Adams' first impressions of Adelaide

John W Adams

His First Impressions of Adelaide

This version was printed in 1902 by E J Walker, Balaklava, South Australia. Spelling idiosyncrasies have been retained. Nothing has been changed. Pictures have been added by FRR.


Advertising for a crew 1836

My dear Brothers and Sisters,

It was our dear Fathers wish that we each should have a copy of his early life in the Colony, and as I have the story written by his own hand, I am now having it printed for us and our children, to remind us of the difficulties the old pioneers had to contend with. I look back with wonder at the courage of those dear parents who took such a long voyage with four young children to a strange and almost unknown land, to make a home for us and give us a better chance of getting on in life than we could have had in the dear old country we came from.

I am glad to know that they lived to reach a great age, Father being 88 and Mother 85 years of age, and their family of ten children all grown up, married, and settled in homes of their own. Their work is done, may we who are left live worthy of such parents, and South Australia be the better for our lives spent in it is the earnest wish of your Sister, Sarah Tilly (nee Adams)

My Early Days in the Colony by John W. Adams
It has been the expressed wish of many friends that I should write some of our early recollections of the Colony for the benefit of our children and others who may be interested in our colonial life. I have just set down a few first incident of our voyage out which is pretty well understood by most colonists, but not so to most of our children who have not crossed the sea. Our voyage on the whole was a pleasant one. We sailed in the good ship Buffalo, in company with the Tam O'Shanter from Spithead about the middle of July, 1836, and after being at sea a few days experienced a heavy gale, and we returned to Spithead, leaving the Tam to proceed alone.


Replica of the Buffalo

That vessel arrived in South Australia three weeks before us, but the gale had done her some damage, as they were obliged to pump more or less all the voyage. Before we turned back three weddings were celebrated, and all was joy and pleasantness, but before morning the wind blew a gale, and nearly all the immigrants were too bad to get up. The Doctor and the mate commiserated our helpless condition, reported to the Governor, and the ship was put about, and by the time we dropped anchor at Shanklin we could all walk the deck. We finally sailed on August 3rd, passed Maderia and in due time reached Rio de Janerio, and stopped there about eight days, and after a pleasant voyage with the exception of three or four days off the Isle of St Paul's.

We arrived in South Australia on the 24th of December, 1836, and entered Port Lincoln, where we found the Signet waiting for us. We sailed in company and dropped anchor in Holdfast Bay on the 27th. On the 28th the Governor with the marines and as many as could get into the boats, [went ashore] and the Colony was proclaimed amid the shouts of the people and the firing of guns. The ships at anchor were decked out with flags of all colors. Some of the incidents of the voyage may be interesting.

After 20 days out the ship Lady Flora passed us on her voyage to Calcutta. Meeting a ship at sea is pleasant and rather exciting. On crossing the line it is customary to be shaved or pay a fine to those who have crossed before; and as shaving was to be the order of the day grand preparations were going on for a week or so before, such as making hughed razors, tin crowns for Neptune, and all his train, etc. On the evening of the eventful day the ship was hailed in the usual way from the sea, supposed to be Neptune himself, and a fairy-like figure sprang over the bows with a letter in his hand and darted towards the cabin, and then the usual enquiry of Neptune about his sons, with an intimation of paying us a visit on the following day, and then departed in a burning tar barrel.

The decks were washed for his reception, and water came tumbling down in all directions, and those who remained on deck got pretty well drenched. The ladies who assembled on the poop to witness the departure of Neptune got their feet wet, and finding they could not stand against the continual splash retired below. Notwithstanding the promise of the Governor that they should not be interfered with, for some reason or other on that night the men had orders to heave the lead on both sides of the ship, which afterwards appeared to be necessary.

The men took their situations and regularly called out the depth of water. The fun all over and all had turned in, about 11 o'clock one of those thrilling sounds from the boatswain's whistle, and the startling cry of a man overboard roused all hands, and five minutes could not have elapsed before a boat was manned and off in the supposed direction of the lost man. The life buoy was thrown out and blue lights kept burning (but it was ten minutes before he was missed, and it was known he was the worse for liquor), the boat was absent for more than an hour and all felt it was a hopeless case, and then fears were entertained for the boat, as there was a nasty sea on.

