Position Statement 001

Was Elizabeth Beare the first person to be put ashore from the Duke of York in 1836 , or is this an apocryphal story?


Considerable controversy persists as to who was the first European migrant to set foot ashore in South Australia. HistorySA takes the stance that primary evidence, written at the time, outweighs any secondary evidence, and concludes that Samuel Stephens, the new colonial manager of the South Australian Company, based on his diary, was the first person (HistorySA 2011, HistorySA 2012). Other historians, academics, associations and the descendants of the Beare family contend that Elizabeth Beare was the first European official migrant to set foot ashore (albeit carried by sailors) at Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island on 27th July 1836.

Primary Evidence

The Diary of Captain Robert Morgan

AM we ran down close to the reefe which forms the harbour of nepean bay found the entrance and at 10 or half past came to anchor in three fathoms water…the water being perfectly smooth we got out all our boats and anchored them in shore and got ready for moveing when the tide suits we landed the colonan manager [Samuel Stephens] and Mr Bear and we went to gather [together] to look for the lagoon but had to return unsucksessfull night comeing on. HistorySA, 2011.

The Diary of Samuel Stephens, Colonial Manager

After a pleasant voyage from England in the SA Co’s Barque Duke of York we reached Nepean Bay Kangaroo Island and brought up in 4 fathoms water at ½ past 10 am. We lowered a boat and Captain Morgan, Mr Beare, myself and five hands went ashore. I was the first who ever set foot on the shore as a settler in the Colony of South A. We rambled a little while in the bush then examined the shore for some distance and returned at dark well pleased and well tired. HistorySA, 2011.

Secondary Evidence

There have been dozens of substantive articles (Beare W.L.,1910; Blacket J.,1929; Brown J.,1858; Heinrich D, 2011, p38-40; Mazey I.,1894; South Australian Register, 1886a; Russell, R, in South Australian Register, 1886b). The story had been widely accepted by the early 1900's : Chronicle 1906; The Register 1914; and emphatic statements by the daughter of Robert Russell: O’Donnell H, 1927

Contemporary articles: Manning (n.d.); The Pioneers Association of South Australia (P.A.S.A.) explores the topic comprehensively in a two part article in its journal "The Pioneer" (Spring 2014, and Summer 2014) and their researcher Brett Williams concludes with a dismissal of Stephens' "ambiguous" version of events.

Other contemporary newspaper accounts: include Adelaide Now (2011) and Adelaide Now (2016)


HistorySA has made their position clear (HistorySA 2011, History SA 2012). They conclude:

These questions are always difficult. All we can do is weigh the evidence, and unfortunately, in this case, the evidence for the Elizabeth Beare story all comes from a much later period. But if anyone has any evidence from an earlier period we’d really like to hear from them. The Elizabeth Beare story is much more interesting than the rather prosaic version around Samuel Stephens! (History SA 2011)

Even Samuel Stephen's own brother in 1858 conceded "It is true that the matter is one of our colonial legends". "In claiming this distinction for my late brother, I am bound to say that I was not there". He does state, however, that his brother Samuel Stephens often boasted about his being first to land after the event in his presence " and in the presence of Mr Beare himself ... without the smallest attempt at contradiction" (Stephens, 1858). Brown (1858) supports Samuel Stephens.

Although the diary of Samuel Stephens, the Colonial Manager of The South Australian Company is acknowledged as "primary evidence", it is not corroborated by the diary of Captain Robert Morgan (also primary evidence), as to the detail of who was the first to be put ashore. The absence of a definitive statement by Morgan as to who was the first ashore must be recognised as being odd.

Despite having at least one apologist in William Archer Deacon (Morphett, 1948, p.6), the character of Samuel Stephens was quite questionable (Miller, 2014), particularly his tendency for self-aggrandisement, which must diminish the credibility of anything he recorded.

It is accepted that Elizabeth Beare during her short life did not enjoy the notoriety of being the first to land, even at the time of her death (South Australian Register, 1846). Apart from family lore, which should not be totally discounted, there is no intervening record (papers, letters, newspaper accounts) or memorial to substantiate this claim, until the testimony by second mate Robert Russell, who was interviewed by a correspondent of the Register at the age of 82 years in July 1886 (South Australian Register, 1886b) and later in 1894, when Isaac Mazey's obituary was published (Mazey, 1894).

