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2nd Edition of "The Hamiltons 1762-1862" NOW AVAILABLE



The content of these web pages is based on the 1st edition of my book "The Hamiltons 1762-1862" originally published in 1997

The 2nd Edition was published in 2009 . A 2012 Revised 2nd Edition is now available to coincide with the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the Hamiltons in South Australia in 1837.


Preview and order the book by opening the viewer at the right.

3rd Edition

A 3rd completely revised edition is in preparation and contains corrections and additions to the section on William Holmes Hamilton and the Duke of York, as well as further discussion about the speculated origins of the Hamilton family. Details on the Historia Incognita web page.


5. Bound for South Australia

Before following Richard and Ann Hamilton to South Australia, it is necessary to look briefly at the actual establishment of that new colony.

The South Australian Company

In 1834, following fears that the French might have territorial ambitions in Australia, an Act was passed in the British Parliament to establish South Australia as a British Province. Under the Act a Board of Colonisation Commissioners was set up to sell land to would-be settlers. The Act, however, had not provided for the prior surveying of the land so that purchasers would know what they were buying. The South Australian Company was formed to deal with this problem and to prepare the way for the settlers.

Under the chairmanship of George Fife Angas the Company promoted the new colony throughout Great Britain. Free passages were being offered to twenty-five different classes of tradesmen and labourers including agricultural labourers, shepherds, butchers, bakers, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, boatbuilders, wheelwrights, millwrights, tailors, shoemakers, and many others.

Immigration to South AustraliaOne might wonder whether, apart from wanting people in such occupations to work in the new colony, the British government saw the offer of free emigration as a convenient way to rid England of its growing number of unemployed. Certainly, in Kent for example, by the late 1820s there were growing numbers of rebellious unemployed farm labourers who had taken to smashing machinery and burning barns[469]. It would not be unreasonable to believe that a government that had been willing to transport its excess convicts to Australia was now willing to be rid of its excess unemployed in a similar way.

Applicants were required to provide references as to their good character and had to be aged between fifteen and thirty. Wives were to be given free passage with their husbands. Single women also had free passage if accompanied by relatives. Children between one and fifteen paid three pounds each.

The regulations for the journey allowed for every male emigrant to take either half a ton weight or twenty cubic feet of luggage, with extra costing two pounds ten shillings per ton. Emigrants were guaranteed work, even if at minimal wages, on government projects once they arrived in South Australia, until they could find alternative employment.

The regulations also provided for people not eligible for free passage to emigrate if they paid an appropriate fee - twenty pounds for adults. Those who had purchased land in South Australia could nominate one labourer or emigrant for every twenty pounds spent[470].

The Duke of York 

[NOTE: The following section on the Duke of York and William Holmes Halmiton was based on information provided to the author by a number of Hamilton family descendants. It would appear that some of the "facts" provided were based on incorrect obituaries and family legends.
The 3rd edition of The Hamiltons will correct any errors in this section and will also include a discussion of the arrival of the Duke of York in light of additional information provided by the Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association.]

The first of the South Australian Company’s ships, the 110 ton schooner John Pirie, left England on 22 February 1836. Two days later, on the 24th, the Duke of York left St Catherine’s Docks, London, under Captain Morgan[471], having had to go back to dock in London twice for repairs after encountering fierce storms[472].

One of the seamen on board the Duke of York was Richard Hamilton’s son, William Holmes Hamilton. He had just turned sixteen[473]. It is not surprising that he became a sailor, as his Uncle William Read Holmes was a Cinque Ports Pilot, his Aunt Sarah Holmes married a pilot, while his Great Uncle, Captain John Hamilton and Luke Smithett were sailors. His brothers John and Richard were also seamen. In fact, anybody born in Dover could hardly be unaffected by the sea[474].

Among the forty-two passengers on board were listed a Mr and Mrs Hamilton[475]. They were not William’s parents. In fact there might not have been a Mr and Mrs Hamilton on board at all. It is possible that, as the parents of crew members were being offered free passage, William may have listed his parents as potential free emigrants if the family had been discussing plans to emigrate to South Australia[476].

The Duke of York, built in 1817[477], was originally a Falmouth packet designed to transport Post Office mail with some speed between Falmouth and New York[478]. At 190 tons it was over twice the size of Captain John Hamilton’s cutter Active. In 1835 George Fife Angus purchased the ship on behalf of the South Australian Company and it was converted to enable it to initially transport passengers to South Australia and then to carry out its main task as a whaling vessel in the South Seas[479].

