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Week 39 - settling in at Holdfast Bay

[ 13th of November 1836 to 19th of November 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 39: Time ]

In South Australia

Colonel Light is busy making arrangements to secure food and means of transport for the new settlement at Holdfast Bay.  He contracts with Captain Duff of the Africaine to buy sheep, oxen and carts in Hobart and writes a long letter of explanation to the Commissioners in London to justify his purchases. He is concerned in particular to source enough fresh meat to supply the settlement and combat the ominous signs of a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, characterised by bleeding gums and the opening of previously healed wounds scurvy he observes in some of those around him. That done to his satisfaction, he prepares to explore ‘the creek’ with George Kingston, before sailing to inspect Port Lincoln.

The passengers from the Africaine meanwhile are settling into their tents on shore.  Mary Thomas leaves the ship with relief and settles her family into two large tents. Although anxious at her strange surroundings, she is delighted with the countryside around her, which she says ‘was certainly beautiful and resembled an English park, with long grass in abundance and fine trees scattered about’. She is very impressed with the beautiful plumage of the native birds and is amused by the magpie’s capacity as a mimic. It can already imitate the rooster’s crow.

 

Scene: Robert Thomas's tent and rush hut

 

 

Robert Thomas’ tent and rush tent, Glenelg. 1836. Image courtesy of SLSA [B2128

At Rapid Bay John Woodforde has time on his hands once again and is able to indulge his passion for shooting and fishing. To judge from his account, parrots and quail are in strong demand, as a ‘change’ from kangaroo. The settlement also has a lesson in the dangers of grass fires in this new land, when a labourer carelessly sets fire to a patch of ground and nearly burns the tents. And on Kangaroo Island William Deacon records the sad news that the two missing young men are now assumed to be dead.

At sea

On the Buffalo the men take time out to shoot some sea birds, including a large albatross. George Stevenson drafts a ‘Proclamation for our landing, with especial reference to Lord Glenelg’s benevolent views towards the Aborigines, & using in fact his Lordship’s own words as I find them in the Instructions.’ His wife is inclined to think that Hindmarsh is an unworthy vehicle for such a piece. ‘Perhaps it is so,’ he writes, ‘but the Proclamation, if not suited to the man, is to the circumstances of the Colony, & expresses, not His Excellency’s views certainly, but those of higher principled & better men’. Men like Stevenson perhaps?


Journals from settlers in South Australia:

Sunday 13 November 1836

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

NOVEMBER 13.-This day the girls and I packed up our bedding and such things as remained in the cabin, and went on shore to the place of our present destination. It is remarkable that we finally set sail on a Sunday and landed on a Sunday. We had two tents, the smaller of which the men had erected, and of which we, with part of our family, that is, our three daughters and the young woman who came out with us as assistant, took possession, gladly enough, though everything was in the roughest fashion imaginable. The two men located themselves in the sandhills, making a circle with packages and furniture and sleeping in the middle.

As for my two sons (for Robert had now joined us for the present) I made up a bed with a thick mattress on the ground in the open air, and as near as I could with safety to a large fire, and saw them asleep before I ventured to retire myself. My anxiety, however, would not suffer me to sleep much for that and many succeeding nights. Towards morning, however, I fell into a slumber out of which I was suddenly startled at about 5 o’clock by the loud crowing of a cock, which, with some hens we brought from the Cape of Good Hope, had roosted in a bush close to the back of the tent. I got up at the summons and, hastily dressing myself, went to see after my boys, both of whom I found fast asleep. The quilt that covered them was so saturated with dew that I could have wrung the water out of it. Yet they took no cold, nor seemed at all the worse for their night’s exposure, although it must have been very cold, as was proved by the following circumstance. A pewter jug had been accidentally left outside the tent in a tin dish containing some water, and on lifting up the jug to my surprise the ·dish came up with it, for the water had frozen to an eighth of an inch in thickness. This astonished me in a country where I did not expect to see such a thing, and yet the thermometer rose that day to About 43 Degrees Celsius. 110 degrees .

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Wednesday 16 November 1836

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

16 November-Walked with Messrs Kingston and Brown to examine the plains, taking a south-easterly direction; we were much pleased with the appearance of the whole; at four p.m. returned on board, the weather looking bad, and the wind increasing fast from the westward; about six the Cygnet‘s Sailing ships carried various smaller boats for different purposes. A longboat was an open row boat accommodating eight to ten oarsmen that was capable of moving through high waves. long-boat in going from the shore to the ship unfortunately capsized in a A squall is a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed. squall , and went down; no lives were lost…

