Sunday 11 December 1836

[, on board the wrote. | Read source notes.]

DECEMBER 11.-This day, about noon, a report prevailed that a ship was in sight, and that it might be the Tam o’Shanter, the arrival of which we were anxiously awaiting. We sent the boys to the beach to inquire, and they soon returned with the news that the Emma, a vessel that came out before the Africaine, in the service of the South Australian Company, I believe, had returned from Kangaroo Island, whither she had been sent with stores, and that she had on board two of the young men who had been so long wandering on the island, Nantes and Fisher, our printer. This proved to be true, but the latter did not come on shore that day. Four of them at length returned with vague and rather contradictory statements that they had left Slater and Osborne near a lagoon, unable to proceed any further, but that they would do so as soon as they had somewhat recovered from their fatigue; that they had plenty of provisions with them, thus keeping up our hopes of their final safety. They never returned, however, nor could we learn anything with certainty as to their fate, though we made constant inquiry and questioned everyone in the least likely to afford information. Ultimately we gave up all hope, and it became evident that they had come to some unhappy end. Whatever it may have been, a mystery hangs over it to this day.

This melancholy affair distressed us all very much, and it was some time before we could settle to our ordinary avocations. Several persons came from Kangaroo Island at different times, all of whom were more or less acquainted with the circumstances, and most of them expressed their belief that the missing men would eventually return, though they had no doubt that they had been lost in the bush, and might not find their way out for a long time.

From some casual words spoken by those who returned I began to suspect that some disagreement had occurred while they were on the island, especially as allusions were made to “that hot-headed Irishman.” Mr. Slater was, as far as I could observe, a kind-hearted man of gentlemanly manners, and generally on good terms with his fellow-passengers, but sometimes he showed unmistakable proofs of a fiery temperament, which on one occasion caused me some uneasiness. It so happened that something had occurred, I do not know what, that gave him great offence, and after giving vent to furious passion he shut himself in his cabin with a loaded pistol in his hand, declaring that he would shoot the first man who dared to enter it; but as he was the sole occupant of the cabin, of course no one had the right to enter it without his permission, and under those circumstances few cared even to pass the door. Nor would his irritated humour have given me much concern but that his cabin was situated next to one occupied by my children, and I could not help being apprehensive lest the pistol should go off, perhaps by accident, or otherwise. Either incident would have caused considerable alarm.

Osborne, however, went to him notwithstanding his threats, and not only induced hime to lay aside the pistol, but reasoned him into a calmer mood. This was not the only instance in which he succeeded, by his judicious arguments, in allaying the ruffled temper of Mr. Slater.

Whether anything of the kind had occurred or not during their route across Kangaroo Island I cannot tell, but that some dispute did arise I have reason to believe from hints which were occasionally thrown out by those who returned, and by which it appeared that they could not agree as to the course they should pursue, some of the party wishing to go one way and the rest another. How it was settled, of course, I had no means of ascertaining, except that Osborne, as usual, adhered to his friend, and they parted company with the rest. All my endeavours to obtain a satisfactory explanation for their absence failed, and though I repeatedly questioned all those who returned, and Fisher in particular, I could get no other answer than that they were on their way and would soon arrive.

As I said before, we never saw them again, and when all hope was gone the painful task devolved on me to convey the melancholy tidings to Osborne’s father. As the best means of doing so, I wrote to our agent in London, Mr. Leonard Baugh, and gave him a full account, as far as I was able, of the whole affair, requesting him to go to Mr. Osborne and break the sad news to him by degrees, and likewise to get it published in “The Spectator,” lest the people of England should think that the two unfortunate young men had been murdered by the natives. There was none on Kangaroo Island at that time, except a few women, and they were employed by the white residents.

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