They were followed in their departure by the 206 ton barque Lady Mary Pelham sailing from Liverpool on 30 March[480]. Other ships soon followed - the Commissioner’s 162 ton brig, the Rapid, on 1 May, commanded by Colonel William Light; the 239 ton survey barque, Cygnet; the 138 ton brig Emma, another Company ship, on 21 April; the Africaine, 316 tons, on 28 June; and the Tom O’Shanter, 360 tons, on 20 July. Both of these were privately chartered[481]. Finally the slow but rugged, 589 ton H.M.S. Buffalo left Portsmouth on 23 July 1836, carrying the Governor of the Colony, Captain John Hindmarsh[482]. In total these ships carried close to 530 passengers between them.

Kangaroo Island

The speedy Duke of York was the first to arrive at Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island after 154 days. It arrived on 27 July 1836. The Lady Mary Pelham arrived on the 30th. The other ships gradually reached the island, with the H.M.S. Buffalo arriving in December 1836[483].

One of the young passengers on board the Duke of York, William L. Beare, later recalled that “during the whole voyage there was not a case of drunkenness, not even among the sailors, and there was an absence of all offensive language”. Apparently Captain Morgan was not “only an excellent seaman, but a man of high Christian character”. Every night prayers were offered and on Sundays Divine service was held both morning and evening[484].

The Duke of York dropped anchor at noon and preparations were made to go ashore. Just before the landing it is reported that “a magnificent rainbow appeared in the heavens” and that Captain Morgan saw it as a good omen[485].

The Second Mate of the ship, Robert Russell, later recalled the landing at 2 p.m.:

There was a Mr and Mrs Beare on board and they had a young baby girl...When we sighted land the passengers they each wanted to be the first to set foot on shore so as to talk of it afterwards, which was natural; but the captain he spoke to me in the foretop, and told me to get out the boat and the crew, and that the baby would be the first to set foot ashore.

Of course we sailors liked the idea, and got out the boat according to orders with the baby...We pulled a good bit of a way, and the captain he directed us from the ship to a place to land. I told the men to hang on their oars, and I took the baby girl - a nice little thing it was - ashore and put her feet down on the sand...[486]

The little girl was Elizabeth, the daughter of Thomas Hudson Beare, second officer of the South Australian Company[487]. William Holmes Hamilton would have set foot on the island very soon afterwards.


Having all the ship’s crew and passengers on shore Captain Morgan read the Church of England service “in which all joined”. With this ceremony the first settlement in South Australia was established. However, when Colonel Light arrived later in the year it was decided that the land and water supply around Holdfast Bay on the mainland, near to the present Adelaide suburb of Glenelg was better that that at Kangaroo Island, and most of the settlers moved there.

After spending the rest of the afternoon and evening on shore the new settlers returned to the ship. Sometime after midnight the Duke of York heeled over sending everybody rushing for the boats. The Captain quickly assessed the situation and reassured everybody that the problem was that he had not taken the rise and fall of the tide into account when he anchored the ship and that the falling tide had resulted in the ship settling on the muddy bottom. When the tide rose again the ship would right itself[488].

On the next day tents were pitched and everybody settled in to life on dry land again.

A few days later Captains Morgan and Ross from the Duke of York and the Lady Mary Pelham were exploring the area when they saw

a man somewhat like when a boy I have seen Robinson Crusoe with long hair and a beard a stick in his hand and very little apparel....we accompanied him to his farm which was closed with piles drove in the ground containing about five acres of wheat, some turnips, cabbages, onions and a few potatoes. They have pigs and fowls, a fine cat[489].


There were in fact several European settlers who had been living on Kangaroo Island for a number of years in various degrees of comfort or primitiveness. The discovery of what appeared to be a real-life Robinson Crusoe must have been a matter of some interest to the crew and passengers of the Duke of York.

Hobart, South Seas and Shipwreck

After two months, on 20 September 1836, the Duke of York left Kangaroo Island bound for Hobart, arriving there on 27 September[490].

What William Holmes Hamilton did next is uncertain. Did he continue with the Duke of York? Or did he take another ship and return to England? It seems likely that he returned to England[491].

The Duke of York however continued on its mission to carry out whaling activities in the South Seas. On 14 August 1837 the Duke of York was wrecked, off Port Curtis, near Keppel Island, Queensland.[492].

The Second Mate later described the event:

From Kangaroo Island we went to Hobart Town on a whaling cruise of the South Seas. We did not go to Hold Fast Bay. It being the off-season for whales we only got 40 barrels of oil. In making back to New Holland we struck a reef not marked on the charts, we were 10 miles from the Island. Afraid to shift the helm and put her about when we saw the fix she was getting into, the Mate tried to wear her but before she got around her starboard bow struck the reef. There was nothing for it but the boats...We saved three boats...two were carried away when the masts went overboard. We pulled for Keppel Island, taking charts and provisions with us. We went several times to the vessel (for stores etc.) as she did not break then...The crew finally were picked up and got back to Sydney[493].


