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Week 33 - seeking a site for settlement

[ 2nd of October 1836 to 8th of October 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 33: Fresh Water ]

In South Australia

Colonel Light and his surveying party continue their slow progress up and down the coast, still searching for Jones’ harbour and for fresh water.  They find Sturt Creek and Light is encouraged by the many fresh water lagoons nearby. With some prescience he records : ‘The little river, too, was deep; and it struck me that much might hereafter be made of this little stream’.

Despite his anxiety to find an appropriate landfall Light is careful. He and his party trudge many weary miles through sand and undergrowth testing the water in streams and examining the soil as they go. It is exhausting work, but intensely interesting.  Young Pullen is thoroughly hooked on exploration, ‘as this sort of work, exploring was a source of great amusement and excited interest only felt by those engaged in it,’ he writes.

Adelaide & Mt Lofty, c. 1837 (artist William Light) Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia B 2127

Inevitably they speculate as they go – about the fertility of the soil inland from the coast, about the prevalence of fresh water supplies, but there is more than a little irony in some of their observations. Light is obviously well aware that drought has been a frequent problem in eastern Australia, but he thinks that a settlement on the eastern side of the gulf should spare South Australia the same fate.  As it happens he could not have been more wrong, but it was a view that he seems to have formed even before he arrived.

‘My previous observations at sea, which I remarked often to Mr Field before I saw this country, were that all the vapours from the prevalent south-westerly winds would rest on the mountains here, and that we should, if we could locate this side of the gulf, be never in dread of those droughts so often experienced on the eastern coast of Australia. And I was now fully persuaded by the evidence here shown, as well as the repeated collection of clouds, and rain falling on the hills even at this season of the year.’

If only that had been the case!

At sea

The Africaine is making good progress before strong winds. Despite the gales and the water surging over the decks Mary Thomas steals out for a view of the ‘raging sea with its towering hills of water covered with foam’, and finds it ‘grand beyond description’. ‘ I could have stood for hours to look at it’, she writes. ‘Although it inspired me with awe, it filled me with wonder and admiration’.

The Buffalo meanwhile reaches Rio at last and George Stevenson hastens ashore to see his friends. ‘Our Colony has created great interest here’, he writes.

Young Bingham Hutchinson has a busy time overseeing the loading of water and stores, but still finds time to go shopping, and to visit the Museum and Botanical Gardens with ‘the Hindmarshes’. The visit has a sad undertone though, as the baby from the Breaker family dies while on shore, ‘but was brought off’, he writes. We do not hear where it is buried.

Language warning: Please note that these sources contain language which is today considered offensive. It has been retained as it is part of the historical record and evidence of past attitudes.


Journals from settlers in South Australia:

Monday 3 October 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

3 October… at nine went on shore to examine the plains. And as two of my officers had said that they saw from the main-top something like a large river, only two miles from us to the southward, I resolved to walk there, and desired Mr Field to get under way and anchor the A sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. brig at the mouth – as should this prove to be the long-sought-for harbour of Jones, I could run the brig in and carry on the survey there. And at this place from the same point, our party consisted of Messrs Pullen, Claughton, Woodforde, a gardener named Laws, with a spade, and the gig’s crew; the latter were desired to pull along shore, and stop at the mouth of the river. Messrs Claughton, Woodforde and Laws kept some way inland to examine the soil as they went along, while Pullen and myself kept along the beach. Thus prepared not to miss the river, we proceeded, but about two miles off, we found nothing but a rather wide indenture of the coast, and were also surprised at the brig’s not anchoring, we therefore walked on about five miles further, and finding nothing like a river, returned to where we landed. Mr Field seeing distinctly our movements on shore, came back to the former anchorage – and at four p.m. we all returned on board. I was much gratified at the report Laws gave me of the soil, he being a good judge. It was, he said, excellent, and the further inland he was certain it would be still more so.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 4 October 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

9 p.m. Tuesday, 4th October.
Remained on board all day. Colonel Light has been four miles up the river with which he is much pleased – the water is very good and it abounds with teal and other wild fowl. On the plain to the right of it he discovered several fresh water lagoons some of which are nearly a mile in length. The mouth of the stream is Lat. 34.59.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 4 October 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

Tuesday 4th…The party returned about 3 o
clock reporting well of the country We now for the first time saw
the Native fires so they cannot be far off, it is reported by the
women accompanying us they are rather a fierce set about
here.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Wednesday 5 October 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

9 p.m. Wednesday, 5th October.
I have not been on shore today having been busy casting lead for his gun casting balls, cleaning my gun and mending my underwear inexpressibles. Claughton and Jacob who took their guns up the river this morning have returned with two brace and a half of Teal – the second fresh meal we have fallen in with this week. This worth recording as fresh meals come so few and far between and I am sorry to say some of the men are beginning to suffer for the want of them.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Wednesday 5 October 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

