Foreword - Holmesby pp. 7-12 (extracts)

Early in the 1960s Dene Cordes, who grew up on a property on Kangaroo Island known as "The Bluff" (formerly named "Seaview Farm" when it was owned by the Reeves family from about 1860) began to develop a keen interest in local history. At the time he was unaware that he had lived all his early life in the former homestead of Augustus Reeves. He had not realised that South Australia's Birthplace was just along the coastline from the Cordes Farm or that the famous Old Mulberry Tree at Reeves Point was the survivor of the first trees to be planted by European Colonists.

But he was aware that the Mulberry Tree was somehow renowned and was "sacred" on the Island. His curiosity as to who had planted it, and when, led to a letter to the Adelaide "Advertiser" inviting comments from its readers about the tree's origin. This resulted in the receipt of a number of letters from people claiming to be descended from the person who had planted that tree.

As the claimants were from different families, Dene was aware that they could not all be accepted and he became more curious about the Island's history. A Mr F.W.Kleemann flew to Kingscote where Dene welcomed him, drove him to Reeves Point, viewed the Mulberry Tree (which Mr Kleemann declared positively had been planted by a pioneer Kleemann in 1837) and looked at other heritage sites. But that was only the evidence from one family and could not be conclusive without examining other claims.

With a curious mind and the seeds of interest sown by these initial enquiries Dene was led to exploring the further history of the Island (and its little known folklore), the founding of the first South Australian settlement and the Pioneer Cemetery. It was some years before he realised that Kangaroo Island, and not Glenelg, was the State's Birthplace where the "Duke of York" first landed on 27th July 1836. He also found that the Island had been settled unofficially as far back as 1820 by white Europeans. Thus it seemed to Dene that it was irrefutable that Kangaroo Island was the State's Birthplace both officially and unofficially.

The interest grew and in 1965 he sought the aid of the National Trust of South Australia to start a branch on the Island. The State President of the Trust flew to the Island for the first public meeting in the banqueting room of the Kingscote Town Hall which Dene had booked in readiness. He also had advertised the meeting by placing notices in the windows of the town's shops.

At only 21 years of age Dene was elected to be the founding secretary of the Kangaroo Island National Trust and through this contact he became interested and committed to the history of the Island. And he was made aware that there was much apathy on the Island about its place in South Australia's history. Few people cared - mostly nobody knew!

One of the first projects initiated by the Trust was the placing of a miniature cairn on the site of the old postal agency at Reeves Point, and to assist in the funding Dene convened a dance in a local hall and played the music for it voluntarily. Although not an official post office it was the first postal service and agency in South Australia and was conducted by the Reeves Family.

Dene's transfer to the mainland at Belair in 1968 gave him closer access to Government Archives and records and in the next 15 years his interest and knowledge grew while the Island apathy persisted. He acquired from an antique shop copies of the Cyclopaedia of South Australia for the years 1907 and 1909 from which he learned more of the Cordes property and the original Reeves homestead.

Realising that the time was now opportune, Dene again wrote to "The Advertiser" in 1982, posing the question of the Mulberry Tree's origin and was gratified with the responses by letter and telephone calls. This was the point at which he decided, along with his wife Dianne, to convene a meeting of all those who had expressed interest, with the ultimate object of forming an investigative organisation to consider early South Australian, and in particular, Kangaroo Island history.The date selected for this first meeting was 13th March 1983 and the venue was the home of Dianne and Dene Cordes, in Belair.


From the Inaugural Meeting

THE MULBERRY TREE: Mr Knuckey led the discussion by stating that there was no question as to the planter of the Tree which exists at Kingscote at the present time, as that honour would undoubtedly go to Charles Bendin Powell who was the gardener attached to the first group of settlers to land at Kangaroo Island. The Tree would probably have been planted within a few days of the party's arrival which was on 27th July 1836.

Mr Knuckey's statement would have to be treated with respect because, although at the time of the meeting he was 94 years of age, he was a most active and erudite gentleman, part of his conviction for his statement being that one of his grandparents (Charles Calnan) who had lived through most of the Tree's life had told him that it was always known to him as "Mr Powell's Tree" and in fact was growing on land held by the Calnan Family. Support for Mr Knuckey came from Mrs Marjory Ellis, a Powell descendant, also stating that her forebear had been employed as the official gardener for the SA Company at a wage of one guinea a week Mr Arch Beviss also spoke on behalf of Powell and showed a painting of the Tree by his aunt (a Miss Powell) in the 1920s. At the time the family had no doubt that Charles Powell had planted the Tree.

There were some members of the Beare family who thought that the credit should go to Thomas Hudson Beare, as family tradition held that as Second-in-Command of the first party he had been responsible for the safe transport of all the stores and equipment including those horticultural specimens considered necessary for the gardens of the new settlers. But Mr Holmesby, himself a descendant of Mr Beare, stated that in his research of the family for an intended family history, he had found no evidence that Beare was the planter.