At the time the Duke of York was wrecked there were thirty two people on board, including three officers, including the master and chief officer, of a schooner coincidentally called the Active which had earlier been wrecked near Fiji[494].

After striking the uncharted bank it was found necessary to cut down the masts in order to right the ship. But the vessel was found to be taking water fast and the only option was to abandon her[495]. Luckily all members of the crew were saved and later made their way to Sydney.

Free Passage to South Australia

During 1837 another sixteen ships arrived in South Australia from overseas ports, as well as many from other Australian ports[496]. One of those arriving from England was the Katherine Stewart Forbes.

It has been reported that Richard Hamilton applied to purchase fifty acres of land on Long Island, New York, some time before making the decision to emigrate to Australia. He was apparently unhappy with the prospect of life in the United States[497] and applied to purchase cheap land in South Australia instead.

It seems probable that he had received encouraging advice from his son William Holmes Hamilton who had been to Kangaroo Island in July 1836.

The South Australian Act of 1834 had set the price of land at one pound per acre. When sales did not reach expectations the price was dropped to twelve shillings. Four hundred and thirty seven Land Orders were subsequently granted each for 134 acres of country land and an acre of town land in Adelaide. Twenty 80 acre sections of land were also sold[498]. Henry Nell was one of those who took advantage of the price reduction and placed a deposit of £80 on an unspecified acreage on 24 November 1836[499]. Richard Hamilton also paid £80 for one of the 80 acre blocks on 7 June 1837, but by then the price had been restored to £1 per acre[500]. Henry Nell and Richard Hamilton probably did not know each other at the time they purchased their Land Orders. But they certainly got to know each other before another year had gone by.

An Application for Embarkation[501] on board the Katherine Stewart Forbes, bound for South Australia, was soon lodged by Richard Hamilton, his occupation being listed as Agriculturalist and his age 45. On this application are also listed a female aged 47, two males, aged 7 and 5, and two more females, aged 13 and 9. These ages would refer to Richard’s wife, Ann, and the children Sarah, Robert, Alfred and Ann Jane. Comments on his application were that he was to “pay his own passage”[502]. He was not eligible for free passage. Certainly he did not fit into the preferred fifteen to thirty age group, although there were others on board who were aged over thirty and who were granted free passage.

On 6 June 1837, applications for free passage to South Australia were submitted for Elizabeth Catherine Hamilton (Mantua maker and milliner, aged 23) and John Hamilton (Mariner, aged 15)[503]. Both Elizabeth and John listed their address as Snargate Street, Dover.

On the following day, 7 June 1837, a Land Order, Number 449, was issued at London by the Colonisation Commissioners for South Australia, and stated that

Richard Hamilton, of Dover Kent, hath paid for one section of land, consisting of 80 acres, with a right to selection as provided in the Regulations of the Board of Commissioners for sales in England of Public Lands in South Australia[504].


Having been granted the Land Order, Richard Hamilton then supposedly disposed of the Long Island property[505]. A few months later, however, he was to discover that the possession of a Land Order was not a passport to settling on his own land as soon as he arrived in South Australia.

A week later, on 13 June 1837, an application was submitted for William Holmes Hamilton (mariner, aged seventeen and a half) whose place of abode was given as being “at his father’s Dover”[506]. But no Embarkation Number was subsequently allocated for William. There could be two reasons for this - either he was not on board the ship at all, or he was a member of the crew.

Some have speculated that William remained on the Duke of York after it reached Hobart in September 1836 and travelled to the South Seas. But if he did this he would not have arrived back in England in time to join the Katherine Stewart Forbes. In fact, the Duke of York was about to be wrecked off Queensland[507]. Why then did Richard enter an application for William’s embarkation on the Katherine Stewart Forbes?

It seems more likely that William returned to England, having left the Duke of York at Hobart in September 1836, and was either already there, or about to arrive, at the time his father made an application for his place on the Katherine Stewart Forbes in June 1837. The reason that an embarkation number was not issued would be that William managed to secure a position as a seaman, perhaps with the influence of family and friends[508]. After arriving at Adelaide in October 1837 Richard Hamilton was able to persuade Captain Alfred Fells to discharge William from the crew of the Katherine Stewart Forbes and allow him to remain with the family. It seems reasonable to guess that the influence of the Hamilton and Smithett families could easily have obtained William a place with the crew before the ship left England.

