Thursday, 19 September 2013

A report onto the recent appearance of a party of natives in the Holdfast Bay camp. 29th January 1837

Great was the excitement this week when a group of natives - most as naked as the day they were born - appeared amongst the tents and huts at Holdfast Bay.

I have spoken with the settlers involved and have prepared this written report describing how this came about.

The incident began some days earlier when it was discovered that the horses had disappeared. There being only two horses in the colony at present - one belonging to the Company and one belonging to old Swankpot Morphett - it was of a fairly pressing urgency that they be recovered. All and sundry were kept busy running about the plains with lumps of sugar in the hopes of bringing back the nags, the which provided great and diverting entertainment, but little result..

A search party decided to head South, the horses having been seen heading in that direction. The party consisted of: Charlie Stuart (who revels in the company title of "Overseer of Stock" and is hence in charge of some sheep, some pigs and innumerable chickens) ; Henry Alford; and a sealer named "Nat" as a guide. He had, he claimed, been through the area. They were joined by Freddy Allen, who wished to collect plants for his gardening ventures. A strange idea it seems to me, but to each his own.

They took with them some rations and two bottles of water each. Of course, the day was hot and before too long they had emptied the bottles and had nothing left to drink. They struggled on manfully up and over the line of hills to the South. 

Late in the afternoon they reached a line of sandhills which Nat, who had been of no use at all so far, suddenly recognised. "Just over these sandhills there is a river mouth with native springs." he said.

He was, as it happens, quite correct. In fact the party may have wished that he wasn't, because not only were there native springs, but also a native camp and a considerable number of natives of all ages and sexes.

Before the party could scarper the natives spotted them and a group - men, women and children - ran towards them with much noise and shouting. Several men with spears gave a great yell and came to the front of the group.

Stuart says he was unsure whether the natives were threatening or welcoming. Alford says he was glad he was wearing brown trousers. Nat the sealer offered the advice that on the full moon the natives came to the river mouth to fish, advice which the others felt he could, perhaps, have offered about fifteen minutes earlier.

The natives approached and Allen, who can be, to tell the truth, a bit of a pompous arse, kept gibbering on about "being prepared to die like men". I think he was wishing that he could be at home, potting up some seedlings. One who the men took to be the leader began to address them in what seemed like a friendly and interested manner. 

Allen, like the arse he is, stepped up and began to address the natives on the aims and principles of the colony and begged their forgiveness for trespassing on native land.

The thing Allen had forgotten was that the natives had no idea what he was saying and when he realised this he just started again, only louder, in the common, but foolish delusion that volume and comprehension are interchangeable.

Allen was just sailing into a description of the life and times of Gibbon Wakefield when the native leader clearly came to a decision. He might not have understood what Allen was saying , but he certainly understood that he could be ignored, because he pushed past him and stepped up to Stuart. The native removed Stuart's hat and ran his fingers through his hair, opened his shirt to inspect his pale skin, felt the fabric of his jacket and trousers and lifted up his foot to examine his boot.

He then turned to the others and gave them a similar inspection. Alford was, apparently, too terrified to object or even move as the native leader gave him the once over, but Allen, like a fool, was most offended and let it be known that he “was not used to such undignified treatment and the native's interference with his person was not to be tolerated”. Imbecile!

The party had taken a hunting dog with them and the natives showed a great fear of him as he growled and barked at them. Alford had the good sense to chain the dog to a nearby tree and the natives were all smiles again.

Then they discovered the salt pork within the party's bags and were much taken with the pork belly fat which they ate with great delight.

Nat the sealer then said to the natives “Cow – ee” which was, he assured the others, the native word for “water” - but the natives seemingly ignored him in preference to demanding - by signs – to see the fowling-piece Stuart had brought with him.

Stuart fired the gun into the air, which impressed the natives greatly, but did not offer to reload before the natives tried to fire it. When the gun produced no second great flash and noise the natives dropped the gun onto the sand in disgust and, repeating the word “Cow-ee” motioned the party to follow them. Allen, of course, started blathering about how they were being led to their doom, and how the natives would slit their throats at the first opportunity, but in fact the natives simply took them to the nearby springs in the sandhills where the thirsty men drank their fill.

