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Thistle Island


Zone 53
Map 6128
E 607500 - N 6125500
Thistle Island is located 35 kilometres south east of Port Lincoln. The whaling site is located at Horny Point on the beach front termination of a minor track which joins the unsealed road to Point Brown. This road links with the Flinders Highway approximately 5 kilometres south east of Smoky Bay.


Thistle Island was named by Matthew Flinders after John Thistle, master of the Investigator, and drowned near the Island in 1802. The South Australian Company had investigated the possibilities of whaling in South Australian waters before settlement took place. A report in 1834 revealed that Thistle Island had plentiful numbers of black whales, sperm whales and seals and in 1838 a station was established at Thistle Island. The South Australian Company hired 35 men to operate 4 boats under command of Mr McFarlane,  and employed the Company ship Victoria  to supply the station and cut in the whales. Despite problems with a rival company, the station had a successful season 

The South Australian Register, 1 September 1838 were optimistic in their description of the whaling station at Thistle Island:

The Fisheries - "We are glad to hear that our fisheries continue successful. The Companyís station at Thistle Island have already taken 75 tuns..."

However the season was of very limited success with only 65 tuns of oil being recorded, despite the statement above, and the season finished early. Another attempt at whale fishery took place the following year in 1839 however when the station failed again, the whaling station was abandoned altogether.


Four buildings were identified on the seaward side of the track which leads the main homestead to Whalers Bay as the accommodation area. The buildings were composed of limestone nodules, and all except one remain in scatter form. Approximately 250 metres east of the accommodation area, a natural platform, rocky in nature was used as the flensing platform and trying out facilities. A try pot removed from the flensing area is being used as a pot plant at the main homestead.
Artefacts recovered included clay pipes and bottle glass fragments, iron and copper nails, a knife blade and fish and bird bones (Kostoglou & McCarthy, 1991, p27).


Kostoglou, P. and McCarthy. J. 1991. Whaling and Sealing Sites in South Australia, Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, Special Publication No:6, 24-28.

Parsons, R.H. 1981. Port Lincoln Shipping, R.H. Parsons, Magill, SA.

State Heritage Branch, 1993. Thistle Island Whaling Station Excavation Report, Austral Archaeology.

South Australian Register, 1/9/1838

By Rebecca O'Reilly

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