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Week 38 - lost in the bush

[ 6th of November 1836 to 12th of November 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 38: Exploration ]

In South Australia

On 6 November the Africaine leaves Kangaroo Island for Rapid Bay, though Mary Thomas is reluctant to go without knowing the fate of the six young men who set out to walk to Nepean Bay and who are now considered to be missing.  Grave fears are held for their safety. Indeed Mary and Robert Thomas now have first hand experience of the perils of the bush, after losing themselves one afternoon in the scrub adjacent to the beach.

The arrival of the Africaine leaves Colonel Light more anxious than ever. Of course the first question Robert Gouger and the others ask him is where they are to settle and he cannot yet give them an answer.  ‘This was not at all satisfactory’, he records in his diary, but he can only advise them to proceed to the safe anchorage at Holdfast Bay. This they agree to do, although not without reluctance. They have all fallen under the spell of the lovely valley near Rapid Bay.

Unfortunately for Light, the first accounts the new arrivals receive of Holdfast Bay are not entirely positive and he must try to soothe their ‘apprehensions’.  ‘I had to undergo a little torment, which I kept to myself’, he records, but he holds firm to his view that the wide plain between the sea and the hills is the best place he has yet seen for the settlement. This is a very difficult time for Light and everything seems to conspire against him. He is more than ever convinced that he should have been allowed to sail at least six months in advance of the emigrants and writes to the Commissioners to tell them so.  Even after his arrival, bad weather and the delayed arrival of the Cygnet with the other surveyors, has meant that he is far behind in his surveys. And he is still obliged to go to Port Lincoln.  We can see his anxiety in the long extracts he transcribes into his journal from his official report to the Company Commissioners. But he remains convinced that he has chosen correctly. ‘This will I am sure be one of the finest plains in the world’, he tells the Commissioners.

Port Lincoln, taken from the south. By William Westel, published 1835. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

Left behind at Rapid Bay, Dr Woodforde is kept busy with his medical duties. Mrs Hoare, wife of one of the labourers, gives birth to a ‘fine boy’, who is promptly named after the Rapid at the doctor’s request. Woodforde also attends to a labourer named Heath, who has injured his hand in fighting.  Heath is recovering well, but another man, Bristow, is not so lucky.  An inflamed finger, caused by a fishbone injury, is festering and Woodforde thinks that ‘amputation is not improbable’. This will be a fearsome ordeal for Bristow, but may save his life. Woodforde is a lively correspondent, given to pithy observations of his fellow colonists. His diary this week presents a very unflattering image of Kingston, who seems to be generally disliked.

Back on Kangaroo Island meanwhile, from William Deacon we learn that on 12 November four of the six young men finally staggered into Nepean Bay ‘in a dreadful state’. Two are still missing and it is not clear how they came to be separated. From Deacon we also learn of the progress some settlers are making with their gardens, and get a hint of their future aspirations.  Deacon seems to have impressed Samuel Stephens who has appointed him to take charge of the Company’s affairs on Kangaroo Island. He seems confident that he will prosper, though he notes that there is little chance of establishing a coffee house ‘at present, especially as spirits are to be had in any quantity’! A hotel, too, is some years off, but is clearly part of the plan in the longer term. In the meantime he must make the best of the labour at his disposal, but he is clearly dissatisfied with the company’s current crop of workers and looks forward to the arrival of ‘the Germans’ to provide some competition.

At sea

The Buffalo is making progress but all on board are cynically amused by the poor seamanship of Captain Hindmarsh. Even Young Bingham Hutchinson’s log for 11 November has a hint of skepticism. As usual George Stevenson is less circumspect and gives us the full story – complete with heavy irony.

