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The history of South Australia from its foundation to the year of its jubilee (Volume 1) online

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on which the colony in its earlier years was entirely to
depend. 4. The inadequate provision for securing the
mother country against any loss which might eventually

With regard to the administration of affairs by
Colonel Gawler, the committee were of opinion that
"the condition of the colony on his arrival made it
absolutely necessary that he should assume a large
responsibility in deviating from his instructions," and
they "entertain no doubt that Colonel Gawler was
actuated in the course which he pursued by the most
earnest desire to advance the interests and promote the
prosperity of the country, nor can they undertake to
state to what extent he may have been justified by
imperative necessity in involving the colony in an
expenditure so far exceeding his authority." "But,"
continued the report, "it is due to Colonel Gawler to
observe that the general character of his administration
has been spoken of in terms of strong approval, even
by those who have censured his expenditure as excessive,
and that, among the witnesses examined, even those



who have pronounced this censure most decidedly have
been unable to point out any specific items by which
it could have been considerably reduced without great
public inconvenience."

The committee considered that the arrangements of
the late Board of Commissioners had proved in many
material points defective ; that their instructions as to
expenditure, "though minutely and elaborately drawn
up, appear to have been framed without any clear fore-
sight of the necessities of such a community placed in
such circumstances, and on an estimate of the charges
to be incurred and the objects to be provided for totally
inadequate and bearing no proportion to the reality."

It was, however, distinctly stated in the report that
the committee would be "doing injustice to the
individuals upon whom the responsibility for the
management of these affairs had fallen did they not
add their opinion that the chief and original error was
committed in the Act itself."

The gracefulness of this encomium was consider-
ably discounted by a subsequent remark: "That the
Commissioners have been unsuccessful in the execu-
tion of their charge is less a matter of surprise than
that they should have entertained no apprehension of
the result which has taken place, and that up to the
termination of their official connection with the colony
in 1840 they should have apparently conceived that
the experiment was advancing to a successful issue."

Many of the measures recommended by the com-
mittee were subsequently embodied in a Bill passed on
the 15th of July, 1842, entitled, " An Act for the Better
Government of the Province of South Australia."

Under the impression that the recommendations of
the Select Committee would be speedily carried into
effect, Captain Grey felt confident himself, and en-
deavoured to inspire confidence in the colonists, that
all claims would in the near future be settled. In
addition to those due in England, he had found that
there were considerable sums due in the colony, and
lie felt it to be his duty to commence paying off these,


so that Government creditors in the colony might not
be worse off there than elsewhere a step cordially
approved, not only by the Council, but also by the
Chamber of Commerce. Accordingly, and without
express authority, he drew bills upon her Majesty's
Treasury, and in a despatch to Lord John Russell
justified his actions in these words :

" November 14th, 1841.

"... A great deal of distress necessarily resulted
from the non-payment of these bills, and this was more
severely felt from the limited nature of the mercantile
community in this province. The situation of these
Government creditors was also peculiar. They had
seen the supplies furnished by them appropriated to
the uses of the Government ; a pledge had been given
to them which neither the late Governor nor myself
had yet fulfilled, and they were not even in so good a
position as the holders of the bills ; if they had been
so their claims would have been settled at the same
time as those of the other creditors in England. When,
therefore, I ascertained that all the bills drawn by
Colonel Gawler were in course of payment in England,
and found that had Colonel Gawler drawn bills for
these precisely similar claims remaining unpaid in the
colony, that then the creditors here would have been
placed in the same position as those elsewhere ; when
also I saw the distress which the non-payment of those
accounts was creating, I felt that I should be no longer
justified in refraining from putting all the Government
creditors upon an equal footing. I, accordingly, have
commenced drawing drafts upon the Lords of the
Treasury for the payment of these outstanding claims,
and I trust that the line of policy I have pursued may
meet with the approbation of her Majesty's Govern-

But " my lords " did not approve, as we shall see
later on.

