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Week 44 - 'excellent eating': kelp, parrots and a new oven

[ 18th of December 1836 to 24th of December 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 44: The Beginning of a New Colony ]

In South Australia

On 18 December Colonel Light sails the Rapid into the harbour on the Port River with the Tam O’Shanter close behind. It is an emotional moment for Light.  In his mind’s eye he can see this harbour, ‘in a creek that had never before borne the construction of a marine architect’, as it might one day become – ‘the channel of import and export of a great commercial capital.’ It is hard for us now to imagine the scene as he saw it on that mild December day, but his vision for the future is clear. With both ships now safely delivered, he feels it is time to move full time to his ‘work on shore’. On Christmas Eve he walks over the plain to the spot on the River Torrens where Kingston is camped with the surveying party and records again his conviction that this ‘beautiful flat’ is the ideal place for the settlement.  As he returns to the Rapid in the evening he determines to make final arrangements for leaving the ship.

Platycercus Pennantii, Lithograph, John Gould's 'Birds of Australia' 1840-1848

From Gouger’s diary we have further confirmation that Light now sees the site of the ‘chief town as determined’.  With this in mind he has removed to the Port River to complete an accurate survey of the intended harbour. The settlers at Holdfast Bay meanwhile are preoccupied with more prosaic matters – notably diet. All are heartily sick of salt provisions and seek out fresh meat and vegetables wherever they can get them.  They try the local kelp and pronounce it ‘excellent eating somewhat resembling the English spinach’. Gouger also resolves to join others in shooting the local wildlife and returns very satisfied from his expeditions with numerous parrots.  Their beautiful plumage is much admired, but does not save them from the pot. They too are declared ‘excellent eating’.  We can only wonder how many will fall victim to the settlers’ voracious appetites before alternative supplies of meat arrive.

The Thomas family is also busy on the domestic front.  Fifteen year old William constructs what Mary claims is the first  oven in the Colony – built of iron hoops placed in a half circle on the ground and covered with clay which is then baked hard.  This, she says, answers ‘extremely well’, and they manage to bake successful bread, pies and even fresh meat when they can get it.

The settlers continue to observe the customs of several local Aboriginal men who come and go from the encampment with great interest. One evening they perform a ‘corrobboree’, although Gouger records that he ‘was not so fortunate to witness this’.  Once again the Europeans hand out sugar, biscuits and clothing, but they are bemused to find that the Aboriginal men carefully remove these garments before lying down to sleep at night, despite ‘lying in the open air’.

At sea

The Buffalo is at last bearing down on Port Lincoln, although Stevenson continues to grumble about the slow rate of progress. In his diary jottings he implies more than once that this is a deliberate ploy of Hindmarsh’s to ensure that the ship’s carpenter can complete the Governor’s house before they arrive.  Whatever the truth of Stevenson’s claims, the Buffalo has certainly made a very slow passage and does not finally anchor off Port Lincoln until Christmas Eve. Captain Lipson at once comes on board to welcome the Governor and convey Light’s wish that they proceed to Holdfast Bay. He also brings other news – of the two deaths on Kangaroo Island and of Samuel Stephens’ ‘quarrels with his people’. Bad news certainly travels fast! The week ends with both the Buffalo and the Cygnet bound for Holdfast Bay – at last!


Journals from settlers in South Australia:

Sunday 18 December 1836

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

Capt Light arrived here to-day in the “Rapid” from Kangaroo Island. It is impossible for him to speak in more depreciating tones than he does of the land adjacent to Port Lincoln, & of the entrance to the harbour. This being the case he considers the position for the site of the chief town as determined, & has therefore returned to Gulf St Vincent with the full intention of making an accurate survey of the harbor & river 8 miles north of Holdfast Bay. The “Tam O’Shanter” left behind her a considerable quantity of excellent porter. This, with other goods, supplied the first store in the Colony, opened by Mr Thomas. I have not had time for making a garden, but some of my brother Colonists have been disposed thus to work, & have planted potatoes, & a variety of early vegetable seeds, thus in most cases succeed well, & afford the promise of a good crop. We have had good supplies of potatoes from Van Dieman’s Land, & have also eaten a vegetable found by the sea-side which I am told is the “Kelp” from which Manilla is manufactured. The leaves & young shoots, well washed & boiled are excellent eating, somewhat resembling the English Spinach. Another plant (which we have not yet tried) is also said to be palatable & nutritious.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Sunday 18 December 1836

