The Old Mulberry Tree

The Islander 27 April 1983

by Dene Cordes

The Old Mulberry Tree - Is it about to give up its 147 year secret?

Of the hundreds or trees believed to have been planted by South Australia's first settlers at Reeves Point near Kingscote, only one survives. Many families, descendants of those pioneers, have claimed that the surviving tree was planted by their forebears. Is there any way we can actually discover who planted the Old Mulberry Tree?

Dene Cordes, who has been researching the mystery or that remarkable 147 year old fruit tree for twenty years feels he has the answer.


When living on Kangaroo Island, in the 1960s, I tried to trace who planted that tree - the first in South Australia- Nobody on Kangaroo Island knew, so I wrote to the Advertiser and had several replies. One was a Mr Kleemann who flew to Kangaroo Island and spent some time with me. Another was from the Beare family, while others I forgot.

In 1968 I moved to Adelaide and unfortunately I lost all my research data. With the approach of the 1986 year 150 celebrations, I decided to resurrect my interest in this project and wrote again to the Advertiser. Again l had a good response which is covered herein. I was also contacted by the News and the result was a large feature article in the Sunday Mail on 3/1/1983. All this publicity has caused amazing interest and calls for ‘something to be done’ for 1986.

Here is a summary of the replies I received

1) Letter from Mrs Ella Kuhlrnann of 12 Rogers Street, Freeling. SA 5372, dated 1/9/82 a grand daughter of Mr Christian who arrived in South Australia in 1837. He planted a mulberry tree according to the legend handed down by all of the (5) children. Mrs Christlan died in childbirth and she, plus the infant, were buried under or near the mulberry tree which he had planted. Some of the children and grand children have made pilgrimages to Kangaroo Island to visit the tree.

No doubt this legend is true, but because Mr Christian arrived in 1837 and the first settlers came in 1836, he could not have planted the first tree. I believe that Mrs Christian was buried in the pioneer cemetery (South Australia's first) which is about half a kilometre from the tree. Possibly a mulberry tree was planted at the cemetery but it would have been existing Old Tree.

2) Letter from Frederick Wilhelm Kleeman’s descendant Mrs. S.V. Mueller of 3/25 Tusmore Avenue Leabrook SA 5068. She has referred to the family history of F.W. Kleeman, and claims that Mr Kleeman’s wife died before the ship arrived on Kangaroo Island on the ‘Solway’ in 1837, from Germany. He persuaded the captain to allow her burial to be at Reeves Point when the ship arrived - a day also after her death. He planted a mulberry tree on her grave in remembrance.

It is another legend handed down by the Kleeman descendants who also have gone to Kangaroo Island Council to see their ancestor’s tree.

Again, I believe this location to be true but as Mrs Kleeman’s Grave is in the Pioneer Cemetery and there is no mulberry tree in the cemetery now, one must assume that the Kleeman tree eventually died. Also, because Kleeman’s arrived in 1837 they were not with the first settlers in 1836. Therefore they did not plant the first trees in the colony.

3) Letter from Mrs M Ashton of Kingscote Kangaroo Island who lives in one of the three old houses there and has a mulberry tree which grew from the cutting of the original mulberry tree. She believed that Charles Calnan, a pioneer, planted the first mulberry tree because the Calnan’s did have a fruit garden at Reeves Point. She referred me to 94 years old Mr Charles Knuckey who would be able to tell me who planted the tree. He told me it was not is own family the Calnan’s but Mr Charles Powell. This had been quite definitely passed on to him by his mother and grandmother if it were not true would Mr Knuckey disclaim his own Calnan claim in favour of the Powell claim!

4) Phone Call from Mr John Williams, 20 Woodley Road, Fulham Gardens SA 5024. He claims that Mr Thomas Hudson Beare planted the tree. He was a passenger on the first ship to arrive in South Australia, ‘the Duke of York’ on 27/7/1836 and legend in the Beare family has it that he planted the mulberry tree. It is quite a valid claim which has always been known to me. Refer to summary for final analysis.

