Chapter 9 ~ Adams’ Literacy
Was he literate?
As to Adams, he was a child of this poverty. However, as with all those born into the ignorant degradation of poverty, the Adams family was closely tied to their church. In keeping with family traditions, Adams was baptised in the Church of England, a religion which he maintained all his life, all be it, in name only. All the existing records indicate that he maintained his contact with the Anglican church all his life. Erratic as his beliefs and attendance at church may have been, he was never a prosthelyte to any other faith.
Because of Adams' peculiar situation in South Australia, he frequently came into contact with the Venerable Archdeacon Hale. These meetings occurred on a regular basis while Hale was located in Adelaide after December 1847. Hale's tasks involved him in travelling north to Clare on a regular basis. This brought him continuously in contact with Adams. However, while Hale records a great deal of detail about Adams, he never accuses Adams of ever attending church, even upon a desultory basis. Possibly Adams followed the characteristic behaviour of the people at the time. They only attended church to witness services for christenings, marriage and death.
It was to the church that Adams owed his skill for writing. In addition, it was the church that provided cash to Adams for him to display his writing skills. This occurred later when he was in Australia. It was the mystery of his writing skills that caused a minor sensation in South Australia during 1848.
Adams' skills as a writer were rudimentary. Since his mother was literate, it is not unreasonable to presume that he learned the skill from her. Furthermore, it is reasonable to presume that his father also learned literacy from this source. However, it is unknown when he learned to write. His letters to various government authorities are replete with grammatical and spelling errors. His style is very much reflecting his speech. Consequently, his writing displays a lack of discipline in directing thoughts into discrete writing units. His writing incorporates many different themes in any one sentence. Despite the poor writing style, Adams' hand is steady and mature indicating someone who is familiar with writing but not with presentation.
That he had rudimentary education is evident. His very crude handwriting and spelling indicates the most basic of education in reading and writing. Apart from his religion and level of schooling, there are no other details about his life in England. It can only be guessed that his status in life indicates that he came from a poor family in England.
In gaining an insight into the personality of Adams, there are some deductive sciences available to give assistance. In this case, the science of graphology can give the reader a basic insight into the personality of Adams.
At this point a disclaimer must be given. There is a great deal of ferment about the veracity of graphology as a meaningful addition to research. While the conclusions of the graphologists are based upon many thousands of observations compiled and collected over many years, it is still not considered to be precise. However, it is due to Freud that the science gain prominence. With these comments, graphology seems to produce useful results in understanding the nature of people with whom a person wishes to study. So with the assistance of the works of Stephen Kurdsen, the following conclusions are arrived at through graphological analysis of Adams' handwriting.
Adams writing shows that he was rather reserved and introverted. He displays an ambivalence manifesting itself in silent reserve and then alternating with a tendency to be talkative. He could be gregarious and generous but this contrasts with his strong desire to remain alone in the solitude of his company. Consequently he can be a hermit and also crave company, depending upon his mood. Though he displays a very masculine make-up and was a sentimentalist by nature, he nevertheless suffered from a very noticeable inferiority complex.
As well as possessing a strong sense of objectivity Adams also displayed a very philosophical outlook upon life. He had deep feelings stemming from firmly rooted convictions. However, he was extremely cautious. He approached goals with ambition and a pushing spirit, normally more bent upon activity than upon contemplation. Emotions, and a fighting spirit, rather than reasoning, guided him in the formation of important decisions. This manifested itself in a love for adventure and travel. Unfortunately, with every enthusiastic start of an adventure, in a short time his zeal declined, he lost interest and gave up before the task was completed. His mental stamina is such that he could not be relied upon to forge steadily towards his goal.
Adams was rather impractical in his abilities. Furthermore, he displayed a frugal and modest attitude but suffered from a certain lack of sense of economy and indulged in unwise thrift. Characteristically, he seemed absolutely normal until an emergency, a crisis other unexpected occurrence. Such an event revealed him as quite irresponsible. Adams was quite able to manage the daily routine, but in an emergency he undoubtedly lost his head. His writing shows him as hot-headed and quick-tempered tending to become querulous in response to issues that upset him. Adams appears to display a domineering spirit and which can result in brutal opposition and suppression of ideas that he did not like.
Finally, Adams' handwriting displayed a strong streak of dishonesty. He was well practised in unspontaneous and calculated 'kindnesses'. This can be tied to a scheming character coupled with being narrow minded. He writing indicates that he was definitely not be a man to be trusted. Indeed, if he was alive today, people would be cautioned to avoid him in all matters relating to business. 
Thus his handwriting displays the characteristics of a person who wants to achieve much but lacks the skills to do so and thus has to resort to subterfuge to achieve his goals. This situation reveals itself upon many occasions as will become apparent throughout this work.
Not everyone thought that Adams was literate. Hale thought that Adams was illiterate and any claims to literacy occurred through the intervention of Kudnarto. Hale’s notion of Adams' literary ability was detailed in his monograph, The Aborigines of Australia: Being an Account of the Institution for their Education at Poonindie in South Australia, where he recounts the following memory:
This is a quaint story that reflects the religious zeal in which Hale was renowned when carrying out his duties. He also wishes to elevate the Aboriginal people into a position that was never occupied. Consequently, his story is tainted by his desire to preach the didactic lesson that emerged from this anecdote rather than a strict search for the truth.