There was no Application for Embarkation on the Katherine Stewart Forbes completed for the older son Richard, the third by that name[509], nor the youngest son, Henry. Richard was born in 1817. He may have been enrolled in a school from 1825 to 1832 and, like his brothers John and William, became a mariner. He remained living in Snargate Street after the rest of the family left for South Australia in late June 1837.

Richard’s younger brother, Henry, aged only eleven in 1837, was still at the Blue Coat School. On 6 May 1841 at the age of twenty-five, a little later than usual, Richard applied for the Freedom of the Corporation of Dover on the basis of being the son of Richard Hamilton, Tailor. At this time he gave his occupation as Mariner and his address as Snargate Street[510]. John Fox, a Bookbinder, is listed as occupying 119 Snargate Street in 1839[511], but Richard may still have lived at the address.

A few years later Richard the Third joined the rest of the family in South Australia.

The Katherine Stewart Forbes

The Register of Emigrant Labourers applying for a Free Passage to South Australia lists those who were allocated a place on the Katherine Stewart Forbes in 1837. The prospective passengers included Painters, Glaziers, Servants, Bailiffs, Labourers, Carpenters and Joiners, Blacksmiths, Agricultural Labourers, Bootmakers, Sawyers, Shoemakers, Cabinet Makers, Housemaids, Dairy Women, Bricklayers, Mariners, Mantua Makers and Milliners, Saddlers, Shepherds, Plasterers, Seamstresses, Shipwrights and others.

The vast majority of the passengers were aged between fifteen and thirty. Very few were aged over thirty, and very few, apart from Richard Hamilton, paid their own passage. It would appear that Richard Hamilton paid £35 into the Emigration Fund to cover the fares of four the four youngest children, and another £20 into the Revenue Fund to cover himself and his wife[512].

The passengers came from all over England, and some from Ireland. Apart from the Hamiltons, there were several others from Dover. John Croucher, aged 21, a Plumber and Carpenter, applied for passage on the same day as John Hamilton[513]. The passenger list also names John Croucher, a Constable and Tallow Chandler, and Sarah Croucher[514]. They were possibly young John Croucher’s parents. Another group from Dover applied on the same day as Richard Hamilton. They were Abraham Fordham, aged 34, his wife, 39, and three children aged 7, 5 and 3. Like Richard Hamilton, Fordham listed as an Agriculturalist and paid his own passage[515]. The others were Thomas Hawson, age 19; Jeffrey Guy Walsh, age 28; Thomas Grobyn, age 24; and Edward Prolyn, age 22. Each of these young men listed himself as an Agriculturalist and had his fare paid by the company[516].

According to statistics submitted to the House of Commons in 1840, the Katherine Stewart Forbes carried 177 passengers on its voyage to South Australia during 1837. There were six aged over thirty, of whom five paid their own way. There were 129 aged between fifteen and thirty, of whom only four were required to pay, and there were forty-two aged under fifteen, all of whom were granted free passage[517].

Bound for South Australia

On 20 June 1837 King William IV died. A week later on 27 June 1837[518] Richard Hamilton, his wife Ann, and most of their children[519], sailed from Gravesend on the barque Katherine Stewart Forbes, under Captain Alfred Fell and with a total of 222[520] passengers[521]. They were farewelled by a boat-load of friends as they sailed past Dover[522]. The 457 ton barque Katherine Stewart Forbes was built at Northfleet, Kent, in 1818[523]. The East India Company had used it for several years, and, like most of the Company ships, it had large gun ports, high bulwarks, and hammock netting[524]. More recently it had been used to transport convicts to Sydney. Did the new emigrants to South Australia know of this? Had the ship changed at all since its convict days? Some ladies certainly complained of the high bulwarks saying that they could see nothing over them.

It would appear that, if any of the passengers on that voyage kept diaries and journals, none have come to light. However, on the next voyage of the Katherine Stewart Forbes, which left London in October 1838, a number of passengers did keep journals. The diary of twenty-five year old Henry Watson is worth reading and the conditions that he and his family experienced could not have been all that much different to the earlier voyage which brought the Hamiltons to South Australia[525].

Among the other passengers on the 1838 voyage was Doctor Handasyde Duncan, the ship’s surgeon[526], who later became a neighbour of Richard Hamilton at the Sturt. Duncan was born in Glasgow in 1811[527]. During a particularly rough night at sea Duncan’s wife, Kate, was sent spinning across the room and ended up with “two beautiful black eyes”[528].

Henry Watson described young Mrs Duncan, who was aged under twenty, as

one of the most extraordinary beings I have ever encountered...she is very little, very dark, very ugly, very vain, intensely affected, & is the first personage on board...