5) Mr. J.G. Christian of P.O. Box 257, Aldinga SA 5173. The Christians were related to the Kleemans. The legend described by Mrs E Kuhlmann was repeated by Mr Christian. His father went back to Kangaroo Island about three times to see the grave but there was no grave left after 80 years had passed. As all Kangaroo Island pioneers were buried in the same cemetery there would be no reason whatever why Mrs Christian would not be buries in that cemetery. Therefore the tree on or near her grave could not have been the present mulberry tree which is a half a kilometre away. Also the Christians were not there in 1836.

6) Letter from Mrs R.E. Hill, Balaklava SA 5461 on behalf of her 80-year-old mother Mrs. M.G. Phyllis of Everard Central. Mrs Phillips referred me to ‘The Story of a Winding River’ by Jean Moyle. She claims that her ancestor, T H Beare planted of the mulberry tree. Legend has it that he arrived on the first ship 27/7/1836 and was in charge of trees brought out on the ship grown in casks. From this collection he selected the mulberry tree and planted it on the spot where they landed on 12/11836 (that date in the book is wrong. It was 27/71836.

Certainly the Beare claim is ahead of the others so far described. It is near the landing site and was from the first ship of 1836. It closely rivals that of the Powell family. (refer to summary.)

7) Telephone call from Mrs H Barclay, 7 Lascock Avenue, Findon SA 5023. She claims that Thomas Hudson Beare planted the tree and that she had always been told from childhood that this was so. It being a family legend.

8) Letter from Mrs, Edna Hicks, on behalf of the Kleeman Family. Her great grandmother, Mrs. W. Till was five years old when she arrived on Kangaroo Island with her father, Mr. F.W. Kleeman. The traditional story told above was again repeated.

9) Letter from Mrs MG Phyllis of Everard Central, confirming the claim of the Beare family.

10) Letter from Mrs SV Mueller 3/25, Tusmore Avenue, Leabrook, SA 5068, claimed that F.W. Kleeman planted the mulberry tree while on Kangaroo Island from 1837 to 1842. Mrs Mueller, four years ago, went to Kangaroo Island and visited the grave of Mrs Kleeman who on 14/10/1837 was buried there. (this was 14 months after the early settlers.)

11) Phone call from Mrs WJ Fox of 1/24 Pier Street,, Glenelg South SA 5045. She made similar claims on behalf of the Kleeman family and says that cuttings from the old mulberry tree were taken and planted at Jacob’s Creek winery but she does not know if any grew.

12) Letter from Mr Arch Beviss of 5 Ashbourne Road, Strathalbyn, SA 5255. He is a great grandson of Charles Powell who he claims planted of the old mulberry tree. It has always been a traditional legend in their family that Charles Powell came from England on the ‘Duke of York’ having been connected with Kew Gardens and had been especially engaged as a gardener for the South Australian Company which would settle South Australia at Kangaroo Island. He brought with him a collection of plants for the new colony and supplied the Mulberry tree to be planted on arrival here and is understood to have actually planted it.

Two grand daughters, Edith and May Powell had a watercolour painting of the mulberry tree (done by May Powell) who went to Kangaroo Island to plant it. Arch Beviss’s mother Marion and her cousins all had it passed down to them that Charles Powell planted the tree.

13) Mr Charles Kingscote Knuckey of 437 Payneham Road, Felixstowe, SA 5070 at the age of 94 Mr Knuckey is the oldest known direct descendant of the Kangaroo Island pioneers, being of the Calnan family. I visited him to ask “who planted the mulberry tree?”. There was no hesitation before he said “Charles Powell”. It had been passed on by his grandmother Calnan and his mother Louise Knuckey – nee Calnan that Charles Powell planted the tree. “It was common knowledge” said Mr Knuckey who also produced an old scrapbook in which he had a hand sketch of the tree duly enscribed “Old Mulberry Tree, Kingscote KI – planted by Chas Powell, 1836”.

