The following articles were submitted by the late Dr. Christopher John Durrant (1942-2019) from his own research c. 2014.  His passion for South Australian history is evident. We are unaware that it has been published but we believe that it is important enough to be included here.

Copyright C. J. Durrant, reproduced here with kind permission of his widow.

Kangaroo Island and the pre-colonial history of South Australia

Chris Durrant


Introduction                                                                                              1

Discovery                                                                                                 2

The first islanders                                                                                     6

Mainland South Australia                                                                      13

Whaling                                                                                                 29

Kangaroo Island in the 1830s                                                                36

Arrival of the first colonists                                                                    41

A Sutherland and Dillon                                                                            46

Bibliography                                                                                                     55

Index                                                                                                                57


The men, mainly sealers, who made a home on Kangaroo Island between 1820 and 1835 were the true pioneers of South Australia and their knowledge of the geography, resources and native inhabitants of the region greatly eased the burden of the unknown facing the colonists who arrived in 1836 familiar only with the other side of the world.

Unfortunately the events of the years preceding official colonisation are very poorly docu­mented, and years immediately subsequent little better. This is to some extent the deliber­ate choice of the pre-colonial settlers, who maintained a shroud of secrecy over themselves and their doings. Even George Bates, the only Kangaroo islander to publish autobiograph­ical recollections, albeit towards the end of a very long life, maintained that ‘I could blab about the old days on Kangaroo Island and afore then but a still tongue shows a wise head’ (Adelaide Observer, 14 September 1895). So it is not surprising that rumour flourished and the secrecy was often interpreted as a sign of their having things to hide. To absolve them entirely of barbaric behaviour is difficult, but it is just as difficult to believe that many of the repeated accusations are not greatly exaggerated. Even first-hand accounts suggest con­tradictory conclusions, especially concerning their relations with other Europeans and with Aborigines.

These uncertainties spill over into any attempt to trace the early history of the South Aus­tralian mainland, so it is important to sift the evidence concerning the men who greeted the first ship-loads of colonists, and the people who wrote about them, more carefully than has sometimes been the case. A meticulous and exhaustive compilation of the visitors to Kan­garoo Island (and the neighbouring mainland) until 1836 has been drawn up by Cumpston [13]. The account in Nunn [25] draws heavily on Cumpston and is fully referenced. Wells [42] uses archival material, but does not reference many statements. Ruediger [28] uses both archival sources and Island oral tradition, but again does not provide references.

One thing is however beyond doubt. People were first brought to South Australia for economic reasons: the region had resources that were vital to the viability of the embryonic Australian colony first visited by Flinders and Baudin.


The Adelaide Hills are obvious to anyone sailing into the Gulf St Vincent but the Gulf itself, like the even more noticeable Spencer Gulf, remained one of the last features of the Australian coastline that Europeans set eyes upon. This true at least of documented voyages, though there are tantalising suggestions of a much earlier Portuguese discovery. Peter Trickett [38] has developed Gordon McIntyre’s thesis, first published in 1977 [?], that the Portuguese knew about the coast of south-eastern Australia before the earliest documented voyages. McIntyre demonstrated that a French map dating from 1536 shows the eastern coast of Australia and argued that it was based on a voyage by Cristovao de Mendonca, who led an expedition of three caravels from Malacca in 1522. One of the three ships failed to return and may have been wrecked near Warrnambool, at which point McIntyre concluded that Mendonca turned back. Trickett claims that a version of the map made before 1545 shows recognizable features further west: Kangaroo Island (Illa Grossa), Spencer Gulf (Rio Real) and the Great Australian Bight (Golfo Grande). Interpretation is difficult because these maps predate the idea of fixing position by of longitude and the means of measuring it and so contain systematic distortions. Furthermore, rivalry with Spain over the division of the world into hemispheres of exclusivity and concern for the lucrative trade with the Spice Islands, the Indonesian islands to the west of New Guinea, prompted the Portuguese crown to maintain this knowledge as a state secret so the French cartographers had to rely on pirated material which they had to piece together as best they could.

This veil of secrecy meant also that the Portuguese were denied priority of European dis­covery for centuries and credit was given to the first publicly acknowledged and documented voyages of the Dutch almost a hundred years later. These have been described by Cooper [9, 10, 11]. The Great Australian Bight was entered in 1627 by Francois Thijszoon or Thi- jssen and Pieter Nuyts in the Gulde Zee Paert or Gulden Zeepaerdt; they sailed eastwards to about longitude 133°, i.e. to where the Nuyts Archipelago lies off Ceduna, but they reported very unfavourably on the inhospitable coast. Another Dutch vessel, the Vianen, confirmed this impression of a ‘foul and barren shore’ in 1628. These observations seem to have deterred further visits until 1792-3 when Rear Admiral Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni, chevalier d’Entrecasteaux, explored the same western part of the Bight in the La Recherche, accompa­nied by the L’Esperance. By this time, the eastern coast of the continent had been discovered and settlement begun, but the southern shores were avoided by sailors on their way to New South Wales as they stood well off to the south in order to round the southern tip of Van Diemen’s Land. That changed in 1798 when George Bass and Matthew Flinders discovered (perhaps rediscovered) the passage between Tasmania and the mainland; a more northerly route passing through Bass Strait then became possible. The first to utilize it was Lieutenant James Grant in the 60-ton survey brig HMS Lady Nelson on his way from England to New South Wales [20].

When at the Cape Grant received instructions from the Home Secretary, the Duke of Port­land, to search for the newly discovered strait at latitude 38° south. Heading towards it, he made landfall on 3 December 1800 not, as anticipate on
the western coast of Van Diemen’s Land but at longitude 140° on an unknown coast; here there were two prominent hills which he named Mount Gambier (after the Admiral of the Fleer, Lord James Gambier) and Mount Schanck (after Captain John Schanck, who had invented the unique, and ultimately unsuc­cessful, triple sliding keel of the Lady Nelson). Grant then continued along what was to become the coast of western Victoria, naming Cape Nelson after his ship on 4 December and Portland Bay after the elderly minister of state on 6 December, and became the first seaman to pass through Bass Strait from the west. That left a very significant gap of some 7° of longitude in the knowledge of the southern coast, almost the total extent of the future state of South Australia. But the gap was very soon filled.

The Lady Nelson was intended to be handed over to Flinders at Port Jackson, but by the time Grant arrived Flinders had departed for England. Once there Flinders was commissioned to complete the exploration of the whole Australian coastline and given a much larger ship, the 334-ton sloop HMS Investigator, for the purpose. He returned to King George Sound (Albany) in Western Australia in December 1801 and began his survey in 1802, working eastwards around the Bight. He entered uncharted, if perhaps not quite unknown, territory at its head and followed the coast as it trended south-eastwards until it came to a point. Here six seamen in a cutter seeking supplies were drowned, so he named it Cape Catastrophe. On rounding the point, Flinders found not only that it sheltered a fine harbour, which he called Port Lincoln, but that open water stretched away northwards. This raised hopes that the interior of Australia contained a sea but these were dashed when Flinders sailed onwards to find not an inland sea but a gulf, to which he gave the name Spencer’s Gulf. He explored its headwaters in a cutter whilst a land party climbed Mount Brown, a prominent peak in the Flinders Ranges that could be seen stretching way to the north and east. He then returned along the east coast of the gulf, rounded its tip, crossed the strait that he named in honour of his ship, and sailed along the north coast of Kangaroo Island until he came across another fine harbour. This he christened Nepean Bay.

From Kangaroo Island Flinders could see the hilly mainland and, on 23 March 1802, he discerned a distant ‘lofty hill’. The next day he sailed over to the mainland and up the east coast of another gulf that he named Gulf of St Vincent. Now the range of hills running along the coast of the gulf finally came into European view, the highest peak being first referred to as Mount Lofty (2338 ft, 727 m) on 30 March. He circled the gulf and exited through Backstairs Passage between Kangaroo Island and the mainland in order to continue the survey of the South Australian coast in an eastward direction. But he had not sailed far before he met the French explorer Captain Nicolas-Thomas Baudin in the corvette Geographe at Encounter Bay or Baie Mollieu, according to the English and French discoverers respectively. Baudin was working westwards; after meeting Flinders, he proceeded to explore the southern coast of Kangaroo Island, then sailed into both gulfs and on into the Bight before returning to Sydney. Baudin made another stop at Kangaroo Island on his return voyage to France at the end of the year, this time in the company of the 30-ton schooner, Casuarina, which he had purchased in Sydney and put under the command of Lieutenant Louis Claude de Saulses de Freycinet. Freycinet made a detailed examination of both gulfs. The two French explorers remarked in their journals on the coastal hills on the east side of the Gulf St Vincent, or Golfe Josephine, as they renamed it. However, in contrast to Flinders, they took little interest in the topography beyond the coastline and the hills were never given a French name.

Flinders and Baudin found Kangaroo Island uninhabited but with large populations of kanga­roos, seals and emus. The kangaroos were a race of the Western Grey, Macropus fuliginosus fuliginosus, and the emu a species unique to Kangaroo Island, Dromaius baudinanus ; the latter was extinct long before 1836. It is quite possible that even before this official discovery, sealers and whalers called at the island in search of food and skins and salt to preserve them. American vessels were certainly present in the waters off the south coast of Australia at the time, evidence of remarkable enterprise since the first American whaler, the Beaver from Nantucket, entered the Pacific only in 1789, according to [21]. Baudin himself directed the Union to Kangaroo Island when he met the American sealer in King George Sound in west­ern Australia in February 1803. Over the next year, the Union’s captain, Isaac Pendleton (sometimes Pemberton), took some 14,000 skins to Sydney, where he sold them to Simeon Lord. Whilst he was away his party remained on Kangaroo Island at American River. Here they built a schooner, the Independence.

These were ill-fated voyages for all three captains. Baudin died at Ile de France, now Mau­ritius, on the way home in September 1803 and, when Flinders called there in December, hostilities had been resumed between France and England and he was detained for six and a half years, reaching England in poor health only in October 1810. Pendleton never returned to America; after the expeditions to Kangaroo Island, he was commissioned by Lord in Syd­ney to bring back sandalwood from the Fiji islands, where he and his crew were slaughtered and the Union lost in October 1804.

But they had put southern Australia on the map and the Sydney merchants were quick to appreciate that its seal skins were one of the few colonial exports that were valued in Europe and China. Between 1805 and 1815 they fitted out a series of vessels and engaged men, under Articles of Agreement for the duration of the voyage, to bring back fur seal and kangaroo skins and salt. Most prized were the fur seals, the Australian Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus), which breeds in Bass Strait, and the New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri), which breeds on Kangaroo Island. Black seal skins were most valuable; these might refer to the latter, darker species or to seal pups, which are black at birth. Of much less importance was the so-called ‘hair’ seal, actually the Australian Sea Lion (Neophoca cinerea), which breeds in South and Western Australia. Fur seals haul out on rocks almost anywhere throughout the year, but breeding animals select sheltered boulder beaches. The males of the New Zealand species start to establish territories on the beaches in October and the females come ashore a few weeks later. The pups are then born, with a peak in mid December. The males depart in January, after mating again, and their place in the rookery is taken by non-breeders. The females remain to to feed their pups until August and then all disperse. The Australian species breeds a few weeks earlier.

In New Zealand, sealing peaked in December for adults and in April for pups. The animals were herded together, clubbed to death and skinned immediately. The carcase was boiled to yield some 8 litres of oil from a pup and 20-25 litres from an adult. The skins were scraped, salted, pegged out to dry and then stored in wooden casks. This must also have also been the practice in southern Australian waters as sealing spread from the islands of Bass Strait, to Spencer Gulf and the Great Australian Bight and on to King George Sound and Cape

Leeuwin in Western Australia.

Gangs of sealers were dropped off at good localities to accumulate skins in anticipation of the vessel’s return. This was a risky practice. When Joseph Murrell was brought back to Sydney in early 1809, he claimed to have been stranded without provisions on Kangaroo Island for three years [13]. In October Murrell headed back to Kangaroo Island in the Endeavour (of Norfolk Island[1] ) to collect salt and seal skins and, presumably, those of his party who had not yet been favoured with rescue. He then intended to ‘proceed further on the West coast for the discovery of new sealing grounds; those already known being overrun with formidable gangs’. This seems to imply that Kangaroo Island was so overrun; but the same report referred to Kangaroo Island being ‘on the West Coast of New Holland’, so it may mean that the gangs infested Bass Strait and that Murrell was going to seek other sealing sites in the vicinity of Kangaroo Island, such as Spencer Gulf. The Endeavour (of Sydney[2]), which met up with the other Endeavour at Kangaroo Island in early 1810, apparently put into Port Lincoln after ‘the people’ were ‘obliged to leave the islands on which they were stationed to procure water from the main’. It thus seems likely that sealing gangs were then using the islands of Spencer Gulf, but that they were as yet unfamiliar with the territory.

The first islanders

The Endeavour (of Sydney) took back 4000 seal skins and two tons of seal oil and the Endeavour (of Norfolk Island) a further 1200 seal skins and 40 tons of salt. Such returns excited increasing interest in the region. In 1814 the first sealing vessel was despatched from Sydney by interests in Van Diemen’s Land: the Spring, under William Bunster, was engaged by Edward Lord of Hobart Town. She put in to Hobart with seal and kangaroo skins in April 1815 and then returned to Sydney with 5900 seal skins and 2500 kangaroo skins. She made a second trip later that year under Peter Dillon, who gave the dates of his visit as 23 December 1815 to the middle of March 1816 [30] and returned with 500 skins. It was he who provided the name of the first inhabitant to be recorded:

A Portuguese named Thompson had been on Kangaroo Island and other islands in the neighbourhood for seven years. He stated that while there he had abun­dance of kangaroos, emus and porcupines [the Short-beaked Echidna], and that he planted potatoes in his garden, which throve well.

Men of mixed Portuguese and African descent from the Cape Verde Islands were widely recruited as seaman, especially by American whalers from New England. The anglicised name is consistent with Thompson coming to south Australian waters in such a vessel, but nothing more is known of him.

Thomas Hammant (sometimes Hammond), who visited the island in the Endeavour (of Syd­ney) in early 1817, told the Sydney Gazette that ‘thirteen Europeans, most or all of whom have gone from these settlements, are living on Kangaroo Island in a curious state of indepen­dence’, and he identified one as George Fifer, who had been a crew member of the Elizabeth and Mary when it left Sydney in February 1813.

Neither Thompson nor Fifer feature again in the documentary record.

Meanwhile the Griffiths family appeared on the scene. Jonathon Griffiths was a Second Fleet convict who had served his time on Norfolk Island. He established a shipyard at Richmond in New South Wales and in 1816 sent his newly-built two-masted 93-ton brig Rosetta to Kangaroo Island. In 1819 the Glory, a smaller two-masted brig of 72 tons built by his Richmond-born son, John, made the first of several sealing voyages to Kangaroo Island. Both father and son sailed these vessels, though the shipping records do not always differentiate them, and they built up a considerable business as ship-owners and merchants.

At this time there were about eight or nine men, some with families, living on Kangaroo Island. This was reported by James Kelly in evidence to John Thomas Bigge, the Commis­sioner of ‘Inquiry into the state of agriculture and trade in the colony of New South Wales’ in 1820 [13]. Kelly had been master of the 60-ton two-masted brig Sophia for six years previously but was then Harbour Master at Hobart. At least one of the islanders must have been known to Kelly and that was ‘Governor’ Wallen.

Wallen was apparently the earliest resident still on the island when the colonists arrived in 1836 and he continued to live there until 1856. He was acknowledged to be foremost in the pre-colonial Kangaroo Island community, and he took on himself the title of ‘Governor’. Yet neither his name nor his date of arrival on the island is known with certainty. The South Australian Register of 30 April 1856 reported the coronial inquest into his death on the morning of 28 April at the Gresham Hotel in Adelaide, a death occasioned by heart disease brought on by excessive drinking. Here his name was stated to be Henry Wallen. His grave is marked ‘Henry Wallen’ and a letter written by him in 1851 is signed ‘Henry Wallan’ (reproduced in [25]). But both Wells [42] and Ruediger [28] assert that Wallen’s name was Robert. The Register for 9 May 1856 noted the return of the body of Robert Wallen to Kangaroo Island after his death in Adelaide, and the records of the South Australian Company [35], which are not always reliable as regards names, show that R. Wallan was paid 5s for an errand on behalf of the Lady Mary Pelham on 10 November 1836. Ruediger claims that he was known as ‘Bob’ by his contemporaries on the island. It is quite possible that he assumed a false name; George Bates, another islander, may have done likewise, being referred to as Thomas in the South Australian Company accounts. This practice would account for the confusion, but it is most likely that Wallen’s real name, the name of record, was Henry. His surname appears in many different guises, Wallen, Wallan, Whalley and Worland, but this was common at a time when names were transmitted orally and spelled as they were heard.

If he is correctly identified as Henry, Wallen’s background has been traced by Cumpston [13]. He reached Sydney as a member of the crew of the convict ship Marquis of Wellington in January 1815. In early 1817 he made his way to Van Diemen’s Land in the Henrietta Packet, a schooner owned by Thomas W. Birch of Hobart town and joined another of Birch’s vessels, the whaler Sophia, on a voyage under James Kelly to New Zealand; there he survived a Maori attack. In 1818 he sailed again under Kelly, bringing huon pine from Port Macquarie to Hobart. He apparently missed the voyage to Sydney in 1818 but must have been back on board in 1820 when the Sophia was taken to Kangaroo Island by Robert Brown to bring back seal skins and salt. Wallen was not present for the subsequent voyage to Kangaroo Island in the summer of 1820/1. He may, of course, have been left behind as a member of a sealing gang at the end of the previous visit; if so, he did not leave the island when its work was done[3] . He apparently lived nowhere else thereafter.

A slightly higher number of quasi-residents was quoted in testimony to the South Australian Association in 1834 by George Sutherland, who took the 112-ton two-masted brig Governor Macquarie, owned by the late Garnham Blaxcell1, to Kangaroo Island in 1819 also to obtain salt and seal skins [30]: ‘There are no natives, but there are some Sealers who reside there, partly runaway convicts, but chiefly sailors who have deserted from vessels that have touched here for salt’. He added that there were ‘about twelve, chiefly Englishmen, convicts and runaway sealers’. The sealers lived at the head of South West River inlet, which runs into Hanson Bay, close to where fur seals breed to this day. It was presumably from them that Sutherland obtained many of the 1500 kangaroo and 4500 seal skins that he took back to Sydney.

Kelly had also claimed that some of the Kangaroo Island residents were runaway convicts, and added that they were picked up in Van Diemen’s Land on the way out of harbour, i.e. along the River Derwent. By 1826 the Sydney and Hobart newspapers were stridently reporting that Kangaroo Island harboured bands of piratical desperadoes. This finds an echo in Sutherland’s statement dated 4 October 1831 [8]:

There are no natives on the Island; several Europeans assemble there: some who have run from ships that traded for salt: others from Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land, who were prisoners of the Crown. These gangs joined after a lapse of time, and became the terror of ships going to the Island for salt, &c. being little better than pirates.—at least some of the marauders were taken off the Island by an expedition from New South Wales—There are a few even still on the Island.

There is no record of any official action against the islanders. It is not clear when Sutherland imagined that it had taken place, but his remarks may be a confused recollection of the proceedings against a group of islanders that took place in Western Australia in 1827, which resulted in a least two being returned to Sydney in HMS Success (see below).

In fact, Kangaroo Island had a floating population of sealers, who obtained basic supplies by selling skins to visiting ships. Few were long-term residents. Their way of life could, no doubt, be justly described as brutish but there is no documented case of piracy. Such an act would have discouraged the visitors who brought them the supplies on which the islanders depended and the fact that they were recruited as sealers by ships on their way to sealing grounds further west demonstrates that they were tolerated, if not appreciated by the visitors. By their own account, there were runaways amongst the islanders, but these were runaway sailors, who had absconded from visiting vessels, not convicts.

