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South Australian Projects

St Peters Island


Zone 53
Map 5633
N 365000 - E 6429000
St Peters Island is located approximately 7 kilometres from Thevenard, south of Ceduna on the Eyre Peninsula. The Island is off Denial Bay, located between the Fowlers Bay and Point Collinson Whaling stations and is one of the Islands called Nuyts Archipelago by Flinders.

In November 1997, a group of staff and honours students from Flinders University of South Australia visited St Peters Island to conduct a predisturbance survey of the archaeological material remaining at St Peters Island. Kostoglou and McCarthy (1991) have documented the sites of human occupation on the Island focusing on the sealing colonies rather than the whaling industry. 


Hobart-based whalers are believed to have operated a whale fishery at St Peters Island during 1843 and possibly preceding that date. A sealing colony is known to have culled local populations during the 1820s and 1830s and is recorded and current remains documented by Kostoglou and McCarthy (1991). Two vessels, Camilla and Dundee Merchant are believed to have been involved in the whale fishery on the far west coast of South Australia, participating in one or more of the far west coast whaling stations at Fowlers Bay, St Peters Island and Streaky Bay.

Two written references remain that document whaling activity at St Peters Island.

Passage 1:

"How native women fared under the rule of the early sealers may be seen, from the case of two, named Charlotte and Sally, the companions of a sealer named Bryant, who made a home for himself on St Peters Island, off Denial Bay - one of the clusters of islands called Nuyts Archipelago by Flinders. There he had built a hut and made a small farm and supplying himself with such stores as he required by batering fruit and vegetables for them with the American whaling ships, which occasionally put in for water, etc" (Barton, 1902).

Passage 2:

"On Saturday last it was stated in this journal that two whalers, just arrived at Port Lincoln from Fowlers Bay...Richard Harris...in the end of August last, along, with his mate George Cummings performed the arduous journey from a whaling station at Fowlers Bay to Port Lincoln. Calculating the distance at 200 miles and that they would get supplies at Petersí Island and at Streaky Bay, where there were whaling stations, they took with them ten days provisions. At Petersí Island they got a chart of the coast, which was of the greatest service...(The three whaling stations mentioned above were occupied by parties from Hobart Town, from which our travelers had last come)" South Australian Register, 16 December 1843.
It is believed the two men got to Petersí Island onboard the cutter Governor Gawler who found the two men at Port Drummond and had taken them to Port Lincoln after they had walked from Fowlers Bay station via Streaky Bay during August 1843 (Sexton, p90).

Site Description

In 1802, Captain Matthew Flinders explored St Peters Island onboard the Investigator. Flinders noted that the rock of the shore was mostly granite, but was covered with calcareous stone inland, in places up to 50 feet thick (Faull, 1988, p23).

The area has three sites that stand out as evidence of a possible whaling station. 
The first site, Site A was a stone building of a single room structure, with no visible signs of a door or windows. Located in the north west corner of Site A was a whale bone measuring at 46cm x 20cm x 27cm. 

The second site, Site B was a cave located approximately 250 metres to the east of the stone building. The cave is believed to have served human occupation at some stage. A broken timber beam erected vertically in the sand and stands  half a metre high, marks the entrance to the cave. The cave is likely a natural construction as no human occupation is evident at the entrance of the cave, however human activity was identified at the rear of the cave. A rectangular excavation in the cave floor was located and was possibly used to store perishable goods or was created in an attempt to locate water (Kostoglou & McCarthy, 1991, p50). An iron rod extends through the length of the cave and may have been used to hang objects such as meat.  A surface artefact survey was carried out in 1997 in the cave at St Peters Island and recorded the following items: iron pipe, brick with frog, tin cans, window glass, blue transfer print, black glass, purple transfer print, kero tin, plate, bottle, purple jar, glass bottle, two transfer plate prints and iron scatter. 

Cave entrance (photo by M. Staniforth)

The last site, Site C was located at Bob Bay. Located on a sandy progression on the beach was the vertebra of a whale, possibly a Southern Right Whale. Located near the proximity of the beach and where the whale bone was found was a scatter of ferrous fragmented iron plate.


The identification of the St Peters Island site as a Whaling Station during 1843 and before is supported by the historical record and the remains that the industry left behind. It is important however to point out that a sealing colony is known to have established itself on the Island and the remains may have been used by both industries. The remains of the hut and the cave surface artefacts are likely a representation of both sealers and whalers on the Island.

If this is the case, that the whalers could modify and reuse the developments already established by the sealers from the 1820s and 1830s, then it might also be possible that the American whalers passing through the area (as witnessed in Bartonís extract, 1902) could have reused these dwellings also. Although it is highly unlikely, as the American whalers passing through the Island to obtain provisions were likely pelagic whalers and worked from the sea rather than shore-based.


Faull, J. 1988. Life on the Edge: The Far West Coast of South Australia. The District Council of Murat Bay, Ceduna, SA.

Kostoglou, P. and McCarthy, J. 1991. Whaling and Sealing Sites in South Australia, Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, Special Publication No:6, p47.

By Rebecca O'Reilly

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