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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Url
Full Date1878-05-31
Page Number3
Word Count3606
Last Corrected2018-05-09
Newspaper TitleThe South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1889)
Trove TitleRecollections of a Pioneer
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The narration of the early experiences of Captain Underwood, who came out to this colony in 1840, will, we are sure, be read with interest as indicative of the many difficulties the pioneers of South Australia had to contend with, and as an example of

the pluck and energy with which they over came them. His exploits in the good ship Governor Gawler formed a frequent theme of comment in the early days, and it is fortunate that we can give his own account of his adventures in that celebrated craft. There are men who look ahead of the pre sent and determine to carve their own way in the world. The hero of this narrative was one of them. We are glad to say that as a hale and hearty septuagenarian he still lives amongst us. Having had enough of the sea, he has settled down in a quiet rural residence, and enjoys the fruits of his labors — not only metaphorically but actually — under his own vine and figtree. Chapter I ARRIVAL IN COLONY. I landed at Holdfast Bay from the good ship Baboo, Captain Forester, in the month of March, 1840. I walked along the beach northward to the present Semaphore, then marked by a flagstaff, and crossed over the Peninsula to what was then called the Port (now the Old Port). I met a gentle man named Porter, whom I had known in England as a shipowner of considerable re putation. He had arrived home months before me with two brigs, the Porter and the Dor set. I had an hour's interview with him, and my first impressions were anything but agreeable. He assured me that I had landed in the midst of thieves, robbers, and b acklegs of all descriptions ; and gave such a description of the country of my in tended adoption that my courage and hopes sunk far below zero. I felt it was a forlorn hope indeed. He had bought land in Port Lincoln, and advised me at once to pur chase a lot from him and go and settle there, where I might be secure and in peace. All the cash I could command was about 20s., and as he said nothing about long credit, I did not fall in with his kind offer. After my interview with him I left the Old Port with a very heavy heart, to nudge my way as best I could to Ade laide, where there were several huts among the trees of the forest. Long ere I reached it I was ready to faint with fatigue and hunger, and was overtaken by darkness. In the dark I met with a negro (not a native of this land) who offered to guide my way to the young forest city. REACH ADELAIDE. About 9 p.m. we arrived at a ' pub' or hotel, then known, as at present, by the distinguished name of the Royal Admiral. Finding it full of rowdy-looking ' chaps' I felt shy of making acquaintance with such old chums, especially after the description I had from friend Porter. My negro pilot offered to take me to another hotel called the Southern Cross. There I found quiet, and was soon ensconced in the best parlor. I ordered supper, and long before it was ready I was fast fixed in the land of nod, whence I was summoned by the kind hostess to refresh the inner man. After that I retired again quickly to the bliss of oblivion, for I was thoroughly done up, both physically and mentally. Rising early next morning to make an ocular survey of the city that was to be, I could discern among the venerable old foresters at various distances the looming establishments of the new settlers. No thief, robber, or blackleg could I discover, though I felt happy I had escaped the first night without molestation, even though I had nothing to lose except what I stood up in. I soon met some old familiar faces, and enjoyed some happy recognitions. Next evening I went to visit an old friend in the then far bush, and was soon at home and felt secure. Everything of course was in really primitive style, but I spent a happy day — happy in the conviction that all in the colony were not of the sort first described to me. A BED IN THE BUSH. When night came on I had my first taste of bush repose. Kindness had done everything it could to make matters com fortable for an old friend and a new chum. A mattress, with sheets of snowy white ness, were laid on the floor of course— for who could dream of anything else at that early stage of our career. When I was ready to delve below the covers I perceived that something resembling pepper was strewed all over the beautiful white. On examination I found it was a collection of little animals resembling in action our famous kangaroos. I tried hard to clear them away, but not one inch would they retreat from a new chum; so I tried to make a truce by placing myself at their mercy. It was no use ; poor Gulliver among the Lilliputians was nothing to it — I beat a retreat, and seeing a piano in the r00m thought I could gain a tack to wind ward of my little friends. I shook the sheets and mattress and laid them carefully on the piano and as carefully placed myself upon it. 'Here goes for the land of nod, all right,' I thought. The piano was placed alongside a slab wall with bark on the slabs, and after a few minutes I perceived a new kind of motion — one anything but pleasant. I had left the light burning on the floor, and on rising to see who was there I was rather surprised to find myself taken in charge of by a swarm of B flats. Being thus beaten fairly on both tacks, I made a fair retreat out of doors. The night was fine, clear, and temperate, so I lay down at the foot of a venerable gum tree, when a legion of black ants soon began to make me feel I was intruding on their rights. 'Well,' I thought, ' I am done now; that is the last resort,' so I had to keep sentry by pacing about all the rest of the night. Right glad I was to see the break of day : it was far from a happy night's repose, and I found whatever paucity there might be of big thieves and robbers there was no lack of little ones. Next day I returned to the ship, and re mained on board till she could be got round to the Port. There were several hundred immigrants on board aud about eight or nine of us in the cabin. I had left my family in England and all I could with them whle I made the experiment of try ing what prospect the colony could offer to persons like myself. Four laborers, who agreed to remain with me so long as I might require their services in return for my procuring them a passage out, had re mained on board. I had also brought with me the frame and fittings of a boat, to be set up after landing, to be used if required for the purpose of discharging ships in harbor.