It is not clear whether all the islanders lived at Hanson Bay in Sutherland’s time, nor whether that settlement was more than a seasonal one. For visiting ships the only safe anchorage was at Nepean Bay and the lagoons in its vicinity were the major source of salt, so it would be surprising if the islanders did not find it worthwhile to have some sort of base there. Thus it is likely that the newspaper accounts were more factual in reporting that the islanders, after the end of the sealing season, ‘retire into a valley in the interior of the island, where they have a garden and huts’. Perhaps the Three Wells River, now known as the Cygnet River, was settled at this time; Wallen certainly had a five-acre farm on it when the settlers arrived in 1836. Whether there was a track across the island between Hanson and Nepean Bays, which Sutherland claimed to have taken, is much less certain.

Sealing continued apace throughout the 1820s, with vessels sent mainly from Sydney in the first half of the decade. In May 1824 a Sydney vessel, the two-masted brig Nereus of 124 tons, under the command of Thomas Swindles or Swindells, put in to Launceston after spending three weeks at Kangaroo Island. One of the crew was Richard Wootton and he, like Sutherland, provided the South Australian Association with a written account of Kangaroo Island [30]. During a three-week stay, he saw three or four islanders, ‘said to be runaway convicts’, in the vicinity of Point Marsden and thought there were some more inland.

Wootton appears as a boy, Richard Wolton [sic], in the crew muster before the Nereus sailed for Port Dalrymple from Sydney under her owner, William Emmett, on 25 January 1824. Another member of the crew was George Bates. They reached George Town on 10 February. Emmett may have stayed in Launceston while Swindells, the first mate, took her sealing. Her destination was not reported but must have been Kangaroo Island by Wootton’s testimony. It may have been a return visit because the Nereus had shortly before, on 24 December 1823, reached Sydney from Port Dalrymple with wheat and 1000 seal skins; perhaps a sealing party was left behind on the island. But there is little doubt that Bates jumped ship at Kangaroo Island early in 1824.

Bates’s own recollections were first published in 1883 (South Australian Register, 27 June 1883). He then stated that he remained behind on Kangaroo Island in order to avoid a visit to New Zealand and gave the date of his landing as January 1824, but this is too early in the year.

Three years later (South Australian Advertiser, 27 December 1886) (also in the Chronicle of 1 January 1887) he claimed that he came to Australia in the Commodore Hayes which landed convicts at Hobart in August 1823. He then set out on a sealing voyage to the islands of the Great Bight and the vessel had stopped at Kangaroo Island on the way back to load 60 tons of salt. He added that John Randall was a fellow runaway and that they took with them three of the captain’s dogs; although Randell’s name does not appear in the Sydney muster, he may have joined in Launceston. Bates on this occasion stated that they went ashore at the mouth of American River but Bates did not name the vessel. However, it was almost certainly Bates who met up with the Dart at Thistle Island in 1830 and the log of the Dart (SRNSW 4/2073, 30/3486) records that the sealer had ‘deserted a brig named the Nereus about five years past’.

A still later interview (South Australian Advertiser, 16 October 1894) added further details. The Commodore Hayes had gone on from Hobart to Sydney, arriving on 29/30 August, and there Bates had had an altercation with the mate, for which he was jailed for a week. In fact he was charged with ‘feloniously stealing in and on board the ship Commodore Hayes in Sydney Cove Goods above the value of five shillings the Goods of William Sales and Joseph Dust’ (SANSW AO 6023, X820, p.105). For this he was sentenced to solitary confinement for seven days from 23 September. He had spent the previous three weeks in custody, i.e. since the arrival of the Commodore Hayes. Bates was discharged from the Commodore Hayes, which sailed for Calcutta and London with a cargo including colonial timber and seal skins at the end of October. After serving his sentence at the end of September, he joined the crew of the Sally, appearing in the muster of that vessel on 9 October. He sailed for Port Stevens on 10 October. There is no record of the Sally returning to Port Jackson but she was back by 3 January 1824, when Bates was listed again in the crew muster. The Sally was then about to depart for the north-west coast of New Zealand, but Bates did not sail in her. By his own account, he petitioned the Colonial Secretary, Sir Frederick Goulburn, to be allowed to remain in the colony but was instructed to leave at the first opportunity. A vessel was then fitting out for a sealing voyage to West Australia and he joined it. They worked around from King George Sound to Cape Leeuwin, then all round the gulfs and Kangaroo Island, where they stopped to load salt. The owner then intended to proceed to New Zealand; rather than do this Bates, who had heard of Maori hostility and cannibalism, preferred to jump ship; this might also explain why he left the Sally in January. In this version, he and Randell met two other sailors the day after landing.

According to Wootton’s evidence, the Nereus spent the last three weeks of April at Kangaroo Island and so could well have been at the end of a more extended voyage, even as far as Cape Leeuwin. There is no mention of a cargo of salt when the Nereus returned to Launceston in May, only seal skins and oil. But then there is no mention of the skins, only 5000 bushels of wheat, when she finally arrived back in Sydney on 8 July with Emmett as a passenger; skins were usually taken for sale in Sydney. On arrival in Sydney she was reported to have come from Port Dalrymple, not New Zealand, but there is no record of when she left Launceston, so it is possible that Bates was correct and she came via New Zealand. The implication in that case is that the owner was on the voyage, as indeed Emmett was.

However, either Bates or the journalist may have been confused on this occasion. An earlier report of the visit of the Lands Commission to Kangaroo Island (South Australian Chronicle, 10 March 1888) quoted Bates as saying that when he came on a whaling ship in 1823—it is significant that Bates is careless in distinguishing whalers and sealers—he found ‘plenty of tucker’ on the island since kangaroos and seals were still numerous. The skins could be bartered for rum at £3 a gallon and tobacco at 10s a pound, and ‘a pocketknife or any similar article’ would rate a skin. There is no mention of an intent to sail to New Zealand; that tale is told, with some embroidery, in relation to his later association with the Prince of Denmark. He gave no motive for leaving the Nereus.

Yet another and somewhat different version (Adelaide Observer, 2 February 1895, expanded in his obituary on 14 September 1895) appeared later. According to this, he landed on Kangaroo Island in 1824 in Smith’s Bay [on the north coast, west of Cape d’Estaing] from a brig called the Nemus [sic] from Sydney. He was employed by Sir Robert Campbell. The vessel was to have worked along the coast as far as Cape Leeuwin, sealing with three boat crews, but Bates wanted to return to England, so he jumped ship, with ‘another young fellow’, at Kangaroo Island, hoping to pick up a vessel that would take him back to Sydney.

This version is at odds with the others on several points. The mention of Campbell, a Sydney merchant, points to a reason. Campbell had no apparent connection with the Nereus but he was the owner of the Sally; so Bates had been employed by Campbell on his previous voyage. The obituary confuses the two, which suggests that it relied on the recollections of others after Bates’s death and is the least trustworthy account.

It should also be noted that the Nereus returned to southern waters later in the year, leaving Sydney for Port Dalrymple and Bass Strait on 9 November 1824. According to Cumpston [13], no less than six vessels were present at Kangaroo Island at the end of 1824: Nereus, Samuel, Eclipse, Liberty, Governor Brisbane and Perseverance. A member of the crew of the Nereus on this voyage was William Cooper. Whether this is the William Cooper living on Kangaroo Island in 1831 and subsequently is not known; he had apparently sailed on the previous voyage of the Nereus [13], so he would have known Bates. If he jumped ship on this occasion, he must have been in the company of Nathaniel Thomas[4] . Thomas’s tale was told in outline by Thomas Willson in 1877 (Adelaide Observer, 3 March 1877; South Australian Register, 21 February 1877), the details being provided by Cumpston [13]. Thomas was a crew member of the Belinda, which set out from Sydney on a sealing voyage in May 1824. The vessel was stranded on Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago, Western Australia, in July; the crew saved themselves and were finally rescued by the Nereus. When she put in to Port Jackson on 11 March 1825 she brought 3500 seal skins and the commander and crew of the Belinda. It was reported that she had come from Kangaroo Island. Thomas, and perhaps Cooper, must have chosen to remain behind on the island.

According to Bates’s not wholly reliable 1886 and 1887 memoirs, three days after running, he and Randell met three men who had absconded from a whaling vessel at Hog Bay some weeks previously and were searching for water. Cumpston [13] does not identify the vessel. It is likely it was just passing, since the three men—Warley, James Kirby and James Everett— possessed a boat, which would be necessary had they absconded from the vessel rather than on shore. The encounter also indicates that no islanders were in permanent residence on the eastern portion of the island at this time. This group may well have founded the settlement at Hog Bay.

According to sealark/jonathan.html both Kirby and Ev­erett had connections with Jonathan Griffiths. James Kirby was a private in the 5th Plymouth Company on the Alexander, a vessel in the First Fleet. He received a land grant in 1799 but sold out in 1806, mostly to Griffiths, and took to sealing and whaling. According to Bates, Kirby had ‘a black woman with him who he had brought from Van Diemen’s Land’, which implies that he, Kirby and Warland had been on a vessel from there. James Everett, Everitt or Everest came from England in the whaler Echo bound for New Zealand in 1819. She was wrecked and the crew reached Sydney in two small boats. He then made several whaling voyages and was wrecked again, this time in Torres Strait in one of Griffiths’ vessels. Since both Kirby and Everett had connections with Griffiths one might speculate that they were on board Griffiths’ vessel, the Glory, which left Sydney under Robert Brown on 8 July 1823. Her destination was Port Dalrymple, where she may have touched in July, but she must have gone much farther because she did not appear at Sydney again until 24 May 1824. She had put in again at Port Dalrymple around April or May 1824 with 1333 fur and 151 hair seal skins and reported that she had been sealing in New Zealand and elsewhere. ‘Elsewhere’ clearly might have included Kangaroo Island about the time that the Nereus called there. However, neither Everett nor Kirby appear on the muster of the Glory made on 7 July 1823 in Sydney. However the crew then consisted of only seven men, remarkably few to engage in a protracted sealing voyage, so others may have been recruited on the passage. In any case, Everett and Randell were not to remain long on Kangaroo Island.

Another Sydney-based sealer was George Goold, late master of HMS Dryad. He took the cutter Snapper, owned by Daniel Cooper[5] and Solomon Levey[6] of Sydney, to Kangaroo Island in the summer of 1827 and the Jackass to other places on the southern coast in the winter of 1828. According to his testimony to the South Australian Association [30], his visit to the island was short and limited to the neighbourhood of Point Marsden. He added nothing about the islanders.

In 1823, Jonathon and John Griffiths moved their operations to Launceston, where John launched the 33-ton two-masted schooner Henry in November 1826. She made her first recorded visit to Kangaroo Island, under Griffiths, during a voyage that lasted from October 1828 until March 1829, and brought back skins of fur and black seals, seal oil and kangaroo skins. These were taken for sale in Sydney. In July Hugh McLean took her sealing to New Zealand. This voyage had to be cut short in September, due to bad weather, but McLean had already acquired fur seal and kangaroo skins from the islands of Bass Strait, and may very well have gone on to Kangaroo Island since he had dropped off William Dutton at Portland Bay as the captain of a sealing boat[7]. Dutton was collected by McLean in the Henry early in 1830. They all arrived back at Launceston, reportedly from a sealing trip to New Zealand, in mid February 1830.

The over-exploitation of seals and kangaroos on Kangaroo Island meant that they were a rapidly diminishing resource by 1830. But instead of interest in the island fading until it became just an outline on the map between Bass Strait and Western Australia, serious attention became focused on it for the first time as radical settlement plans were developed for a new colony in South Australia.

At the same time, commercial interests found a new reason for activity in the waters around the island.

Chapter 4            

Mainland South Australia

There is no doubt that the first excursions into the hinterland of mainland South Australia were made by the Kangaroo Island sealers. They went for water and game. The Kangaroo Island emus were long extinct and the kangaroos had been ‘almost swept off’ by hunters and bush fires. Bates was reported (Adelaide Observer, 14 September 1895) to have said that one bush fire cleared the whole island. Some fires were no doubt caused by lightening, but others were deliberately lit: a fire set by Bates and William Walker to clear some scrub at American River swept across to Cape Willoughby. Thus Bates recollected:

I think it was about eight years [before I went to the mainland]. We used to cross over in a boat and hunt on the Adelaide Plains. I think the first time I landed on the mainland was in 1826. I know that in 1827 I was on the Adelaide Plains. There was any amount of kangaroo and emu, and fine kangaroo at that time— regular boomers. We used to get plenty of skins in those days. I have known Captain Hart to take away 7,000 skins in one trip.

This clarifies an earlier and confusing version (Adelaide Observer, 2 February 1895) in which he was quoted as saying: ‘When living at Antechamber Bay there were kangaroo, wallaby and emu in abundance. We used to go on the mainland to hunt’. The abundance was on the mainland, not on the island at that stage. There can be no explanation of his saying that it was eight years before he set foot on the mainland. This is contradicted by all his other statements and is patently untrue; eight years after his arrival on Kangaroo Island would be 1832 and there were witnesses to his visit to Encounter Bay in 1831.

Bates made a further claim in letters to the South Australian Register. In the issue for 8 December 1886 he wrote that ‘In 1827 I was living with the natives from Cape Jervis to Adelaide’. Despite a shaky hand he could then recall accurately that he was ‘associated with Mr. Kent in 1831 in the search for Captain Barker’. In the issue of 15 January 1890 he repeated that he had been ‘living with the natives for some months on Cape Jervis’ and added that he had been told by very old Aborigines that ‘he was the only white man who had lived with them’.

But there is a much earlier reference to his time on the mainland. He told the Dart early in 1830 that he had spent twelve months there and he recollected in 1886 (South Australian

Advertiser, 27 December 1886) that ‘about this time (1830) [he] very foolishly hazarded himself amongst the blacks of Cape Jervis’. He was at first well received but ‘when the dogs he had brought over were knocked up by hunting, he was left to shift for himself’. He became ill and was deserted by all except three aborigines, two of whom were a young girl named Sal and an old man named Condoy, and even these ‘begrudged him almost any provisions’. After three months he was rescued by the other islanders and the three aborigines were ‘carried away into captivity on the island’. In another version (South Australian Chronicle, 10 March 1888) he ‘lived there [Cape Jervis] with the natives for three months, but they killed my dogs, and when they found I couldn’t hunt and get more tucker, they all cleared out and left me to starve’. Yet the events of the next few years demonstrate that neither side seems to have regarded this episode as a serious threat to relations.

On 30 January 1829 the Colonial Secretary’s Office in Sydney received a letter signed by Duncan Forbes, master of the schooner Prince of Denmark (SRNSW A/2015, 29/848). It was probably brought by the ex-government schooner Waterloo, master E.B. Oldfield, which reached Sydney on 30 January from Port Dalrymple after a four-day voyage. The letter was written on 20 January 1829 from the River Tamar and read[8] :

I beg to state for your information that part of my sealing gangs stationed at Kangaroo Island have reported to me that during their excursions into the interior of New Holland they discovered a very large Lake of fresh water; they describe it as being very deep & of great extent as they could not discern the termination of it from the highest land; the banks abound with Kangaroo & the Lake with Fish; they also say that the natives are very friendly & have a number of canoes upon it & the land from their description must be rich.

I regret my time did not permit me to examine it but I propose doing so upon my return; the Latitude of the place the men started from was 35..300 the Longitude about 38..400 & from their account one and a half days journey from the coast to the North Eastward. I do not altogether implicitly rely upon their report of its extent, but I am satisfied that a very large sheet of water lies in the position just pointed out, and if I may be allowed to hazard an opinion making its way to the Gulph of St. Vincent as the people say it bends in that direction; should circumstances prevent my present intention of surveying it any of the Government vessels going to King Georges Sound might do it and set a question of so much interest to New South Wales (if it does exist) which I have not the smallest doubt of) at rest.

A pencilled marginal note, perhaps contemporary, corrects the longitude to 138. It is sig­nificant that the longitude is considered less precise than the latitude: Flinders’ charts were still being used at this time and on them 138 400 was the longitude of Rosetta Point[9]. The latitude of the point was, however, 35 350. Latitude 35 300 was that of the northernmost point of Encounter Bay. So the sealers probably landed in the vicinity of Freeman Nob. The report that the lake ‘bent’ towards Gulf St Vincent is, of course, misleading and suggests that the sealers had got no further than Point Sturt, from where the shore line does trend away to the east and north.

The 127-ton two-masted schooner Prince of Denmark had reached Launceston on 7 January having left Sydney on 7 September 1828 on a sealing voyage, ostensibly to New Zealand, under Thomas Wright. She must have departed on another sealing voyage to King George Sound in late January or early February.

The schooner put into King George Sound on 8 May and was having to repair the foremast which had been carried away shortly before. Forbes then gave the same information in a letter dated 13 May 1829 from King George Sound to Lieutenant George Sleeman, the commandant of the penal settlement there (SRNSW 4/2092, 115; [41]). It is an almost verbatim copy of the earlier version:

I beg to state to you for the information of His Majestys Government that part of my sealing gangs stationed at Kangaroo Island, have reported to me that during their excursions into the interior of New Holland they discovered a very large Lake of fresh water; they describe it as being very deep & of great extent as they could not discern the termination of it from the highest land; the banks abound with Kangaroo & the Lake with fish; they also say that the Natives are very friendly & have a number of canoes upon it, & the Land appears to be rich & fit for cultivation.

I regret my time did not permit me to examine it, but I propose doing so upon my return to the Eastward; the Latitude of the place the men started from is 35..300, the Longitude 138..400 & from their account one and a half days journey from the coast to the North Eastward. I do not implicitly rely altogether upon their report but I am satisfied from the plain tale they told & their wish to conduct me to it that a very large Lake, or sheet of water, lies in the position just pointed out, and if I may be allowed to hazard an opinion making its way to the Gulph of St. Vincent as the people say it bends in that direction; should circumstances prevent my present intention of surveying it, any of the Government vessels going to King Georges Sound might do it & set a question of so much interest to New South Wales (if it does exist which I have not the smallest doubt of) at rest.

Not only is the longitude corrected here but given greater weight by the omission of the word about. Also given greater weight is the appearance of the land in the neighbourhood of the lake. Finally, reasons are now given for believing the report.

Sleeman forwarded the letter to the Colonial Secretary in Sydney on 14 May. He wrote that ‘her Master, Mr. Forbes who appears to be an intelligent man has sent me an account of an inland lake which his men discovered on their passage hither, which I beg to transmit for the information of His Excellency the Governor’ (SRNSW 4/2092, 29/4558). These letters were despatched in the government-owned Lucy Anne, a three-masted ship, master William Powditch, which got away on 21 May after being delayed by contrary winds. She reached Sydney on 10 June and Sleeman’s report was received in the Colonial Secretary’s Office on 11 June.

Back at King George Sound, Sleeman reported on 9 July that Forbes ‘intends to examine the interior Lake named in my last despatch on his return to Sydney’. The Prince of Denmark left the sound on 14 July and put in at George Town, again under Wright, on 23 August. There it was reported that they had had a poor season due to bad weather, losing three men as well as the foremast and bringing back only 1000 skins. She reached Port Jackson under Forbes on 7 September.

This correspondence raises some questions. Sleeman’s statement that the lake had been discovered ‘on the passage hither’ may simply be wrong. But it may mean that the sealers were indeed working for Forbes at the time of the discovery and that this occurred during a long and circuitous passage from Sydney to King George Sound. In this case the Prince of Denmark must have called at Kangaroo Island, perhaps on the outward voyage to New Zealand, to organise the sealing gangs to operate in her absence. She presumably called again on her return, so that Forbes was able to report the discovery of the lake when the Prince of Denmark put in to Launceston for supplies before continuing on to King George Sound. This interpretation is consistent with Bates’s account (South Australian Chronicle, 10 March 1888), admittedly one of many inconsistent versions. In this case the Land Commission reported on Kangaroo Island that:

Bates went on a sealing voyage in the Prince of Denmark to Western Australia in 1828 and the captain wished him to go down to New Zealand; but he had heard that the natives were cannibals, and with characteristic prudence he replied, ‘Oh, no, not there; I don’t mind eating natives, but they don’t eat George’. He returned to Kangaroo Island, having for his mates Andrews, Worley and Kirby.

The absence of Randell and Everett, who had been present in 1823, provides some support for this version. John Randell and James Everett featured as steersman of sealing gangs from Hobart, who were dropped off by the Governor Brisbane and Hunter respectively in Western Australia late in 1825; they were detained by Major Lockyer of the 57th Regiment, the commandant of the penal settlement there, after an Aborigine was killed in March 1827. Lockyer was about to be relieved and asked that they be taken back with him to Sydney to face justice. Captain Stirling of HMS Success refused, as passage could be given only to individuals ‘as may be engaged in His Majesty’s service’ but both Randell and Everett apparently signed up voluntarily and sailed for Sydney in April 1827.

