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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 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 44 - 'excellent eating': kelp, parrots and a new oven ]

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!

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.


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