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

At half past nine got under way for the harbour; at six we entered the first reach and came to anchor, and the Tam O’Shanter got under way for the harbour; about eleven she struck on the edge of the western sand spit, after passing the shallowest part, not being sufficiently to windward… On the 22nd, about four p.m. she was hove off, and both ships made sail for the higher part of the harbour, [I] preceding both ships in my A class of net fishing boats used on the Thames estuary. The Rapid’s boat was built specially for the Colonization Commissioners by W.T. Gulliver of Wapping. hatch-boat . It was really beautiful to look back and see two British ships for the first time sailing up between the mangroves, in fine smooth water, in a creek that had never before borne the construction of the marine architect, and which at some future period might be the channel of import and export of a great commercial capital. We anchored for the night about six p.m.; the Tam O’Shanter having taken the mud laid till about midnight, when the flood tide having floated her off, she passed us and brought up till daylight. Having now got both ships up the harbour, I shall leave my narrative of the maritime part of this expedition, and proceed to my work on shore.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Monday 19 December 1836

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

Early this Morng and during Palmers
Watch all our Sheep got out from the Park netting,
but were found during the Day scattered about in every
direction and 3 of them were dead, which no doubt have
been killed by the wild Dogs…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 20 December 1836

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

This day William, then a boy of fifteen, completed an oven which he made of iron hoops fixed in the ground in a half-circle and covered with a thick coating of clay, afterwards burned. It answered exceedingly well and we not only baked bread in it but pies and puddings, and occasionally fresh meat, when we could get it, but that was seldom. This oven was the first constructed in the colony, and remained in its primitive state, as I was told, long after we quitted Glenelg.

About this time we also built a rush hut a short distance from our tents for the better accommodation of part of our family, but they had not long occupied it before everything was suddenly ordered to be cleared out to make room for the printing-press, in order to print the Proclamation of the Colony. In this place, about twelve feet square, the first printing in South Australia was produced…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 20 December 1836

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

Being tired of salt meat & hearing constantly of the success of my neighbours in shooting, I determined to sally forth in search of game, & succeeded beyond my most sanguine expectations. I brought home after about 4 hours shooting yesterday 17 parrots & to-day after 2 hours walking bagged – no not bagged but suspended to a cord round my neck 12 parrots & parrokeets which proved excellent eating. The plumage of some of these birds is of extraordinary beauty & would have fetched a very high price in England. I never saw such plumage before.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Wednesday 21 December 1836

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

Both Yestdy and to Day have been employ’d
Shearing the Wedder Sheep, and afterwards rubbing them
as likewise all the others with boil’d Tobacco, they being very
much affected with the Scab   ______

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Thursday 22 December 1836

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

Out shooting again with similar success. The 2 natives who were brought into the settlement on Decr 1st by Mr Williams remained with him about a week performing a variety of work & conducting themselves in a satisfactory manner, but suddenly left without assigning any reason. They however returned last Sunday bringing with them 4 others. They visited the different huts, receiving from each presents of sugar, biscuits etc. At night they had a “corrobboree” or native dance, but I was not so fortunate to witness this. The custom of these natives appear to differ from those of N. S. Wales, for instance the ceremony of knocking out a front tooth on the attainment of manhood is not enforced here, not one of the natives who have visited us having undergone the operation. Presents of clothes were given them, which they much valued & wore all day, but removed dust & dirt from them at night & (though lying in the open air) folded them up for a pillow!

