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 :
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. 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; ). 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 ():
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 , 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 , 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) 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. 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 , 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 , 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  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. 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  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 . 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  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, 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  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 . 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 . 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 :
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.