The lengthy excursions of the Prince of Denmark help explain why two masters, Forbes and Wright, are named. Forbes clearly identified himself as the master in both the Tamar and King George Sound and appears to have been in charge overall. But if the Prince of Denmark was also attending to gangs of sealers on Kangaroo Island, he may have put another officer, such as the mate, in command for local operations.

Finally, Sleeman is ambiguous as to when Forbes intended to survey the lake: ‘on his return to Sydney’ could mean on the return passage to Sydney’ or after he had returned to Sydney. Forbes’s first letter is similarly ambiguous. Only his second version makes it clear that he meant on the return passage ‘to the Eastward’. But there is no evidence to suggest that Forbes fulfilled his intention.

Captain Charles Sturt of the 39th Regiment was at this time pressing Darling for permission to continue his exploration of the Darling River. Darling took a great personal interest in extending knowledge of the country he governed and he now suspected that there might be a connection between this lake and the major rivers flowing westwards from New South Wales. He wrote in obvious reference to Forbes’s information to the Colonial Secretary in London, Sir George Murray, on 21 November 1829 ([40]):

Captain Sturt has proceeded on another Expedition, directing his course to the River Mirambidgee, which lays to the Southward in order to ascertain whether that River joins the Darling which he discovered on his late Expedition, as he is induced to believe, or if it empties itself into the Sea on the Southern Coast of the Colony. I received information some time since that there is a large Lagoon in the neighbourhood of Gulf St. Vincent, and, from the direction of the Darling, when Captain Sturt was obliged to discontinue tracing that River, it is not improbable that it falls into the Lagoon or some part of the Gulf, with which I understand the Lagoon communicates.

It was to prove unfortunate that Darling seized on Forbes hazarding an opinion and shifting the emphasis from the location clearly placed in Encounter Bay to one in Gulf St Vincent. It is hardly conceivable that Darling did not discuss these possibilities with Sturt and how to test them, with the result that Sturt was commissioned to trace the course of the Murrumbidgee River to its supposed junction with the Darling and then both to the sea. Sturt, in his own account of the expedition [36], however, is strangely silent on the reported existence of the lake, describing his aim in the following terms:

As the Mirambidgee is a River of some magnitude, it will be satisfaction to be assured of its course and termination, as well as of the nature of the Country through which it runs. Should it unite with the Darling and proceed to any part of the Southern Coast within a reasonable distance, it might in the event of the Land being of good quality, prove an inducement to the settlement of that part of the Country, as from the junction of two such considerable Rivers, there can be little doubt that the issue of these Rivers could be navigable, a circumstance, which alone would be important to Settlers and might be the means of opening a direct and perhaps an easy communication between Sydney and that part of the Colony.

Sturt left Sydney on 3 November 1829. From Gundagai he carted a whaleboat along the banks of the Murrumbidgee until he met its junction with the Lachlan River. There he launched the whaleboat. The boat party reached the lake on 9 February 1830. This document was the first to provide support for its proposals from someone who had actually visited the region, George Sutherland. Sturt’s account, written after his return, claims that this was unexpected; this was surely disingenuous since he knew his own position and that of lake had been reported quite accurately.

Sturt, George McLeay (the son of the Colonial Secretary, Alexander McLeay) and a soldier named Fraser crossed the sand hills from a point near the present-day Goolwa Barrage to reach the sea at Encounter Bay on 12 February (see Figure 4.1). They then walked east along the spit to the mouth of the Murray. Sturt had already concluded, on the day that they discovered the lake, that it had little communication with the sea on account of the lack of tidal variation. But the situation was worse: there was no hope of relief by a vessel sent to look for them. Sturt wrote:

The first view of Encounter Bay convinced me that no the vessel would ever venture into it at a season when S.W. winds prevailed. It was impossible that we could remain upon the coast in expectation of the relief that I doubted not had been hurried off for us;. . . In the deep bight in which we were, I could not hope that any vessel would approach sufficiently near to be seen by us. Our only chance of attracting notice would have been by crossing the Ranges to the Gulf St. Vincent, but the men had not the strength to walk, and I hesitated to divide my party in the presence of a determined and numerous enemy, who closely watched our motions.

The enemy were, of course, Aborigines. Sturt had met with many bands; sometimes the reception was friendly and sometimes hostile. Around the lower end of the lake, he perceived them to be hostile, unlike Bates’s account. Then follows the first written account of Encounter Bay seen from close quarters:

The entrance appeared to me to be somewhat less than a quarter of a mile in breadth. Under the sand-hill on the off side, the water is deep and the current strong. No doubt, at high tide, a part of the low beach we had traversed is covered. The mouth of the channel is defended by a double line of breakers, amidst which, it would be dangerous to venture, except in calm and summer weather, and the line of foam is unbroken from one end of Encounter Bay to the other. Thus were our fears of the impracticability and inutility of the channel of communication between the lake and the ocean confirmed.

These impressions were confirmed time and again, yet there was to be a powerful faction amongst the first settlers that chose to ignore them in their own quest for position and profit.

Sturt did not have that luxury. The party turned around and after an epic journey back up the rivers reached Sydney at the end of May.

In the meantime, having had no news of Sturt for three months, Darling sent the relief that Sturt expected. Darling’s decisions were clearly made in the knowledge of Forbes’s information because his first letter was annotated twice: ‘The Master Attendant informed on 8th Jany. 1830 that the Isabella was to proceed to K[ing] Geo[rge] Sound via the south coast to look out for capt. Sturt & his party’ and then ‘Master Attendant with despatches for Capt. Sturt to forward the Dart also to the south coast. 17 Feby. 1830’. Thomas Hanson, sometimes Hansen, the master of the 120-ton HM Colonial Schooner Isabella, was issued with instructions on 8 January 1830 read (SRNSW AO2862, 30/7): ‘In proceeding to the place last named [King George Sound] he is to keep as close in shore as may be precdent [sic] with safety and watch for signals and should any be made, he will stand in and communicate with the parties. In returning he is not only to keep near the shore but to enter the various Bays and inlets and keep strict watch that no signals if made may possibly escape him. In both passages he is to make such signals as may be in his power while sailing at night and if answered to lie too [sic] and communicate with the Shore. . . ’. Six weeks later Owen, master of the 21-ton HM Colonial Cutter Dart, a revenue cutter, was told to ‘proceed to Cape Northumberland and examine the whole Coast minutely from thence to Kangaroo Island, Carrying a light at the Mast Head by Night, and making such Signals as will insure a Communication with Captn. Sturt if he be there as supposed’ (SRNSW AO2862, 30/34. Check inward letter 30/1055.). This suggests that Darling indeed suspected that Sturt was following rivers that flowed into Encounter Bay or Gulf St Vincent.

Figure 4.1: The outlet of Lake Alexandrina or River Murray from the inset of the Arrowsmith plan of new Port Adelaide of 1841. The source is the chart by Pullen in 1840. The scale and orientation have been adjusted to correspond roughly with the modern map. The symbol a denotes the spot at which Sturt halted on 9 February 1831, b the spot where Sturt last halted before returning up the Murray, and x the spot where Gill of the Fanny left a steer oar.


According to Gill [17], the Isabella arrived in Sydney at the end of March having seen neither Sturt nor the Dart. The voyage of the Dart, however, was more fruitful.

The master, Owen, was the second choice (Forbes being the first[10]) to take command of the Dart. This is not surprising as he was the William Owen who had just been dismissed as master of the Amity, recently returned from King George Sound; but it may have been felt that his familiarity with southern waters outweighed other considerations. If so, the confidence was not misplaced.

The vessel reached Cape Northumberland on 3 March. To attract attention they fired one of the boat’s guns and hoisted a light to the mast head at 7 pm. At 2 pm on 4 March they were five miles NNW of Cape Jaffa and presumably circled Encounter Bay since by 8 am the following day the ‘high land to the eastward of Cape Jervis’ was almost due north. As Sturt so rightly anticipated, they could not have sailed close to shore because they set a course to the north-west to find Kangaroo Island to the NNW at 6 pm, though this may perhaps should be WNW since the log adds that the Pages were two miles to the ENE. They anchored one mile off Kangaroo Head at midnight. If Sturt had been waiting at the mouth of Murray, he would most likely have been missed by this desultory search—the log reports no gun signals that day; but he was long gone. It is clear from what the Dart did next that the instruction to search between Cape Northumberland and Kangaroo Island did not mean that Encounter Bay was the focus of the search. It must have meant a search of the whole likely coastline starting at Cape Northumberland and going round westwards to the two gulfs and finishing at Kangaroo Island. And this can no doubt be traced to Darling’s seizing on the suggestion that the lake, and perhaps the rivers as well, ran into Gulf St Vincent.

Owen certainly intensified the search in the gulfs. Between 6 March and 11 March he sailed up and down the east coast of Gulf St Vincent, firing a gun regularly and showing a light (18 lbs of candles were expended) at night—a blue one after midnight. They were not impressed by the country north of Mount Lofty: ‘The land nearethe [nearest the?] shore on the eastern side is very low, behind which is a range of moderately high hills, whose elevation increases to the south. From abreast of Mount Lofty to the head of the Gulph the shore is lined with mangroves with shoal water 4 and 5 miles from the shore. There are 3 very remarkable hummocks at the head of the Gulph which when sailing up makes like islands[11]. The anchorage is not by any means safe, as the bottom is sand. With a southerly or SW wind there would be a very heavy sea rolling up the Gulph. No fresh water to be obtained there’.

Then they combed Spencer Gulf equally thoroughly, ending up on 8 April at Thistle Island. A sealing party was stationed there and they learnt from one them

that there exists a very large sheet of water (part of which is fresh and part salt) about 3 days journey from Cape Jervis, and one from Encounter Bay; he states that from the highest Land on the Western side of it he could not decern sic] its extent, therefore does not know whether it may be a River or Lake; he also stated that the natives are very Hospitable on that part of the coast, and has many Canoes on the above sheet of water. The Person mentioned deserted a Brig named the Nereus about 5 Years past and has been living with the natives on Cape Jervis for 12 Months; he has travelled with them up the East side of the Gulph St. Vincent, and states that no river or other fresh water disembouges [disembogues: discharges] itself in the Gulph; he handed me a Letter which was written by Captain Forbes of the Prince of Denmark respecting the above Sheet of Water from his information addressed to The Honble. the Colonial Secretary.

The sealer was George Bates; he left his own account of this meeting some some fifty years later (South Australian Advertiser, 27 December 1886). In it he referred to the vessel as the 20-ton cutter Mary, so he was clear as to the type of vessel but confused as to its name, which is not surprising given the passage of time.

The letter is in the same hand as the extract of the log, presumably that of Owen since the letter was handed to the writer of the log, so it is a copy of a copy. It is less literate and introduces significant errors (apparently silently corrected by Gill); the latitude, longitude and the direction of travel are all incorrect. It was written from the River Tamer [sic] and reads (SRNSW 4/2073, 30/3486)

I beg to state for your information that part of my Sealing Gangs stationed at Kangaroo Island have reported to me that that [sic] during their excursions into the interior of New Holland they discovered a very large Lake of fresh Water; they discribe [sic] it as being very deep and of great extent, as they could not decern [sic] the termination of it from the highest land; the banks abound with Kangaroo and the Lake with Fish. They also say that the natives are very friendly and have a number of Canoes upon it and the land from description must be rich. I regret my time did not permit me to examine it, but I propose doing so upon my return. The Latitude of the place the Men started from was 35.20 the Longitude about 128 400 and from their account one and a half days journey from the coast to the north westward. I do not implicitly rely altogether upon their report of its extent, but I am satisfied from the plane [sic] tale they told, and their wish to conduct me to it, that a very large sheet of water lies in the position just pointed out and if I may be allowed to hazard an opinion, making its way to the Gulf of St. Vincent, as the people says [sic] it bends to that direction. Should circumstances prevent my present intention of surveying it, any of the Government vessels going to King George’s Sound might do it, and set a question of so much interest to New South Wales (if it does exist which I have not the smallest doubt of) at rest.

Fortunately, Darling had received more accurate information in the previous versions. He endorsed these papers with the comment: ‘It would appear from the Log of the Dart that there is no outlet from Lake Alexandrina into Gulf St Vincent’. This was on 14 May 1830, the log and Forbes’s letter having been forwarded to him on 4 May, the day that the Dart reached Sydney. The Dart apparently did not locate the lake despite the log saying: ‘Should I find any place of security for the cutter at Kangaroo Island I shall feel myself fully authorised to employ any whaleboat I may be able to get there, and run to Encounter Bay in her for the purpose of surveying the above Lake or Sheet of Fresh and Salt water as it may prove of great importance to New South Wales’. Only Sturt had visited the lake and he was still a fortnight away from Sydney; Gill therefore concluded that Sturt had named Lake Alexandrina before he returned to Sydney. That is indeed the case. According to Sturt’s own account [36], George McLeay left the party to recuperate at Hamilton’s Plains (just west of Narrandera) on 20 April and hastened to Sydney with a letter from Sturt to Darling; it read: ‘Considering this lake to be of sufficient importance, and in anticipation that its shores will during her reign, if not at an earlier period, be peopled by some portion of her subjects, I have called it, in well-meant loyalty, “The Lake Alexandrina”’. This was prescient: Alexandrina Victoria, Princess Victoria of Kent, was to ascend the throne within six months of the colony being proclaimed.

However, if the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Darling Rivers were to become important arteries for trade and traffic, a major settlement and port would be required at its mouth. Sturt had judged the mouth itself to be impassable and the Dart had not seen any outlet into Gulf St Vincent. Sturt, however, did not regard the matter closed. He was aware that his examination of Lake Alexandrina was cursory:

I could not but deplore the necessity that obliged me to recross the Lake Alexan- drina. . . and to relinquish the examination of its western shores. We were borne over the ruffled and agitated surface with such rapidity, that I had scarcely time to view its as we passed.

The stakes were too high to abandon all hope. He had not examined the north-west stretch of the lake, the direction in which the sealers suggested that the lake continued, nor had he been able to check whether there was another channel into Encounter Bay to the east of the one that he had found. Thus he continued:

But, although I was guarded in this particular, I strongly recommended a further examination of the coast, from the most eastern point of Encounter Bay to the head of St. Vincent’s Gulf, to ascertain if any other that the known channel existed among the sand-hills of the former, or if, as I had every reason to hope from the great extent of water to the N.W., there was a practicable communication with the lake from the other.

Darling had to wait until the following year to resolve the issue. Sleeman had been relieved as commandant of the penal settlement at King George Sound in late July 1829 by Captain Collet Barker, a friend and fellow officer of Sturt in the 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot. Barker had just arrived at King George Bay in the Amity from Raffles Bay, where he had overseen its closure. On 7 January 1831 instructions were drawn up for dispatch in the Isabella ordering him to return to Sydney with the military establishment and prisoners because the settlement was to be transferred to the Government of Western Australia (SRNSW AO2862, 31/14). A second letter, dated 11 January (SRNSW AO712, 31/2), continued:

Referring you to the Published Report of Captain Sturt’s expedition to the Sea Coast in Encounter Bay, I am directed by The Gov. to inform you that from Information received from another Quarter, there is some reason to believe that the principal outlet of the water from Lake Alexandrina is in Gulph St Vincent at about the Latitude of 30° 100 and as it is highly desirable to ascertain the correctness of this Information. H. Ex. requests that if Wind and Weather should be favorable, you will on your passage from King George’s Sound, go with the Isabella in to Gulph St Vincent and Cause the East Coast of the Gulph to be carefully examined by the Schooners Boats, not trusting to appearances from the Schooner, but proceeding as close to the Shore as the Boats can go, and trying every Inlet. If a large River should be discovered, it is desirable that it should be ascended, so as to ascertain the direction from whence it comes, but H. Ex. leaves further particulars to your discretion, being persuaded that you will do the best in your power.

Barker followed these orders to the letter. Hanson, the master of the Isabella, was of course already acquainted with these waters; that is, if he followed orders the year before. They landed at the Onkaparinga on 15 April, then sailed northwards along the coast to a point some 20 miles beyond Glenelg and then returned to the Onkaparinga on 17 April. Barker landed and found, beyond the bar, a narrow inlet four or five miles long, terminating at the base of the ranges. The next day, 18 April 1831, Barker, his servant Mills, and the Commissariat officer, John Kent[12] , were able to reach the summit of Mount Lofty, perhaps following the ridge on the northern side of the Onkaparinga River. From there he could see towards the south-east a prominent hill; this, he realised, must have been the hill that Sturt assumed to have been Mount Lofty; Sturt later acknowledged his mistake and named it Mount Barker. In the other direction, Barker could make out an inlet which had been overlooked by the earlier coastal explorations. Returning to his ship, Barker entered the inlet, which was first referred to as Sixteen Mile River or Creek [Port Inlet], and penetrated a distance of 10 to 12 miles. Although the shores were closed in by mangroves, the inlet provided shelter and water deep enough to solve the problem of a suitable harbour.

Barker then sailed south to a rocky point at the northern extremity of a small bay behind Cape Jervis [Yankalilla Bay], whence on 27 April a party consisting of Barker, Mills, Kent and two soldiers, set off for Encounter Bay. Sturt in 1833 [36] described the route:

Barker found a small and clear stream [named after Sturt, but not the Sturt River] in a valley opening on a bay, confined to the north from the chief range by a lateral ridge that gradually declined towards, and terminated at, the rocky point on which they had landed [Carrickalinga Head?]. The other side of the valley was formed of a continuation of the main range, which also gradually declined to the south, and appeared to be connected with the hills at the extremity of the cape.

Valley nine or ten miles in length and three or four broad. Lagoons filled by watercourse down centre [River Bungala?]. Went due east, over opposite range of hills [Moon Hill?], descended almost immediately into a second valley that continued to the southward. Crossed it, ascended opposite range, from summit [Strangways Hill?] saw Encounter Bay. Extensive flat stretched from beneath them, extreme right rested upon the coast, at a rocky point [Freeman Nob, Port Elliott], near which there were two or three islands [Granite Island, Seal Rocks, Wright Island?]. From the left a beautiful valley opened upon it. A strong and clear rivulet [Hindmarsh River]from this valley traversed the flat obliquely, and fell into the sea at the rocky point, or a little to the southward of it.

They reached the mouth of the Murray on 30 April. Having established that no river con­nected Lake Alexandrina to Gulf St. Vincent, Barker still had to ensure that there was no more navigable channel to the east. So he swam across and climbed the sand hills on the other side. Out of sight, he was killed by aborigines about half a mile beyond[13]. When he failed to return, the rest of the party headed back to the vessel. By keeping to the south of their outward route, they were able to traverse the promontory by a ‘direct and level road from Little Bay [an echo of Yanky Lilly Bay or what is now Lady Bay in Yankalilla Bay?] to the rocky point of Encounter Bay; this was the Inman valley. They reached the Isabella on 2 May.

The Assistant Surgeon, Robert Martin Davis, took command (according to Bates in 1887) and he related how, after seeing a fire, he went ashore at Cape Jervis to see whether he could obtain any information from the Aborigines. Luckily, he met one, called Sally, who spoke English and had been at King George Sound three years earlier. She was there with John Randall, Bates’s former shipmate, who was recruited as the steersman of a sealing boat by the Governor Brisbane from late 1825 to early 1827; Kirby was in the same gang and Everett in another at the same time. Sally had no knowledge of Barker but told him that there was a party of sealers at Nepean Bay and the Isabella proceeded there, with Sally and another Aboriginal from Encounter Bay, to enlist their aid. The following day two sealers came out to the Isabella in a whaleboat. Davis continued his account:

These men represented the impracticability at this season of the year of a boat getting to the inlet, and even if the weather admitted of her entrance, it may be a month before she would get out of the bay should the westerly winds set in, of which there was every likelihood. As these men had been seven years in this part of the world, and seemed very intelligent, I was induced to adopt the plan they proposed, namely to land at Cape Jervis and proceed to the inlet, and there construct a raft of reeds, the usual mode of crossing the lake adopted by the natives and which one of the sealers (Bates) informed me he had crossed over on a short time since.

