which he was obliged to do. The crew of the Pelham, although they had agreed upon a sum at Liverpool, would not land the cargo without an additional sum, which Mr. Stephens was also obliged to pay in order to secure the company's property. When I arrived the cargoes had just been landed. The crews were constantly on shore together with the laborers getting drunk. There was not the least obedience shown to Mr. Stephens by officers or men. 'For some days I did not know what to think or do, seeing nothing but destruction to property. I first got all the spirits aboard the John Pirie. I then took it on myself to direct those passengers I brought out with me not to follow the steps of the others, but to be an example to them, which, I am happy to say, had a good effect.' Martin seems to have been a man of high morality, who had a little habit of preaching at people. But he was also a man of action; and things went better for a while after his arrival at the Infant settlement at Nepean Bay. He persuaded Samuel Stephens, the manager of the company, to call together all those who refused to go to work, and to read their agreements to them; and then, if they were still inclined to neglect their duty, to consider them as having broken their contract and to recover from them their advance of money and provisions. If, after these were gone, they should feel inclined to go to work, they were to be employed as they might be required, at a lower rate and at day wages: and any who were absent from their tasks for two and three hours at a time were to be docked a proportionate sum for such absence. This plan had a good effect, although Mr. Stephens was obliged to set the men to work himself, for the moment he was out of sight all industry ceased.

Martin's Ruse

Two of the company's employes under Stephens were Mr Beare and one who rejoiced in the name of Birdseye. Neither of these gentlemen had a great liking for the manager, and, as they both had important offices, the lack of organisation in affairs at this time must have been, as some degree at least, accentuated by personal antipathy. So it appeared to the worthy George Martin, and once again he used his power of persuasive sermonising to some purpose. First, however, he succeeded in luring Stephens, Bear and Birdseye aboard the John Pirie, without any one of them being aware of the presence of the other two until he was confronted with them in the captain's cabin. Martin had left a record of the situation—

'I urged that something might be done to set the work of the company going, and begged them to remember that, whatever their private feelings might be towards one another, they had engaged themselves to the company to perform certain duties. Therefore, as rational men, they ought not to allow the property of innocent individuals and their employers to suffer. I strongly advised Mr. Stephens to give all the men in charge of Mr. Beare, and to give Mr. Beare directions from time to time what he wished to have done, and not to interfere with the men himself.'

Mr. Beare was an exceptionally able leader of men. Up to this time he had not been given a free enough hand. Stephen saw the truth of Martin's criticism, and in consequence he summoned all the men and told them that it was his wish that they should obey Mr. Beare, and that if they had any complaints to make they should make them in Mr. Beare's presence. 'I am happy to say that things are going better,' Martin noted, 'but I do not like the conduct of Mr. Birdseye.' Birdseye apparently was an indolent individual. He had come out to take charge of the company's stores. A complaint frequently made against him was that he was absent from the store as often as not, and that, even on the days when he did put in an appearance, It was not until after 11 o'clock in the morning. Martin reminded him that he had been put in charge of the stores, and that his duty was 'to at tend to that, apartment.' 'For a while,' says the captain, 'I went over to the mainland. On my re turn, I am happy to say, the place had a different look. Everything was in good order and regularity.'

Lawlessness On The Island

Unfortunately Captain George Martin spoke a little too soon. Everything was soon to be in a pretty pickle on Kangaroo Island. The same insubordinate element that first of all refused to do their work began to utter threats against the officers of the company, more particularly against Stephens. One man used such abusive language against Stephens that he was considered to be dangerous, and was put on board the Cygnet as a prisoner until the arrival of Governor Hindtnarsh.

