Real Live Stories of South Australia

Early History Of Kangaroo Island

It is impossible to say definitely when the first white man settled on Kangaroo Island. As far as can be ascertained, a man named Waller landed there about 1820, and was for a number of years in undisputed possession of the island. After a few years other men settled there also. They were principally sailors who had tired of life on vessels engaged in whaling and sealing round the island.

By 1835 there were about eight or nine white men on the island. Several of them had native women, brought either from Tasmania or the mainland, living with them. The men were chiefly engaged in sealing and catching wallabies. At intervals, Captain Hart, of Launceston, used to visit the island to trade with the settlers. In exchange for their seal and wallaby skins he supplied them with such goods as they could not produce.

Contrary to what might be expected, the settlers lived remarkably well. Quite apart from the goods obtained from Captain Hart and various whaling vessels, they were well supplied with food. They cleared small patches of land on which they grew vegetables and wheat. By grinding the wheat between stones they produced coarse meal. From this they made a heavy but nutritious bread. They kept fowls, and pigs, and besides this had the wallabies, fish, and wild fowl, which were so easily obtained.

One of the early settlers was a young man named Meredith, He had been engaged in sealing, but had been wrecked on Howe's island. Accompanied by a Dutchman known as Jacob Seaman, and a Tasmanian black woman called Sal, he escaped by boat to Kangaroo Island. He settled at Western River, and went in for sealing. He secured two blackboys from the mainland and trained them to assist him in his work.

One day he landed on the mainland at a spot near where Yankalilla is now. Whilst he was sitting near his campfire partaking of a meal, the two black boys stole up behind him and split his head open with a hatchet. It is believed that they were instigated to commit this treacherous act by a party of Encounter Bay natives, who immediately took possession of the boat and its contents, and also of the black woman, Sal. [The Encounter Bay natives were unhappy about the white men stealing their women? - Ed.]

For a time the natives used the boat for fishing, but eventually it got adrift and was broken up. Sal again escaped to Kangaroo Island, where she joined a settler named George Brown, an American black, who had been a headsman in one of the whaling vessels. When the first colonists arrived, Brown left the island and was employed at Holdfast Bay, where he married a white emigrant girl.

On July 27, 1836, the first shipload of colonists arrived at Nepean Bay in the Duke of York, under command of Captain Morgan. The vessel arrived at noon. By 2 o'clock the whole of the excited passengers had set foot ashore. During the landing a magnificent rainbow appeared in the sky. This was looked upon as a good omen. On reaching land, a prayer of thanks giving for the prosperous voyage was offered up: After the voyage, which had taken one hundred days, the colonists were overjoyed to set foot on land, and it was late before they returned to the vessel.

Shortly after midnight the vessel suddenly heeled over so that the decks sloped at an alarming angle. The frightened passengers immediately rushed to the boats. However, the captain allayed the alarm by explaining that he had anchored in too shallow water. The vessel had swung round and grounded because of the ebb of the tide.

The following day a camp was made and the passengers spent the night ashore. Shortly before daybreak they were astonished and not a little alarmed by a terrific uproar close at hand. At first some of them believed that natives were about to attack them, but it was soon found that the disturbance was caused by nothing more fear-some than a number of kookaburras, who were chuckling their glee at the break of day.

The sealers living on the island soon learned of the colonists' arrival. Several of them paid a visit to the camp and presented the new settlers with a good supply of island-grown vegetables. This acted as a stimulus to the enthusiasm of the newcomers. Within a few days they had cleared the scrub from small areas, and had planted vegetable seeds and grain. The first selections of land were made, and several of the colonists started to build houses.

On August 18, the Surveyor-General (Colonel Light) arrived in the brig Rapid. Unfortunately for the colonists, who had already started work on the island, Colonel Light pronounced it to be unsuitable for the South Australian capital, although he considered Nepean Bay a very fine harbor. After further examination of the coast of the mainland, the settlers moved to Holdfast Bay. Their gardens and partially built houses were left to be occupied by the original islanders.— 'Memo.'

Real Life Stories Of South Australia (1935, April 4). Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), p. 13.