On 4 May, Mills, two seaman and the two Aborigines were taken by two sealers across Backstairs Passage. Sturt [36] gave a slightly different version, probably provided by Kent: ‘For a certain reward, one of the men agreed to accompany Mr. Kent to the main with a native woman, to communicate with the tribe that was supposed to have killed him. They landed at or near the rocky point of Encounter Bay, where they were joined by two other natives, one of whom was blind’. Davis confirms that they were joined by Sally’s father, Condoy, and her uncle. The party reached the lake on 7 May. There they learned that Barker had been speared and thrown into deep water and so had to return empty-handed to the Isabella on 11 May. Davis concludes: ‘I have much satisfaction in stating that G. Bates, from the knowledge he possessed of the language and manners of the natives, proved of essential service’. The two sealers were paid £12 1s 6d for their services and the hire of their whaleboat.

Sally and her father sound like Sal and the old man, Condoy, the Aborigines whom Bates claimed had remained with him when he went to live on the mainland and was abandoned by their tribe. He also claimed that they were taken into captivity on Kangaroo Island for their pains. Yet here they are at liberty on the mainland and evidently on good terms with the islanders! They were almost certainly present on Kangaroo Island when the first settlers arrived in 1836 and were known as King and Princess Con. These contradictions run through the literature. There are many tales of brutality on the part of the islanders and Sturt attributed the hostility of the tribe that killed Barker to the their actions; on the other hand, the Cape Jervis natives are consistently described as being friendly and cooperative. Perhaps Bates’s remark that the latter feared the inland tribes perhaps helps explain some of the inconsistencies—some tribes may simply have been more naturally aggressive than others in their relations with both their neighbours and the intruding Europeans.

George Bates should not, however, be relied upon implicitly. He gave a different version of these events, probably reflecting no more than the embroidery of a good tale over the years. He claimed that four ‘runaways’, i.e. runaway sailors, went on board the Isabella, one of whom was Warley. He, Bates, devised the plan of dressing himself in a white sheet and pretending to be a ghost. When put into action, the frightened Aborigines fled but one, a young girl, was captured by Warley and they learnt from her that Barker had been speared and his body hidden in the scrub. When the Isabella sailed for Sydney, the sealers returned to Hog Bay with their reward of a small boat; Warley took the abducted girl to live with him at Hog Bay.

Bates claimed much later (South Australian Register, 27 June 1883) that he and his mate, Nathaniel Thomas, had been sent out as ‘special constables’ on an unsuccessful mission to arrest the murderers. If this was true, it must have been after the arrival of ‘authority’ in the Buffalo.

The Angas papers (SLSA PRG 174/11) contain a letter written from Norfolk Island on 25 March 1832, which was most likely written by Kent:

We perfectly ascertained that there was no river emptying itself into the Gulf from Sturt’s lake, which was 35 miles distant from the nearest part of the Gulf. Captain Barker was much disappointed at the great distance as it was supposed that at furthest 7 miles was the extent from Lake Alexandrina to St. Vincents Gulf. There is no harbour in this Gulf but we heard from the sealers who live on Kangaroo Island that in Spencers Gulf there are excellent places for ships to shelter in and that Port Lincoln is a very fine and safe Harbor. The land to the water’s edge is the finest. I ever saw nothing in New South Wales equal to it and the whole of the East Coast of St. Vincents Gulf bears this character for miles. I did not see a rood of bad land in that part and equally well watered. I may mention that we found two rivers on the east of St. Vincents Gulf, one emptying itself S.W. of Mount Lofty into the Gulf and the other about 10 miles from Cape Jervis. Captain Barker proceeded 6 miles up the first in his boat, when it became a mountain stream, the other of less note runs through a most luxuriant country.

Sturt also drew upon the knowledge of the Kangaroo Islanders when he noted that there was a small bay immediately behind Cape Jervis, where there was ‘a good and safe anchorage for seven months of the year, that is say, during the prevalence of the east and north-east winds’. This may well refer to Rapid Bay, since the only chart of the region at the time was that of Flinders, on which Cape Jervis labelled the whole promontory, not its western tip.

The map drawn to illustrate Sturt’s account of his expeditions was published by Smith, Elder & Co., Cornhill, in 1833 [36]. The depiction of the Fleurieu Peninsula could only have been based on Kent’s information since not surveys had been carried out since those of Flinders and Baudin, neither of which show any coastal detail. Sturt’s map shows an anchorage in the upper part of Yankalilla Bay and a ‘flat and beautiful valley’ [the Inman] running eastwards across the peninsula to Encounter Bay. Kent’s ‘rocky point’ is shown as Rocky Point [Port Elliott], as well as Granite Island, Seal Rock and the surrounding reef. Kent does not name the islands in his accounts, so it is likely that Sturt provided them based on the information provided by Kent. Sturt and Kent were both keen observers of geology and Kent may well have gone ashore with the sealers close by. Another anchorage is shown between Granite Island and a unnamed hilly point [Rosetta Head]. Kent remarked that ‘good anchorage is secured to small vessels inside the island that lies off the part of Encounter Bay, which is rendered still safer by the horse shoe reef that forms, as it were, a thick wall to break the swell of the sea. But this anchorage is not safe for more than five months in the year’. These words were to remain unheeded when the colonists arrived.

Another interesting feature of this map is the name given to that section of the South Mount Lofty Ranges to the north of the Inman and Hindmarsh valleys: Hay’s Range. Robert William Hay was the permanent under-secretary of the Colonial Office at the time and an inveterate opponent of the colonisation plans of Wakefield and his supporters, so this would appear to be an attempt to curry favour with him. He was effectively forced to resign in 1836 and one may surmise that no-one felt obliged to remember him after that.

Sturt was fully aware of the significance of the discoveries. Although the inland rivers did not terminate is a spot suitable for settlement, there was easy land access from their lowest reaches to Gulf St Vincent and the gulf offered far better prospects for colonists. On the basis of the accumulating information from visitors to the region and published in the Outline of the plan of a proposed colony to be founded on the south coast of Australia put out by the South Australian Association in 1834, Sturt could write enthusiastically that ‘a spot has at length been found on the south coast of New Holland to which the colonist might venture with every prospect of success. . . All who have ever landed upon the eastern shore of St Vincent’s Gulf agree as to the richness of its soil and the abundance of its pastures’. This came most opportunely for the colonisation theorists.

Colonisation as a means of relieving the home country of its ever-increasing population, especially of its paupers, was widely advocated by political economists in the 1820s. A fun­damental change to the nature of the proposals occurred in early 1829 when Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Robert Gouger developed the ideas of land sales to attract ‘the migration of capital and enterprise’, as Pike puts it [26] and the controlled release of land so as to avoid the problems inherent in the Swan River settlement. Their ideas were given wide publicity in the Morning Chronicle, which published Wakefield’s A Letter from Sydney and his Sketch of a proposal for colonising Australasia in 1829.

Gouger was consigned to the King’s Bench Prison for a debt incurred in the original printing of the Sketch in November 1829. There he met Anthony Bacon, a well-connected but impov­erished ex-soldier[14], and a Captain [Henry or James?] Dixon, who had experience of sailing in Australian waters, and they apparently discussed colonisation. On his release Gouger reverted to the idea of pauper relief in order to find support and a National Colonisation Society was formed. The Society immediately sought advice from political economists on a suitable location for the experiment. The news from Sturt quickly focused attention their Gulf St Vincent.

But the Wakefield group were not the first off the mark. Bacon approached the Colonial Office in early 1831 with a plan for a privately sponsored settlement in Spencer Gulf. This was promptly refused by Robert William Hay, the permanent under-secretary, and Bacon joined forces with Gouger to submit a new proposal in May 1831, which survived immediate rejection; an extended version, called a Proposal. . . for founding a colony on the Southern Coast of Australia. This document was the first to provide support for its proposals from someone who had actually visited the region, George Sutherland. It was presented to the Colonial Secretary, Lord Goderich, who met with Gouger, Bacon and Robert Torrens, the chairman of the Society, at the end of August. The promoters then felt sufficiently encouraged to publicise the scheme. But there was really an impasse: the Colonial Office would not sanction the scheme unless the capital was raised and investor would not commit themselves with government sanction. Bacon then recklessly attempted to go ahead regardless, but was forced to resign in order to prevent further damage to the cause. Bacon took himself off to become a mercenary in Portugal.

The Wakefield group then reformed itself as the South Australian Land Company and pre­pared a revised proposal, a Plan of a Company to be established for the purpose of founding a colony in South Australia, in early 1832. This was widely advertised, but first Hay replied negatively and then Goderich declared the matter closed. Goderich soon relented and re­quested that a draft charter be prepared. In the opinion of the Colonial Office’s legal adviser, James Stephen, who had personal animus towards Wakefield, the scheme was ‘wild and im­practicable’, with ‘no reasonable prospect that it would be sanctioned’. That was enough for Goderich and no further progress was made until his resignation in January 1833.

Not surprisingly, word of these proposals eventually reached Australia. According to Bassett [2] the press in Van Diemen’s Land published in early 1832 the rumour that a private settlement at Port Lincoln as proposed. This sounds like Bacon’s venture; if so, it was stale news. Nevertheless, George Arthur, Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, gave it his enthusiastic support. In a letter to Hay in September 1832, he suggested that a preliminary expedition be sent there ‘for discovering the capabilities of a Country’. He did little to disguise his desire for the new territories to be placed under his jurisdiction. Arthur was unaware that a letter from Hay was then on its way advising him that no such settlement had been sanctioned.

Nevertheless Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his followers were now convinced that providence had provided South Australia as the site for their experiment in colonisation; thereafter, they did not waver in their allegiance to it. Nor were the merchants in Launceston deterred from seeing opportunities along the coast of southern Australia. Linking the two was the Gilles family: Lewis Gilles had emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1823 and was well placed in mercantile and banking circles in Launceston after moving there in 1832, and his elder brother, Osmond, threw his weight and wealth behind Wakefield’s efforts in London.

Commercial interests in the early years of the decade still focused on seals and they were the principal reason for ships to call at Kangaroo Island. Griffiths set out on another sealing trip, again ostensibly to New Zealand, in the Henry in December 1830. At the end of this voyage in March 1831, Dutton was dropped off again at Portland Bay, where he was to remain for the next year. Griffiths then took the seal and wallaby skins to Sydney. In November 1831, Griffiths launched another vessel, the 51-ton schooner Elizabeth, which he promptly despatched under the command of John Hart to the ‘North-West Islands’. This meant stopping at Portland Bay to pick up the sealing party and their skins, then sailing to Kangaroo Island to buy skins and to collect more skins, both there and on a sweep through the islands of Spencer Gulf [18]. Hart, the son of John Harriot Hart and Mary Glanville, a Devonshire family, was then aged twenty-two. He had gone to sea at the tender age of twelve and made his first voyage to Hobart in 1828. He had just arrived in Launceston from Sydney as the first officer of the Kains and was detained when the Kains was wrecked in the Tamar River on 6 October 1831 as she attempted to leave. Griffiths went on the maiden voyage in order to judge the success of the sealing venture, and perhaps to assess Hart, who was not registered in Launceston as the master of the Elizabeth until 29 March 1832, after their return [29]. It must have been towards the end of this voyage that they picked up Dutton, and his catch, no doubt, from Portland Bay.

Hart recalled his visit to Kangaroo Island some thirty years later [18]:

Proceeding towards Kangaroo Island, anchored on the 16th [of December 1831] in Guichen Bay; landing on Baudin’s Rocks killed 30 seals, leaving one man with a supply of water and provisions until our return. Anchored in Nepean Bay on the 20th, procured from the salt lagoon five tons of salt; bought 150 skins (seal) and 12,000 wallaby skins from the islanders.

These islanders were principally men who had left various sealing vessels when on their homeward voyage, the masters readily agreeing to an arrangement by which they secured for the next season all the skins obtained during their absence. This island life had a peculiar charm for the sailors, being supplied from the ship with flour, tea, sugar, tobacco, and a few slops, and living generally in pairs on the shore of one of the little bays. They cultivated a small garden to supply them with potatoes, onions, and a small patch of barley for their poultry. Thus thus led an easy, independent life, as compared with that on board ship. They obtained wives from the mainland; these attended to the wallaby snares, caught fish, and made up the boat’s crew when on a sealing excursion to the neighbouring rocks. At Kangaroo Island, there were some sixteen or eighteen of these men. On a certain day, once a year, they assembled from all parts of the island to meet the vessel at Nepean Bay, and dispose of their skins, getting a supply in return for the following year, the only money required being a sovereign or two for making earrings [Bates said that Hart paid 30s per hundred wallaby and kangaroo skins, but that the islanders ‘took their payment in goods sold at fabulous prices’].

No livestock are mentioned by Hart. This is consistent with Bates’s recollection that the first pig was brought to the island in 1832 (Adelaide Observer, 14 September 1895).

On returning to Launceston, the Elizabeth brought 730 fur and 600 hair seal skins, 10,000 wallaby skins, seven tuns of seal oil and 25 tons of salt. No kangaroo skins are mentioned. Sturt wrote in early 1834 that kangaroos ‘are now scarce, or are never seen by anybody’. Moreover the stocks of seals were also dwindling rapidly, because the sealers continued to kill seals during the breeding season. In New Zealand, too, the seal colonies were near extinc­tion and, as an added disincentive, sealers were meeting violent opposition from sometimes cannibalistic Maoris. Whales, however, were plentiful winter visitors to the waters around Kangaroo Island and the commercial interests in Launceston had turned to these.

Chapter 5            


When Griffiths returned from Sydney to Launceston in the Henry at the end of April 1831 he brought back ‘a complete set of whaling gear’. He had had contact with Thomas Raine’s shore-based whale fishery at Twofold Bay the previous year, when he had taken 15 tuns of black whale oil on to Sydney, and the whaling gear may have been picked up from there. But Griffiths himself was apparently not interested in whaling at this stage. He sold the Henry to the Launceston merchants and landowners, William Effingham Lawrence, Henry Reed and John Sinclair and they employed William Young as master. He set out in May with nineteen passengers, presumably the whaling party, westward of Circular Head. They returned in August with ten tuns of oil. The Launceston Advertiser declared in August that this was the first vessel to sail out of Launceston for the [Tasmanian] fisheries. More oil and whalebone was brought back in October and a further 10 tuns of oil and whalebone in mid November. This last voyage must have signalled the end of the season since it also brought back fishing gear. The Advertiser attributed the poor season to bad weather on the west coast preventing the boats from going out and suggested that the whaling grounds off the north-east coast of Van Diemen’s Land would be more profitable next season. This implies that the Henry did not leave Tasmanian waters in 1831.

In 1832, however, the attention of the Launceston whalers turned further westwards, apart from the voyage that Hart, after returning from Kangaroo Island, made in the Elizabeth to Twofold Bay with a whaling party under Sinclair on his way to Sydney. This was the first of several voyages Hart undertook that year between Launceston and Sydney in the ‘Sydney trade’. Hart returned to Launceston from the first run to Sydney at the end of June, ostensibly via Kangaroo Island, but Cumpston [13] regards that as unlikely. The island had been visited by the Henry, under Baldwin, in early 1832 and by the Socrates, one of Reed’s vessels under the command of William Gibbons, on her way west. In May she dropped a whaling party, 30 strong, with five boats at Port Lincoln on this voyage; Hamborg noted that ‘the men whom I left had been over there during the three previous seasons’, so this was a regular party in its fourth season there. Whaling must therefore have started in Spencer Gulf in 1829, long before the much-heralded voyages of the Henry in 1831. However, the Socrates had just arrived from England, where it had been fitted out for whaling, and could not have attended the whalers in previous years.

Who organised this earlier whaling effort is difficult to identify. It seems unlikely that it was Reed himself. The sources of the whaling gear for the recorded whaling voyages are known: England for the Socrates and Sydney (or perhaps Twofold Bay) for the Henry. No other whaling equipment is known to have reached Launceston and I can identify no vessel sailing westwards from Launceston before 1831 large enough to carry try-pots, etc. Reed certainly owned no other vessels during this time. That whaling had been carried out secretly from Launceston seems highly unlikely given the fanfare accorded the sailings of the Henry and Socrates by the press in 1831 and 1832. If we are to believe Hamborg, and I see no reason not to, then the whaling operations at Port Lincoln must have originated elsewhere, perhaps Hobart.

In October 1828 the brig Caroline put in to Hobart from a whaling voyage and then underwent a refit for sperm fishing. One of the owners was John Lord. She put out at the end of the year to hunt sperm whales. The press reported that this was the first vessel from that port to sail for this purpose. She returned from Malanta [?] on 24 January 1830 and departed again on another whaling cruise. When she returned from Spring and Adventure Bay in October she brought back 30 tuns of oil and 1 3/4 tons of whalebone from Spring and Adventure Bay. On this occasion she may not have gone beyond the waters of Van Diemen’s Land, but she was clearly bay-whaling. Whalers were well-known opportunists so Lord might have used the Caroline to leave men behind at Port Lincoln in 1829 to try their hand at bay-whaling whilst the vessel cruised for sperm whales. Is it a coincidence that a whaling party appeared at Port Lincoln the very year that the first vessel equipped with whaling gear sailed from Van Diemens Land? The use of the Caroline in 1830 seems less likely. But in February 1830 another of Lord’s vessels, the Clarence, left Hobart for the whaling grounds/South Seas after returning from a voyage to New Zealand after sperm whales. Perhaps she took the Port Lincoln party on this occasion. In 1831 the Henry may have supplied Port Lincoln, though there is no documentary evidence that she left the waters of Van Diemen’s Land. Alternatively, Reed may not have become involved until the Socrates became available in 1832.

Returning to 1832, the Socrates also took one of Reed’s employees, a Mr Trimlett, to Port Lincoln. According to Sexton [29]: ’On her [Socrates] return to Launceston on 3 June, it was stated that Trimlett had set up the whaling station in the sheltered bays of Kangaroo Island instead of at Port Lincoln, thus saving time at the advanced point in the season’. However, the move was apparently not made on the return voyage of the Socrates as Hamborg testified that it was completed in two and a half days, sailing to the southward of Kangaroo Island. The stores for the whaling establishment were ferried to Kangaroo Island in the Henry, which left Launceston on 8 June, immediately after the Socrates had been able to alert the promoters of the change of plan. The Henry brought back whale oil and bone from Kangaroo Island on three occasions later in 1832. Bates much later recollected (South Australian Advertiser, 16 October 1894) that the first whaler visited the island in 1832, ‘when a party arrived at Hog Bay from Launceston’. A few months later he was reported as saying (Adelaide Chronicle, 2 February 1894) that ‘it was in 1832 that Mr. Henty sent a party of men down from Van Diemen’s Land’ and was scathing of their enterprise: ‘They were mostly “lags” and would not do more work than they could help, and sometimes after making fast to a whale and killing it they would anchor it and wait till next day; but then the whole whale would be somewhere about the Pages[15], cut up by sharks’.

This appears to be the only reference to the involvement of the Henty family in 1832. Their activities are well documented and there is no mention of a whaling enterprise at that time ([2]). Whilst this in itself is not conclusive, such involvement is highly unlikely. The Hentys had intended to settle at the Swan River, and the three brothers—James, Stephen and John— went there in 1829, but quickly became disillusioned. By the end of 1831 they were considering switching to King George Sound for a pastoral property and Launceston as a mercantile base. Both James and Stephen Henty sailed, separately, for Van Diemen’s Land, via King George Sound at the end of 1831. Stephen arrived in Launceston, in the Thistle which had been recently bought by James, in January 1832, and James at the end of February. They were joined by their parents, sister and three further brothers—Thomas and Frances Henty, Jane, Charles, Edward and Francis—who sailed directly from England in the Forth, in April, on the same day that the Socrates reached George Town from London. James had already set himself up as a merchant and Stephen was trading with the Thistle to Hobart and Sydney. The Thistle went to Sydney under Thomas Young at the end of February, returning in mid April. She then took merchandise from the Forth to Hobart and did not make Launceston again until 20 July. Another trip to Hobart occupied her until the end of September. There was very little opportunity to decide on, organise and equip a party for the whaling season in 1832. It is much more likely that the return of Reed’s Socrates from Port Lincoln in June and disappointment at the opportunities in Van Diemen’s Land sparked the Henty interest and led the newly-arrived Edward to accompany the Caernarvon on a whaling cruise the following year.