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 23 December 1836

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

Fresh breezes & fine. Wind Easterly variable.
1.30. Ships could not sail directly into the wind, but they could sail across it at an angle. So, to move forward in the direction of the wind they set a zigzag course, sailing across the wind at alternating angles. That procedure was called tacking. Tacked . 6.40. Tacked. 8. Mode & fine. Miles run,
100 + 16075 = 16175. 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. Late 35E21′ 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 135E45′. Et.
P.M. Light winds & fine. 1. Tacked. 3. Wind ESE.
Set Studding sails were set outside the square sails in fine weather and with a fair wind. Their head was fastened to a short yard hoisted to the end of the upper yard and their foot extended by a boom slid out from the lower yard. They took their name, such as main topmast studding sail, from the adjacent sail. studg sails . 6.30. To reduce sail by taking it in. Shortened sail . Wind very light. Sent
a boat ahead to The action or process of measuring the depth of water with a sounding line, a line marked at intervals of fathoms and weighted at one end. A fathom is a unit of length equal to 6 feet (1.83 metres). sound , running to the No between Williams’s
island & Thistle island. 10. Passed Williams’s island. A fine
moonlight night. Standing up towards Port Lincoln: Going
about 1 knot. Struck a porpoise with the harpoon, & haul-
-ed him in. Ate a piece of him (not bad.) 12. Light airs.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 24 December 1836

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

Walked over the plain to that part of the river where Mr Kingston had pitched his tent, with a small party of the surveying labourers. My first opinions with regard to this place became still more confirmed by this trip; having traversed over nearly six miles of a beautiful flat, I arrived at the river, and saw from this a continuation of the same plain for at least six miles more to the foot of the hills under Mount Lofty, which heights trending to the sea in a south-westerly direction were there terminated about four or five miles south of the camp ground at Holdfast Bay, affording an immense plain of level and advantageous ground for occupation. Having settled some matters for future proceedings with Mr Kingston, I left him and returned to the brig at six p.m., to make arrangements for finally leaving the ship.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Journals from passengers at sea:

Sunday 18 December 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Moderate & fine. Made sail. Head E.N.E.
Wind S.Wly. Performed Divine Service, & christened
Henry Walker, born on board…

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Wednesday 21 December 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Yesterday we made Cape Wiles; & find it to be to
the Windward is the direction from which the wind is coming. Leeward is the opposite direction, away from the wind. leeward of our course to Port Lincoln. All accounts agree that
the easterly & south easterly winds prevail in this quarter during
the months of December, January & February. To have kept out therefore
with the westerly wind we had before making land, till we were to the
eastward of our haven was what any experienced seaman would
have done; but the turning lathe & carpenters work for his house
are yet unfinished – so we have got right into the south-east wind
where we are likely to be for a week or two. Our Captain does not like
the name of Cape Catastrophe the leading point for Port Lincoln,
he has been endeavouring to pick out a less fearful one, & I have
suggested Cape Flinders after the name of the discoverer of South
Australia who with the modesty of true genius, bestowed his own
name only on a small rock I believe to the westward. Our Governor
intends to immortalize many of our most glorious naval victories
such as Aboukir, Trafalgar, Camperdown, the Nile, &c, by naming
places in S. Australia after them. He has also selected the names of
several admirals & Captains who are likewise to be held in ever-
-lasting remembrance by the same means – Nelson, Duncan,
Newcombe, & Hindmarsh are among the number – We lay to at
about seven leagues from the shore instead of standing in for a
start in the morning so that there is no chance of doing any thing
unless the breeze should freshen. A far more magnificent & glorious sky
to-night than ever we saw or conceived. A double rainbow with the full
moon rising in the centre; clouds of violet & silver: on the opposite side
the sun setting in majesty mid clouds of every hue, from darkest
masses to the scarcely perceptible shade. “These are thy works Parent of Good”.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 23 December 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