I suppose she has a voice, but I never heard her do anything but shout & scream. For the first two months there was an intense flirtation between her & the older Horrocks; such moonlight walks on the poop, such visits to his cabin to read improving books.

Mrs.D & Horrock’s flirtation has been brought to an end by her husband & H quarrelling & pelting each other with cushions & because the Dr would not agree to settle the matter with pistols, H struck him, & Madame has now lost her Beau & says she is very wretched & wishes the voyage over.

The Dr is a canny Scot, I know no word so descriptive of him as a prig, he is most intensely conceited...[529].


Henry Watson’s account of the Duncans is perhaps a little hardhearted. The Doctor later practiced medicine successfully in Adelaide, after trying farming for a few years, and when he died at the age of sixty-seven was buried, at his request, in an unmarked grave at Alberton. His wife, Kate, was killed after being thrown from a horse on 25 September 1850[530].

Apart from giving a somewhat barbed description of many of the passengers on board the Katherine Stewart Forbes, Henry Watson’s diary describes the physical conditions of the voyage with an equally critical eye - encounters with waterspouts, thunderstorms, whaling boats.

We might remember Henry Nell, who had paid a deposit for his land in November 1836[531]. Henry and his son, Harley Thomas Nell left England on the Hartley on 7 May 1837[532], some six weeks before the Katherine Stewart Forbes and arrived at Holdfast Bay a day after the Hamiltons. Although it appears that Henry did not write a journal of his voyage, there exists an account of the voyage of William Giles and his family, who were also on the Hartley[533].

The account of the voyage of the Hartley was written by William Giles’ daughter Jane.

At last, after some months delay...their arrangements were completed, and it was finally settled that on the 7th May, 1837, the whole family...should embark on board the good ship H____, bound for Kingscote, Kangaroo Island.

In those early days when so little was known of this vast Australian Continent, it was thought by some of Mr. Giles’[534] friends that he was taking a most hazardous step, in fact, a veritable “leap into the dark”, in leaving a comfortable home in England, where he was much esteemed by many around him, for this terra incognita, and indeed, as some thought it, this “waste, howling wilderness”, at the antipodes. One warm hearted individual, in particular, was so persuaded that the little ones would perish, either from starvation, exposure to the elements, the attacks of savages, or from the fangs of wild beasts, that he invariably spoke of the ship that was to carry them to their destination as nothing better than a “floating lunatic asylum”.


One wonders whether the Hamiltons faced such warnings from their friends at Dover.

...Mr Giles was not quite so rash as his friend thought him, for this family, then only ten in number, increased as time advanced to an alarming extent, and there might have been some difficulty in obtaining employment for fifteen fine intelligent boys, and a suitable maintenance for the half-dozen daughters, had they remained in the old country.

Richard and Ann Hamilton did not increase the number of their children, nor did any of them perish to the savages or wild beasts, but several of their children subsequently had families that increased in size “to an alarming extent”.

However, right or wrong, the decision had been made, and the important day of sailing at length arrived...The last farewells were taken, and on that bleak May morning of 1837 nearly the whole family saw for the last time in their lives the white cliffs of Old England.

It must have been a common sight for the friends and families of emigrants to wave from the cliffs of Kent as the ships passed out of view.

There were few incidents on the voyage worth relating until the ship reached the Cape. By that time - just a few days previously - another child had been born...

After some three weeks of unalloyed enjoyment in that beautiful town...the order came for the passengers to go on board...By this time, the vessel having taken on fresh cargo and livestock for the new settlement, she became so seriously overloaded that it was a matter for surprise that she ever reached Australia at all.

It was usual for all ships to call at Cape Town to collect new supplies, and sometimes this stopover could extend for several weeks. Sometimes the stay extended even beyond what had been intended.

That night a storm came on - one of those violent gales common to Table Bay...The wind howled and shrieked like the wailing of lost spirits in their agony, ever and anon dying away in the distance, then bursting forth afresh with such weird pitifulness in its tones, that it seemed to rouse the waves to well-nigh demoniacal fury. Ship after ship broke from its moorings, and when the morning dawned the beach was strewn with hulls and spars, and battered portions of those fine vessels which only a few hours before rode in safety at their anchors. And yet, violent as that tempest was, and fearful the din and uproar produced, not only by the elements but by the trampling of sailors and feet overhead, and the loud roaring of the Captain’s voice giving orders through his speaking trumpet - the younger members of that family slept calmly on...

It appeared that the storm did no damage to the Hartley, but after reaching Adelaide and unloading all of the cargo...