Mr Knuckey said that Thomas H Beare was mainly involved with the business side (stores) of the new settlement and Mr Powell was in charge of the gardening.

Mr Knuckey’s memory is most alert and he says there is simply no question about what was handed down by the Calnans who lived near the mulberry tree for many years and knew who planted it, Mr Powell.

Mr Knuckey at 94 drives himself each year to present the Knuckey Cup to the South Adelaide League Football Club Best and Fairest player - at night too. He bought a new car this year and still works as a clothing salesman. I have no doubts about his memory or knowledge being accurate.

14) Johannes Menge South Australia's first geologist. Verbal comments have been passed that he may have planted the tree.

Also Samuel Stephens, the first Manager of the SA Company.

Neither of these claims have been confirmed or put forward by anyone in knowledge of the fact.


The fact that they arrived in 1837 does, I feel rule out of the claims of Kleeman and Christian, even though they probably planted trees in the cemetery and they died at a later date.

The tree, I believe was planted by either TH Beare or C Powell after the first ship arrived on 27/7/1836. It grows near the landing side and in the first village at Reeves Point. When the ship arrived a dispute as to who should be first to step ashore was settled by the captain who ruled that two years old Elizabeth Beare, the daughter of Thomas Hudson Beare, would be carried and put ashore first. Because the Beares’ had the honour of being the first official white settler in South Australia I doubt very much whether TH Beare would have pushed for more limelight by planting the first tree as well. Furthermore he was a ‘gentleman’ who was skilled in commerce - I doubt that he would've done the planting when on board the ship was a professional gardener (Charles Powell).

It is highly fitting that the gardener who tended the trees on the voyage would have been ‘instructed’ to do planting on arrival. It was never recorded as a special planting ceremony but rather a lot of trees were planted. Over 146 years only one survives. The English enjoy the “pomp and ceremony” and had only one tree being planted perhaps TH Beare would have done the honours but as a fruit orchard was planted, I feel sure that the gardener, brought here for the purpose, would have done so, Charles Powell.

A further support for Mr Powell is the fact that Stephens, Menge, Kleeman, Beare and Christian families all of the island before too long after settlement was established. But the Calnan families were there until the 1890s and their descendants of different names are still on Kangaroo Island. The “truth about the mulberry tree” is far more likely to have been accurately handed down to Mr CK Knuckey by the Calnans, especially when one learns that by 1838 both families had left Kangaroo Island for the new settlement of Adelaide. But the Calnans and a few other stayed on - Charles Calnan being placed in charge of the land and stock owned by the SA Company. History handed down to Mr CK Knuckey was likely to be true that Mr C Powell planted the tree.

Against this is the fact the Calnans did not arrive on the Duke of York with the Beares and Powell did and it was not until 3 months later when they came on the ‘Africaine’. So Charles Calnan would not have actually seen who planted the tree (Beare or Powell) but he would've learnt who did so after his arrival there.


1) On the above facts it is suggested that the families concerned the district Council of Kingscote and the SA Jubilee board recognise that Thomas Beare and Charles Powell have been the most likely claims to being the trees planter that Powell is most likely to be the person who did so. It can never be proved but should at long last be assumed that it was Powell. Mr Knuckey’s evidence is as strong as any which is ever likely to be found.

Such recognition should be in writing.

2) Recognition should be given that Mr Thomas Hudson Beare was most likely the supplier all the trees which were bought out on ‘The Duke of York’ and probably were obtained by him from Kew Gardens. But it is doubtful he planted them.

3) Recognition should also be given that Kleeman and Christian families planted a mulberry tree, probably in the Pioneer Cemetery, a year later in 1837.

4) It is suggested that for the 1986 celebrations the Beare family and the Powell family plant new mulberry trees, preferably cuttings propagated from the existing tree in the Reeves Point area.

5) Also that the Christian and Kleeman families plant trees in the Pioneer Cemetery in 1986.

