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Week 42 - the scourge of scurvy

[ 4th of December 1836 to 10th of December 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 42: Numeracy Onboard ]

In South Australia

By 4 December Colonel Light has managed to sail to Port Lincoln.  His next challenge is to manoeuvre into the harbour, which he finally manages after a ‘great deal of trouble’. There he meets up with the Cygnet and with Captain Lipson, who has been waiting on the arrival of Governor HindmarshLight is surprised and disappointed to find the Governor has not yet arrived. Lipson is evidently enthusiastic about the potential of Port Lincoln as a site for the colonial capital, but Light is unimpressed.  He thinks the approach to the harbour too dangerous for merchant ships and speculates that many would be lost if it was selected.  In a long despatch to the Commissioners he sets out his reasons in detail, comparing the anchorage at Port Lincoln with the alternative on Gulf Saint Vincent.  On inspecting the land inshore from Port Lincoln he is equally unimpressed with its immediate prospects, and decides to waste no more time in exploring the hinterland. By 7 December he is underway again, anxious to resume his survey.

Basket of Potatoes, Vincent van Gogh, 1885

In his report to the Commissioners Light is also anxious to justify his decision to send to Hobart for supplies of fresh food. He worries that the workers are showing signs of A disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, characterized by swollen bleeding gums and the opening of previously healed wounds. scurvy and that many are unable to work as a consequence.  Dr Woodforde is equally concerned, but is lucky to get hold of some potatoes from a passing sealing ship.  He orders a distribution to the labourers.

Back at Holdfast Bay the settlers have another close brush with fire, and Mary Thomas is struck once again by the speed with which grass fires can spread in the dry conditions.  They are forced to beat out the flames with boughs and only just manage to save their tents. Several days later a neighbour is not so lucky and his tent burns down. Fires are also burning all around the little settlement at Rapid Bay, although Woodforde believes that these are not accidental blazes, ‘it being the season at which the natives set fire to the grass’.

At sea

George Stevenson and James Hurtle Fisher continue to do daily battle with Governor Hindmarsh.  They seem to disagree on just about every detail. But this week the Governor is particularly displeased to learn (from Stevenson) that, contrary to assumption, he does not have the power to choose the capital. This rests ‘solely and exclusively’ with Light. Hindmarsh reputedly responds that ‘he does not give a – for any order of the Commissioners and he would fix the seat of Government where he pleased.  It was only his private confidence in Col. Light’s discretion that would lead him to submit to his decision.’ Here we see the seeds of future conflict between Light and Hindmarsh, although at this stage they remain friends.


Journals from settlers in South Australia:

Sunday 4 December 1836

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

4 December-After many shifts of wind, sudden gusts, and a great deal of trouble, we came to an anchor at ten a.m. in seven fathoms water, under Grantham’s Island; the Cygnet was seen at anchor in the bight of the Harbour; at eleven Captain Lipson came on board and remained with us about an hour; he spoke most highly of this harbour and the land, and thought there could be no doubt of its being the best situation for the capital. I certainly was much pleased to find we had so many good places in this part of the world, for should this prove the fittest place for the capital, still the eastern shore of Gulf Saint Vincent would always be an extensive corn and grazing country; however, it was determined we should go on shore together and examine it; we had strong gusts of wind with occasional rain all the afternoon. I will now insert a copy of my letter the Commissioners:
Brig Rapid, Port Lincoln,
5 December, 1836.
Gentlemen…
The necessity of getting fresh provisions increases daily: at Rapid Valley nine labourers out of fifteen are hardly able to do any thing from caused by scurvy scorbutic sores on their feet and ankles; another has a finger which I fear must eventually come off having pricked it with a fish bone; one of my boat’s crew on 26 November hurt his fingers between two pigs of ballast, and his hand is now so bad that I much fear he will suffer some months; and out of a small ship’s company there are five with swelled feet and ankles, besides a number at Holdfast Plain suffering from the same cause. These cases will, I hope, convince the Commissioners that I have only acted for the best in sending for fresh stock from Hobart Town.