Curiously, Thomas Coote, who commended the establishment of a whaling station on Kanga­roo Island to the intending colonists in January 1836 [12], makes no mention of any previous whaling there. Coote said that he had been a seaman in Australian waters for twenty-two years and a whaler for twelve. He had served in the Glory [16] and with the Van Diemens Land Company. This company established an unsuccessful and short-lived whaling station at Cir­cular Head in 1833; Coote said that he was employed by it for three years and was paid £4 10s a month, plus provisions.

Coote claimed to have been on Kangaroo Island from December 1831 to March 1832 and again from December 1832 to April 1833, for the purpose of obtaining seal skins and salt ‘for Launceston’. The dates suggest that he was on board the Henry on both occasions.

In his opinion Thistle Island was the best location for a whaling station, saying that it also had a seal rookery. The following remark that ‘there used formerly to be a whale station in Spencer Gulf’ supports Hamborg’s claim. Yet it is not clear whether he nevertheless advocated a station on Kangaroo Island, since he simply noted that oil was ‘easily loaded at Nepean Bay’. Did he mean that Nepean Bay was a suitable depot for a fishery based on Thistle Island? And that he was aware that Kangaroo Island had proved unsuitable for a fishery?

He certainly noted that both kangaroos and seals had been eliminated from the island but suggested that the ready availability of salt would make the salting of provisions, especially locally-caught fish, for the Indian market a profitable undertaking.

This was not the first document to reach Angas in London. A letter dated 4 October 1832 from Launceston, perhaps written by Lewis Gilles, transmitted information given by ‘the late master of the schooner Henry at the moment of his departure from here’; it described the country around Spencer Gulf in glowing terms. The informant may well have been John

Jones1 , if we read late as lately. If this is the case, he must have visited Spencer Gulf during the whaling voyages made by the Henry in 1832. It was certainly he who took the Henry back to Kangaroo Island on 28 September and it was Jones who provided London with an assessment of the region’s suitability for settlement later on—admittedly a very different assessment to this one.

Trimlett returned to Launceston on 19 November 1832 in Griffiths’ vessel, the Elizabeth. The Elizabeth, under Hart, had cleared for Kangaroo Island in ballast in late October and on her return was reported to have brought, in addition to Trimlett, 23 tuns of oil and 52 bundles of whalebone. Hart’s own memoir says that he left Launceston on a sealing trip on 3 November, a trip which took him as far as Doubtful Island Bay and finished in April 1834, having picked up Dutton from Portland Bay on the way back. There may well be no real contradiction in the dates; Hart probably regarded the brief return to Launceston from Kangaroo Island in late November as part of the longer voyage.

Thus there appears to have been a whaling season based on Kangaroo Island, but not Port Lincoln or Portland Bay, in 1832. Ruediger [28] points out that Dutton’s name is attached to a small cape to the west of Stokes Bay on the north coast of the island and suggests that it was William Dutton who started whaling on the island, but there is no documentary evidence that either he or his employer, Griffiths, was involved. Hart [18] asserts that Dutton was his mate in the Elizabeth until he was appointed as chief headsman at Portland Bay some time after March 1833. The evidence rather points to Trimlett, as the agent for Henry Reed, initiating whaling on Kangaroo Island. Cumpston [13] locates the whale fishery at Hog Bay, but again provides no evidence for this belief.

Both the Henry and the Elizabeth left Launceston on 29 November for Kangaroo Island, but this was too late for the whaling season. The Henry was back at Launceston with only two tuns of oil and stores, presumably the remnants of the previous season, in early January 1833. The Elizabeth set out to continue sealing, and she returned to Launceston on 6 April having visited ‘almost every rock between Bass’s Strait and Doubtful Island Bay’, which was some hundred miles east of King George Sound in Western Australia, according to Hart [18]. The four-month voyage netted 1100 fur and 1000 hair seal skins, 2000 kangaroo skins, 24 wallaby rugs (evidence that they obtained some of their goods by purchase), 6 tuns of seal oil and 28 tons of salt (suggesting a call at Kangaroo Island?). The value was £1700. He then proceeded to Sydney with the salt, returning in mid June 1833.

There must have been another whaling season on Kangaroo Island in 1833; the Henry, under John Jones again, sailed for there and Portland Bay on 24 February 1833 with whaling gear and provisions. John Sinclair, Mr Williams and John Taylor, with his wife and child [17] but Sinclair, at least, must have returned with the Henry at the beginning of April. Dutton was certainly not involved in the Kangaroo Island operation. Later that month he took the Henry to Portland Bay with 24 men to set up a whale fishery, ‘the first fishing in Portland Bay’, according to Hart. Hart was employed to ‘attend them’; he later wrote [18]: ‘Whales were so plentiful that, on my visiting the Bay in June, I found all the casks full, and the men putting oil into pits they had made in the clay. Out of 100 tons thus dealt with a very small quantity was saved. I took the first cargo of oil from Portland on this occasion.’ Hart had

1Was this the John (Johnny) Jones (1809-1869), the Sydney-born seaman who became an Otago business­man and owner of shore-based whaling stations in New Zealand in the late 1830s?.

sailed from Launceston on 19 June on a whaling trip with John Sinclair as a passenger. He returned to Launceston from Portland Bay and Twofold Bay with 70 tuns of oil.

Sinclair was a partner of Reed and had had a whaling interest at Twofold Bay in 1832. His travels in 1833 suggest that he was assessing the situation at Portland Bay and comparing it with those at Kangaroo Island and Twofold Bay; whether he was involved in the 1833 season at Twofold Bay is unknown, but Sinclair did start a second, rival, fishery at Portland Bay in 1834, apparently abandoning efforts elsewhere.

Late August saw Hart return again to Launceston from a voyage to Kangaroo Island with 50 tons of salt and one tun of whale oil. It may well have been on this trip that he took Edward Henty to Portland Bay in order to confirm the latter’s favourable impression of the Bay as a place to settle; Henty had been picked up from Memory Cove after inspecting Port Lincoln by the Thistle, captain Liddell or Liddle, and arrived in Launceston at the beginning of August.

After landing Dutton at Portland Bay, the Henry was brought back to Launceston by Binney, arriving there at the beginning of July. She must then have been handed over to Jones in order to ‘attend’ the Kangaroo Island whalers. Torrens and Stephens [37] published his account of the country around Gulf St Vincent in 1835:

John Jones sailed from Launceston, June 1833, as commander of the Henry schooner of 55 tons, belonging to Mr Reed, on a whaling expedition. He first touched at Kangaroo Island, near Kangaroo Head; and early in July 1833, he crossed over to Cape Jervis, on the southern side of which, about eight miles from the western point, he found a small bay, not laid down in any chart, affording good shelter and anchorage for vessels of 400 tons, with a small stream of water running into it [Deep Creek?]. He landed here, and ascended the highest part of the Cape, from which he had an extensive view of the country on all sides [near Black Bullock Hill?], as well as of the waters of Gulf St. Vincent: the land was very fine, the soil rich, and covered with fine grass to the very top: the timber was gum, she-oak, and wattle, but no scrub. The rise of the tide varies from two to eight feet. The tides on the coast are very variable, being much influenced by the wind, and only one tide in twenty-four hours.

The Henry arrived back at Launceston in late November with Dutton as master from the whaling grounds, but returned to Portland Bay almost immediately. When Dutton reached Launceston again in mid January 1834 he brought back only 40 seal skins and 400 kangaroo skins. So this must have been a sealing voyage and it must also have extended further than Portland Bay since Jones’s account continues:

There is another and much larger bay on the north side of the Cape, just behind the point named by Flinders the N.W. High Bluff, which point, he says, projects much more than is laid down by Flinders, and shelters the bay from westerly winds. Vessels lying at anchor in this bay are protected from all winds, with the exception of from the north to west and by north. . . Four streams discharge themselves into this bay, and there is plenty of water in them at all times of the year; he went there in January, 1834, from Kangaroo Island, for water, of which he procured abundance of very good quality, at which time there was no water on Kangaroo Island, there having been a long drought; he also states that the water found on the island will not keep long at sea. The coast of Cape Jervis rises abruptly from the water’s edge, there being no beach; and vessels may anchor in deep water close to the shore.

There are several other streams of fine water, all along the eastern side of Gulf St. Vincent. Sturt river is always open to the sea, but the others are closed by a bar of sand during the summer, through which the water filters. The inlet, miscalled by Sturt Sixteen Mile Creek, is a stream of fresh water, and is much deeper and wider than the rest. About fifteen or twenty miles north of this river he discovered a fine harbour, sheltered by an island at its entrance; the southern passage through which he entered is about one mile in width, with three and half fathoms, and remained a day and a night. He did not land on the main, but was on shore on the island, which is about three miles in circumference; it is sandy, but there is abundance of fresh water in it, as well as some streams running into the harbour from the main land. He was ashore in numerous places along the coast, and went three or four miles inland; the country he saw was very fine, the soil rich and black, the grass very high and thick, and the country abounding in kangaroos and emus; the hind-quarters of one kangaroo here killed weighed 105 lbs. The country is not very thickly wooded; open spots of 400 to 500 acres occur frequently, and there is no scrub on any part. He met a tribe of natives on Cape Jervis, consisting of ten families; five of the men worked for him occasionally, and two were with him constantly for near five months. They were very useful, and willing to work for a trifling remuneration. To the two who remained with him long he gave pistols, powder, and shot; to the other slop-clothing. He saw their women and children only at a distance, and saw no other natives on the rest of the coast along Gulf St. Vincent; but their fires were very numerous. He considers Cape Jervis and the eastern shores of Gulf St. Vincent as the best adapted for a settlement of any part of the coast which he has seen. Has been on these coasts for three years, during all seasons of the year, and was never inconvenienced for want of water. Neither he nor any of his crew were ever annoyed by the natives, although some of the crew frequently slept on shore. The dogs he used for kangaroo hunting were between a greyhound and a terrier; he recommends greyhound bitches to be taken from England by persons going there, to be crossed with the dogs found at Kangaroo Island.

Napier [24] reprinted Jones’s account, and appended a letter from George Kingston, dated 8 April 1832, saying that he and John Brown had spoken to Jones since the latter’s account was written and had learned that ‘Jones had based his opinion of the goodness of the soil from landsmen, all farmers or farmers’ sons, from near Launceston, who had accompanied him’.

However, this account contains a fateful passage. In 1833, Sturt had entered Barker’s inlet as ‘Inlet 16 miles’ to the north of the Sturt River, which he showed entering the sea north of Mount Lofty, on the map illustrating his explorations. This is accurate, although the inlet is showing running east-west. The Arrowsmith map issued by the Colonization Commissioners in London in July 1836 [7], however, introduced serious errors. The Sturt River has moved south of Mount Lofty, where Sturt had previously indicated the Onkaparinga, and the ‘16 Mile Creek’ has moved down to become the Sturt, leaving room to the north for the ‘Fine Harbour Discov[ere]d 1833’. The latter is shown as another river, flowing east-west, emptying into the gulf behind an island. It would appear as though the writers in 1835, whether quoting Jones on this point or not, seemed aware that the Sturt River had become mislabelled as ‘Sixteen Mile Creek’ but did not then go on to draw the seemingly obvious conclusion that Barker’s inlet and Jones’s harbour were similarly located with respect to the Sturt River and so were in all probability one and the same. This was to cause Light great heartache in late 1836.

There is no evidence of whaling at Kangaroo Island in 1834. The Henry took supplies and whaling stores to Portland Bay at the beginning of April and was waiting for oil from Sinclair’s party when she was wrecked in the bay on 19 August. Hart in the Elizabeth had spent the summer of 1833/4 sealing as far as Cape Leeuwin, bringing back the usual booty: 500 fur and 400 hair seal skins, 1800 wallaby skins, 9 (wallaby?) rugs, 2 tuns of (seal?) oil and 15 tons of salt. According to Hart [18] the salt came from Middle Island (in the Recherche Archipelago off Esperance in Western Australia), not Kangaroo Island, but the vessel must have examined South Australian waters because he claimed to have discovered the dangerous reef off Cape Jaffa (between Robe and Kingston South East) and to have stood ‘on the plains where Adelaide now stands’ during this voyage. Hart’s account is quite factual in all verifiable respects—even to dates, of which he seems to have kept a record[18]—so there is no reason to doubt his statements.

A week after his return in April, Hart took the Elizabeth to New Zealand on a voyage lasting a month. Then he ran over to Portland Bay with empty casks and supplies (beef, gin and rum) and returned to Launceston with 56 casks of oil. A second trip to Portland Bay with whaling stores produced another cargo of oil in August. Then Hart was off to Sydney with kangaroo skins and wheat. A sealing trip to Bass Strait followed in October during which he ‘brought back Griffiths’ party of whalers from Portland. Employment having to be found for these men during the summer to prevent them being employed by the opposition fishing party, took a number of them on an expedition to strip bark’ [18]. This was wattle bark at Western Port beside Port Philip Bay. At the end of November he took some twenty men, a dray and bullocks to cut wattle in Western Port and then sailed on to Sydney with 15 tons of bark. He took a further 8 tons, as well as 10 bundles of kangaroo skins, to Sydney in January 1835.

Presumably, Dutton was in charge of Griffiths’ party and Sinclair was the opposition. The Henry was wrecked in the bay at the end of August while waiting to pick up oil from Sinclair’s party.

Again in 1835, there is no evidence of whaling at Kangaroo Island. Early in the year, Hart spent a month whaling or sealing in Bass Strait and then made another two trips to Sydney with produce such as wheat. On the second of these, Hart may have given up command of the Elizabeth as she was brought back to Launceston by Dorwood at the end of May. This may well reflect Griffiths’ intention to send Hart to England to bring back a new vessel.

Thereafter, the Elizabeth attended the Portland Bay fisheries under new masters. During the 1835 season the SAR for June 1836 reported that Edward Henty had collected more than 1,000 tuns of oil at Portland Bay, having caught 170 whales with about 30-40 men. A 50-ton schooner was in attendance, presumably the Elizabeth.

Chapter 6            

Kangaroo Island in the 1830s

Just who were islanders in the 1830s is impossible to establish. There are various contem­porary lists but they are clearly neither exhaustive nor always accurate. Some names recur, others do not. The population was always shifting with some men being transient and others departing temporarily on sealing voyages and visits to the mainland. Moreover, the observers never took a census of the whole island and reported only the local population.

In 1831 George Augustus Robinson, after visiting the islands in Bass Strait—but not Kan­garoo Island—listed the Aboriginal women in the hands of islanders as reported to him. Those on Kangaroo Island ‘belonged’ to James Allen, James (?) Baker, William Cooper, John Williams, Young Scott, William Dutton, John (Black Jack) Williams and James (Lit­tle) West. Only two of these names are confirmed by other sources, so this hearsay evidence may not be reliable.

Hart provided a more detailed list of the islanders on his visit to London in early 1836, presumably reflecting his experiences in the early 1830s [19]. They were Nathanial Thomas, pilot, age about 33, and George Bates, age about 36, at Antechamber Bay; William Day, age about 50, James, a convict, age about 50, Henry Whalley [Wallen], age about 50 and twenty years there, and a young Englishman at Pelican Lagoon; William Cooper[19], age about 40, and Peter Johnson, age about 70, at Nepean Bay, Point Marsden. There were also about sixteen native women. He stated that they grew wheat, cape barley, potatoes, cabbages, portugal onions, lettuces, pumpkins, melons and peaches and that ‘the above men render assistance to whaling & sealing vessels but are unwilling to leave the island—they may all be depended on but the man—“James”, who is an Irish convict’. He also gave brief sailing instructions: ‘The safest way in approaching the Island is the steer southward and make “Antichamber Bay” where the above named pilot [Thomas] may be found who is well acquainted with the coast’.

James is most probably the Irishman James Allen, a reputedly violent character. He was on the American sealer General Gates, captain Abimeleck Riggs. Riggs had recruited seamen, including ten convicts, in Sydney in 1819. These were detected in New Zealand and the vessel was sent back to Sydney in May 1820 under a British crew, with Riggs under arrest. Riggs was heavily fined but was allowed to resume sealing in late 1820; James appears on the crew list in November 1820. The General Gates put in to the Derwent from the St. Paul and Amsterdam islands (and perhaps other spots where sealing parties had been left previously), in August 1821, but left almost immediately to continue sealing. She first sailed to New Zealand. By the time she reached Tahiti in November 1821 she had 11000 skins and so sailed via the Leeward Islands for Canton, where the skins were no doubt sold. From Canton she made for Manila and Batavia and then the South Seas. When she returned to the Derwent for repairs in November 1822, she had come from Batavia via Kangaroo Island. This would have provided Allen with the opportunity, and Riggs’s notorious brutality a reason, to jump ship in late 1822.

Peter Johnson was a member of the crew of the Perseverance, owner Joseph Underwood and master James Craig, which sailed from Sydney at the end of November 1823 on a sealing trip to New Zealand. She returned from Kangaroo Island in early June 1824 but sailed again for Kangaroo Island in July, arriving back in Sydney at the end of February 1825. Johnson was not a member of the crew on the second voyage. He might have been one of a sealing party deliberately left on the island on the first voyage, but he obviously chose to remain behind on one or other of the voyages.

Coote [12] gave the number of white people on Kangaroo Island in the spring of 1832 as twenty-eight ‘of industrious habit’, but names none. According to him, one or two were convicts. Presumably they included the four or five men, apparently members of their sealing gang, that ‘he left. . . who had been on the island five or six years and spoke in the highest terms of the place’. They grew potatoes and other vegetables in their gardens on the sandy soil around the salt lagoons.

Jones [37] also made a list of the Kangaroo islanders in 1833. The letter continued:

When he was at Kangaroo Island there were seven Englishmen living on the island, and five native women; the men formed part of the crews of different sealers, who had been left on the island: no runaway convicts were amongst them. They reside on the eastern end of the island, opposite Cape Jervis; one, of the name Whalley [Wallen], has been fourteen years on the island; another, called Nathaniel Thomas, and James Allen, an Irishman, have been there seven years; William Day (who is a partner of Whalley’s in sealing) lives at Nepean Bay with a man named William Walker.

Hart and Jones seem to be in conflict as to whether James Allen was a convict. Bates (Adelaide Observer, 14 September 1895) was quoted as categorically denying that ‘there was ever a convict settled on the island. . . if they landed they were shipped off at the first chance. One of two tried to stay, but we would not let them’. Whether Allen was an ex-convict or whether he had been ‘shipped off’ before the first colonists arrived cannot be determined.

Jones’s estimates of the length of time spent by Wallen and Thomas on the island are approx­imately correct, but that of Allen is underestimated if he did indeed run from the General Gates. Hart, on the other hand, exaggerates how long Wallen had been there. However, the ages he attributes to Wallen, Johnson, ‘James’ and Day are consistent with their being early arrivals on the island.

Charles William Stuart was later to comment on the sealers’ companions (South Australian

Advertiser, 27 December 1886):

The natives of Kangaroo Island were those belonging to the sealers. They used to come from the mainland, chiefly the Onkaparinga district. The average number of wives that a sealer had was three. One man had three wives and no children, another had the same number of wives and twenty children.

It is strange that Jones makes no mention of Bates at Hog Bay. According to Bates’s own account, Warley departed with a whaling ship after helping recover Barker’s body in 1831, leaving the abducted girl with Bates. However, Bates’s party was swelled by two crew members of the Dart, Thomas and Jack, who had jumped ship. Five of them made expeditions to Lake Alexandrina, landing at Cape Jervis, to capture native women for the newcomers. These raids excited increasing aboriginal watchfulness and on the fourth, and final, occasion the party was ambushed and Bates speared in the foot, the second time that Bates had met trouble on the mainland if indeed it was before 1830 that he spent time living there with the Jervis Bay natives.