The men made camp at the springs, building themselves a crude shelter from boughs, and settled down for their dinner. Before much time had passed they had lit a fire and boiled water for tea when an old native woman arrived bearing a sheet of bark loaded with cooked fish which the men fell upon hungrily. Even then the fool Allen decided that the natives were cannibals and were fattening them up ready for a meal, like the wicked witch in a fairy tale

To add to his terrors, just as the men settled down to sleep there was a great cry from the direction of the native camp and a great flare of firelight glowed. Allen knew his time had come and that he was next on the menu when a group of native men appeared in the midst of their camp. Expecting each moment to be his last the damned fool cowered in the shadows until the others realised what the natives wanted. They were there to offer them an invitation to join in with the natives fire and celebration.

They found themselves fed, watered, entertained with dances and made a fuss over by the women and the children. Even their dog seemed content and curled up and went to sleep.

The next morning Stuart woke before the others and took time to survey the lay of the land near their camp. He saw a fine river winding back towards the hills through marshy meadows. The water was covered with a multitude of black swans and ducks and it was the work of moments for Stuart to unchain his dog and take his fowling piece down to hunt. He had already shot one bird and the dog was retrieving it when he was suddenly joined by two native men armed with throwing sticks and before long they had joined in a scene that would not be out of place on any fishing river in England – three men hunting together, and sharing their time in pleasantries. Stuart demonstrated how he hunted with gun and dog and the natives showed Stuart the art of the throwing stick. Stuart tried his hand and his complete lack of skill was the source of great hilarity for the two native. The natives also invented a sport of trying to beat the dog to any duck that Stuart shot and fell about themselves with laughter each time they failed.

As pleasant as the time was, Stuart and his new friends made their way back to the native camp where Stuart distributed the ducks, giving the native leader and the old woman who brought them the fish the best of them.

When he returned to his own camp Allen, that most nervous of Nellys, was beside himself. The men had awoken and found him gone and immediately Allen feared the worst. And so while Stuart was having a delightful early morning of duck hunting, Allen and Alford, the silly sods, were hiding in their tent waiting for the King of the Cannibals to pop in and see which of them was on the menu for lunch.

Their mood was hardly improved by Stuart's laughter at the foolishness of it all, nor by his description of the delightful time that he did have. Even after a good breakfast their were still some hot tempers in the camp.

Nat the sealer at this point suggested that they have a swim to cool themselves and their tempers and all thought this advisable. And so they stripped themselves of clothes and dived into the river. Almost immediately they were joined by a group of native children and young men and after a pleasant hour romping and splashing in the cool water all ill feeling was forgotten.

As they were dressing on the river bank (an activity that caused much astonishment amongst the natives, whose custom it was to wear a minimum of accoutrements and count their nakedness to be “just the style”) Alford noticed the track of a horse hoof in the mud. On seeing it one of the native boy went down on all fours and gave a perfect impersonation of a galloping horse.

There was much excited chatter amongst the natives and then they signed to the men to follow them. The group of natives led them over to a spot by the river where tracks showed that the horses had been there two or three days. The natives signalled that the horses had moved on and Stuart decided that it was pointless to try and follow them further a decision which, to me, seems to make a complete dog's breakfast of the entire affair.

What was the point of traipsing over the hills and far away to find these damned horses if at the first sign of them you decide that it's all a bit hard and you'd rather go home? Damned silliness it seems to me.

That being so the men headed back to camp and the next morning struck out for home Many of the natives accompanied them as they went. Observing Allen's interest in plants, several of the natives collected and gave him interesting specimens.

When they reached the top of the hills overlooking the plain, in the distance the natives spotted, for the first time it seems, the ships moored at Holdfast Bay. There was much excitement amongst the natives and a group of men went with Stuart's party, the rest lagging behind, clearly unsure of what might happen.

After a time they reached the tents on the Paddy Will Linger where I met them and greeted them. It being warm weather the native men were wearing nothing but a belt of string made from some twisted jute or fur that they used to hold a throwing stick. For the sake of modesty they had an arrangement not unlike a Scotch sporran, also made from string, hanging in front. This covered to some extent the more delicate areas, although, as my sister Anne remarked, you didn't have to try too hard to see past it.