Apart from financial matters, there were many


notable events to claim the serious attention of
Governor Grey during the first year of his adminis-

On the 21st of April news reached Adelaide that a
ferocious attack had been made by about 300 to 400
natives on an overland party, led by Mr. Inman, about
forty miles from Lake Bonney. It was stated that the
leader of the party and two shepherds had been speared
and the sheep scattered. Major O'Halloran, the com-
missioner of police, was at once despatched to the
scene of the affray with a body of mounted police, and
accompanied by a surgeon to render assistance if
necessary. Happily, there had been no loss of life,
and the party had escaped to the nearest station.

On his return to Adelaide, Major O'Halloran left a
corporal and four mounted troopers near the Great
Bend for the protection of a party shortly expected
overland, who had started from Mr. Button's station
for the purpose of rescuing, if possible, the sheep
belonging to Mr. Inman's party. They soon fell in
with the natives, who approached to within fifty yards
of them, when one of the leaders gave the signal of
attack, by striking a spear into the ground and waving
his hand. In an instant the war-cry was raised and
the affray began. " The first man who threw a spear
I shot through the head," says one of the party, " and
gave the order to fire, hoping that when they saw two
or three of the natives fall they would have retreated ;
but they did not appear in the slightest degree in-
timidated, but still advanced in the form of a crescent
in a body of at least two hundred, while many more
were partially seen in the thick part of the scrub. At
this time, Mr. George Hawker called out to me that they
were encircling us, and seeing that they were advancing
both wings while the centre was engaged, a large
lagoon being in our rear, I ordered the party to follow
me and outflank them on the right. While effecting
this, Mr. G. Hawker's horse fell over a tree, and he
was dismounted ; we wheeled round to protect him,
unJ about this time Mr. John Jacob's horse received a


second spear- wound and was soon unable to carry him
further. He dismounted, and we were all engaged in
covering his retreat, at the same time moving towards
a dry creek, on the further side of which was rising
ground. We succeeded in reaching this, and formed
in line while Mr. Jacob mounted behind Mr. Edward
Bagot. The affray had now lasted more than half an
hour, and I directed the party to retreat in order.
There were very few shots fired without effect, and the
last man shot was one of their chiefs. Had not the
gentlemen of the party displayed much steadiness and
coolness Mr. Jacob must have fallen, as it was by fre-
quently coming to the ' present,' but reserving our fire,
that we kept the headmost men back, as on these
occasions they, adroitly double themselves up into the
smallest possible compass, holding a shield before their
heads. In covering Mr. Jacob's retreat a spear struck
me in the fore part of the head, but as it passed
through a thick tarpaulin hat, the wound was but
slight; but the mare on which I rode was speared
through the shoulder. When I was struck the natives
gave a yell of triumph, as they did on every occasion
when the advantage appeared to be on their side.
Having retreated about a mile, we were obliged to
halt to sew up the wound in my mare's shoulder, or
she must soon have dropped from loss of blood ; then,
choosing the clearest ground, we joined our cart on
the following day. I felt convinced that the sheep
remaining were not far distant, and that the natives
had assembled for the purpose of defending them ;
and it is my opinion that it would take a very large
party to subdue them without loss of life, as their
great activity and courage, combined with their
numbers and the difficult character of that part of
the country for horse attacks, render them a much
more formidable enemy than the colonists have any
idea of."

This report, typical of many, caused some stir in
Adelaide. Another party being expected overland, Major
O'Halloran, with a body of troopers, was again sent out


to the locality. A large number of gentlemen volunteered
their services and were sworn in as special constables,
the funds of the local Government being altogether
inadequate to pay for the protection of overland parties.
They started, sixty-eight in all, on the 31st of May,
and soon after their arrival at the Murray fell in with
the expected overlanders. And a sorry lot they were.
Only two days before, they had been attacked by the
natives ; four of their number had been killed and two
wounded out of a party of sixteen, twenty head of
cattle had been dispersed, others killed, and all their
property and supplies niched. Meanwhile, the natives
had cleared off; carcases of about a thousand slain sheep
were lying about in heaps, but no living sheep could be