The second person to spend time on the mainland was George Meredith, the ‘eccentric’ son of a Hobart family[20] . He apparently reached Kangaroo Island in February 1834 in a whaleboat after being wrecked at Howe [Gabo] Island on a sealing voyage from Sydney. He was accompanied by two Europeans, one of whom identified himself as James Manning, and an aboriginal woman named Sal, said by Bull to be a lame Tasmanian. They built a house at Western River, on the north coast. Thereafter, accounts vary, but that written closest to the time—by W. H. Leigh, surgeon on the South Australian, in 1839—that ‘he went across the bay to near the vicinity of Yankylilly [Yankalilla], where he built him a hut. . . He lived for some time amongst these people, acquired their language, and seemed to be beloved by all’. Nevertheless, he was murdered by natives, being struck down by Sal, after he had struck an aboriginal boy for not saying grace before eating. Leigh met Sal on Kangaroo Island. In 1844, Alexander Tolmer led a party of police to Kangaroo Island, who took two aboriginal women, Sal and Suke, to Adelaide in connection with Meredith’s murder. Tolmer was told that Sal was taken from Port Lincoln by Meredith and that he had been murdered by one of his native boys, who had fallen in love with Sal. Warland [Wallen], Thomas and Walker rescued her from Rapid Bay and were told that Meredith’s boat had been taken by Encounter Bay aborigines; Tolmer claimed that Meredith’s murderer was well-known at Encounter Bay in 1844 but that ‘instructions for his apprehension were sent down a few days ago’. Unfortunately, Tolmer seems to have paid little attention to the case. According to him, Meredith arrived at Kangaroo Island seventeen years previously; this may have been a misunderstanding because he identified Meredith’s second companion as a man called Jacobs, who had been on the island for seventeen years. In a third account, published by John Wrathall Bull in 1883, his companion was a Dutchman, known afterwards as Jacob Seaman, and Sal was a Tasmanian aboriginal. Meredith acquired two boys from the mainland to assist in sealing and he was murdered by these two during a visit to Yankalilla. Bull explained: ‘It was supposed that they had been instigated to commit this act of treachery by some blackfellows, who afterwards took possession of the black woman [Sal], the boat, and all its contents, with which they made their way to Encounter Bay’. After escaping to the island, Sal lived with an American negro whaler, George Brown, and then William Cooper. Bull’s account sounds more plausible than the others, despite being published almost fifty years after the event. Bull landed in South Australia in 1838 and it is apparent that he collected much of the material in his reminiscences first hand from the settlers involved. However, his accounts are not without error: for example, he confuses ‘Governor’ Wallen with William Walker, and it was blind Suke (?-1888), not lame Sal, who was a Tasmanian Aboriginal, apparently the last living woman of her race. So the facts of the Meredith case remain obscure, including whether he lived for some time at Yankalilla or was simply a visitor to the mainland from time to time.

Whether Jacob Seaman was Dutch may be doubted. His death in 1846 prompted a letter to the South Australian Register (12 September 1846) complaining of the neglect shown to him and stating that he had served in the Navy for eleven and a half years and had been living on the island for 16 years. If so, he would have arrived there in 1830 or thereabouts.

If the sealers on Kangaroo Island cannot be said to have had settlement in mind, the Henty family did. When Edward returned to Launceston from Spencer Gulf in late 1833, he was convinced that Portland Bay was more suited for pastoral and commercial activities than Western Australia, van Diemen’s Land or Spencer Gulf, and should therefore become the focus of the family’s operations. There was, however, still the need to convince his father, so the pair set out again in the Thistle in December. Their destination was the Swan River, but the voyage took in Portland Bay, Kangaroo Island and Spencer Gulf. What Thomas saw convinced him of the soundness of his son’s judgement, so Edward was sent on board the Thistle once more in October 1834, this time with men and supplies to begin the settlement of Portland Bay; Thomas himself followed with more supplies in December. They were not then to know that in August the British government had passed the South Australian Act which declared the province of South Australia between longitudes 132° and 141 °. Although the exact location of the eastern boundary was not settled until 1914, it was clear even then that Portland lay beyond it. Thus the Hentys were not pioneer settlers of South Australia, but the family was instrumental not only in developing south-eastern South Australia but also in supplying the infant Adelaide, which was soon to be born.

There is a curious footnote to the pre-colonial era. The first, London issue of the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register reported that Osmond Gilles, the newly appointed Colonial Treasurer, had been informed by Philip Oakden, Gilles’s brother-in-law and a mer­chant in Launceston, and James Henty that Henry Hesketh was planning to fit out a 35-ton cutter [Mary Ann] to visit Port Phillip, Kangaroo Island, the two Gulfs and the neighbour­hood of Lake Alexandrina, in order to ‘examine all those parts of the coast and as much as possible of the interior, with a view to ascertaining the fittest spot for the capital of South Australia’, according to a ‘plan carefully laid’ by Hesketh and Gilles. The article went on to say: ‘It may be confidently expected that the site and neighbourhood of the first town will have been surveyed and marked out for location some time before the arrival of the governor and the main body of colonists’. In other words, Gilles and Hesketh, when he also was ‘at­tached to the South Australian colony’ in London, hatched a plan to hijack the settlement in order to advance their own speculations.

Perhaps fortunately, anyone less qualified to undertake this task than Hesketh could hardly be imagined. Another military adventurer, a ‘good artillery officer’ who had seen service in South America and Greece and ‘had visited many other parts of the world’, had been in Australia for less than year. He was to be accompanied by Robert Rowland Leake, a land and flock owner in Van Diemen’s Land. Sexton [29] states that the Mary Ann left Launceston on 25 January. Leake wrote on 6 January:

I think we shall sail early next week, so please write me how or which way you wish me to proceed. I shall intend going on to Spencers Gulf. Mr. Hesketh, I am sorry to say, is to fond of his caps [cups?]. I go to see Batman tomorrow, who is at or near Por— [Port Phillip?]. I am fitted out for Spencers Gulf except provisions, which it will be better to agree with Hesketh for so much the voyage or so much per month. I may go by the [illegible] to Port Phillip and back long before our sloop is [illegible] only loading time and join Hesketh again at Port Phillip, for now is the time to send sheep. The Norval [21] starts next Friday with sheep for Captain Swanston. She is had her main shivered [?] by lightening this last trip. I take every opportunity of getting information from those who come from Port Phillip and noting their opinions down. The book [boat?] the Enterprise arrived yesterday from Port Phillip. I have not had any news out of her yet.

The Mary Ann called at Port Phillip and Portland Bay from 19 to 21 February on her way to Spencer Gulf and Port Lincoln. She returned to Portland Bay between 17 and 19 March and Launceston on 29 March. There is no record of a report, which would have provided a valuable summary of the whole area on the eve of the colonists departure. Of course, if such a report existed, it could not have been received in London by March 1836, when the first vessels departed, and there is no evidence that this voyage influenced the subsequent settlement—Light was spared having a renegade Gilles added to his difficulties when he arrived as Surveyor-General in August 1836.

Chapter 7            

Arrival of the first colonists

The first colonists arrived at Nepean Bay in the Duke of York, with Samuel Stephens, the Colonial Manager of the South Australian Company, at their head on 27 July 1836, almost a month before the first of the survey vessels and six months before the officials appointed by the home government and by the Colonization Commissioners reached South Australia. The Duke of York was one of four vessels carrying supplies and emigrants on behalf of the South Australian Company, who were to establish a depot at Nepean Bay in anticipation of the foundation of the colony. Stephens was an energetic young man, but was prickly, hot-tempered and incapable of providing steady leadership. He clearly had not impressed John Woodforde, who referred to him in his diary on 11 October as ‘little Stephens (our Nepean Bay friend)’. And the infant community needed leadership because Kangaroo Island was not the land of milk and honey that they expected, though, ironically, those are two of the island’s staple products today. In the first of a series of misjudgments, Stephens located the settlement at Kingscote, where there was no fresh water. The Duke of York was followed shortly by two other Company vessels, the Lady Mary Pelham on 30 July and the John Pirie on 16 August.

Apparently the first party were met on the beach in Nepean Bay by Wallen, when he and Stephens argued as to who was the governor. The islanders at Hog Bay only learned of the arrivals later. According to Bates, Thomas first noticed a ship, ‘the John Pirie, having on board the first instalments of the South Australian Company’s immigrants’, in Nepean Bay and he and Bates went to welcome it. Their appearance greatly disconcerted the immigrants, as did their discouraging assessment of the island as a place for settlement.

Only on 20 August did Colonel William Light, who was to survey the new colony, reach Kangaroo Island in the Rapid. The surveying party caught a glimpse of Encounter Bay, where the Rapid made landfall, on 18 August 1836: they descried the mouth of the River Murray ‘defended by a double line of breakers’ and hurried on to Nepean Bay in Kangaroo Island.

The surgeon on the Rapid was John Woodforde and he quickly realised the worth of the islanders, writing in his diary on 6 September:

. . . The sealers living on Kangaroo Is[land] are Englishmen—some of them having deserted their ships to settle here and others being runaway convicts from Sidney [sic]. We were given to understand that they were little better than pirates, but were agreeably surprized to find them a civil set of men & they will be of much use in forming a colony here. For their honesty I cannot answer as we have not put temptation in their way. Some of these men have whale boats in wh[ich] they frequently cross over to Cape Jervis fr[o]m wh[ich] place they have at different times stolen the women who now live with them. These women are very clever at snaring game & fish for their keepers whilst the men remain at their little farms on the Is[land]. One of these by the name of Walland [Wallen] has a farm about 7 miles up the river wh[ich] does him great credit as he has several acres of flourishing wheat & most English vegetables. He has been 14 years on the Is[land] & is called the ‘Governor’—he has two native wifes.

It is ironic that Woodforde had reservations about the honesty of the islanders; Stephens not only gave Wallen no credit for his efforts but evicted him from his farm and offered only derisory ‘compensation’ for his land and stock of pigs and chickens.

Nevertheless, the islanders did make themselves useful. The Lady Mary Pelham paid R. Walland [Wallen] 5s for an errand on 10 November. Nathaniel Thomas and T. Bates were paid £12 for their services as labourers on 19 November. Thomas received another £1 10s wages on 26 November and Thos. Bates another £1 for two days on 10 December. Thos. Bates also sold a wallaby for the Duke of York for 10s 6d on 23 November and John Morphett a wallaby rug for £2 10s on 12 April 1838 [35]. Bates is said to have helped build huts for the Company at Kingscote and to have accompanied Light when he took the Rapid off on a survey of the coast. It would appear that he, like Wallen, had adopted a false christian name at the time. In return, Stephens sold them clothing from the chest of James Thompson, first mate of the Lady Mary Pelham, who died on the voyage out; William Cooper paid 12s for them on 29 August, Seaman 7s on 22 October and Wallan [Wallen] 15s on 9 November [35].

The islanders also had boats to offer and a knowledge of the region. According to Sexton [29], Stephens hired a boat, probably a whaleboat, from William Cooper on 14 August; he was paid £1 8s on 29 August. A second boat, belonging to Jacob Seaman, was used extensively. On 23 August Thompson was paid £1 15s for its use and 3s for his services. Seaman himself was paid a further £3 on 31 August and 10s on 3 September. On 21 September William Walker was paid £2, for the hire of an apparent third boat. Bull claimed that there were then seven islanders engaged in sealing and wallaby hunting; included in this number were William Thompson, who had chosen to stay there after completing a sealing voyage in 1835 in the William under Captain [William] Wright, and his companion, William Walker, ‘who had been some time on the island’. Wright in the William went on a sealing voyage from Launceston from November 1834 to March 1835; if Thompson remained behind then, it was just over twelve months before the vessels of the South Australian Company arrived, as stated by Bull. However, the South Australian Register (27 March 1882) reported the death of William Thomson on 25 March 1882, aged 79, and stated that he was discharged from a warship at the Isle de France (Mauritius) about 1831 or 1832 and had sailed to Sydney. Soon afterwards he went to Kangaroo Island in a whaler with an old companion, Mr. Walker. Walker had been named by Jones as the companion of Day at Nepean Bay in 1833, so if Thompson and Walker came together it must have been earlier than Bull reported: but then the William was not built until late 1833 and Wright did not become master until April 1834, so Bull’s account, in which Thompson joined Walker after the latter had been on the island some years, appears to be more plausible. In 1856 it was said that Walker lived at Hog

Bay with a daughter of Wallen and one of his Aboriginal wives, named ‘Old Puss’ (South Australian Register, 30 April 1856).

According to Bull [5]: ‘On August 4, two large boats with twenty men started on a trip across Backstairs Passage, and a landing was made at Rapid Bay, afterwards named by Colonel Light. From thence they sailed to Encounter Bay, next Port Lincoln was visited, and then the head of St Vincent’s Gulf. On the way back they fell in with the John Pirie, Captain Martin, who was on the lookout for a whaling station’. Sexton [29] provides corroboration in as far as Stephens recorded on 22 August that he had hired five islanders and two boats; only islanders would have been familiar with the destinations mentioned by Bull. The John Pirie arrived at Nepean Bay from London on August 16 so if the boats had met her ‘on the lookout for a whaling station’, she must have discharged her passengers and cargo very rapidly. This may well have been the case because Stephens paid Martin £5 for the use of the vessel on 25 August [35] and on 22 August requested in a letter to Angas that ‘arrangements be made for establishing a bay whale fishery’. In that letter he also mentioned that he had arranged for Martin to inspect the east coast of the Gulf St Vincent on his behalf. Martin, three islanders and one of their women and two sailors were to sail for the mainland. Martin set off up the coast in what Woodforde described as ‘his tiny whale boat’ for a tour of the Gulf early in the morning of 9 September. On reaching Nepean Bay again on 18 September, he reported that they went up the coast for seventy-five to eighty miles, reaching a river which he penetrated for about twelve miles, running ‘close up to Mount Lofty’. Martin’s distances must be somewhat exaggerated since the Port inlet is only sixty miles up the coast, if indeed his river ‘running close up to Mount Lofty’ is the Port River rather than the Sturt River. Nevertheless, he was paid £3 6s 6d for his ‘expenses to & from Jones’ Harbour’ on 26 September. The 1837 report of the Colonisation Commissioners in London [?] gives a different date: Martin, captain of the John Pirie, hired a whale boat manned by islanders, and, accompanied by two natives, visited Cape Jervis in August. The confusion may stem from Stephens’ letter of 22 August in which he stated that they were to start ‘about Wednesday next’, i.e. 31 August. It was probably the occasion for the payment of 6s on 1 September to ‘Islanders’ for assistance with a boat, which may have been that of Seaman, for which he was paid on 3 September.

As Martin’s party returned from Jones’s harbour they called in at Rapid Bay on 15 September and met the surveyors on the mainland for the first time. Light, accompanied by Cooper and his two Aboriginal wives—Doughboy and Sall, according to Mildred (South Australian Advertiser, 27 December 1886)—landed there on 8 September. Bull [6] also implies that one of these was Sal, who had joined Cooper after ‘parting from Brown’. According to Woodforde’s diary for 6 September, they had hired ‘one of the sealers & his two native women to go to the main[land] with us, & as they have capital kangaroo dogs they will answer a double purpose, that of providing fresh food, and, by means of the women, conciliating the natives sh[oul]d they prove hostile’. Meanwhile Light, who was delighted by Rapid Bay, had started digging a garden there and planting seeds on 10 September. The following day Cooper was despatched to Encounter Bay to ‘endeavour to engage some of the natives to take care of our garden during our cruize’ and he got back on 15 September with some ‘natives who promised to look after the garden’[22] . Woodforde gives the number as eight, all men ‘who were much the same in appearance & belong to the same tribe as the 2 we saw on the Is[land]’. Field gives the number as six or seven, two being the sons of one of Cooper’s women, who had not seen them for many years [31]. Presumably these Aborigines had some familiarity with the concept of a vegetable patch from contact with the islanders. Light then sailed in the Rapid to the head of Gulf St Vincent, exploring Barker’s Inlet and Torrens Island on both the outward and return legs, without realising that they had found Jones’s harbour. They next anchored off the mouth of Patawalonga Creek in the bay they named Holdfast Bay and explored the hinterland for two days. Then they were advised by an Aboriginal women on board, almost certainly one of Cooper’s women, that there was a large river to the south; this, the Onkaparinga, they reached on 10 October. The next day, they set sail for Rapid Bay, depressed at having failed, as they thought, to find the much-anticipated harbour. Bates later claimed (Adelaide Observer, 14 September 1895) to have accompanied Light in his survey of the coast, but this seems doubtful unless Cooper was confused with Bates in the emigrants’ later recollections.

Meanwhile, the Cygnet carrying the Deputy Surveyor, George Strickland Kingston, and John Morphett, a purchaser of land from the London Commissioners and the agent for many others, had reached Nepean Bay on 11 September. Morphett wrote on 14 September, echoing Woodforde:

There are some sealers on this island, I believe, in number six. One of them has been on the island eighteen years [Wallen], and another fifteen years [Bates], and the rest for shorter periods. Some of them have wives. I understand they are all intelligent, quiet men, having spots of land under cultivation; growing a little wheat, with potatoes, turnips and other vegetables for their own consumption. Three or four of them are already employed by Colonel Light and the Colonial Manager for the Company, and another is engaged by the Deputy-Surveyor, who has charge of our expedition. The last man referred to speaks most favourably of the mainland, giving it a decided preference to the island, in which statement, I understand, he is supported by the rest. I have no doubt we will find these men of great use, and they have all expressed pleasure at the opportunity of entering into the relations of civilized life.

After he and Kingston had visited the farm on the Cygnet River, Morphett wrote on 21 September:

These men have five acres under cultivation, and grow potatoes, turnips, cab­bages, water melons, onions, wheat and barley. The vegetables are all good. We purchased turnips from them at sixpence a dozen. Their wheat is excellent, although grown five successive years without changing the seed, on the same land.

Morphett wrote again on 28 September that he had just returned from a mainland trip lasting eight days [23]. He and Kingston were picked up from Hog Bay by a sealer’s boat and taken 30 miles up from Cape Jervis, which would have taken them to the Onkaparinga, and returned ‘very much pleased with the land’.

The Rapid arrived back at Rapid Bay on 11 October and Light found that the natives left in charge of the garden had proved honest and that the seeds had nearly all come up. Woodforde noted that one of them had lived with Wallend [Whalley] was a good interpreter; he spoke a little English and understood ‘much more’. That same day a boat appeared carrying Stephens and Morphett, and news of the arrival of the Cygnet, on their way up the gulf. They were to return to have dinner with the Rapid Bay party on 17 October before leaving for Kangaroo Island the following morning. Stephens no doubt also employed an islander as a guide and the accounts of the South Australian Company show that Nathaniel Thomas was paid £2 10s for ‘accompanying S Stephens up Gulf St Vincent in a boat’ on 21 October; so George Bates was not involved in this voyage either. The boat was probably Seaman’s, since the received another £2 10s for its hire on 22 October. A correspondent in the South Australian Register (12 September 1846) wrote, after Seaman’s death, that ‘it was he who pointed out to the gentlemen of the colony a river where to establish a harbour’.

According to the diary of Mary Thomas, who came on the Africaine with her husband, Robert, the government printer, Thomas was employed as an oarsman in a Company boat in November 1836, but it was Wallen who undertook the abortive search for the ill-fated overland party from the Africaine.

Morphett was on the move again in November. According to [23] he, Field and Kingston discovered the fresh-water river, originally called the Yatala and now the Torrens, on 6 November. Thompson is said to have supplied the Cygnet, which remained at Nepean Bay until 9 December, with water from the island and to have ‘landed them [by implication, Morphett, Kingston and Lipson] on these shores’ (South Australian Register, 27 March 1882). So it may have been Thompson who ferried the colonists to Holdfast Bay. On 21 November, Light, Kingston, Morphett and Pullen were engaged the exploration of the southern reach of the Port River in a hatchboat. Five days later, Pullen and Morphett took a hatchboat from Rapid Bay with despatches, which included Light’s choice of Holdfast Bay as the site for settlement, meant for the Africaine at Kangaroo Island. A gale swept them past Point Marsden and they missed the Africaine. On 6 December, Morphett, Light and Lipson were exploring Port Lincoln.

By now, Light had established a second camp at Holdfast Bay but Woodforde remained at Rapid Bay, where more than one islander must have been in attendance since it blew so hard blow on 8 November that ‘one of our sealers’ dingy that he was towing over for us to fish with broke adrift and was lost’.

The South Australian Company, of course, employed the islanders separately. Thomas and Bates (named as Thomas or T Bates in [35]) were paid £12 for three months service as labourers on 19 November, and Thomas a further £1 10s wages on 20 November.

