Memoirs of Mixed Fortunes
Samuel Joseph Stuckey,
a pioneer of the North and South East
of South Australia, 1837-1912
by Mary Louise Simpson
It’s been a long time coming but finally we now have Samuel Joseph Stuckey’s account of some of his memoirs. Edited and annotated by his great granddaughter, Mary Louise Stuckey, we find out who and what he really was, one of South Australia’s unsung pioneers, a man who in his youth was fired up with a sense of adventure and later became known for his toughness and resilience.
His memoirs, covering the first 45 years of his life, capture a sense of the times, the hardship of drought in the far north of the then colony of South Australia, his drive to import camels and their Afghan cameleers, which did so much to open up the dry interior, his killing of Pompey at Umberatana Station, his involvement of the land draining issues in the South East, his successes and also his failures and many other issues.
When he wrote his two memoirs in 1883, at the age of 46, he was a bitter and disheartened man. He had achieved much but had been given very little credit for it. No recognition was given for his early exploration of the North, nor for his pioneering efforts. Very few people knew that it was Stuckey who guided John McKinlay to Lake Hope in his 1861 quest to find members of the Burke and Wills expedition.
Stuckey’s parents, John Vigar Stuckey and Francis Amelia Haggett arrived at Holdfast Bay on 20 November 1836. Samuel was born on 21 March 1837, the ninth non-indigenous male child born in the colony, according to the official records. However he always maintained that he was the first born after Governor Hindmarsh landed at Glenelg. His mother died when he was only 14 years old.
After finishing his schooling he worked for a while in his father’s bakery but in 1852 accompanied him to the Victorian goldfields. On his return the restless Stuckey went north and in 1857 bought Winnowie Station in Partnership with EC Randell. Within a few short years he became involved with the Clayton and Manuwalkaninna stations along the present day Birdsville Track and then Lake Hope, which he had discovered in 1859, Umberatana and Beltana.
It was Stuckey who promoted the idea of importing camels and with the financial backing of Thomas Elder went to India and what is now Pakistan in 1862 to acquire them. While there he observed irrigation works and the successful agricultural land holdings. As there was no shipping available for camels to Australia he had to return empty handed.
He continued his partnership with his brother Robert and Thomas Elder, amassed more pastoral property, as much as 2000 square miles, managed stations and looked after his workers. On 8 January 1864 he shot and killed Pompey, an Aboriginal man attacking his workers and property. He was charged several times but eventually acquitted of all charges on the grounds of protecting his station workers.
As a result of the great draught which ravaged the northern country during the early 1860s he lost both cattle and sheep and was financial ruined. In 1865 he made his second attempt to buy camels. This time he managed to land 124 camels, 31 Afghan cameleers and 31 donkeys at Port Augusta on31 December 1865. Thomas Elder claimed, and received, all the credit. Needless to say they had a fall-out resulting in the dissolving of all partnerships. Elder paid him £20 for 14 years of hard work and privations.
In 1866 he married Johan Anderson Flett and had seven children. During 1871 he moved to the South East Draining Works where he gained employment as secretary and storekeeper. The first years there were not the happiest of his life either. Having uncovered a ‘systematic swindle’ and gross inefficiency he was not the most popular man with his bosses in Adelaide or the workers on site. However he was still able to pioneer new agricultural and irrigation methods.
After being retrenched he became Clerk of the Local Court at Millicent and a leader in the community and respected! With plenty of time on his hands he wrote most of his two memoirs during office hours. His first account was titled Personal Notes of the Oldest Native Born South Australian, his second In Search of Camels: A trip to India.
Reflecting on these first 45 years he wrote; I have been grossly swindled by government legislation, I have been betrayed, persecuted, forced to move, submit to lower pay and ultimately retrenched. His fortunes finally changed in 1886 when he established a stock and station business and proved to be a first class business man. Two years later he took part in the formation of the Millicent Branch of the Agricultural Bureau.
Fifteen years later he had not forgotten the injustices he had suffered. In a letter to the Editor of the Advertiser in 1901 he once more claimed that he had been of ‘true assistance in developing this State’, having stocked Winnowie with cattle as early as 1857, was at Mount Nor-West a year later, which was before John McDouall Stuart, discovered Lake Hope in 1859 and the Mulligan Springs in 1861.
Thanks to Mary Louise Simpson’s efforts we are now able to judge for ourselves if Samuel Joseph Stuckey is entitled to be better known and honoured for what he has achieved.
Review by Nic Klaassen
Memoirs of Mixed Fortunes, by Mary Louise Simpson
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