At one place a striking incident occurred. Some of
the party came upon the body of a man with his faithful
dog standing beside him, which, as the party approached,
set up a pitiful wail. The poor animal itself was found
to have been speared in two places, and it was concluded
that it had bravely attacked the natives in the affray.
The body of the unfortunate man, over whom the wounded
dog had faithfully kept guard for two days, was found
to be in a dreadfully mangled and lacerated condition,
and the whole scene where the conflict had taken
place was described by Major O'Halloran as a horrify-
ing one.

All efforts to capture the natives were, owing to the
facilities for escape offered by the nature of the country,
found to be unavailing, but the expedition had never-
theless been fruitful ; fifty-three out of seventy head of
cattle were recovered, and seven hundred and ten saved
from loss, while twelve men were rescued from inevitable

On several other occasions during the year outrages
were committed by the natives, each fresh instance
giving rise to increased uneasiness. In one of the
attacks between thirty and forty of the natives were
killed, and this led to a careful consideration by a full
bench of magistrates of the whole subject. They recoin-


mended that an armed force should be placed at the ferry
near to which the attacks were made, for the protection
of overland parties. This was agreed to, and shortly
afterwards a permanent police station was established
at Morrundee, on the Murray, and Mr. E. J. Eyre, the
experienced traveller, was appointed resident magistrate.
To him was entrusted the difficult task of conciliating
the natives, and of establishing, if possible, friendly
relations between them and the intruding Europeans.
He was furnished by the Government with provisions
and blankets for distribution, and these were given
once a month to the most deserving. For three years
he resided at Morrundee, and during this time not a
single case of serious aggression, either on the persons
or property of the Europeans, occurred. He visited
alone the most distant and hostile tribes, where, but a
short time previously, large and well-armed bodies of
Europeans could not pass uninterruptedly or in safety ;
and in many instances the natives showed him con-
siderable kindness and attention, accompanying him as
guides and interpreters, introducing him from one tribe
to another, and explaining the amicable relations he
wished to establish. Influence amounting to authority
was obtained by treating them with uniform kindness,
and this was demonstrated on one occasion in Adelaide,
when a large body of the Murray natives collected to fight
those from Encounter Bay. The Government directed
Mr. Eyre to use his influence to prevent the affray, and
he at once proceeded to their wurleys* and requested
them to leave without delay, and return to their own
district, ninety miles away. In the course of a few
hours, not a native was left in Adelaide, and the en-
counter was averted.

It was much to be regretted that in 1844, owing to a
misapprehension by the Government of the wish of Mr.
Eyre, he was released from an office he had so ably
fulfilled, and that the successful experiment at Morrundee
was abandoned, and the post made little better than a
mere police-station.

* Native name for bush-huts.


Meanwhile, the native schools established by the
Government in the park-lands at Adelaide and at
Walkerville were making some progress ; the children
were apt to learn, took kindly to their trousers and
shirts, or grey woollen frocks, and, so long as they could
be kept away from the huts or wurleys of their elders,
were teachable and contented. But the natural desire
for a wandering and savage life could not be eradicated,
and as the children advanced in years, they broke
away from the restraints of school life, and plunged
once again into the depths of the forest.

A typical case was that of " Nancy," who, after
receiving instruction in the three R's, resided for several
years at Government House in the capacity of a servant.
She was always well dressed, spoke English fluently,
and regularly attended a place of worship. But, after
enjoying the comforts of civilized life, and the confidence
and society of all in the establishment, she suddenly,
without any apparent or sufficient reason, left her
situation, returned to her tribe and, to a great extent,
to her primitive mode of life.

It was mainly for the purpose of overcoming this
tendency to revert to barbarism that Archdeacon Hale
(afterwards Bishop of Perth, Western Australia) re-
solved to attempt the establishment of a native institu-
tion in some locality situated as far as possible from
the centres of European population, and also at a
distance from the usual haunts of the aborigines ; but
there was no practical outcome of this scheme until
some years later.