This, with some salt and other provisions to serve our turn while building operations were going on was MY STOCK-IN-TRADE. After some delay and a good deal of trouble (for there were no steam-tugs then) the ship was got to the Port, and her pas sengers discharged. I landed with my squad, and erected my tent on the ground now occupied by the Government boat sheds, on the Peninsula. We made a raft of my planks, timber, &c, alongside the ship, and placed on it all our stock of salt pork, oatmeal, peas, &c. In the night the raft broke up, and all our provisions went to the bottom of the river. We had some trouble to fish them up again; we did get them, but the oatmeal and peas were soaked and partly spoiled. After some difficulty we got every thing landed among the mangroves, which then everywhere skirted the banks of the river. It was Hobson's choice with us ; we had to eat our spoiled stock or go without, for it was then difficult to get any thing in the shape of food at the Port; besides there were no funds in hand, though credit was then easily obtained. TO WORK we went, and had considerable difficulties to cope with in getting through the build ing operations. I had one handy man, three who could do very little to assist, and I was only an amateur 'chips.' We worked very hard by day and night, and lived very hard too ; in fact, it almost broke me down before we got through our job. At times I felt inclined to set fire to the whole and return again to the old country, where I had been about seven years in command of some very fine ships, trading to the East Indies, compared with which I found my new life in the colony a considerable contrast, and not very palat able, but I stuck to it without flinching, and at length hoisted my flag on board the good ship ' The Governor Gawler,' so named in compliment to Her Majesty's representative. She was the FIRST CRAFT LAUNCHED AT THE COLONY. Her dimensions were 40 feet over all, 9 feet beam, 6 feet deep, ketch-rigged, with a deck forward for the crew to sleep under. Her measurement was about 16 tons. Three months' hard work in building and fitting her out left me about £100 in debt, and with that incubus I began my career and adventures. There are not many now in the colony, especially of the new or late chums, who have any idea of the difficulties and shifts we scrambled through at first starting. Up to this period I had met with nothing among or from my fellow-colonists but uniform kindness and every consideration that could be expected under our then circumstances. But the first impressions made on my mind by the misconceptions of another were anything but cheering, and altogether contrary to my experience. MY FIRST CARGO. A day or two after our launch I went to work to discharge flour, in 300-lb. bags, from a ship from Calcutta, to be landed at the Old Port, on a mudbank that was fre quenly under water at high tide. A miser able place it was to deposit goods of any kind; boats were hauled into a sort of canal cut in the mud to make sufficient depth of water at high tide to get stuff landed somehow; and some of it was at times washed away afterwards. There was much scrambling, fighting, cursing, and tearing to get the first or best landing. I paid some men about 10s. an hour to dis charge my cargo, for I was unable to manage such large heavy bags. The first day's work left me about £3 10s. clear, but I would have no more to do with such heavy stuff ; so the Governor Gawler was laid up in ordinary for about a fortnight. The Government of the day then engaged me to go to Yankalilla to bring hay for horses in the public service. I went and took from the beach there about two tons in loose trusses, and just as we had finished getting it on board, after a very fine day, a furious north wester, with heavy rain, came down on us before we could get out of the bay. Night came on, with a heavy gale. As the Governor Gawler had no deck, and the hay was about three feet above the gunwale, we did our best to keep off shore, and towards morning we saw the rocks of the north-west bluff almost hanging over our heads. We were on a dead lee shore, and I thought all was over with us. The rain was falling in torrents, when, just at the right moment to save us from destruction, the wind shifted to the southward and drove us out of danger against a furious head sea. We just escaped as with the skin of our teeth. A boat we had in tow was lost, being torn away by the heavy sea. In a fortnight I made three trips, all successful in the issue. The freight on those six tons of hay was about £70, so the order was to stop the trade in future, as good hay in Adelaide could be bought at half the price. It was, however, a small experiment to see how the thing would do. We were all new chums at that time. At that period of our history it was not uncommon for the Port to be so void of shipping of all sorts that my little craft was the only vessel at the wharf, and con sequently attracted the notice of persons of all kinds visiting the Port, His Excellency Governor Gawler included, who, in company with the Harbor-Master, would come along side and make remarks and ask questions. MACLAREN WHARF, called the New Port, was opened by Go vernor Gawler in person, and a great fete given in the Company's store. The day ended with a drama, as a sort of set-off to the gay scene of feasting and joy that had just passed away. A furious dust storm came on just as the festive scene broke up ; the cavalcade on the road was enveloped in a dense cloud of dust ; away went parasols, hats, and all the light gear the storm could tear away. Then came down suddenly a deluge of rain, which transmogrified the ladies — and gentlemen too — into queer looking things. The scene is well re membered to the present hour by some who were there. The opening of the port was noted by the good ship Guiana, Captain Hall, just returned from India with a cargo of tea, part of which was landed that day by Miss Gawler, the Governor's daughter, the tea being swung from the ship's yard arm at the new wharf and received by the lady on the quay. A VOYAGE TO MELBOURNE. On the same day my good ship of 16 tons, without deck, was chartered to take in tea from the Guiana to proceed to Mel bourne, and loaded next day accordingly, and was then dispatched by the mercantile house of Messrs. Gorton & Andrews. In about a week I arrived off the Heads of

