Captain Matthew Flinders, and his hungry crew members, discovered Kangaroo Island on 2 March 1802. They found no inhabitants but were compensated for this by the discovery of what they needed most of all - fresh food! In his journal Flinders recorded, 'the whole ship's company was employed this afternoon in the skinning and cleaning of kangaroos. After four months' privation they stewed half a hundredweight of heads, forequarters and tails down into soup for dinner, on this and the succeeding days, and as much steak given, moreover to both officers and men as they could consume by day and night. In gratitude for so seasonable a supply, I named this south land KANGAROO ISLAND'.
The human history of the island, which started many thousands of years ago, is rich and colourful. At the same time it is also full of suffering, endurance, privation, success, failure, courage and bravery. Its Aboriginal occupation ended about five thousand years ago and was not renewed until the early 1800's when escaped convicts, from New South Wales and Tasmania, whalers and sealers kidnapped Aboriginal women from the mainland and forced them to live with them on the island.
No sooner had Flinders left the island or it was visited, circumnavigated and mapped, by the French Captain Nicholas Baudin who named it L'Isle Decres. Kangaroo Island only just escaped being a French colony!! A year later a group of American sealers, under command of Captain Pemberton, arrived aboard the brig Union and established themselves at what is now known as American River. They stayed for four months to build their new ship and kill as many seals, for their skins, as possible. The sailors sawed timber from the local pine trees near Pelican Lagoon and carried out the first ship building enterprise in South Australia. The first official settler at American River was Frank Potts. This boat builder arrived in 1842 but eventually returned to the mainland and established vineyards at Langhorne Creek.
When the Americans left in their 35 ton schooner Independence, Kangaroo Island remained a favourite hunting ground for this commodity and between 1806 and 1836 it was not only occupied by whalers and sealers for short periods but also permanently by runaway convicts, ship deserters, farmers and other settlers.
Among some of the earliest settlers were William Walker, who arrived in 1819 and George Bates who settled on the island in 1824. The first birth recorded on the island was that of Mary Seymour in 1833. Here parents were Nathaniel Walles Thomas and Betty, a full blooded Tasmanian Aborigine.
These pre-colonial settlers made their living by hunting, fishing, skin and salt trading and even growing some vegetables. A report of 1819 described the islanders as 'complete savages, living in bark huts, clothed in kangaroo skins and smelling like foxes'.
A similar report was written by Major Lockyer in 1827. He wrote, 'The lawless manner in which these sealing gangs are ranging about requires some immediate measures to control them. From what I have learnt and witnessed, they are a complete set of pirates going from island to island along the southern coast, making occasional descents on the mainland and carrying off by force females. The great scene of villainy is at Kangaroo Island, where, to use the terms of one of them, a great number of graves are to be seen, and where some desperate characters are, many of them runaways from Sydney and Van Dieman's Land'.
For many years the island's white beaches were stained with the blood of tens of thousands of whales, seals, kangaroos, wallabies and possums. For a few years there was a whaling station at Point Tinline. Both the seals and kangaroos were almost hunted to extinction. During Captain George Sutherland's short stay on the island in 1819, more than 4500 seals and 1500 kangaroos were killed for their skins or meat. As late as the 1950s seals were killed for shark bait. The Kangaroo Island Emu was wiped out by the 1830s.
In his report to the South Australian Company Sutherland wrote, 'This large island containing the finest pastures, with timber suited for ship and house building, will afford secure protection'. It was probably, among the whaling and sealing prospects, a contributory factor in the settlement of the island by the company.
When Colonel William Light arrived on the brig Rapid in August 1836, Dr John Woodforde recorded in his diary 'There must have been a great mortality among the kangaroos on this Isle since Flinder's time or he must have mistaken the wallaby for them as we have not seen one and the sealers say there are none'.
One of the island's most famous and colourful charactors was Henry Wallen, better known as 'The Governor'. He settled near Cygnet River in 1816 and was the first farmer in South Australia to raise a crop. With the arrival of Captain Morgan on the barque Duke of York on 27 July 1836 at Kingscote, Wallen's governorship came to an end. It was replaced by Samuel Stephens, manager of the South Australian Company.
Woodforde reported that Wallen had a farm about thirteen kilometres up the river which 'does him great credit as he has several acres of flourishing wheat and most of the English vegetables. He has also two native wives'.
When the Duke of York anchored at Nepean Bay, on 27 July 1836, the Beare family of six were among its migrants. Thomas Hudson Beare, born at Winchester England on 30 December 1792, his wife Lucy and children. Within hours of arrival, their daughter Lucy Beare gave birth to a girl. Sadly she died after only two days. When Lucy had another daughter a year later, the daughter survived but Lucy died.
A plague at the Myponga cemetery, commemorating his death, says Thomas Beare who died on 6 November 1861 at Aldinga. is buried at Myponga. However his death notice states that on the 7th November 1861, Thomas Hudson Beare died at his residence at Myponga, aged 68 vears. He was the brother of Mrs. Samuel Stephens. The deceased was the first storekeeper and general manager to the South Australian Company at Kangaroo Island. He was one of the pioneers of the colony, having landed at Kangaroo Island in the Duke of York in July, 1836, in company with his brother-in-law, Samuel Stephens, the first manager of the South Australian Company in Adelaide.
Beare's wife Lucy, who died on 15 September 1887, was interred, as was Thomas, at the North Road Cemetery. The first settlement at Reeves Point lasted for nearly four years when it was abandoned by the South Australian Company in favour of Adelaide. However Kingscote survived, as did one of the Mulberry trees planted in 1836 in the Company's garden.
The first school in South Australia was established on Kangoroo Island by Captain Bromley who lived on the island until 19 May 1839. During this time he instructed some twenty children under a tree until he had built a hut for them. When appointed Protector of Aborigines he moved to the mainland. Among Kangaroo Island's earliest industries, apart from the whaling and sealing, were shipbuilding, salt harvesting, quarrying and the production of eucalyptus oil.
The first of many shipwrecks, after official occupation of the island, was at Hog Bay Reef where the locally built William sank in 1847. The first lighthouse in South Australia, at Cape Willoughby, started operating in 1852. This was followed in 1858 by one at Cape Borda, 155 metres above sea level and manually operated until 1989. Supplies for this lighthouse and its keepers were landed at Harvey's Return.
The Lighthouse at Cape Du Couedic was not started until 1909. The materials for the building, and later the goods for the keepers, were supplied from nearby Weirs Cove. At first they were carried 90 metres up the cliffs until 1907 when a flying fox was used.
Since the sinking of the William, more than fifty shipwrecks have been recorded around the island. The largest was the 5,800 ton Portland Maru in 1935. It began taking water near Cape Du Couedic before finally sinking at Cape Torrens.
Communications with the main land, which had been a problem, were vastly improved when a start was made to connect the island with Normanville via submarine cable. The project was started on 25 December 1875 and completed in just six days. Later an overland line was constructed connecting Kingscote with the Cape Borda Lighthouse on the western end of Kangaroo Island. The system from Cape Borda to Adelaide was opened on 13 August 1876. Several of the original early settlers are buried at Reeves Point and Penneshaw, which was known as Hog Bay until 1884.