Mrs Beatrice Beare, the widow of Dr Frank H Beare also spoke and said that Thomas Beare and other settlers at the time had brought with them cuttings and seedlings, the planting of which no doubt would be by the gardener, Charles Powell. Consequently she could not advance a claim on behalf of her family. She mentioned that the wife of Thomas Beare, Lucy Ann, had died in childbrrth only 13 months after they arrived and she was the first to be buried in the Pioneer Cemetery. Soon afterwards Beare left the Island for the new settlement of Adelaide where he had a Town Acre and an allotment of 134 Country Acres; the latter later became the present suburb of Netley. Eventually after a second marriage, he fathered a total of 19 children, only seven of which reached adulthood.

Another claimant for the honour was then introduced by Mrs Ella Kuhlmann who stated that she and other members of the Christian family believed that the Tree was planted by her ancestor, Johann Christian, who arrived in the ship "Solway" in October 1837. When Christian's wife died some time after 1847 she was buried beneath the Tree and because he knew where the grave and Tree were when he and his descendants had visited the site over the decades they were convinced that he had indeed planted the Tree. This claim is made in the official Christian Family FGstory. Some doubt was expressed that on the basis that, after the settlement had been in existence and the cemetery had been established over the previous eleven years, would a burial have been conducted anywhere but in that cemetery?

The next speaker in the debate was 80 year-old Mrs Bill Fox as a representative of the Kleemann family. She had always been told that her grandfather Kleemann had brought out with him a mulberry tree in a jam tin when he travelled to Kangaroo Island in the ship "Solway" together with the Christian family and others. She said that Kleemann's wife had died at sea only two days before the ship arrived at Kingscote and she was buried in the Reeves Point area and the tree planted on her grave. This again raised the question why the lady was not buried in the Pioneer Cemetery. Mr Kevin Kleemann supported Mrs Fox on behalf of his family and said that although there are headstones in the Pioneer Cemetery with the Kleemann name he believes that they were put there during the 1936 Centenary celebrations by an historical society and that Mrs Kleemann may well have been buried under the existing Mulberry Tree.

It was brought to the notice of the meeting that the Christian and Kleemann families were later united in marriage.

Mrs Shirley Mueller was another strong advocate for the Kleemann family claim, stating that her forebear Friedrich Wilhelm Kleemann arrived at the Island in October 1837 and that he was part of a group of German people brought out to grow crops. She said that Roger Teusner had written a book on the Kleemann history and had referred to the Mulberry Tree stating that it grows over the grave of Mrs Kleemann. She went on to explain that a church historian had written an article on the Tree in the 1930s and said "that there is no conclusive evidence as to which of the three claimants planted the Tree". One of the claimants was Mr Menge, the SA Company's geologist, the article claiming that some old colonists said that he had planted a fruit orchard and that the present Mulberry Tree was one of the trees.

Mr Carmichael spoke briefly on a family book on the life of a Henry Douglas, thought to be one of the "unofficial" settlers because mention is made that "Mr T H Beare had met him on arrival." The book was written in 1900. (I believe this was interpreted incorrectly as there was a Henry Douglas who arrived on the "Emma" which arrived on 5th October 1836 - Mr Beare was there then).

DESCRIPTIVE PLAQUE: Continuing the saga of the Tree's history the meeting discussed the need for a bronze plaque to record the names of those claimants for the credit of planting the Tree. All present agreed that it should be done to avoid confusion in the future. Mrs Fox suggested that the plaque should acknowledge that an ancestor of the Powell, Christian, and Kleemann families had planted a tree but the surviving Tree's origin was not known.

Mrs Barclay said that the Beare family had always considered that Charles Powell had planted the Tree and Mr Kleemann countered by saying that the plaque should not state the name of any planter. On the other hand Mr Oscar Kuhlmann proposed that the plaque be made naming all the claimants. Mrs Mueller agreed that the proposal would be acceptable by the Kleemann family because the planter had not been undeniably identified.

To conclude the discussion on the matter a vote was called for with the Chairman D. Cordes abstaining. This resulted as follows: (1) Six persons voted in favour of a plaque carrying the names of all claimants:

(2) Twenty persons were in favour of Charles Powell's name being prominent as the most likely to have planted the Tree; and the names of those whose descendants claimed to have planted a tree in the area and that it could never be proved conclusively whose tree survived.

The reasons for giving Powell's name prominence were that he was an original settler (in the first ship in July 1836), he was a paid horticulturist, and the Calnans on whose land the Tree is growing, always knew that it had been planted by Powell. The Chairman who had carried out considerable research into the subject prior to the meeting said that he supported the recommendations.


FUTURE OF THE TREE: Although the Tree was still relatively healthy and consistently bears fruit it was felt that it would be pertinent to extend its symbolism by propagation of cuttings taken from it. Mr Alan Archer advised that it was his intention to send Mr Noel Lothian later in the year to the Island to take cuttings for this purpose. The plan has Council approval and it would be another attempt following the failure in the previous year due to the dry winter. That the scheme could be successful was borne out by Mr Neville Beviss who stated that his father had taken cuttings in 1976 and the resulting trees were now six feet high. The Chairman said that Mrs Ashton had advised him that a mulberry tree growing on her block at Charity Cottage was originally a cutting from the Tree. This was encouraging news for the meeting.