By Amy Batchelor
In her book “Family life in South Australia Fifty-Three years ago,” Watts (1890) recalls when Sir John Hindmarsh, the first Governor of South Australia, visited Kingscote in June 1838 to inspect the township and hold a levée. As Watt’s father, William Giles (1791-1862), was in charge of the South Australian Company’s station at Kingscote, it was “at once settled that [Hindmarsh] must be invited to dinner, together with his suite, and the captain of the Queen’s ship, the Pelorus.” This impending visit caused much anxiety as “the family had only just moved into the house, which was in the greatest state of confusion… and moreover that they were living in a place where frequently provisions of even the plainest description could not be procured for love or money, it must be admitted their position was a perplexing one… To provide, at only twenty-four hours’ notice, a suitable dinner to set before twenty-four persons, was no easy task.”
One of Watt’s sisters, seated with a full view of Hindmarsh, noted that “his eyes were of the brightest blue… but that one remained stationary in its orbit, and had a cold, unmeaning stare, which puzzled her excessively.” When she asked a sailor what was the matter with the Governor’s eyes, he gave her a single word response; “glass.” Watts recalls the Governor “was of middle height, pleasant looking, with frank, genial, affable manners, and every inch a sailor.”
Genial, affable manners – interesting, but not exactly how history paints the man.
Sir John Hindmarsh (1785-1860), c 1836. Image courtesy of SLSA B 45581
According to History SA, he was “an autocratic and abstemious captain with little time or inclination to deal with non-seafaring types, and was not well-liked by the passengers.” He regularly disagreed with the surveyor-general, Colonel Light, and Commissioner Fisher about the placement and governance of the City of Adelaide, and the disagreement continued once in the colony. The Colonial Office eventually bowed to pressure and recalled him to England.
If you want the true story you need to go directly to the source and, luckily for us, Hindmarsh kept a very candid diary. With no holds barred, he clearly never intended the contents to become public. We can learn a lot about the man through his deepest and sometimes darkest thoughts.
The Loving Father
July 1836: Reacting to George Stevenson’s criticism of his daughter’s ship’s newspaper The Buffalo Telegraph, Hindmarsh notes: “What this stupid arse Petronius Arbiter does not understand is that my daughters merely were being kind and acted for the amusement of all on a long and tedious journey. I know they are talentless. I know they are bubble headed ninnies… but they are my talentless bubble headed ninnies and if it should come to my attention that Mr Stevenson has given public utterance to his critical judgments then he will find himself walking bow legged and in need of a truss.”
The Supportive Brother
July 1836: “Coming with us on the voyage is my sister Anne. Poor dear. Forty nine years old and never married or even been looked at to any great extent by a man. She is not, perhaps, the most attractive of women, but she is not entirely repellent and in a new colony such as South Australia single men are sure to be plentiful. I believe it is the case in Sydney that the number of single men far outweighs that of single women. And where numbers are high, standards are low, so we may yet get the old girl off our hands.”
September 1836: On explaining to the lower class passengers that “leaf tea was running short and that, naturally, the passengers of the better sort could not be expected to do without,” Hindmarsh remarks that they “clearly know their place and may even take solace in the knowledge that their doing without will make the lives of their betters more comfortable.”
When complaints were raised about his dogs having “the freedom of the ship” resulting in “one or two (or perhaps more) of the lower classes [receiving] playful nips… and their clothing and shoes soiled with dog dirt” he told them that “as members of the lower classes I do not doubt that a bit of dirt and filth will make you feel at home.”
The Dog Lover
His dogs, it seems, were the only fellow voyagers that Hindmarsh deeply cared for. In September, 1836, he notes “The voyage nearly ruined when Lion, my spaniel, fell overboard! Fortunately the crew were magnificent and… managed to turn the ship around – no easy task as a lumbering old merchant ship like the Buffalo hardly turns on a sixpence.” What amazing imagery to imagine the Buffalo turning around to pluck a spaniel from the ocean. His love for the dogs only increased when, in November 1836, he notes “to keep the animals well watered I have had to strike an extra pint of water off the allowance to the passengers and emigrants. Loud has been their whining and complaining, but I really cannot have the animals suffer and I think it unreasonable of the people to expect me to allow it.”
The Doting Husband
So numerous are the unkind comments about Mrs Hindmarsh it is very difficult choosing only one. However, the following entry I think is my favourite: November 1836: “A whale swam near the ship after sporting with two or three others nearby. It swam up and surveyed us before heading back to its fellows. As Mrs Hindmarsh was on deck at the time taking her constitutional, dressed in a large black crinoline, I am certain it turned tail and fled when it realised that it was unable to compete. I imagine the report it gave to the others was not entirely favourable.”
The Shitty Truth behind the Proclamation
Hindmarsh regularly quarrelled with the Private Secretary George Stevenson, author of the Proclamation and later editor of the Register. Watts (1890) recalls Stevenson as “tall and powerfully made, not handsome in feature, but with a good intellectual countenance and well-shaped head.” Hindmarsh did not exactly echo these generous sentiments.
November, 1836: “Scoop Stevenson has let it be known to all and sundry that the Proclamation of the New Colony is soon to be written and suggestions will be welcomed. Welcomed, bollocks! As welcome as a fart in a bottle.” When the Proclamation was finally drafted on November 16th by Stevenson, Hindmarsh placed it in the strong box in his cabin for safe keeping. “I know Scoop has worked long and hard at this and I do appreciate his efforts. Sometimes he can be an arrogant sod, but he can be a decent stick at times.”
11th December, 1836: “Oh my giddy aunt! What a disaster of a day! Early this morning great excitement at the sight of Cape Chatham, the first land seen of the new country… But all this paled when I discovered that the Proclamation for the new Colony… was missing!” When told that Mrs Hindmarsh had recently been seen at the strongbox he writes “well of course. If there’s trouble the devil must be involved.”
It seems that her cat, “that creature from the deepest pits of Hell, that foul, vicious bundle of claws and teeth, otherwise known as dear little Tinkles,” needed a liner for his litter tray and Mrs Hindmarsh had found some old papers to tear up. “God above! Tinkles has pissed on the Proclamation!”
He writes: “The rest of the day I spent retrieving bits of paper, cleaning them off and piecing them back together like some child’s puzzle. By the time I had finished I had most of the thing in order, although a few sentences, including, I am sad to say, a rather uplifting quotation from Lord Glenelg, were so badly stained with ordure that they were unreadable… Not exactly the Proclamation that was intended, but close enough, I hope, to fool the Commissioners.”
The Proclamation of South Australia 1836, Charles Hill. Image courtesy of findmypast.com.au
Fortunately Hindmarsh managed to find some spare paper and forged Stevenson’s handwriting to re-write the Proclamation. Apart from Stevenson’s quizzical looks and a comment that he couldn’t read his own writing, the deceit went undiscovered and all was well. This was lucky, as Hindmarsh notes, as “already I have only to sneeze out of turn and Fisher looks at me with all the warmth he might normally reserve for a maggot that just unexpectedly crawled out of his salt beef. So what he would say if he learned that the cat shat on the Proclamation, I fear to think.”