The Cygnet had been sent here from Gulf Saint Vincent with Captain Lipson, to await the arrival of the Governor, and I was sorry on our arrival yesterday at seeing the Cygnet at anchor alone, for I was full of hopes that by this time the Governor had arrived. It is very odd that every time I write I have to report the bad state of the weather; it has been blowing hard occasionally since 26 November, and now a perfect gale, with thick rainy weather. I am decidedly of opinion that Port Lincoln is no harbour for merchant ships; looking at it as a port for men of war well-manned, plenty of boats, &c. it is very well; it is capacious, and there is excellent holding ground, but the strong gusts of wind shifting all round compass renders the entrance not altogether so safe as the plan of it on paper would indicate. When Captain Lipson came here in the Cygnet, they had fine light easterly breezes all the way; we, however, found that coming into this harbour was more troublesome than anything we have met with since our arrival in South Australia.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Sunday 4 December 1836

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

The heat is again oppressive having had yesterday and today one of the hot northerly winds which appear to be very frequent. A sealing cutter anchored in our Bay and disposed of a ton and a half of potatoes to us with chease (Colonial) and mutton and bird’s eggs which are very fine. I have today recommended a distribution of potatoes to the labourers as they are showing a disposition to scurvy. We were alarmed last night by observing a light in the offing which had the appearance of a vessel on fire, but which from not altering its bearing we were happily convinced was a conflagration on the opposite side of the Gulf. For the last week we have had fires on all sides of us, it being the season at which the natives set fire to the grass.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Sunday 4 December 1836

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

This day, about noon, a labourer a short distance from us accidentally set fire to the grass while lighting his own fire. The flames approached us so rapidly that we were all employed with boughs and water to keep them off our tents, or they would certainly have been burnt down. A bush at the back of the largest, where a hen was sitting, actually caught fire, and the bird’s tail was singed. I saved her, however, by throwing a pail of water over her, and notwithstanding her drenching the hen remained quietly on her nest. The flames then ran along the grass to a neighbour’s hut, and all our united efforts were required to prevent it becoming a prey to the devouring element. This was really no joke, and a few days after a tent not far distant was accidentally burnt down, but, I believe, without the fire doing any material damage otherwise.

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Monday 5 December 1836

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

Mr Beare accomp’d by a lot of People, arrd
this Morng to take away the Stock &c, but on Acct of the very
high Wind that was then blowing, they only took away a few
Stores, this leaving the Sheep to hunger another Day.

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Monday 5 December 1836

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

5 December-At eight a.m. we reached in between Boston Island and Cape Donington; at this moment the gusts of wind were so strong we were obliged To [take] in The topgallant mast (pronounced and sometimes written t’gallant) is the mast immediately above the topmast, or an extension of the topmast. See ships’ rigging for further discussion.top-gallant sails, lower the topsails on the caps, up courses, and downA triangular sail carried on a rope stay running between the foremast and the jib boom, an extension of the bowsprit. jib. A merchant vessel bound for this port not expecting anything like this after a long passage, may here have her rigging rather slack and not think it necessary to set it up before coming into so fine an harbour; a ship thus situated would have most certainly been dismasted, gone on shore, and on a rocky coast. Trading vessels coming here must anchor at least one mile from the shore, and then landing goods is by no means easy. I much doubt the safety of Gulf Spencer altogether, whether the season of the year was better when Flinders and the French navigators were here I cannot say, but from the little I have seen I think if this be the principal port many ships will be lost.

I will now compare the two Gulfs:

GULF SPENCER
1st.The mouth of the Gulf has many obstructions by rocky Islands and Reefs, and during the prevalence of the westerly gales a most tremendous sea must be thrown there if we may judge by the high swell we had in crossing it in fine weather.
2nd. (Query) Can a strange ship, making Thistle Island, Wedge Island, or any other part just before dark, and a gale coming on, with thick weather, shape her course and run without danger into the Gulf? I say no, for the winds may, and most likely would shift from one direction to another baffle at the most critical part, that is, between two Islands; her safest plan therefore would be to run for Investigator’s Straits if she could fetch it, if not, she must lay to, and the flood tide in such case being much stronger, she might be drifted into a very unsafe situation. If unfortunately she should be driven upon any of the rocks or shoals it would be destruction to all.
3rd. Port Lincoln is certainly a fine capacious harbour, but a great part of it is open to the N.E. and the mouth of it is surrounded, as the chart will show, by islands and reefs, and if we had so much trouble in getting in, and sudden shifting gusts of winds at this season of the year, what may we expect in winter. The westerly gales that would bring a ship up to its mouth would prevent its getting in, when there, and she runs, as I said before, great risk of carrying away her masts.
4th. Merchant vessels after getting in must land their cargoes at a distance of one or two miles from the ships; and in blowing weather, would not be able to land them at all-and I believe it blows hard full half the year round. From what I have seen these two days here, nothing could have been landed even if lighters were prepared, therefore I have reason to say that in this port many days in the year would be entirely lost to trading vessels.