The hand of the islanders may also be seen in the voyage of the Emma in December. She left Nepean Bay for Rapid Bay and Holdfast Bay on December 9 and returned from Gulf St Vincent to Nepean Bay on 15 [?] December. The purpose of the excursion is revealed in the Cash Book of the South Australian Company for 22 December in which the Sealing Account was debited with £1 10s to pay the ‘crew of the Emma for trouble connected with sealing trip’. No explanation of the trouble is afforded, but it must have been a sufficient to deter the Company from further sealing effort.

Woodforde, at Rapid Bay, noted on 3 January 1837 that Walker called there in his whale boat ‘on his way up the Gulf to try and engage with Captain Light’.

Appendix A

Sutherland and Dillon

George Sutherland

Sutherland dated his report on Kangaroo Island 4 October 1831. It was headed by the information that he had been engaged for many years in the trade between England and New Holland and had lately commanded the Lang, which left Hobart for London on 13 February 1831. It first appeared as an appendix in the proposal [8] for the Colonization Society in 1831, then in the plan for the South Australian Land Company the following year [33]. It may be surmised that it was Bacon who interviewed him because Bacon sent a summary to Howick on 5 September 1831 prefacing it by saying [1]:

. . . In the year 1819 he [Sutherland] proceeded in the Govr. Macquarie Colonial Trader to Kangaroo Island, for the purpose of collecting seal skins and salt; on the island he found several men who had lived there there from 8 to 10 years; they had arrived in open boats, some of them deserters from the whalers, others runaway convicts; during the proper season they were solely employed in killing seals, and were in the habit of supplying vessels which called there with skins, receiving articles of clothing, gunpowder and rum in exchange. Mr Sutherland remained on the island for nine months, from January to September and as his information is most important, I take the liberty of communicating it immediately to your Lordship.

and concluding:

. . . should your Lordship sanction the undertaking which we have proposed, it is his intention to sell two considerable estates he possesses in Van Diemen’s Land and settle in a country which he considers infinitely superior.

The report was reissued in the outline issued by the South Australian Association in 1834 [30], accompanied by the transcript of later oral testimony in which he revealed that he was a landowner in Van Diemen’s Land (according to [33] he received a grant of 1000 acres within four miles of Launceston from Governor Macquarie around 1819, but he did no more than run cattle on it as it appreciated in value), and that he proposed to emigrate to South Australia with his wife and children, with a view of ‘following the whale fishery’. This version was reproduced by Wakefield [39], Napier [24] and Torrens and Stephens [37] followed suit.

Sutherland apparently returned to Hobart from Liverpool on the William in March 1833. The Hobart Town Courier of 24 April 1835, quoted in [32], contained the following advertisement:

Spencer’s Gulf.—A number of respectable individuals, being intent on leaving Hobart Town for the above Settlement, invite the attention of those who have an inclination to join them. They expect to sail the first week in June. Address to G. and R. Sutherland, Old Wharf, where arrangements are making to Charter a Vessel for Passage, &c. &c.

This apparently came to nothing because the 1842 census records a Captain Sutherland in Brighton (a town just north of Hobart) and the 1843 census a George Sutherland still there. Or was he the George Sutherland who died at New Norfolk on 4 December 1834 at the age of 47?

Peter Dillon

Peter Dillon was born in Martinique and sailed the South Seas. His recollections of his visit to Kangaroo Island in 1815 were published in the outline [30] in 1834, where he is described as a late captain in the Honourable East India Company. Dillon is also referred to in Wakefield’s book [39] published in 1834. Dillon had criticised the selective nature of the published excerpts in a letter of 17 August 1832 to Robert William Hay, permanent under­secretary of the Colonial Office. Dillon was captain of the East India Company’s Research, which went in search of La Perouse. He narrowly escaped a prison sentence in Hobart in May 1827; Arthur overruled the judges to allow Dillon to proceed with the voyage. He discovered the wrecks of La Perouse’s expedition in Fiji later that year and published an account in Narrative and Successful Result of a Voyage to the South Seas in 1829; was rewarded with the title of Chevalier and died in Paris in 1847.

Sutherland on Kangaroo Island

Sutherland’s evidence has been much criticised, but it needs to be put in context. Flinders first sailed along the north coast of Kangaroo Island and landed in and around Nepean Bay in late March and early April 1802. He noted that a thick wood covered almost all that part of the island visible from the ship. Anchoring off Kangaroo Head [Hog Point], shore parties found ‘a number of dark-brown kanguroos. . . feeding upon a grass plat by the side of the wood. . . These kanguroos had much resemblance to the large species found in the forest lands of New South Wales’. These Kangaroo Island race of the Western Grey, a close relative of the Eastern Grey, sometimes known as the Forester. Despite the name, both species feed predominantly in the open on grass. Flinders noted that they were most abundant near Kangaroo Head, where ‘the island was clearer of wood than most others [in the neighbourhood of Nepean Bay]; and there were some small grass plats which seemed to be particularly attractive, and were kept bare’. The kangaroos shared the shores with seals; the blunt nose shown in the sketch made by William Westall on 4 April ([13], opposite p.15) suggests that they saw the Australian Sea Lion (Neophoca cinerea). The shore parties also found smaller kangaroos, seemingly of a different species, no doubt the Tamar Wallaby (Macropus eugenii), and several large running birds, which ‘seemed to have been the emu or cassowary’. The latter were in fact the Kangaroo Island Emu.

Baudin in January 1803 added nothing to this account except to remark that the hitherto unknown southern coast was ‘composed merely of sand dunes and rocky tablelands. . . This isle has not shown us a single tall tree and only heath and other low plants’.

Both Flinders and Baudin had great difficulty in finding fresh water. Dillon visited Kangaroo Island from the end of December 1815 to the middle of March 1816. His vessel, the Spring, anchored at Nepean Bay, but its boats circumnavigated the island and took 500 seals. They found timber plentiful everywhere they landed, the trees being taller in the west and forming open forest behind Nepean Bay. Kangaroos, ‘the forest kangaroo of the continent’, were especially common on the western side of the island. He found water in only two places, noting that the first was dry in summer, but did not go more than a mile inland.

Sunderland found no brooks inland, but reported an abundance of fresh water in Nepean Bay at Point Marsden, close to the water’s edge, after digging down four feet (three feet in Bacon’s summary) and plentiful water in lagoons close to the beach on the south and west coasts. He sailed three times around the island and sketched the coastline. Nepean Bay had fish in abundance and they had a daily supply of kangaroos. The land appeared fertile, as good as the best in Van Diemen’s Land and better than Sydney. Wood surrounded the island but the interior comprised mainly open, grassy plains, punctated by lofty timber on the higher ground.

Bacon’s own summary [1] read:

The shores rise gently for almost a mile, and are thickly clothed with timber; on attaining the summit the whole interior of the island is one continued undulating plain abounding with kangaroos and emus, interspersed with ponds of fresh water, and with an average of about 3 timber trees to an acre inferior in size and quality to none in Australia.

The soil is throughout this plain a deep clay loam, the wattles and swamp oak are abundant, which is an invariable proof of a rich soil, and such is the ease of getting across the country, that Mr Sutherland walked from Nepean Bay to the sealers huts, at the SW extremity of the island, a distance of 70 miles, in two days.

This account is at such odds with later experience that it appears to be a fabrication. This was the conclusion of James Stephens in his Land of Promise, published in 1839, and echoed by Price [27] and Pike [26]. Pike implies corruption, based on a letter written by Dillon in London on 7 October 1832 to Hay [15]:

. . . It appears [from authorities on which I can rely] that some months past a Captn. Dixon, a very intelligent man, who formerly traded to New South Wales, was confined in the King’s Bench Prison, which was inhabited at the same time by a Major Bacon and a Mr Gauger who were very intimate. The latter obtained a great deal of information from Captain Dixon which he committed to print in the shape of a pamphlet entitled A letter from New South Wales, Edited by Robert Gauger, Esquire. This with other writings of his I understand met with such success as to enable him to procure his release. Either before or from after this event he pointed out to Major Bacon the plan for colonizing the above coast [of New Holland in the neighbourhood of Kangaroo Island]. They set to work and got several respectable persons to join them who knew nothing of the capabilities of the country which was proposed to be settled. Mr. Tooke a solicitor of the highest respectability in London was induced to join the projectors of this New Colony, but soon learned enough of the undertaking to convince him that it could not succeed. He therefore resigned and a Mr. Rivers a friend of his who had been its secretary resigned at the same period, and informed me that there were some names connected with it which operated against it with the monied interests in the City. At this period too, Major Bacon resigned the Governorship of the intended Collony; his, I understand being one of the names alluded to as operating unfavourably. He soon after again resumed his station among his friends and supporters. Mr. Gauger at this time was nominated Colonial Secretary and consequently felt a deep interest in promoting the views of his constituents by his talents as a penman and his influence with two of the public newspapers in which accordingly flattering accounts were given of all the proceedings of the projectors and the visits to the Colonial Office were described in the most favourable colours. But finding things not go on exactly according to the Governor’s desire at the Colonial Office with a view to impress that department that himself and friends had incurred great expenses on account of the promises it had made, a ship was bought by Major Bacon’s order called the Nereid for pounds2500, but there was no money to pay for her. She was consequently bottomried (or mortgaged) as a security to a Mr. D. Wilkinson who advanced the above amount. The command of the vessel was given to a Mr. Sutherland with the promise of a Harbour Master’s and Pilot’s situation as a reward for his services in representing the above barren country to be almost a second paradise and to abound with an ample supply of good water for the Collonists.

I am informed that the ship thus procured was accordingly by order of the Major put into the hands of Messrs. Young & Co., Ship Builders, who expended on her in copper and repairs £1600. Sailmakers, Ropemakers, Painters &c. were also employed whereby an expense of nearly £3000 was incurred. From what source all this money was to be procured no person knows; however it appears that the Major sold the ship as she stood after the above repairs to a Mr. Soames [?] for £3200, sterling, £2000 of which went to pay off the Mortgage to Mr. Wilkinson. With the balance of £700 the Major like a brave patriot set out to espouse the case of Don Pedro at Oporto. He has thus left the before mentioned mechanics, workmen &c. to get payment or to seek redress where they please.

Among the list of the Committee’s names for managing the affairs of the intended Colony I cannot find one who has ever been to those parts or who knows any thing about the country. Another thing is, I have conversed with several highly experienced gentlemen who have been in those parts of the world among whom I can find only one opinion viz. that this was the most visionary, unpromising and impracticable plan of colonization ever submitted at the Colonial Office. . .

This diatribe is directed principally against Anthony Bacon, a well-connected but impov­erished adventurer. According to Pike, Hay had refused him permission to found a colony in Spencer Gulf, presumably with himself as governor, in February 1831. He then attached himself to the Wakefield group, and in May he and Gouger prepared a new draft proposal in the name of the ‘Committee of a Society established for the purpose of founding a Colony on the Southern Coast of Australia’. The sympathetic parliamentary under-secretary at the Colonial Office, Lord Howick, suggested that they support their proposal with first-hand ev­idence of the suitability of the region. This revised version, now including the testimony of Sutherland, was approved at a meeting of the Colonization Society, held in William Tooke’s chambers and chaired by Torrens, in August and was published as the Proposal [8]. That same month, Gouger, Bacon and Torrens had a meeting with the Colonial Secretary, Lord Goderich, after which they felt sufficiently encouraging to recruit a provisional committee and publicise the project in the Morning Chronicle. In reality, there was an impasse: the Colonial Office would not approve the scheme until the money was subscribed and Tooke was unable to raise the money until it had government sanction. Tooke resigned in October, explaining in a letter to Bacon that it was because the Colonial Office had not given ‘the slightest intimation of conditional approval’. Bacon then tried to go ahead, pretending that the scheme had approval, despite receiving a memorandum from Howick disavowing it. Pike assumes that his resignation was sought as a result of the damage this action had done to the Wakefield cause. A new tack was then taken. From new premises, a prospectus for a South Australian Land Company was prepared and, after Torrens had seen Hay in December, this was worked up into the Plan [33]. By May 1832, a committee of twenty-three had been formed with William Wychmore Whitmore as chairman and the new plan was submitted to the Colonial Office. Despite initial rejection, Whitmore was able to persuade Goderich to consider a draft charter. When this was received in July, the Colonial Office immediately declared it to be unacceptable; in August Goderich refused to negotiate further. This was the position when Dillon wrote to Hay. His account of events is broadly accurate, but given a gloss to suit his attack. His account of the activities of Bacon until he left for Portugal, for which Dillon is the sole authority, may therefore be treated with cautious respect.

However, the innuendo regarding Sutherland is implausible. Sutherland repeatedly expressed his wish to emigrate to South Australia; his wife was already in Australia, having accompanied her husband from Hobart Town to Port Jackson in the Lang in October 1830. He would hardly have sought an official position there if it would only have exposed a fabrication on his part. His observations should not be dismissed out of hand.

The availability of water on Kangaroo Island received markedly different accounts, depending on how, where and when it was sought. The period 1799-1821 was one of ‘flood’ in Sydney, which turned to drought from 1822-1841; this was probably a reflection of El Nino Southern Oscillation events and would have affected the eastern half of the continent at least as far across as Kangaroo Island. The rainfall peaks in winter (May to August) as Sutherland said in reply to a question: ‘There was a great deal [of rain] during the winter, and showers in the summer. The dews are very heavy’. If Sutherland had been there during the winter (and Dillon was there only in summer), he might well have experienced much wetter conditions than the settlers in the second half of the 1830s. Wootton, who visited Kangaroo Island in 1824, also claimed that he found fresh water by the salt lagoon (at Nepean Bay) after digging five feet. But Goold, who visited briefly in the summer of 1827 and the winter of 1828, found no fresh water (or seals) in the vicinity of Point Marsden.

The vagaries of the Australian climate where appreciated by Napier in London, and he cautioned the intending emigrants to South Australia [24]. After a quoting a letter dated November 1834 informing him that ‘The experience of a period, now verging on half a century, has shown the New South Wales farmer how little he has to depend upon any thing like a regularity in the return of seasons with regard to drought and humidity; that periods have repeatedly occurred, after short intervals of heavy rains, which have produced overwhelming floods, of droughts succeeding, which have, by their continuance for two or even three years, caused extreme distress throughout the country’, he warned

Even, should it be ascertained that fresh water abounds at one season, you do not know that it will abound at another season, or that it will exist at all, during the fearful droughts of three years duration; of which droughts, partially taking place, we have positive information. We do know that large rivers are dried up during these long cessations of rain; and that those, which are known not to be wholly dried up, become little better than a succession of pools in the greatest part of their course.

This was to be the exact experience of the settlers in Adelaide two years later.

Sutherland’s contentious description of the island’s landscape reads in full:

I had an opportunity of seeing much of the interior of the island, having crossed the country in company with two sealers, who had been residents on the island for several years. The land wears every appearance of being fertile; a deep loam with coarse grass, abounding with kangaroos and emus: where these animals feed, the grass is much better for pasture: occasional ponds of rain water are seen, and a plentiful supply of pure spring water is always attainable by digging for it. The land here is as good as any I have seen in Van Diemen’s Land. In the neighbourhood of Sydney I have not observed any equal to it. Trees are scattered every where over the plains—the Swamp Oak or Beef wood, and the Wattle (both of which indicate good land) are growing in abundance here. Close on the shore within from a quarter to half a mile of the sea, the wood is very thick; but when this belt of wood is passed, you come on to an open country, covered with grass, where there are often hundreds of acres without a tree; I calculated by comparison with New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, there might be on this plain, on the average three or four trees to an acre. I once crossed the Island, a distance of about sixty miles in two days. Once past the belt of wood which surrounds the Island, we walked straight on end over the plains, found plenty of water in ponds, saw abundance of kangaroos and emus, and met with no difficulty or trouble. As we crossed the Island I looked to the right and left, and saw every where the same open plains, now and then changed in appearance by close timber of great height, on high points and ridges of land. In some places we found the grass very high and coarse in patches, but where the greatest number of kangaroos and emus were found, the grass was short and close. In the other places, short close grass was found between the coarse high patches.

While crossing the Island we saw plenty of parrots and wild pigeons, and black swans on the lagoons.

Dillon remarked that timber was plentiful wherever he landed in 1815, but he never went further than a mile inland. Wootton was landed some ten miles west of Point Marsden, somewhere near Emu Bay, to hunt kangaroos. With two companions and some dozen dogs, he walked the relatively short distance across the peninsula to the salt lagoon at the Bay of Shoals in May 1824. Here he found the land ‘rather barren where I was; there was not much grass or any forest trees; the land was covered with brushwood until we arrived in the neighbourhood of Nepean Bay where it had a much better appearance’. Goold noted only that Point Marsden was ‘rocky and barren, with the exception of underwood’. They killed around a dozen kangaroos, which were smaller than those of the mainland but larger than the ‘Wallaba’.

Flinders had noted a puzzling feature of the vegetation on Kangaroo Island in 1802. He remarked that ‘the trees in a vegetating state [i.e. growing] were not equal in size to the generality of those lying on the ground, nor to the dead trees standing upright. Those on the ground were so abundant. . . lay in all directions, and were nearly of the same size and in the same progress to decay. . . and there were marks apparently of fire on many of them’. He concluded that ‘some general conflagration’, some ten to twenty years before, was ‘the sole cause which can reasonably be assigned’, but found this explanation hard to reconcile with the fact that Thistle Island and Boston Island in Spencer Gulf had showed evidence of the same thing. Of course, there were no Aborigines on Kangaroo Island to create grassland by regular burning. But there were abundant kangaroos, large herbivores that graze on grass more than they browse on shrubs. Westall, who sailed with Flinders, later added [30] that ‘young trees were growing between [the large fallen trees], and the grass was thick and short. We found a great number of very large kangaroos there [the eastern part of the island]’. Sutherland’s party alone killed 1500. Wakefield himself noted the conundrum: ‘It is worthy of remark that although they [Baudin and Freycinet] describe the soil as sterile, they corroborate fully the account of the vast number and large size of the kangaroos found there; and if their picture were strictly correct, it would be difficult to imagine how these animals could be supported’. Sutherland’s amplified his written account with the comment in [30] that ‘the grass, in parts, where eaten by the kangaroos, is short and close, like the closely-fed pastures in England’. Today the ironstone plateau in the centre of Kangaroo Island is covered by dense mallee scrub and woodland. Were the grassy plains a modification of the natural vegetation caused by the grazing of large numbers of kangaroos, so that when they were all but extirpated the scrub took over?

Or was Sutherland simply a liar? He repeated several times that he arrived at Kangaroo Island on 8 January after a fourteen-day voyage from Sydney and remained on or near the island until 12 August. He claimed that ‘the autumn and winter elapsed during our stay. In the winter it appeared to me much less cold than in Van Diemen’s Land, and I observed generally that the changes of temperature are less sudden and frequent than in New South Wales’. This is true, but, like many other of his ‘observations’, could have been learned from the islanders. The dates, however, can be checked against contemporary records. The Sydney shipping records show that the Governor Macquarie cleared Port Jackson on 15 January [29], so the vessel could not have arrived at Kangaroo Island much before the end of the month. This discrepancy might not be significant, given that Sutherland wrote his report twelve years after the event. More damning is the date of departure. Sutherland referred to conditions on Kangaroo Island in winter, claiming to have left on 12 August. His vessel, however, put into George Town on 10 May and docked at Launceston on 19 May with 40 tons of salt, 1400 seal skins and 500 kangaroo skins. She cleared for Sydney on 5 July and reached Port Jackson on 14 or 15 July. The master was named as Sutherland and the cargo described as 2862 bushels of wheat, 1211 fur seal skins and 314 kangaroo skins. The Governor

Macquarie was sold to R.W./ Loane of Hobart Town at the end of July and departed Sydney for Van Diemen’s Land on 26 August under a new master. She arrived in the Derwent on 4 September and, after some confusion as to intentions, left Hobart on 6 October for George Town, arriving on 14 October. After a gap of six weeks, she cleared for Sydney on 2 December and arrived at Port Jackson on 9 or 10 December with 2564 bushels of wheat, 60 casks of meat and 180 kangaroo skins. It is just possible that Sutherland returned to Kangaroo Island immediately after delivering the Governor Macquarie at Sydney and that he was picked up later in the year—the Daphne, which left the Derwent on 8 August and arrived at Sydney on 30 August with 300 kangaroo skins, could have called at Kangaroo Island and the Governor Macquarie may even have done so in September or November—but the New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land shipping records reveal no ships known to have been in southern Australian waters at this time.