The marines kept firing their muskets, and lights flared all about the tops of the ship. At last the excitement was so great that the Governor ordered a cannon to be loaded; but before that was done, and as I was standing by the gangway with one of the petty officers I caught sight of the boat, and the next time she rose on the wave the petty officer saw her and reported her to the great joy of all. The officer of the boat reported that they had been unsuccessful in their search, and all turned in with heavy hearts; and on the following day instead of festivities anticipated, there was nothing but sorrow depicted on the countenances of all, and a real mourning among his shipmates, which did them honor.

We reached Rio as I have said, and it was good for us we went on shore as much as possible. We found ourselves in a foreign land, not understanding the Portuguese language, but we found many English there. I found an old acquaintance who I had known in England, and he was very useful to me, such as the exchange of our money, and to lay it out to advantage, which I did by stocking us with fruit, little nick-knacks, &c., which was a blessing to us. Among other things I bought two rapps of onions, which lasted all the voyage, and I grew seed from two I had left.

We were reported not very pleasantly at first, but an extraordinary Gazette was published giving full particulars of us as immigrants for the new colony of South Australia, and all we met were eager to greet us, and offered their services to us. One day as four of us was on shore with our wives we took a walk nearly five miles along that beautiful bay leading to the Sugar Loaf Mountain and saw most of the Ambassadors' residences, there was no mistaking the English.

We were much pleased with the appearance of the place, its fine harbor and lofty mountains, the town is well supplied with water by an aqueduct 13 miles in length, and there are fountains in all directions. When we were there we were told the place had not been established more than 30 years. What appeared strange was the absence of chimneys, the churches were beautiful inside, but the images at the corners of the streets with their tinsel drapery was not admired by us, but the faithful always bow and cross themselves as they pass.

One day must have been a grand day with them for fireworks were going off continually all day, and a great crowd was following a priest in a cart with a coffin in front and boys running by his side carrying lights and shouting, the cart was drawn by a mule. Whilst walking along the main street we saw the English Admiral who was stationed there coming towards us riding on horseback. We agreed to salute him in English style by taking off our hats as he passed. He recognised us in a moment, and his cocked hat was off, bowing to us in return. I need not say that he looked pleased as he recognised his countrymen and women, it showed itself in his pleasant smile.

On Sunday, a very fine morning, one half of the ship's company went on shore dressed in their best, but at night most of them were taken on board in such a state one could hardly tell what they were dressed in. I took Sarah and John on shore, and it came on to rain as it does in the tropics, we went on board towards evening drenched. I had to put Sarah on the steps of the ladder before me, and John clung around my neck. I had a bundle handkerchief full of oranges and bananas on each arm with a rope in each hand and so got up the ship's side, and after changing clothes I never felt the ship so comfortable.

On leaving Rio we were towed out of harbor by the boats of the English, French, American, and Portuguese ships, about 12 boats in all. At sea again not much occurred to mar the harmony of the ship, but we amused ourselves as best we could, watching flying fish, dolphins, whales, etc. We had the whaling ship Woodlark keeping company with us about a fortnight. Every Sunday when the weather would permit we had the Church service, and a beautiful sight it was to see the immigrants and ship's company joining together in the service. On one occasion we had to leave off in the middle of the service on account of a squall and to shorten sail.

The Rev. C. B. Howard, the chaplain, would often come below and join in with the Wesleyans and others in their evening service. We had a newspaper written by some of the immigrants called the Buffalo Gazette once a week. Before we landed it was decided that the women and children should remain on board whilst we went to prepare places for them.

With scarcely any tools with us, we had to get the material for the purpose, and after about a week the grand plan of our encampment was pegged out on the rise opposite the present gaol, and near the spot where the present Port Road runs on the now Thebarton, and called Buffalo Row.