GULF SAINT VINCENT
1st. There are no obstructions whatever, and it is certainly much more sheltered from westerly winds than Gulf Spencer.
2nd. If a ship be bound to Gulf Saint Vincent she would make the land at the S.W. end of Kangaroo Island, or go the other passage, in either case a westerly gale coming on she is soon out of danger and under shelter. In the next place should the vessel be at the mouth of Gulf Saint Vincent when a gale comes on, she may steer right up the Gulf even in the night by compass, and the farther she goes the less sea she will have, and finally may let go her anchor in seven, six, five, four, or three A fathom is a measure of depth in the imperial system. One fathom is equal to six feet or 1.83 metres. fathoms water, where, if well found in ground tackle she will most likely ride out well (I speak this from experience), and should even the last disaster happen of going ashore, lives and property would be saved, and most likely the ship herself.
3rd. The harbour in Gulf Saint Vincent is long and more like a river, and sheltered from every wind. The heaviest gale from any quarter can never hurt; and when the entrance is properly buoyed down there is no difficulty whatever; but the material point in favour of this harbour is that in Gulf Saint Vincent there is no fear from any winds except westerly from N.W. to S.W., and these are all fair to run into the harbour with, the only fault is that ships must wait for the tide; but with two of the mud vessels for deepening channels, the shallow parts could easily be made free for ships drawing from 16 to 18 feet water, as they extend but a short distance, and over these shallow parts there is now three A fathom is a measure of depth in the imperial system. One fathom is equal to six feet or 1.83 metres. fathoms at high water, spring tides.
4th. In the harbour above Holdfast Bay a ship once in may lay alongside a wharf when it is erected, and until that time land her cargo in boats in perfectly smooth water, in the heaviest gale, and not one day lost in any season of the year.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 6 December 1836

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

…Unfortunately 2 of our So Down
Ewes, and 1 Leicester Ewe died this Morng, which I can
attribute to no other cause but the want of substantial Food,
for the Grass they have been living upon since Thursday last
is so Dry & burnt by the Sun, that very little nourishment
indeed, can be obtain’d from it, and several of our Sheep
have become uncommonly Weak in consequence of being so
long confined on such miserable stuff, as we hourly expect
the Boats arrival ever since that Day, to take them from
this place of starvation.

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Tuesday 6 December 1836

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

6 December-Went on shore with Captain Lipson, Mr Morphett, and Mr Pullen; Captain Lipson had before told me the land here was rich and abundant. We landed at the S.E. end of the port, and walked in a southerly direction for some distance, until we could plainly see the ocean; but I was much disappointed at finding nothing but hard rocks and she-oak. After looking about for some time, we descended into the plain at the head of the Gulf, and here we found some tolerable land, but only in small patches, and some pools of fresh water-high hills surrounding the plain, which might be about four miles in circumference, but in which I do not suppose there were a thousand acres of tolerable land; at the bight a sand runs out a long way, and on the southern side a bed of flat stone extends into the harbour for nearly half a mile. I was much disappointed altogether with the place; at five p.m. we returned on board. I must decidedly say it cannot be thought of as a first settlement; some years hence it may be made a valuable sea port, but can only be after the colony has increased considerably.

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Wednesday 7 December 1836

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

7 December-It was my intention to have gone on shore this day and examine the other side of the port, but after looking attentively with a good glass and comparing the appearance of the country on both sides, I found them so exactly of the same nature that I determined on running for Spalding Cove, and search for fresh water. No settlement of any extent could be formed here for many years; the hills sloping down to the water’s edge, and the want of fresh water, are impediments that could not be got over without ruining the first settlers…

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Friday 9 December 1836

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

We left Kingscote early Yestdy Morng and
arrd in Rapid Bay this Eveng, at which place 9 Wedder
Sheep were landed for Colnel Light. One of the Leicester
Ewes died Yestdy and a Merino Ewe is uncommonly Weak

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Friday 9 December 1836

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

9 December–Moderate and cloudy… At ten we got under way, and meeting with almost as much trouble in getting out as we did in coming in, we were at last drifted so far to the southward as to oblige us to run for an anchorage under Taylor’s Island. (I insert here a short extract from my letter written this evening to the Commissioners.)

