Originally occupied by Aborigines, Kangaroo Island was resettled in the early 19th century by roaming sealers and whalers from all over the world looking for trade and profit. The English made the island an official colonial settlement in 1836, promoting it as a place of opportunity. W. H. Leigh, an artist, surgeon, and author boarded the vessel, South Australia, for a voyage to colonial territories from India to Australia, eventually spanning the years 1836-1838. Upon his return to England in 1838, he published a description of his travels to the South Seas, especially his time on Kangaroo Island. Upfront, he states his position against settlement in Australia and uses his own story as a warning to others, hoping to spare naive Britons of the inevitable prats and pitfalls with emigrating to Australia. His overall negative position on colonization was clearly against the prevailing political stance in England at the time, where growth and settlement was considered the best way to secure the wealth and expand the power of the British Empire. His book contains careful observations of the local flora and fauna, the native population and culture, and his personal perspective on the prospects for success. Amongst his descriptions are some particularly gruesome and detailed narratives of native cultural practices.
The Author has little to say, in the way of Preface,
beyond the expression of a hope that this his humble
but honest attempt to tell the truth, as regards emigration
to Australia, may not be without value to those
who contemplate such a step… [this] little volume shall
have the effect of deterring even one individual from
embarking on a rash and untried adventure, or of
warning those who have so embarked against the
shoals and quicksands which beset their course.
W.H. Leigh on the kangaroo, whose population was already decimated by the time of his arrival in 1837.
Some persons have considered that the Kangaroo
would be a great acquisition to our English bill of
fare: I differ from them. The English taste is better
gratified with what it already possesses than it would
with a Kangaroo joint; the flesh of which, however,
is far from being contemptible in these regions,
as the price of it proves ;it being, at Adelaide, 6d.
per lb. It very much resembles the flavour of bad
beef and old mutton, if such an union can be conceived.
Leigh on securing a captured criminal
The wretch was an athletic ugly-looking fellow, a
kind of animal that I should not have selected to pilot
me even round a corner, much less on a journey of
150 miles…The chains and handcuffs put
upon him were utterly useless, as he broke three
pair of them with as great ease as Samson did the
green withs. Hereupon a council of whalers was held to
determine upon the best method of securing him preparatory
to sending him to the main city. After much deliberation, it
was proposed by Captain Allen to put him, like Diogenes,
into a cask. This suggestion of wisdom was instantly adopted,
and all hands were busied in putting him into it.
After he was safely in it, the cooper put on the head,
and coopered him down—where he now remains, receiving
his nourishment through the bung hole !
Leigh on the ghastly practices of the native population
I could fill volumes with accounts of their execrable
treachery, but enough has been said. They
are the lowest in intellect of the human creation.
Among them prevails the unnatural practice
of destroying the twin child, and, if the mother dies,
throwing the living infant into her grave, while
infanticide is an every-day practice. In the more
inland parts, as well as in the vicinity of Adelaide,
all mal-formed children are destroyed; and yet to
those children that are reared, they evince the
greatest affection: but it is generally girls that
…I observed that many of the women bordering upon
the coast were deprived of the little finger, which
is cut off, for the purpose of rendering the hand more
uniform and level for winding the fish lines upon.
….Their wives are frequently punished with ferocious
brutality—the waddie being the instrument used, and
it is applied with so little mercy, that murder is not
unfrequently the result. The part aimed at is the
head ; and I have seen such gashes in the cranium,
that I have marvelled how the sufferer could have existed,
after their infliction.
- Leigh, W. H. Reconnoitering voyages and travels :with adventures in the new colonies of South Australia : a particular description of the town of Adelaide, and Kangaroo Island : and an account of the present state of Sydney and parts adjacent, including visits to the Nicobar and other islands of the Indian seas, Calcutta, the Cape of Good Hope, and St. Helena, during the years 1836, 1837, 1838. London : Smith, Elder, 1840.
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