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Wednesday 16 November 1836

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

Nothing worth notice has occurred since Friday until yesterday which Lipson and I spent shooting and fishing in the next valley. My time has on the other days been variously employed working at my hut when the weather would permit, and lying down with a book in the middle of the day. The heat has been excessive these last two days, the thermometer in the tents yesterday being at About 48 Degrees Celsius. 1180 . We have no mosquitoes in Rapid Bay but the flies are the most torturing of torments, alighting by hundreds on the face and creeping into the ears, eyes and nose, thus keeping one in a constant fever. I gave 5/- for an old gauze veil which acted as a defence against the brutes but rendered the heat almost suffocating, which last evil I willingly endured to be rid of the first. I was unfortunate enough yesterday to lose my veil and my poor face is again doomed to be victimised. We did not return from our sport yesterday till night had set in when, on reaching the hills we were alarmed by seeing a great part of the valley of our encampment in flames which were rapidly spreading in the direction of the tents. On our arrival we were informed that the fire was accidental and arose from one of the labourers imprudently setting fire to some grass on ground that he was about to dig. The breeze, however, which caused the flames to spread so rapidly covering more than two miles of country, happily died away before midnight and the fire gradually subsided. The sight from the hills was grand in the extreme, completely illuminating our settlement and the effect of the glare reflecting on the snow-white tents was as beautiful as it was strange.

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Wednesday 16 November 1836

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

November 16th I am sorry to say the two lost Gents have lost
their lives. Some of the ships were 6 months on the Voyage and
when I arrived here, had not unloaded they lost all the cattle
and horses bought at the Cape and had a dreadful passage.

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Wednesday 16 November 1836

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

NOVEMBER 16.-As we had now obtained the poles belonging to the large tent from the ship, our men proceeded to put it up, and the children and I were busy all day in arranging our luggage and bedding. It was a marquee large enough to divide into two apartments, and gladly we took possession of our new habitation. It was situated near some large gumtrees about half a mile from the shore, and most of the settlers, both from the Cygnet and the Africaine, were within view. The country, as far as we could see, was certainly beautiful, and resembled an English park, with long grass in abundance and fine trees scattered about, but not so many as to make it unpleasant, and no brushwood. We were about a hundred yards from the nearest lagoon, where at that time there was plenty of water and very clear. Nor was it bad-tasted, though not from a running stream. Far from being so good for washing as to get clothes clean without soap, as some accounts represented, it was harder than even the water in London.

The birds here were of beautiful plumage. White and black cockatoos were in abundance, the former with a large yellow or orange coloured crest, sometimes pink. Parrots, or rather parrakeets, as they would be called in England, for they were very small, were of every variety of colour. Also there were wild ducks and flocks of geese, with occasionally a black swan flying. Here was also the mocking-bird, and it was quite amusing to hear him imitate our cock crowing in the morning and the call of the guinea-fowls at a neighbouring tent, which he did with great exactness, but in a more musical tone, for it sounded something like a barrel organ. But when he tried to imitate the laughing jackass it was so exceedingly droll that we could not forbear laughing heartily.

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Thursday 17 November 1836

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

Novr 17th We have now been some days at Holdfast Bay, so named by Light in consequence of the excellent holding ground afforded here for shipping; and all hands are employed in erecting tents, building huts, and landing goods & cargo – but an account of my residence here does not fall naturally into this paper, for this is a narrative of my voyage to S. Australia, & not of my residence in it. The landing, & first impressions of South Australia as a place of abode is an epoch worthy of another chapter. I may however add in relation to the ship which brought me here that in consequence of the very high character, I, in unison with others of the passengers have given her, & her Captain, that Col Light has engaged her in the first instance to bring sheep & oxen to the Colony for the use of the Surveying party, & afterwards on a monthly charter to assist him in the Survey, & other public service.

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Friday 18 November 1836

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

9 p.m. Friday, 18th November.

An idle day, the tools being still in use by the surveying party. I shot a few quails yesterday which with those of yesterday will make us a nice pudding – a thing not to be sneezed at in this infant Colony, especially as we are getting tired of kangaroo which as the heat of the weather increases gets poor and rank. This afternoon I cleaned my gun, smoked and read and am now going to bed, leaving the gentlemen surveyors to sup off roasted potatoes of Kangaroo Island growth.

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Saturday 19 November 1836

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

19 November-Employed on board arranging with Captain Duff to proceed to Hobart Town for stock, &c. The following is an extract from my letter of the same date to the Commissioners: I have also entered into an agreement with Captain Duff, to go to Hobart Town for sheep, oxen, &c. &c. The sheep to be fattened and killed here, and sold to all who are not entitled to rations, at a price fixed by Messrs Gouger, Brown, and Gilbert, those who are entitled to rations will get alternate days fresh and salt provisions. This measure I deem highly necessary for the welfare of the colony, for among our men, who have been seven months on salt provisions (and will be nine perhaps before the stock arrives) strong symptoms of scurvy appear-if any get the slightest scratch, he is not cured for a month or six weeks; and I am sorry to observe cases of sore feet and painful swellings occur too frequently. The oxen, withcarts cars complete, are very much wanted-no work can be carried on inland without them, they are indispensable; therefore I should not do my duty to omit sending for them. I am told, some are ordered from the Cape, but when will they arrive? And when they do, there will be work for treble their number-this can never be a loss to the Commissioners, for the purchasers of land will require them also, and for the present we cannot go on without them. In England and other countries where roads are made, houses are found for accommodation, &c. vehicles and animals are allowed for public duties, but in this country, no one knows how impossible it is to work without them, except those on the spot. The number I have sent for are as follows: 800 sheep for fatting and killing, 10 oxen with cars complete, such as are used by the government Surveying. Two men to take charge of the stock, to be engaged on their arrival here, at £3 a month with rations, and a prospect of future advancement as their conduct may deserve. The sale of fresh provisions will, I trust, nearly, if not fully, cover the expense of the ship’s freight. Having now settled everything for the present, I shall get under way and proceed for the creek, taking Mr Kingston with me, and there give him his line of operation, whence I shall proceed to Gulf Spencer, &c. and I am satisfied (if we find nothing better) whatever may appear now more eligible for individual comfort, a few years will make this plain the greatest and most wealthy settlement in the new colony.