Wool washing at Thebarton, 1875 (SLSA)

About 12 or 16 huts each hut was a double, each compartment was 16 by 16 built with saplings and the sides and roof was thatched and filled in with reeds from 6 to 8 feet long, and about a month from landing we were nearly all settled in them. Some amusing incidents occurred in the meantime. On first coming up we were famishing for a drink, and Hewit[t] and myself went in search of water, we made to the river just at the spot where Thebarton Bridge now stands, but to our great disappointment the river was dry at that place, so we walked back to the party, who soon made the bank of the river, and plenty of water.

The 3rd of January 1837, we pitched the first tent, there was five of us in one party, [Henry Grigg] Hewit[t], [Edwin Thomas] Stebbing, [William] Wise, [Thomas] Norris, and myself, and boy. We shot some parrots on our journey up and we decided to cook them that night: we picked and cleaned them, one made the dough, another dug the hole with his knife to put the fire in. We had nothing but a soup tin to bake the pudding in. The pudding made and the fire lit we sat down discussing the situation watching the pudding. Time wore on and we thought it must be done, we were anxious to be at it for we were hungry. We opened the top and found it was only just warm. We took it out and put more fire under, and so it went on, and it began to smell savoury, so we decided to eat it at last, although it was half cooked, as we were thoroughly tired.

When the anchor was dropped the usual bustle commenced for landing. Before we left the ship we witnessed a grand sight. All the hills and gullies as far as we could see was on fire, and the reflection was so strong that we could see every rope and men walking the deck of the Signet. She was about half a mile in shore of us, and we were about five miles out. I have seen many fires since but nothing to compare with that for grandure. It was fine fun to see who would get to shore first. The Rev. C. B. Howard jumped out up to his armpits, and I believe he got to land first, that was from the boat I was in. Everyone had to look after himself and baggage, even the Governor himself tucked up his trousers and went into the water to see to landing his things.

One of the immigrants had brought out a fore carriage of a timber waggon in a case, he was asked if that was a piano for the young ladies of his family. All the Buffalo immigrants had the use of it to get their luggage up. We went down in the cool of the evening and about a dozen at a time pulled a load with ropes attached from the Bay to Adelaide, and assisted each other until we got all up in that way, occasionally we would go down and carry as much as we could on our backs.

On dark nights the party at camp would keep fires to guide the party up. One night three of us and Mr. Cosh's [Cock's] boy was late, and all the fires out, we thought we were lost and after going one way and then another, never going far enough to lose the sound of coo-ee. We spread out a bed one was carrying and turned in under a wattle tree.

On rising in the morning we found we were not more than a quarter of a mile from the huts. On one of our trips to the Bay a party had brought in five natives to the Bay, and it caused considerable amusement, it was a strange sight to us new arrivals to see before us five naked savages, but before long they were all dressed. Mr. Gilbert, the storekeeper, brought out some clothes, and I with others dressed one, afterwards known as 'Captain Jack', and until he died he always called me his 'brudder.'

Years after if he was camping near where we lived he would come or send one of his lubras for his accustomed quantity of sugar and tobacco, &c., that I was in the habit of giving him. When dressed they were shown a looking-glass. They stared at one another, then looked in the glass, and then turned it round and looked at the back, but could not make it out. They were shown a burning-glass by Mr. Gilbert, and they saw him light a piece of paper with it, they looked astonished and looked at the glass, then up at the sun.

I have no doubt if we could have undressed their thoughts they would think that was a better way of getting a light than by rubbing two pieces of reed together, as that was their way of making a fire as I have seen them many times since. Some one showed them a large doll that was made to open and shut its eyes. They appeared to be much frightened at seeing it, and no amount of persuasion could get them to go and look at it when it was put back into its box.

I had taken my boy John up with us, and after a day or two his eyes were so bad he could not leave the tent. The news reached his Mother that he was blind, and she with Mrs. Norris came on shore to see him. On their journey up they lost the track of the truck, and got a little way in the scrub, and thinking they may be lost tore up their pocket handkerchiefs and placed it on the boughs of trees, but before they had quite used it all they saw two men through the scrub which turned out to be Mr. Allen and his son going to the Bay.

