There were pirates on Kangaroo Island

Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954), Saturday 4 February 1950, page 24

There were pirates on Kangaroo Island

'Mail' Adelaide Office

Unravelling the tangled story of the early days of Kangaroo Island had been something of a hobby for tall, energetic Harold Finnis, secretary of Adelaide's Royal Show for 23 years.

He had delved into old records and publications to find a story that made enthralling reading. He found the first recorded settlement on Kangaroo Island was the stay there of an American vessel, the brig Union (120 tons), which was on a sealing expedition. This happened round 1804. In 1806, it was recorded, a man, named Joseph Murrell, landed on the island with six companions, a gang of sealers. Then came a startling report in 1819, when Captain George Sutherland, of the brig Governor Macquarie, landed there and found several Europeans living on the island. He commented:— 'Some had run from ships that traded for salt, others from Sydney and Van Diemen's Land, who were prisoners of the Crown. 'They joined into gangs and became the terror of ships going to the island for salt. They were little better than pirates. 'They were complete savages, living in bark huts like the natives, not cultivating anything, but living entirely on kangaroos, emus, and small porcupines. 'They were getting spirits, tobacco, and butter for the skins they collected during the sealing season. 'They dressed in kangaroo skins, without linen, and wore sandals made of seal skins. They ventured on to the mainland in their boats, seized the natives, particularly the women, and kept them in a state of slavery. Captain Sutherland found these sealers living near the south-west inlet. He got about 1,500 kangaroo skins and 4,500 seal skins from them. One colorful figure was a mulatto, named Antonio. One writer described him as 'the best sailor and the most daring ruffian among them.' On one seal hunt on a nearby island, seals, although plentiful, could not be caught in the usual manner. They were herded together at the foot of the cliff, and the only means of attacking them was by lowering a man from the top and leaving him to finish off as many seals as he could. This work was readily undertaken by Antonio. One report said:— 'After Antonio, had killed all the seals he could get at and sent up the skins, he began the return journey to the top, but he was about half-way up when the men aloft stopped hauling the rope. 'When he asked the others what they were doing, he was told that as he did not know how to keep his tongue quiet, they were going to kill him. They kept him dangling in the air for some time, then cut the rope.'

One of the first inhabitants of Kangaroo Island was said to have been an old man named Whalley, with his two black wives. He was supposed to have made the voyage in an open boat from Van Diemen's Land. Sometimes he was referred to as Wallen. Dr. W. H. Leigh, surgeon of the Australian Company's ship South Australian, tells how he landed on the island in 1837, and after a tramp through the bush found a wigwam called by the delightful name of Governor Wallen's farmhouse. Leigh related: 'There sat Governor Wallen. When Mr. S. landed with cargo, Wallen went to the beach to find out who he was. 'Who are you?' asked Mr. S. I am the Governor,' said Wallen. 'You are no such thing, retorted the enraged Mr. S. I am the Governor.' 'Wallen then inquired, 'You a Governor? Why you are not even one of King John's men. You don't stand 4 ft. in your stockings.' ' Wallen lost the argument and was ordered to give up his estate. He died in Adelaide in 1856, was buried in Kingscote Cemetery.

Among the other old settlers were Nathaniel Thomas, who had a herd of 300 goats at Creek Bay, and old George Bates, regarded as one of the last of the Kangaroo Island 'Straitsmen,' who died in 1895, aged 95.

There were pirates on Kangaroo Island (1950, February 4). The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954), p. 24. Retrieved August 17, 2018, from