I ordered some to fetch Gilbert and have him draw some trousers and shirts from store and give them to the natives and the Marines took them in hand to make them fit for society. I wonder if I was the only one who appreciated the irony of the Marines, who are mostly unfit for society, giving lessons in etiquette?

I offered our guests a meal, of which salt pork, along with some sugar, was again their favourite. The Marines offered them tobacco, which they declined, and rum, which the Marines also proffered, was rejected firmly.

It being clear that the trousers and the shirts were not to their liking, I ordered that these be exchanged for blankets and they soon returned to their naked state, with their modesty preserved by swathes of Navy Blue wool.

What thoughts were going through the natives' heads I could not say, but they took everything in their stride, in a calm and dignified manner, almost like the Stoics of old. The only time they seemed to become excited and even mystified was when they saw a young girl carrying a doll made of papier mache. The sight of a small child carrying an even smaller person left them completely flummoxed and who knows what stories they told of it as they headed home?

It seems to me that the natives come out of this pretty damned well. Unannounced, a party of strangers arrive in their midst and the natives, acting like perfect, if under dressed, gentlemen, feed them, entertain them and act as perfect hosts. Stuart is to be commended at his efforts to mix with the natives and his delightful hunting expedition with them is a model for the future.

Allen and Alford, with their talk of cannibals and fearful expectations of doom are a pair of ninnies with not a pinch of good sense between them and deserve sound, firm kicks in the arse. And if they present at Government House between the hours of nine and three I will be delighted to deliver said kicks in arse and will wear my dress boots so they can have them is the proper Vice-Regal manner.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Undated Paper

Editor's note: This undated paper was found between the pages of Hindmarsh's diary and appears to be the words of the "music hall song of a saucy nature" that caused such misery in the early months of the settlement at Kingscote.

No doubt Governor Hindmarsh collected the words (the paper is in an unknown hand) for research purposes. 

Aunt Elsie's Drawers

What goes up the leg
Of my Aunt Elsie's drawers?
It might be mine
Or it might be yours.
Whatever it is it will draw forth applause.
Up the leg of my Aunt Elsie's drawers.

I had an Aunt name of Elsie.
She lived in a cottage in Chelsea.
With no pocket or purse
And to make matters worse
She'd often tell us
In language quite terse.
"I have need of a safe little spot
Somewhere to pop all my nick nacks
Up the leg of my drawers is the shot,
It's like it's a portable bag rack."


Fiddle dee fiddle dee

Whack de falorum
Fiddle dee 
Aunty let's show some decorum

What goes up the leg
Of my Aunt Elsie's drawers?
It might be mine
Or it might be yours.
Whatever it is it will draw forth applause.
Up the leg of my Aunt Elsie's drawers.

Up the leg of her drawers there were kerchiefs and silks
An old London Gazette and a bottle of milk.
Some toffees, a pie
And Uncle's glass eye
All held up inside
By a black lacy tie.
And every time that she'd meet us
She'd smile and she'd wink and she'd nod
Then she'd hoik something out just to treat us
And none of us thought it was odd.


Fiddle dee fiddle dee
Whack de falorum
Fiddle dee 
Aunty let's show some decorum

What goes up the leg
Of my Aunt Elsie's drawers?
It might be mine
Or it might be yours.
Whatever it is it will draw forth applause.
Up the leg of my Aunt Elsie's drawers.

Sunday 29th January, 1837

I have received intelligence regarding the settlement at Kingscote on Kangaroo Island and its progress since July last.

Well, I say "intelligence", but the truth is that where Samuel Stephens is, intelligence is not.

The man is a drunken blot on the landscape, a weeping boil on the backside of humanity. How he managed to be appointed as Company Manager is beyond mortal thought. I can only imagine that a hearty programme of pissing in George Fife Angas's pocket must have paid a healthy dividend.

As manager he has been given wide discretionary powers in the settlement which he has, it seems, interpreted liberally and exercised enthusiastically, The problem appears to be that the Company failed in its obligation to define the limits of his powers and Sam has taken that to mean that they have none.