5 October-Light breezes and fine. Having much to do in observing several bearings from the ship, for the purpose of constructing my hasty chart of this side of the gulf, I remained at anchor, and sent Messrs Claughton and Jacob to trace the river up if they could, until they found fresh water in it. At one a.m. these gentlemen returned, and said the river about four miles from the mouth was fresh, it was then a very narrow stream bending to the N.E., and appeared to have its source in the plains-a circumstance that led me to suppose that more of these lagoons existed in that direction; and as every appearance indicated that these lagoons would be dry in summer, I felt convinced that the torrents from the mountains must be the fountain from whence they were now filled. My previous observations at sea,which I remarked often to Mr Field before I saw this country, were that all the vapours from the prevalent south-westerly winds would rest on the mountains here, and that we should, if we could locate this side the gulf, be never in dread of those droughts so often experienced on the eastern coast of Australia. And I was now fully persuaded by the evidence here shown, as well as the repeated collection of clouds, and rain falling on the hills even at this season of the year.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Thursday 6 October 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

6 October…At six, got under way to run down the coast, as the native woman on board said there was still a large river more to the southward, which we had passed in coming up…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Thursday 6 October 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

Thursday 6th Weighed & stood down the Gulf about
[blank] miles below the last anchorage from the Mast head was
observed a stream apparently issuing from the hills and
discharging a little below us into the sea. I was immediately
despatched & found it to be small at the mouth but inc-
-reasing in size inland & apparently deep water which
I could not ascertain there being a heavy surf on could
not get the boat in it is now called the Onkaparinga
With every appearance of a Gale apparently not good
anchorage so as soon as I reached the A sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. Brig the Colonel
bore up for the last anchorage & there rode out a heavy
gale not the first one which we had rode out here
From the good holding ground it was named Holdfast
Bay which it now retains.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 7 October 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

…We landed our women the day before yesterday to hunt and this evening they made their appearance on the beach when four volunteers started in the A light, narrow ship’s boat that could be rowed or sailed. gig to bring them off but from the height of the rollers were unable to reach the shore. We fear the poor women may be suffering from hunger as they were scantily provided with provisions and we were to have picked them up at Yankalilah [Yankalilla], but provided they have been successful in hunting which I hope to God they have they will not be so badly off always having the means of kindling a fire.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 8 October 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

7 p.m. Saturday, 8th October.
The wind having moderated a boat was sent off for the women – they had caught no game as they and the dogs were too hungry to hunt – a few roots were the only food they had had. After breakfast Claughton, Jacob, Pullen and myself landed with our guns and went up the banks of the river in search of wild fowl with which it was actually swarming but they were so wild and wary that we were very unsuccessful only having killed between  us a duck and brace of teal. There are several lagoons, or what we should call marshes in England, in the neighbourhood of the river, in these wild fowl resort to breed and this is apparently breeding-season as we picked up a cygnet and young duck neither of them fledged. On our return we shot a brace of quails and a beautiful rail resembling our landrail in all but plumage which was much finer…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Journals from passengers at sea:

Sunday 2 October 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Sunday Octr 2. The breeze a little more favorable, and
our hopes of reaching Rio in a couple of days revived. No
public service to-day as there is a heavy sea rolling Mr Howard
read prayers in the Ward-room most of the Ladies & Gentlemen
were present. Neither the Governor nor any of his family I
am sorry to say, attended, although they were advised of the
intention. To-day the first albatross was seen. It was a
white one the Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 4 October 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

OCTOBER 4.-A strong wind after a rough night, which was now increased to a complete gale. The sails had been all furled but two, and the ship rocked so much that everything which was not securely lashed was overturned and out of its place. The waves so incessantly broke over the vessel that it was almost impossible to stand on the deck. I ventured up for a few minutes to take a view of the raging sea, with its towering hills of water covered with foam, but grand beyond all description. I could have stood for hours to look at it, for I had now become too much accustomed to it to feel alarm. Although it inspired me with awe, it filled me with wonder and admiration.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 4 October 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Tuesday Octr 4th. Anchored in this beautiful harbour at
last; fired a salute of 11 guns to the Admiral & 21 to the
Brazilian flag. Went ashore immediately with my family
and found all our friends at Rio well and glad
to welcome us. Our Colony has created great interest
here —

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Wednesday 5 October 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Wednesday, Octr 5. Light winds & fine. Vble. Busy getting
bread & stores on board in flag-ship’s boats.
Spent the day on board & on shore with the Hindmarshes.
Breaker’s baby died while on shore, but was brought off.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Thursday 6 October 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Thursday, Octr 6. Light winds & fine. Employed watering.
Attended the Hindmarshes to the Museum. Dined on shore.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 7 October 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

OCTOBER 7.-The wind calmer, but the ship still going briskly on, making an average about two hundred miles in twenty-four hours. These scraps of nautical information I obtained chiefly from the captain, whom I did not scruple to question respecting anything that I thought worth recording, and as many of the passengers were aware that I kept a diary, they were usually willing to give me any information that lay in their power. Some of them did the same thing, I believe, but they were not so accurate in dates and many other circumstances, for I was applied to more than once after we arrived in Australia for information on several matters by our former shipmates, who confessed that they could not depend upon their own records.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 7 October 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Friday, Octr [7]. Moderate & cloudy. 9. Rode to the Botanical Gardens
with the Hindmarshes. 4. Heavy rain. Empd watering.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 8 October 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Saturday, Octr 8. Fresh breezes & rainy. S.W. Employed watering.
9[?]. Completed water. Went Shopping with the Hind-
-marshes. Dined in the cabin. Mr Vidal came to tea.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Next week

Light has just about given up on finding Captain Jones’ harbour, but is relieved to hear that the Cygnet has arrived. The Buffalo is chaotic after the visit to Rio, with half the crew drunk and yet more livestock to be accommodated.

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