Hard Men #3: The King Island Girls

Sealers and Whalers 1800-1850

The King Island Girls

1. The sealer 

Hobart Town Gazette, March 25, 1826
"It is evident that the Legislative Government must enact a law to prevent the fishery for seals at improper seasons; else this most valuable source of colonial export will soon be lost. There are two species of seals in these seas. The early kind brings forth its young from 25th November, to the latter end of December, and the reefs and banks should be left undisturbed until May following, when the increase will be grown up, and the skins well furred. The black seal, which is the most valuable, is a month later. The unthinking sealers, harass these useful animals at all seasons, and the consequence is, that many reefs are deserted, and inferior skins have been procured from animals too young, and imposed on the merchants.
John Scott, who has long been an inhabitant of the Straits, and has cohabited there with a black woman, by whom he has three children, declares that he has known three hundred pups to have perished on one bank, owing to the premature desertion of the mothers, driven away by this unseasonable disturbance of the sealers..."

Brian Plomley & Kristen Anne Henley, 1990, The Sealers of Bass Strait and the Cape Barren Island Community, Blubber Head Press, Hobart (Appendix A: Men occupied with sealing in Bass Strait and Kangaroo Island: THE SEALERS)
"SCOTT, John
Alternative name: 'Old' Scott
1. A sealer living at Westernport until about 1827, when it seems he left there to live on King Island.
2. At Westernport John Scott was cohabiting with a black woman by whom he had three children...At King Island he was reported to have four Tasmanian females (Plomley research papers, information gathered by George Robinson, largely in the summer of 1830-31); and he was still there in June 1832.
3. In January 1837 his half-caste daughter, Jane Scott, aged 14, was cohabiting with David Kelly, who was living with James Munro on Preservation Island.
4. John Scott was drowned at the time of the wreck of the Rebecca at King Island, on 28 September 1843. There were then two black women on King Island, one the mother of Scott's children: (a) a fine boy, 12 years old, (b) a girl of 9 years, and (c) a girl of 5 years. These children were apparently then taken to Port Phillip, where one named Kitty married, as did another named Mary. The mother remained alone on King Island, where she died in mid-October 1854."

2. The women

The Melbourne Argus, October 27, 1854
...an aged aboriginal woman, named Maria, who from the account she gives of herself, must have been on the island for at least twenty years. She went originally from Van Diemen's Land, and was one of a party engaged in seal-fishing. It appears that on one occasion while the party were engaged in this employment in Franklyn Bay, or Yellow Rock, as she calls it, their boat was capsized in a squall, and all drowned except Maria, another woman, and two children, with whom Maria managed to swim on shore. The children are since dead, and for many years old Maria and her companion seem to have been the only inhabitants of King's Island. They had kangaroo dogs, and have since been employed hunting and snaring kangaroo and wallabi, and bartering their skins to occasional visitors from Launceston for provisions. The person they dealt with most in this traffic was a David Howie, of Launceston, of whose generosity as a trader the old woman gives anything but a favourable account."

Andrew Lemon & Marjorie Morgan, 1995, Poor Souls They Perished: The Cataraqui, Australia's Worst Shipwreck, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Collingwood VIC
"Old Scott...and his 'family' -- ...two 'wives' and their children --- closely resemble the unnamed sealer and family encountered [on King Island by John Lort Stokes, Captain of the Beagle] on his visit in 1838...Old Scott...drowned in a boating accident in 1843. A small trading ship, the Rebecca, became entrapped in the reefs close to Yellow Rock...Scott, the women and some of the children, went out in their own boat to offer advice. But on their return their boat was swamped, and it capsized. Scott and at least one of his children drowned...One of the ['salvage crew from Melbourne'] named John Robert, helped bury two of the Rebecca victims, and the bodies of Scott and his dead child. Now Maria and her companion, referred to by John Robert [in a letter to The Argus, May 24 1884] as Georgia, were left entirely alone on the island."

Plomley & Henley, 1990, The Sealers of Bass Strait...
"HOWIE, David
1. In July 1836 he was...sentenced to 7 years transportation, arriving in VDL on the Elphinstone on 2 October 1837. Later he went to the islands of northwestern Tasmania, first living on King Island and then on Robbins Island. A ticket of leave was granted to Howie on 24 May 1841, a conditional pardon in September 1842, and a certificate of freedom in December 1842. In August 1845 he was involved in rescuing the survivors of the Cataraqui on King Island...
4. On 23 May 1853, Howie married Jane Wilson of Circular Head...
5. On 20 March 1856, William Wilson, Howie's father-in-law, wrote to the Bishop of Tasmania seeking help for some Aboriginal women on the north-western islands whom he said had been supported and protected by Howie for many years...On King Island there had been two women: one named GUDEGUI, a native of Ringarooma, who had died their about two years earlier; the other named Maria, a native of Oyster Bay who had now moved to Robbins Island..."

