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Week 37 - taxing 'ardent spirits'

[ 30th of October 1836 to 5th of November 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 37: Building a Home ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 37 - taxing 'ardent spirits' ]

In South Australia

With his full complement of surveyors at last, Colonel Light can now divide them into two groups to cover a greater area of the coast.  He sends the largest group under George Kingston to Holdfast Bay, with the second group under Finniss remaining at Rapid Bay. Light intends to inspect Port Lincoln, as his orders require. Dr Woodforde will also remain at Rapid Bay.  He is having rather a lazy time, with little to do but shoot game and try to keep the flies at bay. With this in mind, he begins to build a hut. We learn from Woodforde’s diary that Dr Wright, who arrived on board the Cygnet will later join the Holdfast Bay group, but is detained this week at Nepean Bay with ‘a bad case of midwifery’. We do not know yet who the poor mother is.

At Sea

Light does not know it, but the Africaine is about to arrive.  On 30 October Mary Thomas reports the first sight of land, and by early morning on 1 November they have a clear view of Kangaroo Island.  Most of the passengers are up early, excited to catch the first sight of their new home. There is some difference in the detail of what happens next between our two sources.  Gouger reports that the passengers are so taken with the appearance of the Island that six young men persuade Captain Duff to allow them to go on shore near Cape Borda to walk to the settlement. Mary Thomas implies that the young men are put ashore at Nepean Bay, but this does not make sense. No doubt it seems like a harmless exercise and a delightful excursion after months being cooped up at sea, but the young adventurers are completely unprepared for conditions on the Island and do not even take a water supply with them.  When the Kangaroo Islander sealers hear of the escapade they immediately raise the alarm and insist that a search party must be sent to look for them.  The week ends with great anxiety for the safety of these young men.

Coastline of Kangaroo Island from 'Views of the South Coast of Australia'. by William Westall, 1802. Image courtesy National Library of Australia.

Gouger’s diary also gives us a further hint of the problems other settlers have in their dealings with Samuel Stephens.  It seems that Light’s ‘chief motive’ in removing the surveying depot to Rapid Bay was the ‘conduct of Mr Stephens’. No doubt more will be revealed in due course!

By 5 November the Buffalo is near Cape Agulhas at the tip of Africa. George Stevenson has been very busy drafting legislation for the new settlement – his first a law to tax ‘ardent spirits’. This is no half measure: he proposes a tax of 7/6 per gallon, with very heavy license fees for ‘grog shop keepers’, but still he is not optimistic of success. ‘I feel however that no legislation can destroy the evil’, he confides to his diary. His second bill is a draft Masters and Servants Act, which Hindmarsh evidently finds to his liking.  This turns out to be a punitive act, later disallowed by the British Government.

Stevenson’s comments about Hindmarsh continue to be highly critical. ‘The Governor cannot write two sentences of grammar or common sense, that is the simple truth’, he writes, adding, ‘I find … that unless I do things myself, though they are not in any shape within my province, there is no chance of anything but confusion & disorder to be expected on our arrival’. He proceeds to draft legislation to establish a Supreme Court and lesser courts, but is outraged by Hindmarsh’s proposal to include Hutchinson and Strangways amongst the first magistrates. Their ‘only claim to the honour seems their being the lovers of two of his daughters’, he writes in disgust. ‘The manners language & conversation of both are of the lowest & most trifling character – fitter for the backwoods of Ohio or the purlieus of St Giles than for civilised society or the duties of the Magistracy’. Perhaps he thought his own claims should have been advanced!

Language warning: Please note that these sources contain language which is today considered offensive. It has been retained as it is part of the historical record and evidence of past attitudes.


Next week

Light's anxiety increases as the newly arrived settlers on the Africaine press him to name a location for the settlement. Dr Woodforde is kept busy at Rapid Bay and we meet a new correspondent on Kangaroo Island.

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