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
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.
"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).
"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)"
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,
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,
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
Return to South Australian Whaling Site