Up to 1844 the general results of the previous
experiments in teaching native children may be summed
up as follows: (1) That they possessed capacity for
learning not inferior to the best class of European
children to be found anywhere in a mixed community ;
(2) that they were eager to be instructed, and were
easily kept at their school work except when parental
influence was brought to bear upon predisposing in-
clinations ; (3) that, apart from this influence, there was
the probability that their vagrant habits might be over-


come, and that they would cheerfully and voluntarily
engage in industrial pursuits ; (4) that an interesting
field for religious instruction had been opened, which
would amply repay the labours of zealous missionaries,

One event, trifling in itself, but interesting to South
Australians, as it became a standard topic of conversa-
tion for many years, occurred in the early part of
Captain Grey's administration, and may be mentioned
here in passing.

On Sunday morning, the 24th of February, a large
number of persons assembled at the port in a state of
considerable excitement, a rumour having gone abroad
that an expedition was being fitted out for the seizure
of a French vessel in St. Vincent's Gulf. The vessel
in question was the Ville de Bordeaux, which a few
days previously had arrived in Holdfast Bay, the
captain reporting that he had come from King George's
Sound to take in sheep, but declined to produce satis-
factory papers to Mr. Anthony, the boarding officer at
Glenelg, or to Mr. Torrens, the collector of customs.
It was, therefore, determined not to allow the sheep to
be taken, and Mr. Anthony was sent on board for this
purpose. The captain, after abusing and threatening
him, set sail, boarding officer and all, across the gulf.
The collector at once determined to start in pursuit,
and the steamer Courier, the only one in the harbour,
was requisitioned. As there was no coal at hand,
shingles, palings, anything that would serve for fuel,
was thrown on board to enable the little vessel to get
up steam with all possible speed, and amid great ex-
citement and not a little consternation, the Courier,
with the collector on board, left the wharf on what
appeared to be a very hazardous mission.

A war with France had for some time been thought
probable, and if the French vessel in the gulf were
really captured, a collision between France and England
was deemed by the excited colonists inevitable.

But the sailing of the " Shingle Expedition," as it
was afterwards called, was only a three days' wonder.


The crew of the Frenchman refused to obey the captain's
orders, took the ship into their own hands, squared the
yards, and stood back up the gulf, bringing the vessel
safely to anchor in Holdfast Bay without the interven-
tion of the Courier. But the matter did not end here.
As the officers of customs had been obstructed in the
execution of their duty, and the cost of the expedition
was 800, a criminal information was laid against the
captain of the Frenchman. The trial extended over
two or three days, and resulted in a verdict justifying
the collector of customs in holding the ship as a con-
demned vessel, the owners being permitted to come
into court and try the legality of the forfeiture and
condemnation. This was done in the following year,
and after various applications, trials, hearings, and a
reference to the Court of Appeals, the vessel was finally
ordered to be forfeited.

For many years this fine ship lay quietly moored in
the stream in charge of a custom-house officer, but was
subsequently appropriated to the purposes of a light-
ship at the outer entrance of the harbour.

The year 1841 will ever remain memorable in the
history of South Australia. It witnessed the greatest
reverses it was almost possible for the colony to ex-
perience. At its commencement nearly every branch
of industry, trade, and commerce appeared to be in
a flourishing condition. Companies, societies, and insti-
tutions sprang rapidly into existence ; exports of colonial
produce and samples of minerals had been sent to
Britain ; great progress had been made in agriculture
and horticulture ; the country districts round about
the capital had received many settlers ; a fairly good
harvest had been gathered in. Notwithstanding all
these and many other signs of progress and prosperity,
at a stroke the condition of the colony became one of
absolute insolvency. As the tide of misfortune set in,
bankruptcy became a matter of frequent occurrence,
and brought to light, in a few cases, some very reckless
and fraudulent transactions, with which the non-payment
of the Governor's bills had nothing to do except to

