Little Known Story of Kangaroo Island's Kingscote

{IMAGE} Descendant from the first settlers on Kangaroo Island Brently Golder and son Nat, 17, at the jetty where the Duke of York ship landed with the first settlers. Picture: Tom Huntley

SA NewsThe little-known story of Kangaroo Island’s Kingscote — the one-time capital city of South Australia

Craig Cook, The Advertiser

July 22, 2016 9:00pm

CRADLED in the sailor’s arms, the small child made no sound as Robert Russell, second mate of the three-masted Duke of York, waded ashore in still waters at Nepean Bay.

As Russell stood the toddler down on the stony ground of Kangaroo Island, Elizabeth Beare, aged two — youngest child of four of Thomas Hudson Beare, 48, and wife Lucy, 32 – became the first free settler to set foot in the new colony of South Australia.

The date was July 27, 1836, 180 years ago on Wednesday, and five full months before Governor John Hindmarsh proclaimed the South Australian colony at Holdfast Bay, on December 28, 1836.

Today few people realise Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third-largest island — after Tasmania and Melville Island — was the centre of the first free European settlement in Australia.

Two wooden structures, part of the original jetty, stand in the shallows at Reeves Point, one kilometre north of Kingscote as the only reminders of where little Elizabeth Beare was placed ashore.

{IMAGE} The landing site as depicted in a painting by Colonel William Light, showing Thomas Hudson Beare’s tent at Nepean Bay.

Bruce Williams, 82, a retired public servant from Kurralta Park, knows the story of the founding family better than most — Elizabeth was his great aunt and Thomas Hudson Beare was his great, great grandfather.

“I’m very proud to be a member of the first South Australian family,” Mr Williams said.

“It’s quite a remarkable story when you know what happened to them all.”

Mr Williams’ fascination with KI saw him become the president of the Kangaroo Pioneers Association in the 1980s.

For the 150th anniversary of the landing in 1986 he oversaw the construction of a model of the Duke of York, now proudly housed at the Maritime Museum at Port Adelaide.

A talented artist himself, he has a replica of a portrait of Thomas Beare, painted in England when he was 27, hanging in his study.

{IMAGE} Bruce William looks at a portrait of his great, great grandfather Thomas Hudson Beare. Picture: Dean Martin

Employed by the South Australian Company as second-in-command and Superintendent of Buildings and Labourers, Thomas Beare arrived on Kangaroo Island with Lucy, their four children (William, Lucy, Arabella and Elizabeth) and his unmarried sister, Charlotte.

The Beare children were the only ones aboard the Duke of York.

The other 38 migrants were all adults, mainly men with various occupations including clerks, butchers and gardeners.

Within days of their arrival, Lucy gave birth to a girl — the first child born to the original pioneers — but the unnamed child died after two days. When Lucy had another daughter, Mary, a year later, the child survived and Lucy died.

She is buried in the small cemetery on the hill above Reeves Point; part of a well-kept historical heritage museum of the fascinating story of the first pioneers.

Each gravestone tells a tragic tale of how tough life was for the early settlers, including hundreds more that arrived in the months after the Duke of York, on ships Lady Mary Pelham and John Price.[sic][John Pirie]

Young Elizabeth Beare herself was burnt to death in a house fire aged just 12 years old at Netley on the mainland, where the Beares fled after a disastrous first year on KI. She is buried in West Terrace Cemetery, where her grave bears the epitaph of her position of being recognised as the first person to stand on South Australian soil.

But while Elizabeth’s story is the most romantic version of the first South Australian settler it is still contended by some historians.


The South Australia Company — with 10 original directors — was formed in London on January 2, 1836, and the Duke of York, under Captain Robert Clark Morgan, left St Catherine’s Docks, London, eight weeks later on a hazardous 22-week journey. The Company chose Kangaroo Island for the first colonial settlement on what turned out to be the wildly optimistic report by Captain George Sutherland, who stayed a short while in 1819.

By that time KI was already established with a transient population of “Robinson Crusoes”; sealers, whalers, runaway convicts, ship deserters and farmers from the eastern state of New South Wales looking for new pastures.

{IMAGE} An aerial shot of Kingscote, Kangaroo Island, SA.

They were rough, tough men, described in one report as “savages, smelling like foxes,” who often took wives — most by force but some willingly — among the Aboriginal women of Tasmania.

One of the most renowned was Nat Thomas, a distant relative of Kingscote small business owner, Brently Golder.

An Englishman, Nat Thomas left Sydney in 1824 as a crew member on a sealing ship and after two years in Tasmania arrived on KI in 1827 with Betty, a full-blood Tasmanian Aboriginal. They established a property with magnificent coastal views, at Antechamber Bay on the eastern tip of the Island.

“I named my son Nathaniel Thomas Golder in honour of old Nat,” Mr Golder said.

“We’re proud of our history as one of the very first Islander families.

“You can imagine it would have been a tough life for Nat and Betty but if you were looking to escape the world in 1820, this would have been about as far away as you could get.”