Perhaps the jury should remain out.

Dillon on Kangaroo Island

Dillon had earlier tried to pour cold water on Kangaroo Island in a letter to Hay dated 15 August 1832 from 2 South Crescent, Bedford Square [16]:

Having understood that a pamphlet has been submitted to your notice containing some remarks of mine regarding the colonization of Kangaroo Island I beg you will excuse the liberty I take in addressing you on the subject.

Having learnt last winter in Paris that it was the intention of some gentlemen here to send out settlers to colonize Port Lincoln or Kangaroo Island, I wrote to one to one of them stating the disadvantages under which these places laboured from a deficiency of fresh water as I had ascertained by having visited them both in AD 1815-1816.

Shortly after my arrival here I was applied to by one of the gentlemen concerned in this undertaking to know if I had any objection to answer certain questions which he wished to ask me for the information of the Committee. I replied certainly not, and answered the questions most conscientiously as is stated in one of the Company’s printed Pamphlets which have been submitted to your notice and to the Public at large.

Had I known at the time that these Questions and Answers were to be printed and laid before the Public I would have deemed it necessary to explain my views on the subject more in detail, as without such explanations my remarks on isolated points, while other important cases/issues? are altogether overlooked, must have the effect of misleading the Public, and the authorities here. I beg leave hereby to supply that defect.

1st. That such an undertaking as that of sending colonists to Kangaroo Island must fail and involve the unfortunate settlers who know nothing of the country in their greatest wretchedness and distress.

2nd. I understood from men who have resided on the Island many years that they were put to the greatest inconvenience for the want of water, and that when they crossed from the South shore to the Harbours that they were obliged to take a supply of water with them in the bladders and maws of wild animals. When I was at the Island in 1815, the water we used was brought from Van Diemen’s Land with us and could not procure any within 60 or 70 miles of the Harbour— where ships can ride at anchor or boats land without danger. At the place where freshwater is found, the approach by s sea to it is difficult and dangerous, and only possible at certain times when the wind is east. It there gushes out from the rocks at half tide and could not be procured on the land side but with much difficulty.

3rd. The French Officers of Captain Boden’s (Baudin) Expedition informed me that they could not find a supply of water for their crews in these parts under that account they considered the establishment of a colony in such places, folly.

4th. In the month of April or May last J. Evans, Esquire, late Surveyor General of Van Diemen’s Land informed me that Governor King of New South Wales intended as far back as AD 1803 or 4 to establish a colony on Kangaroo Island, and ordered him (Mr Evans) to go there and report upon the localities of the Island. Mr Evans was prevented from going but a Mr. Grimes of the same department went there and reported as follows. A sandy barren soil, impregnated with salt; timber of a stunted growth; face of the country covered with tussocks. No fresh water near to the anchorage, the Island consequently unfit for a British Settlement. Owing to this report the Settlers intended for it under Colonel Collins were sent to Port Phillip in Bass’s Straits, and eventually to the River Derwent in Van Diemen’s land.

Dillon was mistaken in the fourth item. Charles Grimes visited King Island in Bass Strait in the Cumberland in December 1802 to January 1803 [14]. His report to Governor King appears in [3].


[1]    Anthony Bacon. Letter to Lord Howick, 5 September 1831. In State Library of South Australia, D 7432(L). Transcription by James Bonwick.

[2]    Marnie Bassett. The Hentys. Melbourne University Press, Parkville, Victoria, second edition, 1962.

[3]    F. M. Bladen, editor. Historical records of New South Wales, volume 5. William Apple­gate Gullick, Government Printer, Sydney, 1897.

[4] Keith Travers Borrow. Whaling at encounter bay. Adelaide, 1947.

[5] J. W. Bull. Early experiences of colonial life in South Australia. Adelaide, 1878.

[6] John Wrathall Bull. Early experiences of life in South Australia and an extended colonial history. E.S. Wigg & Son, Adelaide, and Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, London, 1884.

[7]    Colonization Commissioners of South Australia. First Annual Report. Colonial-Office, London, 1836.

[8]    Committee of a society established for the purpose of founding a colony on the southern coast of Australia. Proposal to His Majesty’s Government for founding a colony on the Southern Coast of Australia. Printed by W. Nicol, Cleveland-row, St. James’s [London], 1831.

[9] H. M. Cooper. A naval history of South Australia. The Hassell Press, Adelaide, 1950.

[10]  H. M. Cooper. French exploration in South Australia. Published by the author, Adelaide, 1952.

[11] H. M. Cooper. The unknown coast. Published by the author, Adelaide, 1953.

[12]  Thomas Coote. Letter of January 1836. In Angas papers, State Library of South Australia, PRG 174/11.

[13]  J. S. Cumpston. Kangaroo Island 1800-1836. Roebuck Society, Canberra, 1970. Second edition 1975.

[14] J. S. Cumpston. First visitors to Bass Strait. Roebuck Society, Canberra, 1973.

[15]  Peter Dillon. Letter to R. W. Hay, 7 October 1832. Copy in Colonial Office documents CO 328/168, 1832.

[16]  Peter Dillon. Letter to R.W. Hay, 15 August 1832. In Colonial Office documents, CO 13 vols. 1-4. Joint Copying Project reels 305-306, 1832.

[17]  Thomas Gill. Who discovered Lake Alexandrina? Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch, 8:48-54, 1906.

[18]  John Hart. John Hart, Melbourne, 24 April, 1854. In C. E. Sayers, editor, Letters from Victorial Pioneers, being a series of papers on the early occupation of the colony, aborigines, etc. addressed by Victorian pioneers to His Excellency Charles Joseph La Trobe, Lieutenant Governor of the colony of Victoria, page 51. Heinemann, Melbourne, 1969.

[19]  Marian A. Hart. A sketch [of the early life and pioneer work in South Australia of Captain John Hart]. Adelaide, 1936.

[20]  Geoffrey C. Ingleton. Matthew Flinders. Navigator and chartmaker. Genesis Publica­tions, Guildford, 1986.

[21]   Thomas G. Lytle. Whalecraft, 2007.

[22]   Anne Morgan.                                 Chief harpooner, henry whalley.

[23]  Geo. C. Morphett, editor. The life and letters of Sir John Morphett. Hassell Press, Adelaide, 1936.

[24]  Charles James Napier. Colonization, particularly in Southern Australia: with some remarks on small farms and over population. T. & W. Boone, 29 New Bond-street, London, 1835.

[25]  Jean M. Nunn. This southern land. A social history of Kangaroo Island 1800-1890. Investigator Press Pty Ltd, Hawthorndene, South Australia, 1989.

[26]  Douglas Pike. Paradise of dissent. South Australia 1829-1857. Longmans, Green and Company, London, Melbourne, New York, 1957.

[27]  A. Grenfell Price. Founders & pioneers of South Australia. F. W. Preece, Adelaide, 1929.

[28]  Wynnis J. Ruediger. Border’s Land. Kangaroo Island 1802-1832. Printed by Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, 1980.

[29]  R. T. Sexton. Shipping arrivals and departures South Australia 1627-1850. Gould Books- Roebuck Society, Ridgehaven and Aranda, 1990.

[30]  South Australian Association. Outline of the plan of a proposed colony to be founded on the south coast of Australia. Ridgeway, Piccadilly, London, 1834. Reprinted by Austaprint, Hampstead Gardens, South Australia, 1978.

[31]  South Australian Company. Report of the directors of the South Australian Company. The Company, London, 1837. The report was updated with two supplements in 1837.

[32]  South Australian Company. Prospectus of the south australian company, 1835. In Brian Dickey and Peter Howell, editors, South Australia’s foundation. Select documents. Wakefield Press, Netley, South Australia, 1986.

[33]   South Australian Land Company. Plan of a Company to be established for the purpose of founding a colony in Southern Australia. Ridgway and Sons, Piccadilly, London, 1832.

[34]   John Stephens. The land of promise. Smith, Elder, London, 1839.

[35]   Samuel Stephens. Account of cash received and paid on account of the South Aus­tralian Company from July 1836 to October 1837. Manuscript in State Library of South Australia BRG 42/78, 1837.

[36]   Charles Sturt. Two expeditions into the interior of Southern Australia, during the years 1828, 1829, 1830 and 1831. Smith, Elder & Co, London, 1833.

[37]   Robert Torrens and Samuel Stephens. New colony of South Australia. To small farmers and others In Brian Dickey and Peter Howell, editors, South Australia’s foundation. Select documents. Wakefield Press, Netley, South Australia, 1986.

[38]   Peter Trickett. How the Portuguese adventurer secretly discovered and mapped Australia and New Zealand 250 years before Captain Cook. East Street Publications, Adelaide, 2007.

[39]   Edward Gibbon Wakefield. The new British province of South Australia. C. Knight, 1834.

[40]   Frederick Watson, editor. Historical records of Australia, Series 1, volume 15. Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1922.

[41]   Frederick Watson, editor. Historical records of Australia, Series 3, volume 6. Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1923.

[42]   G. Edith Wells. Kangaroo Island South Australia Cradle of a colony. Island Press, Kingscote, Kangaroo Island, South Australia, 1978.



Italic page numbers denote pages with the principal information about the entry. The suffix n denotes a reference to a footnote.

References to John Barton Hack and Stephen Hack are indexed only when they occur in the Introduction.

Bacon, Anthony (1796-1864), 26

Barker, Collet (1784-1831), 22

Bass, George (1771-1803), 2

Bates, George (1800-1895), 9

Baudin, Nicolas-Thomas (1754-1803), 3

Birch, Thomas William (1774-1821), 7

Brown, Robert (1794?-?), 7

Bunster, William (c1793-1854), 6

d’Entrecasteaux, Antoine Raymond Joseph

de Bruni (1739-1793), 2

Dillon, Peter (1788-1847), 6

Dutton, William (1811-1878), 12

Emmett, William, 9

Fifer, George, 6

Flinders, Matthew (1774-1814), 2

Freycinet, Louis Claude de Saulses de (1779­

1842), 4

Grant, James (1772-1833), 3


John (1801-1881), 6

Jonathan (1773-1839), 6

Hammant, Thomas (1773-1832), 6

Hart, John (1809-1873), 27


Edward (1810-1878), 31

James (1800-1882), 31

Thomas (1775-1839), 31

Kelly, James (1791-1859), 7

Lord, Edward (1781-1859), 6

Lord, Simeon (1771-1840), 4

Mendonca, Cristovao de (?-1532), 2


[1]A two-masted schooner of 58 tons, built in 1808 at Norfolk Island and owned by Isaac Nicholls.

[2]A two-masted schooner of 31 tons, built in 1801 at Sydney, owned by Kable & Co.

[3]According to Anne Morgan [22], a son, Henry Whalley, was born in 1818 or 1819, i.e. very soon after Wallen arrived on the island. His mother was a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman; whether she accompanied Wallen from Van Diemen’s Land or had already been taken to the island is not known. The son was sent to Tasmania after the colonists arrived and died on Macquarie Island in 1877.

1Garnham Blaxcell (1778-1817) was one of Sydney’s richest merchants before going massively into debt and fleeing the country.

[4] Nathaniel Walles Thomas in his will [25].

2Daniel Cooper (1755-1853).

[6]Solomon Levey (1794-1833).

[7]This was not Dutton’s first visit to Portland Bay. The 108-ton two-masted schooner Madeira Packet from Sydney where she was owned by Thomas Street and Cooper and Levey, on a sealing voyage to Kangaroo Island and westwards to King George Sound, had dropped Dutton and a sealing gang off at Portland Bay towards the end of 1828 and picked him up again in January 1829. They returned to Sydney in April with 1500 seal skins.

[8] The transcription attempts to follow the capitalisation in the letter, but this is sometimes ambiguous. Simple stops followed by a lower case letter have been transcribed as semicolons.

2The log of the Dart for 4 March 1830 gives their position ‘allowing Cape Jaffa to be at longitude 139°42' East, as marked [almost correctly] in Capt. Flinders chart’.

[10] Owen and Forbes were apparently idle in Sydney at that time. On 5 February Owen suggested to the Colonial Secretary that he be engaged to take the Dart in search of the Mermaid, which had been wrecked in Torres Strait. Three days later, Forbes and his partner, George Bunn, who had bought the wreck of the Swiftsure, wrote asking to charter the Dart to visit the wreck and offering to salvage the Mermaid at the same time. Both requests were denied by Darling in favour of sending the vessel to seek Sturt, but he did offer to put Forbes, or, if he refused, Owen, in charge.

[11] These were marked Hummock Mt. on Flinders’ chart.

[12] The manifest of the Isabella on her return to Sydney listed Dr Davis of the 39th Regiment, Mr John Kent, Commissariat department, John Franks, shipwrecked mariner, sergeant and 18 rank and file 39th Regiment, two women and four children, 18 prisoners (State Archives of NSW). Kent was Deputy Assistant Commissary General at Bathurst in 1835 and at Norfolk Island between 1837 and 1839.

[13] Barker’s Knoll no longer exists. The sands around the mouth of the Murray continually shifted, moving the channel back and forth over a distance of a mile between ‘two fairly high sand hills covered with heavier vegetation’ (J C Tolley, South Coast Story, 1968). The knoll was swept away during the easterly movement between 1857 and 1859.

[14] Major-General Anthony Bacon was a cavalry officer at Waterloo. He married Lady Charlotte Mary Harley, a daughter of the 5th Earl of Oxford in 1823. He resigned his command in 1826, quickly dissipated the family fortune and was jailed for debt. Coincidentally George Bates in the Adelaide Observer for 2 February 1895 recalled that he ‘in 1822 went to Leith with George IV and Col. Bacon, who afterwards married the daughter of the Earl of Oxford. He was a fine-looking man, and Lady Charlotte Bacon you must have seen here’. Bacon’s widow and two children made their home in Adelaide.

[15] A group of small islands between Kangaroo Island and the mainland.

[16]Built by Jonathon Griffiths at Richmond in 1819; 85-ton brig. She made several sealing voyages to Bass Strait and elsewhere before being wrecked at the Chatham Islands in 1827. She is not known to have visited Kangaroo Island. Coote does not appear in any muster listed by Cumpston.

[17]A John Taylor married Elizabeth Painter on 22 August 1831 in Longford, 24 kilometres south-west of Launceston.

[18]There is an error on page 53 where ‘November 1837’ should read ‘November 1838’, but this may have been a printer’s error.

[19]Said to be an Englishman, [34] p.74.

[20] His father, George Meredith, was a ship builder and landowner on the Meredith River on the east coast of Tasmania. He was whaling in Oyster Bay in 1826. His schooner, the Black Swan, was initially reported in February 1830 by the Hobart Town Courier to have been wrecked at Kangaroo Island but the Colonial Times corrected the location to Prime Seal Island, off the west coast of Flinders Island the next month.

[21]Departed Launceston for Port Phillip via Westerport on 9/11 January with 1100 sheep.

[22]Borrow [4] in his account of whaling at Encounter Bay mistakenly interpreted this excursion as ‘the first sign of impending settlement’.


This name appears on his grave and the only extant letter from him is signed Henry Wallan. Many other variants occur in contemporary accounts. He was probably known as Bob; as well as an oral tradition, the newspaper report of the return of his body to KI after his death following a drinking bout in Adelaide in 1856 refers to him as Robert and the South Australian Company accounts record payments to R. Wallan in 1836. But he was most likely baptised ‘Henry’.

On this assumption, he can be identified as a crew member of the convict transport Marquis of Wellington which reached Sydney in January 1815. A couple of years later he sailed to Hobart and joined the crew of the whaler Sophia under James Kelly. In New Zealand he survived a Maori attack. In 1820 he sailed again in the Sophia, this time under James Brown to bring back seal skins and salt from Kangaroo Island. He was not listed in the crew for a second visit to the island in the summer of 1820-21. He may have jumped ship on either occasion or may have elected to remain after the work of the sealing gang was completed.

A Henry Whalley was reputedly a son born on the island in 1818 or 1819, the mother being a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman. If so, he must have been born a little later or Wallen had come to the island on an earlier voyage of the Sophia. The boy is said to have been sent to Tasmania when the settlers arrived and he died on Macquarie Island during a whaling voyage in 1877.

Nothing is recorded of Wallen’s activities until settlement. He no doubt traded seal and kangaroo skins with the vessels sent from Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land. In the early days there was a sealer camp at the head of the South West River inlet on Hanson Bay but the ships were most likely met at Nepean Bay, where there was an ample supply of salt for preserving the skins. In 1826 the Sydney newspapers claimed that the sealers retired ‘into a valley in the interior of the island, where they have a garden and huts’. This might refer to the site on the Three Wells River (now the Cygnet) where Wallen had a five-acre farm by 1836.

John Woodforde, the surgeon on the Rapid provided a first-hand account of the islander way of life on 6 September 1836: ‘We were given to understand that [the islanders] were little better than pirates, but were agreeably surprised to find them a civil set of men & they will be of much use in forming the colony here…Sone of them have whaleboats in which they frequently cross over to Cape Jervis from which place they have at different times stolen the women who now live with them. These women are very clever at snaring game & fish for their keepers whilst the men remain at their little farms on the island. One of them by the name of Walland has a farm about 7 miles up the river which does him great credit as he has several acres of flourishing wheat & most English vegetables. He has been 14 years on the island & is called the ‘‘Governor’’-he has two native wives.’

Although of much use, the islanders received little reward. John Hart paid 30s per hundred for wallaby and kangaroo skins in 1832 but the islanders took their payment in goods sold at fabulous prices. Samuel Stephens, the Colonial Manager of the South Australian Company, evicted Wallen from his farm and paid him derisory compensation for his land and livestock.


George Bates was the only islander to talk about his life. He must have enjoyed a good yarn because he embroidered his story on each occasion, so the difficulty lies in unravelling his inconsistencies and untruths.

Bates was also a seaman on a convict vessel. The Commodore Hayes landed its convicts at Hobart in August 1823 and then proceeded to Sydney. There Bates was charged with stealing from two shipmates; he served a week in solitary confinement and was discharged from the Commodore Hayes. By his own account, he was instructed to leave the colony so he joined the Nereus for a sealing voyage to Cape Leeuwin. On the return voyage the Nereus spent three weeks at KI and Bates and John Randell apparently jumped ship then.

The second half of the 1820s was a time of exploration on the mainland. Bates took part in hunting expeditions to the Adelaide plains in 1826-27 and apparently lived on Cape Jervis for some months, if not a year, around 1828. He was rescued from starvation by other islanders after he lost his dogs and was deserted by his Aboriginal companions. About this time the islanders discovered Lake Alexandrina.

The master of a sealing vessel, Duncan Forbes of the Princess of Denmark, wrote a letter from Van Diemen’s Land to the Colonial Secretary in Sydney on 20 January 1829 with the news of the discovery by part of his sealing gang at KI. Bates was most likely his informant and a member of that gang for the 1828-29 season because he possessed a copy of that letter. Forbes went on to King George Sound where on 13 May he wrote again of the discovery. Leaving King George Sound in July 29, Forbes did not return to Van Diemen’s Land until August 1830, so he probably dropped sealing gangs at likely spots on the Australian coast and then made for New Zealand for the 1829-30 season. Bates was probably still employed by Forbes because he was sealing on Thistle Island in Spencer Gulf in April 1830. There he was met by the Dart, which had been sent in an unsuccessful bid to pick up Sturt at the end of his exploration. Bates then had the third copy of Forbes’s letter and added verbally the information that the Murray did not connect to Gulf St Vincent as well as Encounter Bay.

Sturt did not want to believe this and Collet Barker in the Isabella was sent to look for an opening into the gulf in January 1831 and disappeared at Encounter Bay on 30 April. Bates and another islander undertook the search for Barker and learnt of his death; they were paid ₤12 1s 6d for their services and hire of a whaleboat.

Bates makes the only mention of whaling from Hog Bay in 1832. This must have been the party originally sent from Launceston to Thistle Island in the Socrates. The venture apparently lasted no more than two seasons and elicited scathing remarks from Bates 62 years later.

When Stephens arrived with the South Australian Company immigrants, the islanders provided him with assistance as pilots, interpreters, sealers and whalers. Regular payments were made for hire of whaleboats. Bates was paid wages for 3 months as a labourer but his contributions to the establishment of the Company’s operations in South Australia are not otherwise recorded. It would, however, be out of character if he were not in the thick of it.

C. Durrant.