They began to be frightened, thinking they may be natives, but when they saw they had straw hats on they plucked up courage to hail them, and they were soon put on the right track. On their approaching the encampment they met the Governor with Colonel Light and others, who had just decided on the site of Adelaide and they congratulated them on being the first white women who walked on the site of Adelaide.

When they approached the encampment Frank Potts shouted out in his droll way, ladies in the camp, and they were received with cheers, and all hands struck work and made a holiday, and many enquiries were made from those on board. On first coming up every one was delighted with the scenery. When leaving Glenelg we turned to the left through the sand hills near the Reedbeds and in places it was very scrubby, the river being hid by large gum trees growing there.

The site of Adelaide was covered by a peppermint scrub, and what is now the Park Lands was dotted over with large trees called peppermint, with some gums; those along the river and the flats was very large and in places very close together. You may form some opinion from the following:-We had been sometime camped there and the rains had set in; one morning three men was coming from the Port, they got into a punt which was kept somewhere about where the Railway Station now is, and tried to cross in it, but were carried down with great speed, he caught hold of the branches of trees, but could not hold on and was carried by the stream very near where Thebarton Bridge now stands.


Torrens River 1850 (SLSA)

An eddy turned the punt towards the bank, he jumped out and secured it. The Governor rode about on his mule urging all he could to try to rescue the man, but no one could get near him. As soon as he saw the man was safe he sent for line and ropes to get the punt over on our side, as there was no means to cross until the flood had subsided. When the rope and appliances were ready he with his own hand fixed what sailors call a taggle on to a small line, he then placed us in proper positions, and then placed his hat on the ground and coiled the line in, and when all was ready he mounted his mule and took his place.

One man held the line with the stone secured, and then handed it to him. After getting his views he never took his eye off the punt, he urged on the mule, swinging the stone on reaching the bank he sent the line through the trees and it dropped about a yard or so from the punt. The man caught it and then a stronger line was bent on, and all was going on well, but as the stronger line was within two or three yards of him, in his excitement stepped into the water to secure it, when the small line broke.

The Governor expressed himself vexed and he tried two or three times more, but could not succeed, as the branches were very close together. Many of us tried but could not throw the stone over. He then shouted to the men to go to his Private Secretary at North Adelaide and get some food. People of today seeing the river as it is can form but a faint idea of its beauty as nature made it.

That part of the river near the city bridge and known as Hack's Crossing was the only place where we could cross with safety with horse and cart for some time. From thence to below Hindmarsh was a continuation of waterholes, and it was only like a river when the floods came down. Where Morphett-street Bridge now stands was twenty feet deep in places, and the sand and debris with the butts of trees that were buried up by previous floods in three years was swept away.

After the reeds and firewood was cleared out of it made a better course for the water. One extraordinary flood broke over the bank just below Hindmarsh town and overflowed the plains whilst we were living on the Park lands, as we stood at our huts the plain looked like a sea towards Glenelg. I have been over the land since and found four inches of soil deposited on the plain, it has broken over since then and formed a new course through Mr. Davis' land.

Colonel Light was quite right when he refused to lay out the chief city of the Colony along the banks of the river about Hindmarsh. The Governor was anxious to have the town there, as he fancied it, and afterwards chose it as one of his preliminary sections. About that time there was a strong feeling, and many were dissatisfied with the site of Adelaide, thinking that there may be better places along the coast; many of the acres that was bought in March for 6 or 7 pounds were offered to be sold 3 months later for 10.


Hindley Street 1865 (SLSA)

It was said that the Governor would remove the seat of government to Encounter Bay, and among the leading men many disagreed; but many who had bought town acres began to build on their land, and when a public house and an auction room and a few other houses were erected about Hindley Street the town began to look like a business place, and people gradually began to leave the Park lands. It was a long time before one could see through the streets.

In visiting of friends people would start from some known spot and then would coo-ee to one another, and tracks were made from one place to another, it was rather bewildering to find one place after dark, for the many burning stumps about to tell new comers this and to tell them that a black forest existed four miles from Adelaide to the Bay and towards the Sturt they could scarcely be made to believe it. But so it was, as I have had occasion to go through it for a long time.

To be continued.

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