It was discovered that the chain of their last anchor - the others had snapped like twine some hours before - had by the friction caused by the excessive straining of the ship, worn through all but a few inches of the mast to which it was attached.

When the ship finally departed from Cape Town the passengers, going back on board, were dismayed to find every spare inch of space taken up with new cargo and livestock. After some time at sea another severe gale caused the cook’s galley to be damaged. The passengers had to eat cold pork and biscuits until repairs could be made. Rumours spread that the cattle taken on board at the Cape were being slaughtered in order “to save their lives”.

The captain, becoming concerned at the ship’s slow progress and diminishing supplies even allowed an albatross to be caught, “having no superstitious fear for its leading to ill consequences”[535], and suggested it should be made into a pie.

Accordingly, with the children flocking around them, the young ladies, for the fun of the thing, volunteered to prepare what they fondly imagined would prove a triumph of culinary skill, and gain them renown for ever. But a woeful disappointment awaited them, for “when the pie was opened” it turned out anything but “a dainty dish to set before the king”.


The trials and tribulations experienced by the passengers on the Hartley were apparently not experienced by those of the Katherine Stewart Forbes, which by now would have caught up with them, even though it left six weeks later. The Katherine Stewart Forbes did not stop at Cape Town, but travelled directly to South Australia from Rio[536].

Richard Hamilton described his voyage as “a most delightful passage of sixteen weeks”.

But the voyage of the Hartley was not yet quite finished.

At last, after more than a five months’ voyage, the welcome sound was heard of “land in sight”; and, oh! how eagerly those weary exiles rushed on deck to catch the first glimpse of that unknown country...

And what a wild, uninhabited, “Robinson Crusoe” sort of island they had come upon, thickly covered, as it was, as far as the eye could reach and down to the very beach with that dense scrub no human being can penetrate without axe in hand to clear the way...Not a sign of human habitation was visible; no smoke gracefully curling upwards from the rudest of shanties met their view. All was silent as the grave - dull, dreary, desolation - and only sounds proceeding from the sullen waves that dashed against the shore.

Was this the feeling experienced by the Hamiltons on board the Katherine Stewart Forbes? They did at least have the benefit of having William Holmes Hamilton with them, and he had been there before and would have prepared them for their first encounter with the new land. Nevertheless, the passengers on the Hartley had better things in store for them.

...after some hours’ sailing a brighter prospect spread out before them in the shape of a ship or two lying in a magnificent harbour, a few cottages scattered here and there, and some signs of “the human face divine”.

There had been occasional showers all day, and just as the good old ship, incommodious as she was, dropped anchor in Nepean Bay, the sun burst forth from behind the clouds with oriental splendour followed by a glorious rainbow, which, stretching from one part of the horizon to the other, formed a complete arch with its beautiful prismatic hues of crimson, green and gold reflected in the water. An omen of good it was hoped to be by some of those wanderers from their native land...[537]


And so the Hartley had arrived, welcomed by a rainbow, just as a rainbow had greeted the Duke of York when it arrived there in 1836. One of the ships already lying at anchor in Nepean Bay was probably the Katherine Stewart Forbes.

The South Australian Company had originally intended to establish the main town of the colony on Kangaroo Island. William Light’s surveys subsequently showed that a site on the mainland near the River Torrens would be much better. However, the early ships had still been directed to call at Nepean Bay where the Company had established its headquarters[538].

When the Katherine Stewart Forbes, carrying the Hamiltons, reached Kangaroo Island on 16 October 1837[539] the passengers were informed, much to their disappointment, that the country land surveys had not been completed and that the selection of purchased land could take some time. That was hardly surprising as, after his arrival on the Rapid in 1836, Colonel Light had been expected to survey some 2400 kilometres of coastline in order to find the most suitable place to establish the first settlement, then survey the actual town site, as well as survey the country sections that had been pre-sold in England. Light and his team had no horses and only a few handcarts which they had to pull themselves[540]. Bullocks only arrived several months later. Light had a preliminary plan of Adelaide drawn up by February 1837 but was hindered in his progress by arguments with Governor Hindmarsh about the survey, and by the fact that the existing survey team was expected to work on set wages while those recruited from the new arrivals could be paid significantly more[541].

