Position Statement 002

When did William Holmes Hamilton (1820-1916) arrive in South Australia?

Position Statement adopted by the K.I.P.A. executive committee 8 February 2016.


Contemporary accounts [1][2][3] purport that William Holmes Hamilton (senior) (W.H.H.) arrived Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island on the Duke of York in 1836. A sub-committee was set up to investigate the available evidence and to report back to the executive committee [4]. Their deliberations resulted in the executive committee adopting this position statement.

Primary Evidence

There is almost no extant primary evidence. However, there is primary evidence that W.H.H. applied for emigration in Dover on 13 June 1837 some six weeks before the Katherine Stewart Forbes sailed from Gravesend [5]. We also know that W.H.H. and his family were residing in Adelaide in 1841 [6].

The absence of primary evidence, where one would reasonably expect it, cannot be ignored. For example, if he was aboard the Duke of York, there was no application for emigration, nor any mention of him in Captain Morgan’s journal [7] (although it was acknowledged that Morgan’s journal was not comprehensive). There is no direct evidence that he arrived on the Katherine Stewart Forbes either.

Secondary Evidence

Secondary evidence centred on several conflicting newspaper articles dating from 1910 onwards.

Those on the sub-committee who supported the notion that W.H.H was aboard the Duke of York, cite several references particularly his obituary (Chronicle 1917)[8], and a newspaper article purportedly from an interview with W.H.H. on his 93rd birthday (The Register, 1913)[9]. Those who challenged the notion that he was aboard the Duke of York point out that there are several errors of fact in the article written by a journalist of an Adelaide newspaper 76 years after the event, and should be regarded as only secondary evidence at best.

Those opposed cite a similar newspaper article written three years earlier by a local journalist from a “chat” with WHH in 1910, (Kangaroo Island Courier, 1910)[10] in which he is said to have stated that he first landed in Kangaroo Island in October 1837 on the Cathleen [sic] Stewart Forbes. They claimed that this article is slightly more authoritative, although needs to be similarly treated as secondary evidence at best.


It was acknowledged that if W.H.H. did arrive in 1837, it did not preclude his first arriving in 1836. There is no evidence, however, to support two journeys: if he did this he would have had to quit the Duke of York in Hobart, and travel back to Dover to his family, before making a second trip to South Australia.


The sub-committee of the Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association charged with investigating the evidence [4], could not find a consensus as to how and when W.H.H. first arrived in South Australia.

Accordingly, any contemporary accounts which purport William Holmes Hamilton (snr) to have arrived on the Duke of York need to be treated with caution.

[see update below]


[1] The Islander, 6 Feb 2014, "Unmarked but not unloved" http://www.theislanderonline.com.au/story/2070565/unmarked-but-not-unloved/

[2] The Islander, 16 April 2015, "150 unmarked graves named". page 3.

[3] Wilkie, Douglas http://hamiltonfamilyhistory.blogspot.com.au/2007/11/5-bound-for-south-australia.html

[4] View the collaborative website of the sub-committee showing their deliberations, and all sources https://sites.google.com/site/whhamiltonsubcommittee/home/ . (You will be asked to register.)

[5] The South Australian Company's Register of Emigrant Labourers Applying for a Free Passage to South Australia, State Records of South Australia, GRG 56/68/45, Application No.1124

[6] Census of South Australia 1841, State Library of South Australia, Family History Collection

[7] Journal of the Duke of York', R. C. Morgan. (Mitchell Library, State Library of N.S W.)

[8] OBITUARY. (1917, January 13). Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), p. 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87440966

[9] CONCERNING PEOPLE. (1913, March 5). The Register(Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 12. Retrieved October 4, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59254773

[10] A Veteran Islander. (1910, February 5). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191632627

From Martin Gordon 16 May 2021

New evidence has surfaced which sheds light on both matters left unresolved in the discussions of this sub-committee in 2015: (1) the lack of direct evidence for William Hamilton’s presence on the Katherine Stewart Forbes and (2) the question of whether William had previously sailed aboard the Duke of York.

During his research on the book Coromandelians, published last year, Bill Othams located the crew list, or Form C, of the Katherine Stewart Forbes’s voyage to South Australia in 1837, the voyage which brought the Hamilton family to Adelaide. The crew list, which is available on the Pioneers Association of SA website, finally provides the missing direct evidence for William’s presence on the ship. It records that William Hamilton joined the Katherine Stewart Forbes as a seaman on 22 June 1837, in London.

Curiously, the crew list does not show William leaving the ship in Adelaide as reported by his father in a letter home to Dover written November 24, 1837 (mentioned in the Conclusions and Recommendations) but records him as having been discharged with the rest of the crew in London in July 1838.

There seems no reason why we should doubt the accuracy of what Richard Hamilton wrote. The crew list on the other hand is less reliable. The purpose of the Form C was to create central registers of seamen to facilitate their conscription into the Royal Navy in time of war. Merchant seamen and their captains had little interest in assisting this purpose, so it was quite common for the information in the crew Lists to be less than accurate - the details of William’s discharge seemingly a case in point.

The crew List also provides valuable information on the second question – whether or not William had served on the Duke of York. Among the details set out in the document is the name of the previous ship served on by each crewman. In William’s case the last ship he served on is listed as the Gilmore.

This seems to settle the question of whether William first came out on the Duke of York or not. If he had come out on the Duke of York, he would have had to join another ship in Hobart, as Douglas Wilkie theorized, in order to return to England in time to join his family for their voyage out. In that case the name of the last ship he served in, listed on the Katherine Stewart Forbes document, would have to have been the name of that ship.

I have searched the Tasmanian Archives of Ships Arriving at Hobart for the ship Gilmore. Apart from the name Gulnare, which looks deceptively similar to Gilmore in the faded nineteenth century cursive script in the archive, there is no record of it within the crucial timeframe of late-1836, early-1837. It looks as though wherever William went on the Gilmore, it was not from Hobart back to England.

Of course the question mark over the reliability of crew lists at this time hangs over the Katherine Stewart Forbes’s crew List too, especially as we know it already contains one error. Even taking this into consideration however, it seems clear that the balance of probabilities must now weigh against William being on the Duke of York. This latest document simply adds to the evidence already at hand and makes the case more convincing. William’s name is not on the crew list of the Duke of York, his name is not mentioned in the ship’s log, and now we have the ship Gilmore listed as the last ship he served on before the Katherine Stewart Forbes. It therefore does not seem likely that William Hamilton was ever on the Duke of York.