This was not alL On Sunday, September 25, 1836, a riot took place on the island, in the course of which one man struck at an other's head with an axe. The blow was successfully diverted, however, by a third party, who intervened just in time. The man who had aimed the blow was at the time intoxicated, and, when he was asked where he obtalned the liquor, he declared that he had got it from the store of the company. Stephens was certain that this was not true. At the same time, he was convinced that no small quantity of liquor had recently been distributed from some source. He was greatly alarmed at the disorder about him, and on the day following the riot he wrote a report of it for the Governor. In this he said that he had 'good reason to suppose' that the prevalent state of affairs was mainly 'produced by the injudicious and illegal sale of ardent spirits.' He represented this prevalent state of affairs as being one of utter lawlessness, asserting that both the lives and the property of the settlers were in imminent danger.

On January 3rd, 1837, Hindmarsh appointed two Commissioners, George Stephenson and Thomas Bewes Strangways, to go to Kangaroo Island to enquire into the whole business. They were empowered to summon and examine on oath all persons likely to be able to give helpful information. In the court, which was opened at Kingscote on January 9th; the two magistrates discovered that the whole community had not been in such dire peril as Samuel Stephens, in his alarm, had made out. Disorder and insubordination there certainly had been, and Stephens personally had been threatened, but the man, West, who had sworn to split his skull and wreck the store, had been locked up where he could do no harm. It was established beyond doubt that liquor had been illegally and too freely distributed, and that Stephens had been right in attributing most of the trouble to this cause.

Besides West, two other men had openly threatened violence. One of these, Walland by name, who was constantly inebriated, evidently did so from sheer bravado. The other man, Chadwick, merely muttered darkly something about leaving the settlement without a manager, Stephens was justifiably disturbed for his own safety, and it is, perhaps, understandable that he should magnify the general situation somewhat. The rowdy element required reducing to order, but there was never an attempt at an orgy of blood, except in the single instance of the poised axe. The general situation was one of dissatisfaction among the men, because before the Governor arrived nobody was certain whether the work they did might not later have to be undone; they did not know where the capital would be. Thus the evidence given by one, Charles Simeon Hare, came nearer to the truth than that of the manager. He stated that he constantly heard some of the men swearing, using such expressions as 'Damn the b — - island,' and 'The company's officers are all b — rogues together.' Eight or nine men, in passing Hare's tent one night, threatened to burn it down when one of their number tripped over the ropes, but they went drunkenly on without doing any damage.

Marriage Celebrations

The progress of the official enquiry was obstructed for a time when it be came known that, by way of celebrating his marriage on the day before the fight occurred. Mr. Stephens had ordered Mr. Beare to give each man in the company's service two glasses of rum on that day and on the following day. It was found, however, that Mr. Stephens had given strict orders that the two glasses were not to be given together; that one was to be given at dinner-time and one at tea-time on each of those days. The generosity of Mr. Stephens, therefore, was not in any way responsible for the fact that 14 men on Kangaroo Island were drunk when the riot took place. Who, then, was responsible? As the magistrates pursued their enquiry, they learnt that Birdseye had received orders from Stephens to sell rum and gin by the dram and by the bottle from the store. This seemed to lend color to the statement made by the man who wielded the axe that he had secured his liquor from the store. Thus, although Mr. Stephens's direct generosity was not responsible for the drunkenness, it came to be doubted whether he had actually kept a stern enough restriction on the sale of the company's spirits. Before long this doubt, too, was dispelled, for Mr. Beare declared that he had frequently heard Mr. Stephens regret the excessive use of spirits in the colony, and had known him to issue an order that no servants of the company, officers excepted, were to be allowed to purchase more than one bottle of spirits in a week. A man called John Day bore out this evidence by saying that he had heard Gilbert, who served in the store with Birdseye, say that he would not give Chadwick another bottle for £100, 'because liquor should be used with caution, like gunpowder.' At long last the truth as to the origin from which the spirits had been distributed was forthcoming. It appeared that a grog-shop had until recently been kept at Kingscote by a person called Wilkins, and that he had retailed rum and gin which had come out on the brig Emma. Although the Emma was a company vessel, the liquor belonged to Wilkins, who paid its freight.


EARLY DAYS OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA (1935, April 11). Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), p. 48. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92363860