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:

Sunday 6 November 1836

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

6 November-At four p.m. the Africaine, Captain Duff, arrived with Mr Gouger the Colonial Secretary, Mr Brown the Emigration Agent, and many other passengers. I went on board and found that the ship had touched at Nepean Bay, where hearing that I had ordered all the surveying party and stores to this part of the Gulf, they followed, imagining some very urgent reasons had induced me to take such a step, contrary to the instructions given in England, which were for the stores to remain at Nepean Bay. My reasons were sent home to the Commissioners very soon after. Mr Gouger was of course very anxious to know where we should settle – a question I was by no means prepared to answer; and the only thing I could do was to recommend his proceeding to Holdfast Bay for the present. This was not at all satisfactory, everyone in such circumstances being anxious not to move again after landing all his embarked property; I could only recommend this place as one from which they were the least likely to re-embark – stating strongly at the same time, that I could not guarantee permanent settlement there. To make the best of a doubtful case, both Mr Gouger and Mr Brown agreed to take their chance; and Captain Duff having very kindly offered me a passage, I embarked at ten a.m., on the 7th. After beating against northerly winds, we came to at six p.m. the following day (8 November), at Holdfast Bay, where we saw the Rapid at anchor. Mr Field and Mr Morphett came down to meet us before we anchored; the accounts given by these gentlemen, did not cheer the spirits of our newcomers although they were anything but unfavourable. I had to undergo a little torment, which I kept to myself, being still persuaded that the connection of these plains with the creek, their immense extent to the N.E., consequently towards the Murray, and the certain conviction in my own mind of the existence of plenty of rich soil, would, after a month or two of dissatisfaction, fully quiet any apprehensions now entertained by these gentlemen. And these surmises were more strongly impressed by the trip Messrs Field, Kingston, and Morphett had made a few miles inland, during which they had come to a fresh water river, much larger than any we had yet seen.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Sunday 6 November 1836

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

NOVEMBER 6.-This afternoon we set sail for the mainland, which we reached about 4 o’clock. We anchored in Rapid Bay, in front of the most beautiful prospect imaginable. We could see some tents on shore belonging to the surveying party. Colonel Light, commander of the Rapid, was stationed there, and soon afterwards came on board. A party from the vessel went on shore, and on their return gave a most enchanting account of the country which everywhere resembled a gentleman’s park – grass growing in the greatest luxuriance, the most beautiful flowers in abundance, and the birds of splendid plumage. They saw several of the natives, who the surveyors said were of great service to them. They introduced themselves by the names which had been given them, as Peter and Tom, and most of them spoke English. We all seemed to wish this part to be fixed on for the seat of government, but it was said that the anchorage was not good, and we must proceed to Holdfast Bay, about forty miles further. Accordingly, the next morning we left this delightful spot and sailed for Holdfast Bay.

But my greatest regret was in leaving Kangaroo Island before we had heard something respecting the young men, for whom we began now to be seriously alarmed, especially as we had ourselves made a slight experiment of the difficulties of travelling in the bush, which sufficiently convinced us that our fears were not without reason. We had all spent a day on Kangaroo Island, and during a walk which I took with my husband we entered the scrub, as it is called, and incautiously proceeded till we were so completely bewildered that we began to be uneasy lest we should not find our way out of the labyrinth, which seemed on all sides to be interminable, for nothing could be seen but the sky above us and the bushes around us. Nor could we tell which way to retrace our steps, as no path which we had passed through was discernible. At length, however, after advancing, as far as we could judge, about half a mile, we fortunately caught through a small opening in the brushwood a glimpse of the sea, and immediately made towards it, forcing our way through the bushes down a step hill till we reached the shore. But for this providential escape our adventure possibly might have terminated as fatally for us as for the young men who attempted to accomplish the rash undertaking of traversing what was, at least to them, an unknown country…

Now that this part of New Holland was to be made a British colony, the South Australian Company had a station on the island, including a large tent containing stores and provisions. This was situated near the shore, and all beyond the immediate vicinity was a wilderness as far as the eye could reach, thickly overgrown with trees and bushes. According to report, this was the general character of the island, and a passage through was extremely difficult, even to those accustomed to such travelling, and doubly so to inexperienced young men. That nothing might be omitted which was likely to apprise them of their danger and make them aware that others were on their track, large fires were kept burning on the highest eminences for several nights as signals which they might see at a distance. Guns were fired at intervals, which it was hoped they would hear, but it was all of no avail, and we were reluctantly obliged to quit the shores of Kangaroo Island without any information respecting them.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Monday 7 November 1836

