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Locational data standard



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South Australia
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South Australian Projects

Sleaford Bay

A whaling station at Sleaford Bay appears to have been in operation by the 1837 season when the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register reported that on 1 Nov 1837 the 150 ton brig Siren (Captain Bell) departed from Port Adelaide for Sleaford Bay, near Port Lincoln 'to take in a cargo of oil from the station there' and was then intended for Hobart. The Sleaford Bay whaling station was definitely in operation during the 1839 to 1841 season firstly as a South Australian Company station and then as a joint venture between the South Australian Company and Messrs John and Stephen Hack and Company. 

Site Description

In April 1997 a small group of staff, honours students and volunteers from Flinders University conducted a predisturbance survey of the archaeological material at Fishery Bay, Sleaford Bay (Bradbury et al 1997). Kostaglou and McCarthy have previously documented the existence of a whaling station at Sleaford Bay
(Kostoglou & McCarthy 1991:17-21).

Fishery Bay has cliffs on both the eastern and western sides of the bay, a white sandy beach on the northern side and is open to the south east (145 to 175 degrees). The sites are located on the frontal dune system at the eastern end of the beach near where a small seasonal creek flows down to the sea.

Sleaford Bay Site Structure (photo by M. Staniforth).

Unlike Fowlers Bay, Sleaford Bay revealed extensive archaeological evidence of the whaling station in the form of habitation (and storage) sites and a tryworks platform (see Bradbury et al 1997). Again the building sites were largely constructed of local stone but in this case there is far more extensive use of brick in particular in the form of the tryworks floor.

Flensing Platform at Sleaford Bay (photo by M. Staniforth)


Another issue which came up was the nature and extent of the archaeological material which lay in the waters in front of the whaling station - an underwater survey by Tim Anson and Nathan Richards revealed a range of artefactual material including this blue transfer print found underwater. The se artefacts indicate that the seas may have been a convenient receptacle for unwanted rubbish or that material may be regularly washed down by the seasonal creek.

Site conservation and management issues

One of the issues which arose from the work at Sleaford Bay relates to the environmental damage which is occurring at the site - an area of hoop iron is being washed down by and into a seasonal creek which runs at the eastern end of the site. 

Finally another site conservation issue - the tryworks brick floor is in an area where the cliff above is eroding down and covering part of the floor - in itself this may assist with the preservation of this part of the site. Unfortunately at the front of the brick  floor the sea is aggressively eroding the base of the floor which is steadily falling into the sea. 


It would appear that at Sleaford Bay like some other whaling stations on the South Australian coast two or more different whaling operations were conducted at different times either at the same location or at two locations for which the same name is given. In the case of Sleaford Bay it is considered likely that only one
location was used - that of Fishery Bay and it is considered likely that the  archaeological evidence at Fishery Bay includes material from both the early (1837) and later (1839-41) periods.

One of the issue which arises from this work is the level of investment in the different whaling stations - the historical evidence reveals that nearly one thousand pounds was spent at Sleaford Bay in the 1841 season at least part of which may have been expended on relatively expensive building works including such features as the brick floor for the tryworks. The resulting loss of nearly three hundred pounds was one of the contributing factors to the South Australian Company getting out of whaling at a time (in 1841) when Hobart based whaling stations were still making useful economic returns from whaling farther west on the South Australian coastline (in the years 1843 to 1845).

Mark Staniforth

Structure built of local rock at the Sleaford Bay whaling station, Sleaford Bay, South Australia.
(Photo Mark Staniforth.)

More information on Sleaford Bay

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Created and maintained by Mark Staniforth and Nathan Richards.
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Mark. Staniforth@flinders.edu.au