1841.] INSOLVENCY. 171

reveal them. The almost unlimited and indiscriminate
credit given by merchants, who in their turn were
mostly agents for English houses, presented a fine
opening for adepts at fraud, and even gave novices an
unusual chance of success. These cases quite per-
plexed the officers of the Insolvent Court, as well as
the unfortunate creditors, inasmuch as several of the
defaulters, seeing that the end of their palmy days was
at hand, had carefully laid aside certain assets for
contingencies, including the necessary funds for a bolt
to Sydney or elsewhere by a favourite clipper, the
Dorset. So successful were these bolters that few of
them were captured, and, in fact, few efforts were put
forth for that purpose.

Although the Governor had given his confident
assurance that the debts of the colony would ultimately
be paid, and had afforded temporary relief through the
bills drawn upon her Majesty's Treasury, many leading
merchants were completely paralyzed by the sudden
check which trade and commerce had sustained. Large
numbers of the working classes, dissatisfied with the
low rate of wages obtainable, either left the colony or
fell back upon the Government alternative in prefer-
ence to seeking employment in the country districts.
Several tradesmen and mechanics, who had sufficient
means left to pay their passage-money, proceeded to
the then recently established colony of New Zealand.
As early as May, sixteen prisoners for debt petitioned
the Governor to have a Bill prepared for their relief,
some of them having suffered from protracted incar-
ceration, and there being at that time no Act for
regulating the imprisonment of insolvent debtors. A
Bill was accordingly prepared, and during the first six
months after it came into operation thirty-six insolvent
debtors availed themselves of the benefit of the Act.

The widespread prevalence of distress and destitu-
tion led some benevolent colonists to establish a society
to assist in relieving the wants of those suddenly over-
taken by misfortune, and " The South Australian Philan-
thropic Association " was instrumental in effecting much


good, especially in cases where Government aid was
greatly needed, but had not been sought

Towards the end of the year, nearly two thousand
men, women, and children in destitute circumstances
were being supported at the expense of the Government.

But with all the distress there was peace, and the
public press of the colony even grew jocular over mis-
fortunes, for when Foundation Day (28th of December)
came round one of the journals said

" Considering our present state, and the improvidence
which our useless consumption of gunpowder would
involve, perhaps the noisier modes of celebration were
wisely omitted, while those so peculiarly appropriate at
the present moment the closing of the banks and
public offices were as widely retained."

The year 1842 was, from beginning to end, a year of
trial and discontent. Of the four newspapers in exist-
ence at the beginning of the year, only one was in any
way favourable to the Governor and his administration.
Despondency was the prevailing tone. One writer, in
drawing a comparison between the 1st of January, 1841,
and the corresponding date in 1842, said

"Then bankruptcy and insolvency were almost
unknown they were rare exceptions to the rule of
prosperity; now they are themselves the rule and
their opposite the exception ; then the plough and the
spade were busy in all directions; the merchant was
a man of business, not of leisure ; the counter of the
storekeeper was thronged, and able-bodied labourers
were for the most part employed. Now, 'the ruin,
destitution, and dispersion,' apparently foreseen by
Governor Gawler, are here and in full activity."

In another despairing journal the question "Shall
we re-emigrate ? " was fully discussed ; but the con-
clusion arrived at was that it was better for the
colonists to bear the ills they had than fly to others
that they knew not of. Certainly vexations arose in
every conceivable quarter. Such progress had been
made in the survey department, under the able super-
intendence of Captain Frome, that all the special

1842.] HARD TIMES. 173

surveys claimed namely, thirty-six of four thousand
acres each had been completed, and the quantity of
land open for selection amounted to upwards of three
hundred thousand acres ; but just when this long-waited-
for land was ready for sale there were few who had
either money to buy or confidence to invest in it.
Unquestionably the times were bad in other respects,
and the spirit of discontent and dissatisfaction was so

Online LibraryEdwin HodderThe history of South Australia from its foundation to the year of its jubilee (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 34)