Got under way to return to Gulf Saint Vincent and prosecute my survey there, for I have been considering much of this Gulf, and think it best to give it up entirely for the present, for should there be a good harbour and good soil higher up, yet the dangers that surround the entrance are too many for a new colony, if any other equally good can be found, and the prospects on the eastern side of Gulf Saint Vincent are so promising that I do not like losing more time here.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Journals from passengers at sea:

Sunday 4 December 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Our chaplain ill – worried to death by the proceedings
of our gentlemanly mess towards his wife & family. In consequence
we had no service. The sermon of good Dr Wilson Soder and Man is a diocese of the Church of England (Sodor & Man) edified
us in the morning & one of Jeremy Taylor in the evening – so that
except in the public observance of the sabbath which is here a
mockery, we were no losers…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 9 December 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

This morning Mr Fisher & I had a characteristic
scene with the Governor. The latter has always impressed upon me that
it was his right to fix the site of the Capital, & till I saw Colonel Light’s
instructions I believed this to be the case. Undeceived, I was determined
not to be played upon with impunity & accordingly I told the Governor
in Mr Fisher’s presence that  he had misled me, and was himself al-
-together mistaken; that I had read the Commissioners Instructions to
the Surveyor General, & the fact was that it rested solely & exclusively
upon Col. Light’s responsibility to fix the site of Adelaide. The polite &
dignified remark in answer was that “he did not care a — for any
order of the Commissioners & he would fix the seat of Government
where he pleased. It was only his private confidence in Col. Light’s
discretion that would lead him to submit to his decision: he had
Lord Glenelg’s authority for all this, & for setting the Commissioners
at defiance”. I doubt this; & indeed have no further confidence
in the truth of any thing he says But for the consideration my family
& their interests demand I should not remain an hour in my present
position. It seems more & more desirable that the Governor’s powers
should be defined strictly, or some strange antics we shall have; –
but it is far more to be wished that in selecting an individual for
the high office he fills, care had been taken to find a gentleman of
common sense who had little occasion for other brains than his own
& who would despise to lay his own follies entirely upon the shoulders
of honorable men. On 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 watching the sun going down, the
Captain observing to Margaret “They that go down to the sea in ships”
she, unintentionally perhaps but not inappropriately continued the
quotation “they reel to & fro & stagger like a drunken man & are at
their wit’s end”. He replied “You may be at your wit’s end, Mrs S,
but it will not do for me to be at mine, I shall have employment
enough for them!” Margaret thought of Wordsworth I suppose for she
quoted half-aside, “Good help thee silly one!”.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 10 December 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Received back from his Excellency the legislation acts
I had prepared, with his amendments in pencil. They are more
curious than numerous & I hope some of them may survive that the
higher powers may see what a clever fellow the Governor is. One
instance of his ability in the science will suffice. To maintain as
much as possible the faith of contracts with labourers, I had laid
a heavy penalty upon any one employing a servant knowingly,
during the unexpired period of his engagement with another. The
Governor had interpolated the words “or hiring” and forgot that
he had done so I presume, as he found mighty fault with the
clause & proceeded at great length to expound the gross injustice of
punishing any man for hiring a servant under such circum-
-stances. I agreed with him entirely; but remarked that no such
provision existed in the measure as I had prepared it. He main-
-tained that it did, & though satisfying him that the interpolation
was in his own hand-writing settled the dispute, he had the
candour – not to acknowledge his error – oh no! he never dreams of
being wrong even in his most outrageous absurdities – but to say
that it was a point that for the moment slipt his memory on which
his principal objection to the clause rested. He would however retain
the draft till he remembered it. He did so; & I have this evening
had it returned with the words “or hiring” carefully rubbed out! The
“principal objection” remains in abeyance.

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Saturday 10 December 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Saturday, Decr 10. Fresh breezes & fine. Head E.b N. Wind West
Employed cleaning ship: bent The old term for the left hand side of a ship looking forward. The right hand side is starboard. To avoid mis-hearing an order, it is now referred to as ‘port’. larboard chain cable.
Miles run, 181 + 14680 = 14861. 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. 36E5′ 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 114E25′ Et.
P.M. Mode & cloudy. No bottom 100 fms of line at 11.30.

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Next week.

Colonel Light outlines his reasons for preferring Holdfast Bay and Port Adelaide over Encounter Bay for the initial settlement, while the emigrants at Holdfast Bay watch anxiously for the arrival of the Buffalo.

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