44
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1
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Week 45 - Journey's end and new beginnings

[ 25th of December 1836 to 31st of December 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 45: Proclamation and Celebration ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 45 - Journey's end and new beginnings ]

Christmas Day dawns fine and hot in the settlements, with the colonists in pensive mood.  Inevitably their thoughts turn to friends and family in England as they reflect on the very different circumstances of this first Christmas in South Australia. As usual Mary Thomas is the optimist.  She attends a makeshift church service in the morning, and manages to contrive a plum pudding for dinner, along with a less conventional ham and parrot pie! Some lucky settlers are able to roast a joint of beef, but the Thomas family is not amongst them. Mary’s account of the church service is interesting, since apparently only some 25 of the several hundred at Holdfast Bay attend. Whether this reflects doctrinal differences or simple indifference we cannot tell, but it might prompt us to question the assumed piety of these early South Australians. Most historical sources reflect the views of the privileged few, and leave us to guess what the rest think and feel.

In Rapid Bay Dr Woodforde is depressed. He finds the heat very wearing and to make it worse he is ‘nearly blind’ with An infectious inflammation of the eye. Also called Trachoma or Egyptian Ophthalmia. opthalmia. Like the settlers in Holdfast Bay he is also tormented by the flies, ants and mosquitoes that he cannot keep out of his hut, and is particularly repelled by the blowflies, which actually deposit live maggots on his plate as he is eating.  Not a nice Christmas present! All in all it is a gloomy Dr Woodforde who concludes: ‘and all I have to say is that I sincerely hope my dear friends at home are spending a Merrier Christmas than we are here.  If not I pity them.’

The Buffalo meanwhile is between Wedge and Thistle Islands on Christmas Day. Captain Lipson and family come on board to dine with the Governor, but George Stevenson is once again disgusted by Hindmarsh’s behaviour. ‘Such violence and ruffianism are without parallel, & his profane and abominable oaths have driven all but his own and Mr Howard’s family from the deck to seek refuge from the outrageous profanity in their own cabins.’ We are left wondering what on earth has happened. Over the dinner table that evening Stevenson and Hindmarsh hear more of Samuel Stephens’ doings, and what they hear is not good. He is ‘said to drink to excess’ and his marriage to the sister of ‘a servant under his control’ is also judged ‘injudicious’. ‘[I]f he turns out a drunkard’, Stevenson comments, ‘all is over with him’.  Stevenson decides that he should withhold Stephens’ name from the ‘Commission of Peace …till the truth is known.’ This is a very small community and there is no room for indiscretions!

Early on 28 December the Buffalo finally arrives in Holdfast Bay. Arrangements are swiftly made to administer the necessary oaths of office and the first meeting of the Council is held in Robert Gouger’s tent ‘for the purpose of agreeing upon a Proclamation requiring all to obey the laws and declaring the Aborigines to have equal rights & an equal claim upon the protection of the Government with the white Colonists’. Shortly afterwards, before the assembled settlers, (the ‘largest company we had yet seen in the colony’ Mary Thomas writes,) George Stevenson reads out the commissions and then the Proclamation ‘under a huge gum tree’. The Proclamation is duly printed by Robert Thomas on the The Stanhope Press, held in History SA's collection press brought out on the Africaine. After the raising of the British flag, the marines from the Buffalo fire a ceremonial A rifle salute. In French means “fire of joy”. ‘feu-de-joie’ , followed by ‘loud hurrahs’ and the assembled ladies and gentlemen partake of a ‘cold collation’ in the open air. There are enthusiastic toasts all round and these loyal subjects of King William sing the national anthem, followed by Rule Britannia with great fervour. It is all very satisfactory, although as usual Stevenson adds a tart note. ‘[A]ll might have gone off very well’, he records, ‘had not our Treasurer got brutishly drunk and conducted himself in his usual disgraceful fashion towards every lady & gentleman with whom he came in contact.’ He is not the only one.  The party goes on long after the Governor retires to the Buffalo, with singing and shouting echoing throughout the still night. All in all, it is a night to remember. In a moment of rare good humour, though tinged with irony given what is to come, Governor Hindmarsh leaves the party proclaiming: ‘May the present unanimity continue as long as South Australia exists’.  Mary Thomas records that this  ‘made the plain ring with acclamations’.  We can imagine George Stevenson smirking in disbelief.