Heaven knows that there are people who say - unfairly, I believe - that I can be a little high handed. But at least I have credentials from the King. Sam would be lucky to have a ticket stub from the Twickenham Ferry and he carries on like Lord Muck. In point of fact I am told that a few months ago the majority of the settlers at Kingscote were so tired of his carry on they simply downed tools and told him to stick it where the monkey put the nuts. It wasn't until one of the ship's captains stepped in as a peace maker that some semblance of reason and order was brought to bear. A fine manager there!

The less said about his marriage on the journey out the better. Suffice it to say that the woman is old enough to be his mother - my mother, in fact - and comment has been universal. Still, love lies where it does and who is to say other wise? Well, half the colony, apparently,

But his fondness for strong drink, his inability to write a coherent report and his lack of the nous to balance even the simplest ledger mean that he is certainly the least suitable person in the colony to be the Colonial Manager,

He will have to go and I don't doubt that when the reports I and others have written get back to England for Angas to read, then go he will.

Of course Sammy Stephens is just the latest in a long line of oddity centering around Kangaroo Island - or Kanguroo Island as Flinders preferred to spell it, but a few years in a Mauritius prison will do odd things to a man.

It would appear that either the natives did not manage to get across the water to the island or else they did, but later removed themselves, as the island seemed truly uninhabited when settlers first arrived. I have a theory that there were actually natives on the island, but when they saw the quality of the first Europeans they decided the neighbourhood was beyond saving and left. These first settlers were escaped convicts and whalers and you would never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Of all places, Kangaroo Island had the reputation as the most lawless place in Britain's Dominions.

Some ten or so years ago the government in Sydney sent a ship down to the island to round up the scum that hung about there. A thick eared clot by the name of George Sutherland had also gone down there and written a report that painted the place like some sort of land of milk and honey and the Directors of the South Australian Company - some of whom are pretty much thick eared clots themselves - believed every word of it.

So of course when they came to send out the Duke of York with Sammy Stephens on board as Manager they naturally gave him orders to set up a town on Sutherland's paradise.

Which was all very well until they got there and discovered that there was sod all milk and bugger all honey. Water was scarce, the soils were poor and as places to set up a settlement go it was pretty much a dog.

An attempt to set up a silk industry by planting a mulberry tree came to naught when it was realised that Sammy had left the silk worms home on the kitchen bench.

The man, it seems, could not even get the name correct. According to reports I have received the town was intended to be called "Angus" after, (surprise!) George Angus, our company's glorious chairman. Instead Sammy took it into his head to name the town "Kingscote" after dear old Henry Kingscote, who has been an ornament to the Company Board for some time - I say "ornament" because he just sits still and looks attractive without actually having a purpose.

Just why Stephens decided not to name the town after the Chairman is not clear, though I believe it has a certain amount to do with Angus being a Baptist and Stephens being a Methodist. Put two dissenters in a room and the heat and steam produced could drive a beam engine. For people who call themselves Christians they always seem to fight with a ferocity not seen outside the tribes of Africa or like the Whirling Dervish and I do not doubt that some ferocious disagreement on a triviality resulted in the change of name.

There is a theory that Kingscote is, in actuality, named after the other Henry Kingscote: the handy right handed batsman for the Marylebone Cricket Club, who appeared eight times for the Gentlemen in the annual Gentlemen v Players match at Lords Oval. I doubt this myself, but who can tell?

But despite the lack of drinking water, food and building materials; despite Sammy Stephens's incompetence as a manager; it would appear from the reports I have received that what made Kingscote on a par with the seventh circle of Hell was Stephens's predilection for comic music hall songs of a saucy nature. One in particular, called, I am ashamed to record, "What Goes Up the Leg of Aunt Elsie's Drawers", he sang so often that the inhabitants of Kingscote grew rebellious at the sound of it. Anyone found singing, humming or whistling it was instantly a pariah. The difficulty was that the tune was so infectious that everyone found themselves singing, humming or whistling it.

Small wonder that the settlement has all but collapsed and the people are, in the main, heading for the Capital to resettle. Just what Sam does when he sobers up and notices them missing remains to be seen.

As an aside from this, Widow Harvey and her breakfasts continue to be a travesty. On Thursday she produced things. She maintained that they were "Ayrshire Fritters". Dear God. What terrible sin have the poor people of Ayrshire committed that they must suffer eating these Ayrshire Fritters?