Nevertheless it is unacceptable to dismiss all secondary evidence by using only the primary evidence of Samuel Stephens, particularly when Stephens' character and motivation is questionable.

Conclusion- a position statement by the Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association as at 10 October 2016.

The diary of Samuel Stephens, as well as the position of HistorySA notwithstanding, it is concluded that Elizabeth Beare was the first immigrant from the Duke of York to be put ashore on dry land on 27th July 1836.


Adelaide Now. 2011 "Day our history took hold" http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/heritage-matters-day-our-history-took-hold/story-e6freabc-1226100839025 accessed 16 Sept 2016

Adelaide Now (2016) The little known story of Kangaroo Island’s Kingscote the one time capital city of South Australia, http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/the-littleknown-story-of-kangaroo-islands-kingscote--the-onetime-capital-city-of-south-australia/news-story/cac3c5f634728b850360398267f49f21, (22 July 2016)

Beare, W.L., 1910, in PIONEER OF 1836. (1910, July 18). The Register, p. 7. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article57144968

Blacket, J. 1929, in THE FOUNDATION OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA. (1929, December 28). The Advertiser, p. 13. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29000062

Brown, J. 1858, in WHO FIRST LANDED IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA?. (1858, December 21). The South Australian Advertiser, p. 2. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article786796

Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) (1906, November 17)., p. 46. SOUTH AUSTRALIA'S GROWTH:Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88127806

Heinrich D, 2011, “The Man Who Hunted Whales”, Awoonga

HistorySA, 2011, "First landings- the story of Elizabeth Beare", Bound for South Australia,http://boundforsouthaustralia.net.au/journey-content/first-landings-the-story-of-elizabeth-beare.html, accessed 25 Feb 2015

HistorySA, 2012. Letter to Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association, 5 Sep 2012 (attachment to this page).

Manning G, n.d., Insight into South Australian History, Essay 11 - The First Fleet to South Australia and Aspects of Early Colonial History, retrieved May 22 2014 from http://www.geoffmanning.net.au/html/single-essays/essay11-first-fleet.html

Mazey, I.1894, in DEATH OF AN OLD COLONIST. (1894, June 28). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 6. Retrieved May 22, 2014, fromhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article25729175

Miller, N., 2014. "The Character of Samuel Stephens", Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association, accessed 25 Feb 2015

Morphett, Geo. C. (ed.) William Archer Deacon - An "Africaine" Colonist, Pioneers Association S.A., 1948.

O’Donnell, H. 1927, in SOME EARLY HISTORY. (1927, November 10). The Register, p. 10. Retrieved May 22, 2014, fromhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54939701

Pioneers Association of South Australia, "Who was the first pioneer settler to land upon our southern soil - Part 1", "The Pioneer" (Spring 2014) pp.2,3,7

Pioneers Association of South Australia, "Who was the first pioneer settler to land upon our southern soil - Part 2",, "The Pioneer" (Summer 2014), pp. 7-8

South Australian Register, 1846. LOCAL INTELLIGENCE (1846, January 28). (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27451868

South Australian Register, 1886a, REMINISCENCES OF KANGAROO ISLAND SETTLEMENT. (1886, July 27)., p. 6. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44579010

South Australian Register, 1886b, THE INFANCY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIAN SETTLEMENT. (1886, July 27). (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 6. Retrieved May 24, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44579008

South Australian Weekly Chronicle, 1858 WHO FIRST LANDED IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA?. (1858, December 25) p. 4. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88820459

Stephens, Edward, WHO WAS THE FIRST SOUTH AUSTRALIAN SETTLER? (1858, December 15). The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1889), , p. 2. Retrieved June 17, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article786596

The Register. 1914 (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 13. - A SOUTH AUSTRALIAN SCIENTIST. Professor T. Hudson Beare, Whose Visit Recalls Romantic History(1914, August 8). Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56709949

The South Australian Advertiser, 1859, II.—ANNIVERSARY OF THE COLONY AND NEW YEAR'S FESTIVITIES. (1859, January 26), p. 3. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article788189