6) That a very brief notice be made and unveiled in 1986 at the site of the Old tree, stating that it is believed that the tree was supplied by TH Beare and planted by C Powell. It should be unveiled by one of those family descendants.

Anyone wishing to comment on these conclusions whether in concurrence or to express dissenting views is welcome to write to Dene Cordes at 60 Main Road Belair 5052, or care of The Islander. Letters to the editor would also be welcome on the subject.

This has been transcribed by David Ellis from an article written by Mr Dene Cordes OAM that appeared in The Islander newspaper on 27/4/1983


... Other, memorials, though, have not been so fortunate. The old mulberry tree, for instance, is showing un mistakable signs of approaching disintegration. Ruthless vandals and mischievous boys bent on regaling themselves with the berries which still flourish on it annually have broken off numerous limbs, and assisted— if not actually caused— the trunk to split in twain near to the ground. So far as can be observed no effort has been made to guard the old tree from ill-usage, or to care for it in any way. This is a great pity because the destruction of such a valuable and interesting living monument will be in a peculiar sense a loss to the State. Steps should be taken promptly to ensure its preservation...

KANGAROO ISLAND. (1908, February 19). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 6.


The Old Mulberry Tree On private property at Kingscote Point stands a Mulberry Tree, the only tree remaining of an orchard planted there in the early days of the settlement at Kingscote. Who planted this tree?

There are several claims put forward. Relatives of the late Samuel Stephens state that he planted the tree. Another story is that the late Thomas Hudson Beare brought the tree (with others) out from England. It was grown in a pot. The late W, L. Beare stated that it was brought out in the "Duke of York" and that the South Australian Company's gardener (Charles Powell) planted the tree. He goes further and says that some of the trees in the orchard, were after wards dug up and removed to Adelaide. One of them, a Walnut, was planted near where the Elder Kiosk now stands. Another was planted on North Terrace opposite Stephens place. This was cut down between thirty and forty years ago and considerable disgust was expressed at its destruction. As Samuel Stephens was in charge of the Kingscote settlement, it can be quite understood how the planting of the Mulberry Tree could he attributed to him also to Thomas Hudson Beare, who was the South Australian Company's assistant Manager.

But the descendants of two other families claim that the tree was one of a number brought out from Germany in the ship "Holway" [sic] in 1837. Two of the families aboard were named Kleeman and Christian, (these families inter married.) The wife of F. Kleeman died the day before the arrival of the Holway [sic] and her remains were brought ashore land buried. An obituary notice of Mrs Till (a daughter) who died in 1928 stated that her mother was buried in the Old Cemetey at Kingscote, near the Mulberry Tree, which was brought out by the Kleeman family from Germany. In a recent obituary notice in one of the city papers dealing with another descendant of F. Kleeman, it states that Mrs Kleeman was buried where the Mulberry Tree stands, the tree being planted on her grave.

This raises another question. Was there any interments in the Old Cemetery prior to that of Mrs Thomas Hudson Beare? She died on the 2nd. September, 1837, and the Holway [sic] arrived during July of the same year. Statements have often been made that Mrs Beare was the first interment in the Old Cemetery. If that is so, where was Mrs Kleeman buried? If she is buried under the Mulberry Tree the Kleemans must have planted it.

The Old Mulberry Tree. (1936, July 24).The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), , p. 7.

Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), Saturday 21 April 1928, page 4


About twelve months ago there appeared in these columns an obituary notice of the late Edward Christian of Kapunda, He was born at Kingscote 84 years ago. He claimed that the Mulberry Tree at Reeves' Point was planted by his father. Last week we have an obituary notice of the late Mrs F. W. Till who arrived at Kingscote 1836. She also claimed that her father, the late Mr F. Kleeman planted this historic tree. It will be noticed that Mrs Till's father married a Miss Christian about 12 months after their arrival at Kingscote. It would be a difficult matter to prove who did plant the Mulberry Tree, but as the two families inter-married that may be the reason for both families claiming to have been responsible for planting it.

WHO PLANTED THE MULBERRY TREE? (1928, April 21). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 4.