3. The children

Anne Drysdale, Diaries 1839-1854, State Library of Victoria, MS 9249, MSB 1138/1
"Wednesday November 1st [1843]...Caroline [Newcomb, Anne Drysdale's business partner and close companion on Boronggook and Corieyule stations] and I drove to Corio [an early name for the settlement at Geelong] after dinner. Saw Capt. Mactaggart, who told us we should have the daughters of Scott."
"Thursday 16th November 1843...Mr White came to dinner, and in the evening Dr. and Mrs Thomson drove from Corio and brought Maryanne and Katherine Scott, children from King's Island, very fine little creatures, pelesses [i.e. cloaks] of kangaroo skin. They seem smart and intelligent."
"Friday 17th [November 1843]...after dinner the Mrs Fenwicks called to see the children as they have got their brother."
"Saturday 18th [November 1843] ...Tom Scott came."
"Monday 20th [November 1843] Yesterday...we all went to church. Mr Love preached, the children went with Caroline to hear Mr Dredge. [Miss Drysdale went to the Presbyterian Church, Miss Newcomb attended the Wesleyan Chapel]...In the evening they repeated the Catechism very correctly and are very intelligent."
"Tuesday 21st [November 1843] Susan from Mr Fenwicks came to see the children and remains."
"Monday 27th [November 1843] Yesterday Cloudy. All went to church with Tom who came on Saturday."
"Saturday 2nd December [1843] ...Tom came."
"Tuesday 26th December [1843] We with all the children went after breakfast to an examination of the Sunday School children. Mary Anne and Tom repeated the Catechism..."

Bev Roberts (ed), 2009, MISS D AND MISS N: An extraordinary partnership (The diary of Anne Drysdale), Australian Scholarly Publishing, Nth Melbourne VIC
"Wednesday 27th [November 1845] ...Caroline, Miss M., the girls and Jemima went in the chaise to attend the meeting to lay the foundation stone of the Wesleyan chapel..."
"Saturday 23rd [May 1846] ...Caroline drove to Corio after dinner, took Mary and Kitty to get their hair cut and brought back Emily Primrose..."
"Monday May 3rd [1847] ...Caroline and Mary went to chapel. Mr Tuckfield [Wesleyan missionary at Winchelsea Aboriginal Reserve] preached. Mr and Mrs Tuckfield with James and blackboy came to tea and remained."
"Tuesday 4th [May 1847] ...Caroline and Mr Tuckfield rode to Coriyule to baptise children..."
"Saturday 26th [May 1847] ...Caroline rode to Corio. The children are our only servants and do well. Great quietness from visitors!"
"Thursday 24th [June 1847] ...We all, with the girls, drove to Corio and attended the opening of the Episcopalian Church. Mr Thomson preached."

Geelong Advertiser, May 1848
"...a man named Thompson, in the employment of Misses Drysdale and Newcomb, was sentenced to one month's imprisonment for absconding from their service. The fellow had succeeded, before leaving the station, in enticing away a young Half-caste aboriginal girl, who was under the protection of the two ladies...The girl was immediately delivered up to the care of Misses Drysdale and Newcomb."

Bev Roberts, 1990, The diary of Anne Drysdale...
"14th Monday [July 1851]...Kitty went out this afternoon and has not yet returned..."
"15th Tuesday [July 1851]...Kitty returned before we went to bed. We gave her a warning to seek other employment..."
"23rd Wednesday [July 1851] Fine. Caroline rode to Corio and remained all night at Cardinia [Dr Thomson's station]...Kitty behaved so very ill, having broken up Mr Sheffield's trunk and taken money etc. that she was locked up in the cellar with her hands tyed..."
"24th Thursday [July 1851] Showers. Caroline returned at sunset. She and I went to Kitty and on her promising to amend she was released..."
"26th Tuesday [August 1851] ...Kitty went off with all her cloathes at dusk and was brought home at 9 o'clock by the blacksmith..."
"2nd Tuesday [September 1851]...Caroline and Kitty washed 9 dozen cloathes with Mrs Lewis's [recipe?]..."
"30th Tuesday [September 1851]...Caroline overlooked Kitty washing..."
"14th Friday [November 1851] ...Kitty went out dressed after dinner and has not yet returned..."
"15th Saturday [November 1851] ...as Kitty has not returned, Caroline and I have done their work..."
"27th Thursday [November 1851] ...Caroline this day, after putting out the cloathes she had washed, cleaned all the rooms, hall etc..."
"31st Wednesday [December 1851]...The past year has been a remarkable one on account of the discovery of gold, which has raised wages very much and made the men so independent and saucy that one is afraid to speak to them..."


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