Scene: Proclamation of South Australia

The Proclamation of South Australia 1836, c. 1856-1876. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of South Australia, 0.893

Not all of our protagonists are present for the festivities.  None of the local Aboriginal people seem to have been invited to attend.  Whether they felt their exclusion we cannot know, but later that night they apparently fired the bush all around.  It ‘burnt grandly’ according to Young Bingham Hutchinson.

Strangely Colonel Light also stays away, recording only: ‘I heard of the Governor’s arrival, but having much to do, had not time to go to Holdfast Bay to meet him.’ It is a curious note and leaves us wondering whether there was more behind it.  But perhaps that thought comes with the benefit of hindsight. For now there seems to be general agreement with the choice of settlement. ‘We were all delighted with the aspect of the country & the rich soil of Holdfast Plains’, George Stevenson records and we are reminded that Light and Hindmarsh are long-time friends.

Harriet Gouger is also absent.  At the very moment that the Council meets in one section of her tent, she lies in the other in the early stages of labour.  Her son is born at 6 am the following morning.  At first everything seems to go well, but two days later Robert Gouger notes in alarm that his wife has been ‘taken seriously ill with symptoms of fever.’ This is an ominous development and we take leave of this little family at a moment of great crisis. How sad if she has travelled to the other side of the world only to die in childbed within two months of arrival.

But there we must leave these little settlements.  Our weekly ‘journey’ is at an end and all nine ships are now safely in Australian waters. As to our correspondents – we have come to know them intimately during their voyages and it will be hard to say goodbye. We know that some will prosper while others will fall by the wayside. We know also that the unanimity and good cheer of the 28 December will soon degenerate into unseemly wrangling and discord. The good intentions of the Proclamation will be forgotten. But for now let us leave them in a moment of optimism and rare idealism as they begin the next phase of their ‘journey of a lifetime’.


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9 Responses to “Week 45 – Journey’s end and new beginnings”

  1. Hilary January 27, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    I have really enjoyed reading this blog week by week, sorry to see it go. I didn’t ever learn much SA history at school and I love to learn the local history. Look forward to any further updates there might be.

  2. Chester Schultz January 6, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    Congratulations on an excellent resource. I hope it stays online for a long time. The less familiar journal extracts in particular have given me new information about the movements of characters like George Bates who feature in my own research.

    I gather that the phrase ‘one week to go’ in the title is wrong, & you have actually finished.
    What a pity, then, that you’ve missed an extraordinary incident at Holdfast Bay on New Year’s Day 1837, recorded in the journal kept jointly by George & Margaret Stevenson. I think of it as a thought-provoking companion to Hindmarsh’s proclamation four days earlier, & an appendix to the role play developed by DECS to give students some understanding of the Aboriginal side of this history.

    On 1st January 1837 the family of Emigration Agent John Brown introduced Stevenson to a 25-year-old Kaurna man named “Ootinai”. Stevenson dressed him in the colourful military castoffs brought for such purposes, took him on board the ‘Buffalo’, & served him lunch in the Governor’s cabin with some of the other passengers. Young & charismatic, he “created a great sensation among the people on board”, & showed no surprise at anything. Though he spoke no English, he managed it all with great aplomb, right down to knife & fork. After the meal, two of Hindmarsh’s daughters played the piano which had served for musical soirees throughout the voyage; but it was only when Mr Hutchinson played the flute that Ootinai for the first time broke his cool. With Stevenson’s permission, “seizing” the ship’s paymaster Eales & also the rather prim & class-conscious Margaret Stevenson, he “began kicking and dancing with all his might”.