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

Just as I had received my letters this morning and was eagerly opening the first, a message arrived for me to attend a labour. Mrs. Hoare, a wife of a labourer. She is safely delivered of a fine boy who, at my request, is to be named “Rapid”. I was not detained long and again returned to read of all that was dear to me, and when I was assured of their welfare and health the happiness of that moment I would not have exchanged for millions. One of the labourers, Heath, in fighting, fractured the first metacarpal bone of the right hand. I have now reduced it and he is comfortable. Another man, Bristow, is under my care with a dreadfully inflamed finger from a fishbone wound. This shows a great disposition to flake off – usually refers to dead tissue slough and an amputation is not improbable…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Monday 7 November 1836

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

Novr 7th This morning the “Africaine” left Nepean Bay, and in a few hours reached Cape Jarvis; following the direction of Capt Lipson, we sailed slowly along the shore, and anchored in a Bay where we discerned the “Rapid” & on an adjacent hill, some tents. A boat, which put off on our approach brought us Col Light, who piloted the ship into Rapid Bay. Having dined a party of us accompanied Col Light on shore, being desirous of seeing as much as we could of the land now, in case we should have to move onwards with the ship. Now we found that the accounts we had heard at Kangaroo Island of the beauty of the mainland, glowing as they were, were not exaggerated, for it is impossible to imagine a more lovely valley than that which skirts the Bay. The soil produces an abundant crop of the finest grass – it is watered by a rivulet containing a number of fresh water fish, & trees of a very large size are found at a distance of perhaps from 30 to 50 yds asunder. The surface is hilly, but not mountainous, & the splendid description of country extends inland to Cape [Lake?] Alexandrina. Delighted as we were with the spot we determined on the recommendation of Col Light to proceed higher up the gulf, where he discovered there was at all times fresh water, & a fine harbour for shipping of which advantage Rapid Bay is destitute. At Cape Jarvis the Colonel (through the medium of a sealer & his native woman) has contrived to conciliate the  natives, about 30 of whom are now resident in Rapid Bay. From them he has selected a few strong & well disposed men, whom he has clothed, & employed in a variety of work & dignified with the title of “Marines”. They are content with a piece of biscuit as a recompense. They are honest & obliging, & to each the Col has given an English name of which they are remarkably proud. A garden has been made which flourishes well, all seeds being far more advanced than any I had seen at Kangaroo Island.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 8 November 1836

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

…Pullen arrived in the surveying boat this evening and had it not been for the timely assistance of the natives would have been drowned in swimming ashore through the surf. The “Cygnet” passed our Bay on her way up the Gulf. Captain Rolls is taking this trip to bring his accounts with Kingston to an issue which are very complicated. Mr. Kingston seems to shrink from the investigation and his behaviour is censured by high and low. He is universally disliked for his despotism and upstart tyranny.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 8 November 1836

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

Novr 8th This morning accompanied by Duff & a large party, I again went ashore. We walked about 2 miles over the hills, where as far as the eye could reach the same rich character of land prevails. The grass is now ready to cut – the hay would be of a very superior kind, & Sydney presents a market, where the price obtained is £10 a ton. Having gathered a A small bunch of flowers. nosegay of the most beautiful flowers as a present to H, I went on board; Col Light following almost immediately after, as he was going up the Gulf on another of his exploring expeditions.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Wednesday 9 November 1836

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

9 November-Messrs Gouger and Brown, with Captain Duff and myself, guided by Mr Field, landed about two miles to the northward of the Creek at Holdfast Bay, to ascertain, if possible, the mouth of the river discovered by Messrs Kingston, Field and Morphett; and here I give a short extract of my letter written as soon as I got on board to the Commissioners:

We have this morning been looking for the mouth of the river and find it exhausts itself in the lagoons, these must either ooze through the sand into the sea, or be connected with the creek. I strongly suspect the latter, as the distance to the creek is small at this part, and the water in the upper part of the creek, where I grounded, was far from being salt. I feel more interested in this flat than ever, and have determined that a survey may be carried on here while I am in the other Gulf…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Thursday 10 November 1836

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

…I felt again quite broken with such repeated bad weather, blowing strong all night with a heavy swell and the ship pitching much.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Thursday 10 November 1836