For the last three evenings we have neared the land
just in time to be too late to proceed; & we have regularly Ships could not sail directly into the wind, but they could sail across it at an angle. So, to move forward in the direction of the wind they set a zigzag course, sailing across the wind at alternating angles. That procedure was called tacking. tacked &
stood out to sea a sufficient distance to occupy the whole day in returning.
The breeze however is a little fresher this evening & we shall probably
go on. Our worthy captain has been openly bragging of having imposed
upon the Commissioners by telling them of a 90 or 100 days passage;
while he says that he knew all along, & in fact told Mrs Hindmarsh,
at Portsmouth, that we should not be at Port Lincoln before
December 22 (yesterday) “For,” said he, (I record the words) “If I had
said a longer time to them, I should not have been able to get the
Buffalo” !! So our precious Governor feels no scruple in telling, & no
shame in avowing that he has told a gross falsehood on a point of the
last importance to the welfare of the Colony! What may we not expect in
the way of imposition after this?

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 24 December 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

At ½ past 4 this morning we were off Cape Donnington;
& at 9 perceived the Cygnet at anchor in Spalding Cove. Capt. Lipson
came on board & announced that Jones’s Harbour in the Gulph of
St. Vincent is considered a desirable spot for our metropolis. Colonel
Light’s letter speaks in glowing terms of the place, & of the whole eastern shore
of the Gulph, which he compares to Devonshire. All the vessels that preceded
us but the Tam o’Shanter have arrived safe & well. The only accident reported
has happened to the surgeon & another young man in the Africaine, who
are said to have perished, at least they have been lost in a mad attempt
to walk from the western shore of Kangaroo Island to Nepean Bay on
the north eastern side. Heard rather bad accounts of the proceedings of
Mr Stephens the Company’s Manager at Nepean Bay, who has
been involved in some quarrels with his people. This we hope is exaggerated;
if not, the circumstance is deeply to be lamented, as on the prudent
management of the Company’s affairs here depends in a great
measure the success of the Colony. We are told that supplies are already
abundant from Van Diemen’s Land. Landed with the Governor,
Fisher & Lipson at the head of Spalding Cove. The land does not
appear good; it is covered with scrubby wood, & there is no water to
be found. Picked up some specimens of lime-stone & feld spar. The
rocks were chiefly a conglomerate stone in which there is a difference in colour between the pebbles and the matrix pudding stone; the tea-tree of New Holland
growing in great abundance & a variety of the
samphire plant. The shells were very numerous, & the cuttle fish in
great plenty. It was determined to take the Cygnet with us to
show us our way & the Captain accordingly ordered her to follow us, which
she did; so Port Lincoln has been left without any one to warn the
Other ships had already left England bringing more immigrants, bound for South Australia ships expected from England where to go should they arrive in Spalding
Cove ere a boat’s crew can be sent back to keep a look out, & give
information to all comers of our ultimate locality. This arrangement
is quite of a piece with all the others.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 24 December 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Light winds & fine. Running up towards
Port Lincoln. 8. To ‘heave to’ is to reduce a ship’s sails and adjust them so they counteract each other and stop the ship making progress. It is a safety measure used to deal with strong winds. Hove to, Boston island, N.W. 2 miles.
8.30. Filled, working into Spalding Cove. Saw the Cygnet
at anchor there. Captn Lipson came on board us at 10.
Captn Hindmarsh went to the Cygnet & on shore. Stood off
to sea. Fresh breezes & fine. Having run about 16200 miles.
P.M. Mode & fine. South. Captain H. came on board. Soon after
Cygnet joined company. 9. A fine clear night. We were
nearly ashore on a small low island not down in the
chart. Employed working between the various islands.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Next week

The Buffalo anchors off Holdfast Bay and George Stevenson has his moment of glory - reading the Governor’s first Proclamation. After the solemnities are over everyone settles in to party. There will be some sore heads the next morning!

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2 Responses to “Week 44 – ‘excellent eating’: kelp, parrots and a new oven”

  1. Julie January 3, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    What a fabulous series! Well done HistorySA.

    • Allison January 3, 2012 at 9:12 am #

      Thanks, Julie! Glad you’ve enjoyed it.

      Cheers
      Allison

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