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Saturday 19 November 1836

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

Poor Jacob, a good-hearted but unsophisticated companion of ours, is in a peck of trouble having met with a chapter of accidents in the night. About 1 a.m. he came in his shirt and night-cap to my tent to borrow a loaded gun to shoot the other native dog which he said had been several times into his tent. Hardy, who was sleeping in my tent, happened to have his gun loaded and lent it to him. We shortly after heard the report and soon after poor Jacob, muttering to himself, made his appearance quite broken hearted, for lo instead of the native dog, he had killed a favourite little bitch, heavy with pup, belonging to Hardy and to make things worse had broken the borrowed gun and has been obliged to purchase it. His misfortune did not end here for in his flurry he tumbled over, or through, a chair belonging to another Officer. The Ghost of Hamlet is a fool to the figure, long pale Jacob cut on entering our tent in the above-named costume with the moon shining on his white visage and a huge naked sword preceding him at arm’s length all ready for assault and battery.

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Journals from passengers at sea:

Sunday 13 November 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Sunday, Novr 13. Light winds & hazy. Mustered at Divisions. Read
prayers in the wardroom. Communicated with the whaler
“Woodlark”, whose master dined on board. Head S.Ely. Wind Vble.
Noon. Do Wr. Miles run, 71 + 11245 = 11316. Latitude is the distance of a point north or south of the equator as measured in degrees. The poles are at 90 degrees north and south. Lat. 39E55′ So. Longitude is the distance, measured in degrees, of the meridian on which a point lies to the meridian of Greenwich. On the other side of the earth to Greenwich is a point with a longitude of both 180 degrees east and 180 degrees west. Long.
39E44′ Et. P.M. Mode & fine. Tried for soundings with 130 A fathom is a measure of depth in the imperial system. One fathom is equal to six feet or 1.83 metres. fms
no bottom. 6.30. Set studg sails. Woodlark in company.

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Wednesday 16 November 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Wednesday Nov 16 Drew up a Proclamation for our landing, with
especial reference to Lord Glenelg’s benevolent views towards the
Aborigines; & using in fact his Lordship’s own words as I find
them in the Instructions. My wife whose  interest in the Aborigines
is great, thinks it profanation to put such serious language into the
mouth of a swearing & totally irreligious person like the Governor.
Perhaps it is so, but the Proclamation, if not suited to the man,
is to the circumstances of the Colony; & expresses, not his Excellency’s
views certainly, but those of higher principled & better men.

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Friday 18 November 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Friday Nov. 18. Availed ourselves of the advantage of a calm to obtain
several specimens of the sea birds which flock around us. Three species of
the Longipennes family were shot, among which the wandering albatross
(Diomedia exulans) was the finest;  it measured 10 feet 4 inches from
tip to tip of its wings. We had also an opportunity of contrasting the
elegant blue petrel (p. Vittata) with the largest of the tribe (p. gigantea)
& of proving the singular deceptiveness of vision regarding objects seemingly
but a short distance on the water. The albatrosses from the Technically called a stern deck, the poop is an exposed partial deck on the stern (rear) of a ship. It forms the roof of the stern or ‘poop’ cabin. poop though
constantly near enough for us to observe that it was scanning us,
never appeared larger than a goose of moderate size, but when
brought on deck, the least of them far exceeded in bulk & weight
the largest swan we ever saw.

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Friday 18 November 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Friday, Novr 18. Light airs & cloudy. Head E.S.E. Wind Variable.
11. Lowered a boat, & a party of us went a shooting:
returned to the Ship, well loaded with birds, of which eight
were albatrosses, one of which measured between the ex-
tremities of the wings 10 feet 6 inches. Noon. Light airs.
Miles run, 65 + 11896 = 11961. Latitude is the distance of a point north or south of the equator as measured in degrees. The poles are at 90 degrees north and south. Lat. 39E16′ So. Longitude is the distance, measured in degrees, of the meridian on which a point lies to the meridian of Greenwich. On the other side of the earth to Greenwich is a point with a longitude of both 180 degrees east and 180 degrees west. Longe 53E11′ Et.
P.M. Light variable winds & cloudy. Head S.E. 12. Fresh brzes.

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Next week

Light is greatly relieved to discover a safe and commodious harbour, while excursions inland confirm the desirability of settling on the Plains. The Buffalo continues on its way slowly, but the water ration is reduced once more to general complaint.

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