{IMAGE} Kingscote Area School depictions of the early history of Kangaroo Island produced by year 10 in 1986. Picture: Tom Huntley

Among mainland indigenous tribes, KI is known as “Karta” (Island of the Dead) and while the existence of stone tools and shell middens show they lived on the island for thousands of years, they are believed to have left around 2000 years ago.

When Sutherland got there, the Island’s Aboriginal name was apt as the white beaches were stained blood red with the carcasses of thousands of whales, seals, kangaroos and wallabies killed for their skins or meat. In his report, Sutherland mentioned the plentiful food source and added: “This large island containing the finest pastures, with timber suited for ship and house building, will afford secure protection”.

He couldn’t have been more wrong on both counts but by far the biggest problem for the first settlers was a lack of a freshwater supply. Wells were quickly contaminated with salt.

The SA Company town of Kingscote — named after one of the directors — was essentially a base for the company’s whaling activities, but it was sited in the hope that it might also develop as the capital city of the colony.

Initially Kingscote residents lived in brush and timber huts and tents fringing the shoreline.

Later a few brick and stone cottages were built as Company residences on the slopes of the hill behind Reeves Point, where there was a store, boarding house, workshops, a post office and the obligatory pub.

{IMAGE} Peter Davis from Island Beehive honey farm with his fruit truck that he has restored and will take part in the 180 year anniversary celebration for Kangaroo Island. Picture: Tom Huntley


The town’s most memorable and loved landmark remains the Mulberry Tree. Planted by the first settlers on Reeves Point in 1836, it still bears edible fruit. After first checking in at Encounter Bay at Victor Harbor — named for the testy but civil meeting in 1802 between Captain Matthew Flinders in the Investigator, who named KI “(Kanguroo (sic) Island” after the proliferation of the species and French Explorer Baudin, the first European to circumnavigate the Island — Colonel William Light stopped off at Nepean Bay in August 1836. His journal reads: “I went on shore at a little sandy bay where Mr Beare and a few others had pitched their tents. The ground here was much covered by small trees, the soil moist and many shrubs growing with great luxuriance perhaps from the late rains: no freshwater was to be found here ...” The lack of freshwater soon sunk Kingscote’s claims to be the new colonial capital. By the time Governor Hindmarsh arrived, the Buffalo stayed two days moored off Nepean Bay, and Kangaroo Island was as good as finished as a place for more permanent settlers to arrive. In 1838, having reached a peak population of 400, the Company cut its losses; moving its headquarters to Adelaide. The dream of Kingscote becoming the capital of the new colony was over and less than 10 families remained on the Island to fend for themselves.The Duke of York didn’t last even that long. The ship that carried Elizabeth Beare and her family from England to help forge a new world far from home was wrecked on its first whaling voyage in September 1837 north of Moreton Bay in Queensland.

{IMAGE} Heather Buck works on a quilt at her haberdashery store in Kingscote. Picture: Tom Huntley

Celebrating the past while looking ahead

CELEBRATIONS for the 180th anniversary of settlement in South Australia are in full swing on Kangaroo Island.

Many of the longstanding Islander family names — including Bates, Turner, Wilson [sic - Willson?], Howard, Florence [sic - Florance?], Snelling and Buick — will play a role on Wednesday.

Heather Buck, from the Kingscote Bay Window Haberdashery and Quilting store, was a “Buick” before her marriage to Phil Buck. The Buicks were the first in American River to build a permanent home in 1842, while the Bucks came out to KI on the Rapid with Colonel Light. “As a kid growing up you knew everyone here,” Heather says.

“This anniversary is a great time for us all to get together and celebrate our history.”

Peter Davis, from the Island Beehive honey farm will also be right in the action on July 27. He has spent a small fortune restoring a derelict 1948 Austin fruiterers van — nicknamed by wife Susan as “The Old Man’s Dream”. The van, originally purchased by W. A. Boettcher of Cygnet River to transport his fruit to market and the mainland, was a familiar sight on KI for decades.

{IMAGE} This mulberry tree is believed to the first planted in the colony of SA by European settlers.

For the anniversary, Peter, will drive children from the Kingscote Area School down to Reeve’s Point for the official ceremony of the first landing of the free settlements and then back up to the Kingscote Town Hall for an official function.

He sees the youth as the answer to Kangaroo Island’s future.

“I think the place is about to take off but we need a lot more young people to stay and take over from people like me,” he said. “We’ve had a long 30-year period where there were a whole lot of ‘nimbies’ here (“Not In My Back Yard”) who didn’t want anything to change. But there’s strong development going on now and a lot of young farmers have come back to the island.”

Mayor Peter Clements — who will host Premier Jay Weatherill and Rebekha Sharkie, newly-elected-Federal MP for Mayo, which takes in Kangaroo Island — for the 180th anniversary official ceremony says the community is “proud of our history and excited for the future”.

“We have 4500 permanent residents on the Island and about the same visitors on an average day – and we’re expecting a very big crowd to come out and celebrate,” he says.