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

… On the morning of the following day Robert, my eldest son, came on board. He was stationed at Rapid Bay with Mr. Kingston, with whom he came out in the Cygnet attached to the surveying party, arriving here about six weeks before ourselves.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Thursday 10 November 1836

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

This day I have endeavoured to make up for past idleness and have been right manfully at my hut which is rapidly progressing.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 11 November 1836

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

NOVEMBER 11.-This day Mr. Thomas and our two agricultural labourers went on shore with our tents, and the weather being rough they did not return. The next day they were occupied in receiving the luggage as it was landed on the beach, and conveying what was necessary for present use to a site some distance away, where our tents were to be pitched. As everything had to be carried by hand, there being no other mode of conveyance, it was no trifling labour, especially through untrodden paths often full of holes, and with grass three or four feet high.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 12 November 1836

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

12 November-Still bad weather, and about noon one of the heaviest A squall is a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed. squalls we have yet had. I shall now give another extract of my letter to the Commissioners, of this date:

As various opinions are afloat as to the eligibility of the settlement here, I will now state my reasons in detail for the removal of the stores from Kangaroo Island, and the subsequent motions.

1st. I ought to have been sent out at least six months before anybody else, which would have given me time to settle emigrants or stores as they arrived.

2nd. Having seen so much beautiful country on this side [Gulf Saint Vincent, I was resolved on employing all the surveying gentlemen here, while I went round the other side and round Gulf Spencer, after which the site of the Capital would be fixed, and final arrangements made. The Rapid was therefore dispatched to Nepean Bay, and I went onshore in Rapid Valley to give up my cabin, and bring up some back work.

3rd. Hearing such lamentable accounts from our party at Nepean Bay from scarcity of water, I thought it best for the whole to come over, and for the want of another efficient officer I was obliged to divide the party into two instead of three; therefore the largest party, with Mr Kingston, should come to Holdfast Bay, and Mr Gilbert’s stores to accompany him also, Rapid Bay not having so good a beach for landing stores; and besides, should a gale come on, and a ship go on shore, all would be lost, whereas, at Holdfast Bay, lives and property in such a disaster would at least be saved, and most likely the ship also; had I a third party I would have landed them at Yankalilla. I could not make a store ship of the Cygnet to go from one part of the Gulf to another as stores might be wanted, from her inefficient sailing qualities, and her not being the kind of vessel required for such service.

4th. Looking generally at this place I am quite confident it will be one of the largest settlements, if not the capital of the new colony, the Creek will be its Harbour. Six months labour would clear a road down to it, and if not there is a hard, sandy beach the whole way, on which a mail coach might run. I next view the range of mountains going with a gradual slope into the plain where it ends altogether, and we see no other hills which gives me great hopes that this plain extends all the way to the Murray, and in spite of all the opinions on the subject now, I am positive there is quite enough of good rich land for every purpose; the low parts of this plain are covered with fresh water lakes, many of which are full of rushes, and in the winter a great part of the plain may be covered with water, but the ground rises gradually towards the mountains, and that part can never be flooded, and it has the same appearance that exists on the hills about Rapid Bay, the second valley, and other parts which are extremely rich. Much remains to be done also by proper management of the waters that have hitherto run in natural courses, by collecting them with proper dams, and conducting them through more eligible channels. This will I am sure be one of the finest plains in the world.

5th. If I had time to examine the other side of this Gulf, Port Lincoln, and Gulf Spencer, perhaps some better place might have been found for the stores; even then we should have wanted more men for their protection, as the natives on Yorke’s Peninsula and Gulf Spencer are represented much more hostile; when I say better place, I allude to the anchorage, and landing stores on a A lee shore is dangerous. It is a coast onto which the wind blows from the sea, presenting the danger that a ship will be blown onto shore. lee shore ; in other respects they cannot be better, having here plenty of wood and water, and for those who have stock there is plenty of good grass…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 12 November 1836