The Katherine Stewart Forbes continued on, arriving at Holdfast Bay, near Adelaide, on 17 October 1837[542]. The following year, Henry Watson records, the ship arrived in the dark and missed the anchorage by over a mile[543]. But on the first occasion Captain Fell managed to head for the right place without any trouble. Two days later, on the 19th, a public proclamation was made of the death of King William IV and the accession of Queen Victoria - the news, which took three months to arrive, had been brought on the Katherine Stewart Forbes.[544]

Captain Alfred Fell gave an account of his voyages to Adelaide at the hearings of the Select Committee on South Australia on 26 March 1841[545]. When the Katherine Stewart Forbes reached Holdfast Bay the passengers and cargo were landed on to the beach. Captain Fell regarded Holdfast Bay as being as safe as Spithead, being sheltered by Kangaroo Island at the mouth of the Gulf. On his later voyages he was able to take the ship up the River Torrens to the new Port of Adelaide. As well as using their own boats to unload passengers, a number of other people in boats came out to the ship to offer work to the passengers[546].

Having disembarked at Holdfast Bay Richard sent his son John, daughter Elizabeth, and a companion, John Croucher, ahead to set up their marquee closer to Adelaide[547].

Would-be emigrants had been advised to bring a prefabricated wooden house with them, although a tent or marquee, “which should be lined, as the rays of the sun render a tent very oppressive during the day”, was more economical. Emigrants were also advised that “Doors and sashes would also greatly facilitate the erection of the settler’s future dwelling” [548].

The Hamiltons had brought with them a marquee in which they lived for some time while building a house on a half acre block which they purchased from a fellow passenger[549].

1837 Adelaide Town Map showing Hamilton's selection.This land, Town Acre 798, was located on the corner of Barnard and Hill Streets in North Adelaide. It had originally been granted in a Land Order[550] to Henry Grigg Hewett, a storekeeper, who also had another acre block further up Hill Street on the corner of Buxton Street[551]. Hewett divided his land and sold it to several other people. The half-acre on the Barnard and Hill Streets corner was sold to Richard Hamilton on 31 October 1837. It had a 105 foot frontage on Barnard Street and a 210 foot frontage to Hill Street. The eastern half of the block was divided into four equal blocks, each 26 feet three inches by 210 feet. One was sold to a Mr Mullard on 31 October 1837. A second to John Cowled on 7 December 1838. The third to J.Lockwood and the fourth to Edwin Stebbings on 31 October 1837.

By December 1837 the Hamiltons had begun building a pine and rammed-earth house on the block - cutting the timber from neighbouring pine forests before restrictions were imposed on timber cutting[552].

On 24 November 1837 Richard wrote home to family friends in Dover. It took several months for the letter to arrive at Dover, and after some more delay it was eventually published in the Dover Chronicle on Saturday 16 June 1838:

Knowing I myself should be much disappointed were I situated in your place, I feel myself bound to apologise for not having written by the first opportunity, after our arrival, as I have no doubt you will hear of it from M____,[553] or some of the family, long before you receive this.

Richard Hamilton's Letter to Dover Chronicle 1838We arrived at Kangaroo Island one day before the Hartley, after a most delightful passage of sixteen weeks from the time we left London Docks; but judge our sorrow and consternation at hearing, on our arrival, that we could not have our land, as there was not sufficient land surveyed of the country section to supply those who had purchased their lands for more than a year, and that it might be six or even twelve months before we should be able to gain possession, as the survey goes on so very slow, for want of sufficient force in the brigade of surveyors; that we, as we had paid our own passage money, had no claim whatever on the Commissioners, and that we must do the best we could for ourselves.

With this hopeful prospect in view we landed at Holdfast Bay, where we left our things, and having first sent the two Johns and Elizabeth the day before to erect the marquee, about four that same afternoon we started to walk seven miles, with Sarah and the younger children, by a (to us) unknown road, through the marshes and bogs, without a single house or passenger to be met, to enquire if we were right or wrong.

Within about two miles of the end of our journey we were overtaken by a native, his two wives and children, and a white man. It was then nearly dark, and we were just on the confines of a forest; you may be sure Ann (who was nearly fatigued to death through the deep sandy and boggy road, and not having been on her legs for walking for four months, and in a very weakly state too from the effects of the voyage) was nearly ready to drop down with fear; and she called to me to ask the person who was with them to keep back, and bear us company, and put us in the way, if possible, to find our tent, which he kindly consented to; after which we trudged on quite gaily, till we reached the spot where some of the emigrants who came out with us were lodged in a sort of temporary barracks - two families in about twenty four square feet. When we arrived at this spot it was about a quarter of a mile from the high road, and in a direct opposite direction to our habitation, which was at least half a mile further on.