Hobson's Bay in a heavy south-west gale. Never having been to that port before I bore away to Western Port, and was there three days, until the weather abated. There were then no lights on the coast, no marks, no guides, and the coast was little known. In Wes tern Port I met a vessel weather-bound from Sydney, six weeks out, bound to Mel bourne. We got underweigh together, and proceeded towards the Heads. I got safely through, but my companion was never again heard of. Only a mail he had on board was picked up about the Heads. Melbourne was then a small place, a mere village. I discharged my cargo of tea all right, and the Governor Gawler loomed large at the side of the river bank, where two or three other small craft were lying at the time. I then took in a cargo of twelve tons of sugar, to be delivered in Adelaide to the charterers ; we broke down the bush on the bank of the river to make dunnage for the sugar ; such was the Yarra Yarra at that time. While there I engaged with a party of sheepfarmers, by name Furlong, to return to Portland from Adelaide with thirty able bodied men as shepherds, to be landed at Portland to the order of Messrs. Stephen Henty & Co. On my way down the River Yarra I sailed against an overhanging tree and pulled down one of the two masts of the good ship. That cost me some work and trouble to put to rights again. At length we got to sea without the aid of a pilot, and proceeded on towards Adelaide. When about three days out, to the west of King's Island I encountered a heavy wes terly gale, and hove-to for a day or two ; at the end of the gale the head of my main mast broke off, but did not tumble down. I had great difficulty to fix it securely aloft in a heavy sea, but it was managed at length, and we weathered the gale most gallantly ; the ship was tight, and we could bale out any little water she made with a pannikin and bucket. I had but one lad besides myself, so we never forgot who had the watch above board, for we had no deck. Damages being repaired, we pressed on again, and in about eight days from starting we reached Adelaide in safety and good order ; landed our cargo of sugar at the wharf, without damage ; amount ot freight was £80. The fame of the good ship as the first coaster between the colonies was now estab lished. She was the first packet ship be longing to the Port that opened the coast ing trade. EMIGRATION FROM SOUTH AUSTRALIA. That voyage being ended, I advertised for 30 able men as shepherds for Portland Bay. As hundreds were then out of em ployment, and wages at 2s. per day for laborers in this colony, my call was re sponded to with delight. I advertised " for Melbourne via Portland," took on board about five tons of iron railing, which made good ballast for the ship and good beds for the boys. I then laid in my stock and store of provisions and water, and down came about 60 fine fellows, from whom I made a selection. Rare contention there was among them to get the prefe rence. I soon selected 30 men, and had them all ready to come on board. Meanwhile the Collector of Customs was corresponding with head-quarters with a view to stop me taking away the laborers from the colony after having them sent out at the expense of the colonists. A stoppage in transitu was put in force, and a great hubbub began among my passengers. The worthy Col lector came to me and talked big about the danger of so many persons being exposed in such a craft to all the dangers of the ocean. Then the Chief Clerk was deputed to examine the accommodation and report on the sufficiency of provisions and water, &c. His report being found favorable, of course, only that there was no surgeon except Dr. Cook with his soup-ladle, and he was my man Friday. During the delay occasioned by these official obstacles I was offered a charter to take a cargo of specie round to Sydney, but declined it on the ground that in such a ship as mine I had not sufficient force to repel any heavily-armed pirate by the way. . After much big palaver the Act was made to stretch in my favor, and I was allowed to take 15. So the Government officer saw 15 on board and called over their names, but he did not see another five who were in the steerage, the rest being intermediate passengers. The officer was satisfied, and with 20 on board off we started for our destination. After we got outside Kan garoo Island a stiff breeze and slight motion quieted their appetites, so they were not much trouble to the cooks or stewards. On the fourth, day I landed them safe and sound to the care of Messrs. Henty Brothers, and received £100 for their passage. I tran- shipped the iron-railing into a craft at Portland bound to Melbourne ; purchased a cargo of flour on the beach there, at the then low price of £25 per ton, and sailed direct for Port Lincoln. I heard before leaving Adelaide they were almost starving there for the staff of life ; arrived there in a few days all right, sold my flour, and bought up the fowls, ducks, &c, at Port Lincoln, and shipped them for Adelaide market. Some bad weather we met with knocked them about on the passage, and settled the hash of a large portion of the duckies. Therefore they did but little good as a part of the venture on the voyage, though on the whole it was pretty profitable and successful. It cost me six weeks to complete the round. The flour did not prove to be first-class ; some of it tasted more like lime than anything else, but any thing did for flour in those days, especially in the far away district of Port Lincoln. It was on that occasion of my visit to that fine Port, I formed the idea of settling there, so I bought a house and garden, and furnished the house, and made all things very comfortable to receive my family when they should arrive from the old country. So Port Lincoln became my head-quarters for seven years, until I was fairly starved out of it.