The Africaine

One of the stories from the 2013 project: Who were they? People who shaped Victor Harbor and for whom our parks and reserves are named.

Africaine Reserve is on Africaine Drive, near the golf course at McCracken, Victor Harbor.

Most reserves and gardens in Victor Harbor have been named after an early settler, a local dignitary, or a well-regarded family. The Africaine Reserve, one of the smallest in Victor Harbor, is an exception as it was named after a ship, or more correctly, a three-masted barque of 317 tons, one which played an important role in the earliest days of colonisation in 1836.

The Africaine was a fairly new vessel, built in 1832 in Newcastle, England, and was originally destined to sail to Canada. This was the first privately owned ship to bring fare-paying settlers to South Australia from the United Kingdom. It was the seventh ship to arrive in the new colony and the first vessel to disembark emigrants at Holdfast Bay (Glenelg). It was however, plagued by controversy, drama and loss of life not usually associated with such a voyage.

The Africaine was chartered by the South Australian Company and left the London docks on 28 June 1836. When the newly married skipper, Captain Duff, joined her at Deal on 1 July with his bride there were 99 souls on board. Two government officials, Colonial Secretary Robert Gouger and Emigration Agent John Brown, plus 58 new settlers (individuals, some with wives and children) also travelled on board, bound for South Australia. The vessel carried provisions, bricks and building materials, and also the first printing press belonging to passenger Robert Thomas, a printer, who established our first newspaper (The South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register).

The barque offered comfortable accommodation. The best cabins, above the deck at the stern, were occupied by Captain John Finlay Duff (joint owner with Thomas Finlay], and by Robert Gouger and his wife, Harriet. Forward of them, where there was less headroom, were cabins for the intermediate passengers. Further forward again, there was an open area fitted with tiers of bunks for the assisted emigrants traveling third class.

Inevitably on a journey where people are closely confined in a relatively small space, conflicts occur. Years later, passenger Robert Fisher commented: “On the details of the voyage, which lasted four calendar months, it is not necessary to dwell any more. There were hardships and unpleasant incidents, but for the matter of that there was no great improvement when I came out with emigrants to Adelaide in 1883–47 years later.”

One incident involved surgeon Dr W Slater, an Irishman. Mrs Robert Thomas kept a diary during the voyage and for a short time afterwards, that was published after her death. She had taken against the ship’s surgeon Dr Everard but was impressed by Dr Slater after he attended her following a fall when she suffered concussion. She described him in the diary as “kind-hearted, of gentlemanly manners and sociable with his fellows, though prone to outbursts of temper. One day in a fit of anger, the cause of which is not stated, he shut himself up in his cabin with a loaded pistol, offering to shoot anyone who ventured to disturb him. A young man named Osborne, however, managed to calm the wild Irishman down, and induced him to lay aside the weapon. Nor was this the only occasion on which Osborne was similarly successful in humouring him.”

After a relatively safe, but not uneventful journey of 133 days, the Africaine arrived at Cape Borda, Kangaroo Island on 4 November 1836. Five of the male passengers* [Messrs Osborn, Nantes, Bagg, Richards and Dr Slater] landed between Capes Borda and Ferbin. Despite the captain’s reservations, but with the blessing of Robert Gouger, they intended to walk across to Kingscote. They became lost in the bush and after several days, having used all their food and water and worn through their boots, Nantes, Bagg and Richards reached the settlement, but the other two were never seen again. Their bodies were never recovered. There was much controversy over their fate, with conflicting accounts from the three survivors of what befell them. The matter was never satisfactorily resolved.

This was not to be the last drama on this journey. The Africaine sailed via Kingscote and Rapid Bay and arrived in bad weather at Holdfast Bay on 8 November. The rough weather delayed the landing there and small boats belonging to the Cygnet had to get passengers off the Africaine and on to the closest sand bar to the shore. From there the ladies and children were carried on the sailors’ shoulders to the beach. It was these difficulties in landing the first immigrants that influenced Colonel Light’s proposal for a jetty.

Passenger Robert Fisher, a printer, later complained in a letter he published in the newly established newspaper that ”Captain Duff had no right whatever to land the passengers the way he did, much less to have treated us with the cool inhumanity he did after our safe arrival. Nor ought Mr Robert Gouger have urged such a mad-headed project than be the first to decline to be carried on sailor’s shoulders to the beach”.

The Africaine met an inauspicious end when it was wrecked in a storm on 23 September 1843 at Cape St Lawrence on her way to Quebec, Canada. Three crew members drowned trying to swim ashore while another fell to his death from the cliff top.

Although none of the passengers on the 1836 voyage of the Africaine settled in Victor Harbor, a female descendant of passenger James Windebank was living in the town in 2012.

Update February 2018

We received a message via the website regarding this story. It was from a great grandson of James Africaine Parsell (Pursill) born at sea on the Africaine on 5 September. His birth made the complement of the ship exactly 100.

Precisely 172 years after the ship arrived at Kangaroo Island the writer and his sister were on the island, and visited a cemetery there. A memorable event!

Update January 2020

Another contact via the website from a great grandson of Richard Warren, passenger (with wife) on the Africaine. Your story states five male passengers* landed between Capes Borda and Ferbin; in fact there were six. Richard Warren is mentioned in several published articles, sometimes also misnamed as Warner. He is named on the cairn commemorating the walk on the roadside near the intersection of Birchmore Road and South Coast Road on Kangaroo Island.

I was lucky enough to visit the Island in October 2019 before the 2020 bushfires. I am amazed any of the men survived.

Richard Warren from Dorset was indentured to John Hallet for two years and told a story in later life that he helped build the first brick building in Adelaide. After his indenture he travelled to Launceston, Tasmania where he returned to his trade as a miller, then a dairy farmer, and farmer. He died in Chudleigh, Tasmania in 1885.


  • Africaine – Information compiled by Bob Sexton
  • Biographical Index of South Australians
  • Pioneers and Settlers Bound For South Australia: Africaine 1836
  • Register of Emigrant Labourers Applying for a Free Passage to South Australia
  • The Tragedy of Dr Slater and Mr Osborne, The Voyage of the Africaine by Alfred Austin Lendon, MD
  • The Voyage of the Africaine, told by Mary Thomas, Robert Gouger and Other Passengers by Penelope Hope