    We can only guess what Ootinai thought they & he were doing –peace protocols with a strange & potentially dangerous people, maybe?

    On January 3rd he returned to his tribe in company with Brown’s servant James Cronk, “whom he desired to take his gun, promising that he should bring back a kangaroo”. Cronk eventually became one of the early official interpreters, replacing the frequently drunk Kangaroo Islander, Cooper.

    The shipboard dance was a distillation of this early ‘honeymoon’ period of contact with the Kaurna people. As we have seen on your site, Dr Woodforde had played a melody on his flute in response to a corroboree by the Rapid Bay Aborigines on October 14th, though he did not dance. William Williams had brought in a Kaurna man & boy to Glenelg on December 1st & given them food, as recorded by Mary Thomas & Gouger. Joint dancing happened at similar stages of early contact in the eastern states (see Inga Clendinnen’s book ‘Dancing With Strangers’).

    These reciprocal things could happen only until the locals became aware that the strangers had a non-negotiable intention to stay, bring more people, & take over the land.
    What might have happened if Stevenson & Brown had responded to Ootinai with serious protocols? What prevented them from either recognizing or responding?
    How can we today ‘dance’ actually or symbolically with local Aboriginal people in a way which has more of a future than Margaret’s dance with Ootinai?

    Ootinai’s name was probably Ngutinai (Kaurna words never begin with ‘oo’, but almost all the early colonists failed to catch ‘ng’ when it happened at the beginning of a word).

    The incident is now commemorated by a plaque on Ngutinilla Reserve at Glenelg. Ngutinilla means ‘place of Ngutinai’.
    It has sometimes been confused with a separate incident at Port Adelaide when Ityamaiitpinna (‘King Rodney’) was lured on board a ship & dressed up.

    It is also the central event & symbol of my short music-theatre ‘Dancing Ngutinai’, written with protocols from local Aboriginal Elders & premiered in 2002.

    Well done, all of you who researched & built the site.
    Chester Schultz.
    ………………

  3. Family Lawyers Melbourne December 29, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    Great story.

  4. David Donaldson December 27, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    As Colonial Secretary, Gouger intended “a Proclamation requiring all to obey the laws & declaring the Aborigines to have equal rights & an equal claim upon the protection of the Government”, but even on that first day, Mary Thomas diarised that it was to “proclaim the colony”. She cannot have listened very carefully!

    For printing out the document on the day, the type setter had used a layout which could lead a hasty reader to see “Proclamation …of South Australia”. Evidently, it is that visual rendering of the heading, rather than the actual text of what Stevenson read out, that has become fixed in the public mind ever since. A case of the Medium becoming the Message, perhaps.

    On 18 December 2011, the Sunday Mail in Adelaide reproduced the painting by Charles Hill entitled, ‘The Proclamation of South Australia’, without noting that the painting was done many years after the day. The newspaper remarked, correctly enough, that Gouger’s document “became known as the Proclamation of South Australia” but did not go on to make explicit the error in that label and in the title of the painting.

    The (convenient) misunderstanding having been perpetuated for, it seems, 175 years, there may be little hope now of anyone actually reading the Proclamation itself and taking out its actual meaning. How very South Australian of us.

    • Allison December 28, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

      Thanks for pointing this out. If people are interested in reading the document, it is on the website: the Proclamation

  5. Pamela Jones December 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    What a wonderful series: a great accomplishment. Thanks so much.

    • Allison December 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      Thank you! It has been a big undertaking to put the site together each week, but well worth the effort!

  6. Peter Williams December 26, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Congratulations to all those involved in presenting this online tour de force. What a wonderful way to present our history.

    • Allison December 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

      Thanks, Peter.

      We’re delighted that people have enjoyed the blog – its an interesting way of discovering history, one week at a time!

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