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Flinders Island

Location 

Zone 53 
Map 5730 
E 454000 - N 6267000 
Flinders Island is located approximately 38 km west of Elliston on Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.  
 

Aerial photograph showing location of the Flinders Island Whaling Station (Courtesty: Mapland)
 
 
 
Whale vertebra found at Flinders Island (photo by M. Staniforth)
 
 

History 

The story of Flinders Island c.1826-1849 
(Extracts from Cherrie De Leiuenís Thesis - The Power of Gender) 

While South Australia was officially settled in 1836, South Australian history was certainly made in the time before such records were kept. A nineteen year of man named William Bluff arrived at the Office of the Government Residence Mr Charles Driver, at Port Lincoln in 1845. William told of the remarkable circumstances under which they arrived at Flinders Island. Bluff reported:  

"...his mother and himself, three infants were kidnapped from the main by a European of the name of Bryan and voyaged to Flinders Island where Bryan cultivated land and had an abundance (of) stores." (CSO 1845/1268) 

On April 9, 1845 the whaling schooner "Vulcan" owned by the infamous John William Andrews of Albany, King George Sound and a crew of seventeen , most of whom were probably ex-convicts, left Port Adelaide on a whaling voyage (Garden, 1977:77, CSR 139/61; 20/5/1840, Drivers Letterbook 28/1845). Their destination was a newly established whaling station on Middle Island, in the Recherché Archipelago, Western Australia. Many trips had been made between Adelaide and Albany in the past by members of the crew as Williams had worked as a whaler and sealer at stations for many years at Two Peopleís Bay (1842) and Torbay (until 1847) (Gibbs, 1995:423). The vessel stopped in at Flinders Island, a port of call presumably known to them before this voyage, particularly because of its location in the Bight, en route to Middle Island and because there was fresh water and provisions available at this spot: They would have most likely traded with a white man who went by the name of William Bryan, sometimes Bryant and his "family" of five who had been there since about 1826 (Drivers Letterbook 55/1845).  

Unfortunately for Williams and his mates on the twenty second of the same month conditions were particularly bad and the "Vulcan" totally wrecked on Flinders Island...(The crew began constructing a canvas boat and sailed for Port Adelaide, but called into Coffin Bay due to bad weather where they obtained a boat from the soldiers. Once they reached Port Adelaide, the men obtained another vessel and sailed back to Flinders Island). On returning o the location where the "Vulcan" had wrecked Williams picked up the remainders of his crew, excepting two - James Miles and ëHigginsí to guard what provisions and crops they had left on the island. Williams saw a chance for profit...valuable materials, food and stores were at this spot, and seventeen men could surely over power the women and children living there. A plan was hatched and they soon made off with the goods they wanted, and as William Bluff later reported to the Colonial Secretary in Adelaide. The Colonial Secretary stated: 

 "Williams however appears to have succeeded in obtaining possessions of everything useful, and then on having left Bluff and others on the Island to shift for themselves with a mere supply of the necessities of life - the loss of implements of Carpentry and those attached to the Blacksmiths Forge appear to occasion the most concern, and were by all accounts, of considerable value" (CSO 1268/1845). 

In about 1844 Bryan died on the Island, and it an be seen that as  Bryan had recently died: 

 "... about a year (since) when corn began to spindle, Bryan died of an imposthume in the breast his last instructions to Bluff were that he should take the earliest opportunity of removing to Adelaide with his mother, the two boys she had born to him, and the other native woman on the island with all the Farm produce, Implements, etc." (CSO 1268/1845).  

Fanny (an indigenous woman from Tasmania) was taken from the island in 1848 onboard the Jane Flaxman but the destination was not recorded. It is not known if she lived, was traded to another whaling station or thrown overboard after the men found no further us for her. In 1849 the rest of the family were removed from Flinders Island, Charlotte told Charles Driver of this following story: 

 "I left Flinders Island on Sunday in a boat with (Robert) Jackson, Charley (my husband) and my two children to catch seal on the Waldegraves. We had rough weather and could not land until Wednesday, we left Waldegraves on Friday to return home until we were driven to the south by heavy gales. For two days we were just within sight of land when the boat capsized about 10am the forenoon. The two children and Charley sank immediately I caught hold of Charleyís cap but it came off in my hand. I did not see him again. Jackson got hold of an oar and drifted towards land. I took off two shirts I had on and wrapped them around the oar from Jackson lean upon he then told me to go on and not come near him. I saw him last about halfway to shore on top of a high breaker. I got ashore at sunset and crawled up the beach; I lay there all the next night; next morning I searched from Jackson but could not see anything of him. I found a horse track inland in two days which led me to Hawsonís cattle station. I went out with Louis Spalding and examined the beach but could not find any trace of the wreck." 

Archaeology 

In 1998, a team from Flinders University conducted a predisturbance survey on Flinders Island for inclusion into De Leiuen's (1998) thesis. The survey located 12 separate structural features, including the site known as Bryantís Hut. 
 
 

 
The remains of Bryants Hut Flinders Island (photo by M. Staniforth)
 
 
 
 
 
 

Bryantís Hut 
The hut is located north of Bryantís Bay inland from the coast in a depression, relatively sheltered area of the island. It is surrounded by sheoak and low lying scrub. Within the area a soak and well were located to the north east of the site. It is an irregular square shape a doorway on the southern side and is of drystone construction from local material, granite, tillite and some calcarenite. One interesting feature about this site is that there is no obvious fireplace, and no material such as brick to indicate that there was one in the past. It could be speculated that cooking was done outside the hut and therefore the need to construct a fire place was not necessary. The size of the rocks indicate that more than one person would be needed to carry them and build it. If they were alone on the island then surely Bryan would have used Fanny and Charlotte to do this. 

The whaling/sealing sites 
It is possible that Bryan was employed or played a role at either the whaling or sealing stations established at Flinders Island.  Much evidence still exists at the whaling/sealing sites and the remains have been grouped into three categories. The first group was constructed mostly of granite and were interpreted as being the oldest constructions, including Bryantís Hut and the remains of the whaling/sealing sites. The second group is made from calcarenite and appear to be associated with pastoralism. The third group is made from  both materials and may have been produced by either pastoralists or the salvagers of the Kapara shipwreck. 

The remains of building were constructed of granite and the base and lower walls of some of these remain at the site. From the sites surveyed it is possible to infer that any of them may have been used for storage, dwelling places or utilized as the blacksmithís forge and carpentry. Ceramic and glass was found within some of these buildings. 

References 

De Leiuen, C. Proposal for Flinders Island Field Trip. 

De Leiuen, C. 1998. The Power of Gender. Unpublished Honours Thesis, Flinders University of South Australia. 

Kostoglou, P. and McCarthy, J. 1991. Whaling and Sealing Sites in South Australia, Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, Special Publication No:6, p51. 
 

By Rebecca O'Reilly 

More Flinders Island Photos 
Return to South Australian Whaling Site Index 
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Created and maintained by Mark Staniforth and Nathan Richards.
Please send your comments about the AWSANZ project to... 
S.Lawrence@latrobe.edu.au
Please send your comments about the AWSANZ website to... 
Mark. Staniforth@flinders.edu.au