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

Sunday November 12th, Kingscote. 4 of the men who went
on shore north side of the Island came in on Thursday in a dreadful
state having been sent to by the Company who arranged with
the Islanders and their black women to trace them – two now are
missing.
I have planted round my tent half a bushel of potatoes which
cost 6/-. Morning and evening as cold as in England those coming
out should have the thickest cloathing they can buy – Shoes are
12/- per pair, womens 6/-, dutch cheese 1/- per lb. Lamp oil 5/per
Gallon. I am at a loss for an oven, no such thing here, no
prospect for a Coffee House here at present, especially as Spirits
are to be had in any quantity. However I shall endeavour to acquit
myself so as to give satisfaction to my employers in the best way I
can and Mr Stevens has just informed me I am to have his house
and stay on the Island, and that some years must elapse before an
Hotel can be of utility and profit, but small profits will answer at
first I allow. Mr Stevens wants me to take charge of all here and
seems quite pleased with all I do or propose. I sincerely hope when
the Germans arrive we shall be able to weed those labourers we
now have, and render ourselves independent of them.
The weather is now very hot we are subject to heavy showers &
sudden A squall is a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed. squalls . Here are immense sharks 17 foot long which come
within 20 yards of shore. Plenty of Salmon if a man could make
it his Business to attend to them. We has Wallabas like a
Kangaroo, but not larger than a Hare, very fine eating, very few
birds here, no oysters except at a great depth; some men who
have lived here 14 years are very good sailors and are now
employed by the Company.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 12 November 1836

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

Nov 12th On Wednesday Last, 16 Wedder Sheep were sent
from Kingscote to this Station, but on Acct of the high
blustering foul Wind, they were unable to reach this place…
The following Morng found 7 of them dead, 2 missing and
7 alive, which latter, with great difficulty were brought
to this place, some of them so very Weak, had to be carried
by the Men a considerable part of the way, which is a distance
of 5 Miles along the Sea Beach. — We have searched
amongst the Brush-wood ever since to find the Missing Ones,
but without the least success, so that I have no doubt but
that they are dead — One of our little Sow’s was found
dead this Morng with its Throat uncommonly swell’d

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Journals from passengers at sea:

Thursday 10 November 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Thursday Nov. 10. A poor woman making dreadful complaints
of the Hindmarshes. We have heard many such, but this is worth
chronicling from its peculiar offensiveness. The woman & her husband
had been almost enticed on board & she had been promised by the
ladies of the family every comfort during her confinement. She is
deserted & cannot get even a potatoe notwithstanding the blarney by
wholesale uttered by Mrs Hindmarsh in a visit to her on Sunday. The
Captain’s son’s dog Diana had a house built for her at His Majesty’s
expense & dinner sent regularly to her with every “delicate attention”;
but the Captain has lived too long in the “East” – he was Master of
a Steamer belonging to the Pacha of Egypt where a “dog of a
Christian” is the lowest animal in the scale of creation. Poor Mrs Pike!

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 11 November 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

… What has kept the officers & many of the best men grin-
-ning all day in each others faces is this; a shoal was marked in our
chart near our position to-day as seen by a Dutchman in 1736.
It is named the “Slot van Capelle” The joke is, that if it exists at
all, which is very doubtful, we must have passed by or over it
at two o’clock this afternoon, seeing that at mid-day we were by
good observation distant from it twelve miles: but at six p.m.
our wise Captain, who is also our Governor more’s the pity, ordered
the ship to be wore and we are now standing west; so that if there
is danger & we missed it in the afternoon, we may have better luck
& hit it in the course of the night. Ask any officer in the ship the
meaning of all this, & he grins in your face & turns away laughing…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 11 November 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Friday, Novr 11. Fresh breezes with rain. Wind N.E. Head S.E.
4. Strong breezes. 4.30. Wind shifted suddenly to the S.W.
Trimmed sails. Exchanged colours with an American Ship.
Noon. Strong winds. Miles run, 170 + 10956 = 11126. Late
38E18′ So. Longe 37E20′ East. St. Paul’s Isle, S.88EE. 1900 miles.
P.M. Fresh breezes & fine. Head E.S.E. Wind    . Wore Ship. Head West
in order to avoid a shoal supposed to be somewhere here.

[ Read the full journal extract ]



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