I shall never forget poor Ann: she begged hard for shelter for the night. At the house we went to we could gain no information where the tent was fixed; at last the people gave the children a slice of bread and butter, and Ann and myself a drop of rum each. A person by the name of Wise kindly offered to conduct us by the nearest road to the tent, which we never should have found by ourselves in the dark. When arrived we all lay down on the grass together, sometimes wet and sometimes dry, for about a fortnight, during a week of which I tried to procure the same accommodation as the free emigrants had allowed them; that is to say, the baggage be removed at the Commissioners' cost, but could procure no more than the removal of no more than Elizabeth's, John's, and John C's baggage[554], so that the removal of ours only cost 5l. 10s[555].

After arriving here we applied for a cottage, or a spot on which to build on; we were told we might build a place to shelter ourselves on any part of the Government domain, but that we must be ready to quit it again perhaps in six weeks, perhaps in three months, or it might be a year before it was appropriated as the Governor's Park. Under such circumstances we were at a loss what to do; for town allotments were selling as high generally as from 50l. to 60l.; and having had the offer of an acre in North Adelaide for 40l., Ann very much wished I would purchase the half of it, if I could have it, as an acre was more than we were capable of managing. But as I had not given any immediate answer to the proposal, which was made when I was on board ship, or at the Bay seeing about the luggage, I don't remember which, he "blowed" on it, but finally agreed to sell me the worst half for 21l, which I have bought, and am to be rated on my freehold, without hindrance or leave of any one; and here we have commenced building us a house, which we hope we shall be in before you receive this letter, for we are miserably uncomfortable now.

When William[556] found how things were, and how we were to be served, he said he would stay with us rather than go on with the ship, if I could procure his discharge from the Captain, which he gave, together with his wages, and a good character. He of course is now with us, and is not only a great comfort, but of infinite assistance; for I myself have suffered so much from the continual use of salt provisions, and the effects of a change of climate, that I am of no use whatever.

You will say, I think, this scrawl is very tolerable, when you know I have two poultices on the hand I am writing with, and one on the ancle, at the same moment, all from small rubs which I should not have noticed in England, but here they have almost eat my fingers off, so I will endeavour to write better in my next. Ann would have written, but we have no table to write by, or chair to sit on; and therefore she says she knows you will excuse her, as I hope all our other friends will both me and her.

Every thing here is extravagantly dear; beef 1s. per lb., bread 8s.8d. per gallon, and other necessaries of life in the same proportion. We have not eaten a morsel of fresh meat since we landed. Porter is 1s. per quart. Pigs six weeks old fetch 10l; fowls that lay 10s. 6d. a couple. The cow, a very common one, which might be worth 9l. or 10l. in England, brought the Captain 30 guineas; and a sow, which was all the stock we had left, fetched 10l. She had but one pig in her last farrow on board the ship. A pair of draught oxen are at present worth 30l. and a calf 30l.; ewes, two years old, are worth 30l. a score. How longs things will last in this state it is impossible to say; but this I will venture to assert that a capitalist never can realize better interest for his money that by laying it out on stock here, as their feed costs nothing; and a man who has a pair of working oxen may generally realize 30s. per diem. A labouring man's wages range between 3s. and 7s.6d. a day; and a tradesman's between 8s. and 12s.

Adelaide is situated on both banks of the River Torrens, and is laid out for a very large place it comprises 2,000 acres, and for the time the allotments have been made it has increased rapidly. The town is beautifully situated; but more of that in my next, which I hope will be in about a fortnight.

I was very fearful yesterday I should not finish in time for the post, as I was called from writing in consequence of the grass being set fire to within a quarter of a mile of our tent, with the wind blowing towards us. We of course were very much frightened and all of us exerted ourselves to the utmost to prevent it from reaching us. Fortunately, when within about three feet of the canvass, and after having singed some of the lines, we extinguished it in that direction; but it extended in thirteen other places, with fearful rapidity, the grass being, in many places, strong and luxuriant, and reaching much above a man's middle. In fact, last night when we went to bed we could count at least twenty fires within seven miles. At present we consider ourselves more safe than when the grass was standing, as it has left us in the centre of a clear space.[557]


Richard Hamilton was not the only one disappointed at not being able to immediately take up his land. The delay in surveying caused major discontent. In January 1838 the Editors of the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register claimed that “What are the Surveyors about? When are we to have our land? are the questions which meet us at every turn”[558]. They urged the government to expedite the survey so that landholders could select their land as soon as possible.

Four weeks later, on 17 December 1837, the Hamilton’s companion, John Croucher, also wrote home to his friends in Dover. Again, the Dover Chronicle published the letter, on Saturday 23 June 1838, with this introduction[559]

This is less than half of this chapter. The rest is in the book.

1 comment:

kerry swann said...

Wonderful account of my ancestors arrival in Sth Australia. Thankyou