The desire of Hale to see Kudnarto as the vessel of enlightenment for the noble and ignorant shepherd Adams is pregnant with his Biblical desire rather than based in reality. He is drawing upon the great role such women played in the Bible in bringing God's enlightenment to man, especially a shepherd. The story of Michal, the erudite and cosmopolitan daughter of King Saul tamed the ignorant shepherd David until he was a fine courtier and general. The story of Abigail and David again illustrates the role of the wise woman. Finally, the seed of David provides the best illustration whereby the virgin Mary became the vessel for God's very son as his present to the earth. It was the woman of great religious conviction who tamed the Nazarene carpenter, Joseph, into accepting his role within the cosmology of the Judaic message. The messianic thread of his message is very clear.
The question that requires answer is the veracity of the story related by Hale during his contact with Slater's shepherd. William Slater lived at the Wakefield River area at a place known as Kercoonda as he was a sheep farmer. He is a man upon whose future Adams depended.
Examination of the internal and external evidence of the story reveals its inherent weaknesses. It is difficult to know from Hale's detail contained in his work as to when Kudnarto was meant to have taught Adams literacy. Hales claims that: "the black wife taught the white husband to read." The terms used in this sentence indicates that Kudnarto taught Adams to read after their marriage. Prior to the marriage, according to Hale, Kudnarto was literate while Adams was illiterate. It is necessary to verify this claim with external sources.
On the most public exposure of Kudnarto's ability to write, she failed to live up to the remarkable claim of Hale. In fact, her talent is mute and undisclosed. This situation occurred at the signing of her marriage certificate, an event of great significance in verifying this claim. During this ceremony, Kudnarto singularly failed this test.
During the signing of the marriage certificate, Kudnarto put her mark upon the page with an "X" while Adams signed his name in his usual written form. It is proper to ask whether this was indicative as to whether Kudnarto was literate. During the wedding, there were at least three people in attendance who could verify the literacy of Kudnarto.
The first person was Matthew Moorhouse, who as the legal guardian of Kudnarto, gave her away at the wedding. Since he had known Kudnarto for many years, he had intimate knowledge of her ability. He had first met her when she first attended the school at the Native Location. Moorhouse kept a close eye upon the children who passed through the school. Kudnarto was no exception. In 1860 Moorhouse  confirmed this when he stated:
If Kudnarto was proficient in reading and writing, then there is very strong evidence that Moorhouse did have good knowledge about Kudnarto's ability. The final proof of this was the fact that she had spent two months in Adelaide under the watchful care of Mrs Ellen Ross, the Matron of the Native School where she was taught to live like a European.
If Kudnarto retained her learning of literacy, it would have been in Moorhouse's interest to parade this success before the people of Adelaide, thus vindicating his efforts. In a candid conversation between Moorhouse and Schürmann, the missionary who ran the Aboriginal school, Moorhouse expressed some despair about the interaction between the Kaurna people and the Europeans:
This statement, intensely revealing of the problems confronting Moorhouse, demonstrates that he was desperate to have some concrete manifestation of the effort he expended upon the Aboriginal people. It was evident from the comments that relations with the authorities were not very smooth. Thus, Moorhouse would only be too happy to seize upon the ability of Kudnarto as a literate person. No such thing happened. At the wedding, Moorhouse is mute on this point as are all other contemporary sources.
The second person was Moorhouse's spouse, Mary Ruth who had intimate knowledge of Kudnarto. Mary Moorhouse played a significant voluntary role in support of her husband in relation to the Aboriginal children with whom she came into contact. Although she knew Kudnarto's ability, Mary Moorhouse does not prompt Kudnarto to sign the record.
Another person who was in constant contact with Kudnarto for two months was Ellen Ross. She taught her housekeeping. Ellen Ross would also have been a guest at the wedding. Yet at no time did she prompt Kudnarto to sign her name.
Then, of course, there is Adams himself. If Kudnarto were literate, then she had four people at the wedding who knew this and would have requested her to sign her name. All four were familiar with her writing ability. It is strange that on the occasion of her marriage that she did not sign her name. Moorhouse was a strong ally of Kudnarto as well as an active promoter of European civilisation to the benighted Aboriginal races. Thus it would have been in his interests to promote her as a success story. And yet the record is mute.
Another piece of external evidence which reduces reliance upon the report of Hale comes from the first piece of official correspondence sent by Adams that has survived. The letter Adams wrote was dispatched on 6 February 1848, some ten days after the marriage. This letter is signed by Adams and makes a plea for land. It was not the letter from one who recently learned writing. In this case, he could not have learned the art of writing within ten days. Thus it is reasonable to conclude that as his spouse, Kudnarto did not have the time to teach Adams how to write.
Looking at this situation through the eyes of Hale, his visitations occurred after Adams was married to Kudnarto and after the first letter was written. This would indicate that Hale had very little knowledge of Adams prior to the marriage. Hale arrived in South Australia in December 1847. At the date of Hale's arrival to South Australia, Adams and Kudnarto already were living together and had done so for nearly two years. It is unknown whether Hale is referring to the de facto marriage as a marital period as well or whether he is only referring to when the marriage was de jure.
A great deal of contemporary pride rests upon this anecdotal snippet. After all, if an Aboriginal woman taught a white male the elements of literacy, it would confirm the extraordinary life of Kudnarto and place her into the hagiography of Aboriginal historical apologists. It is believed, however, that placing faith in an anecdote of a man close to death, at the age of 78, recalling events of 40 years previous tells more about the desires of today than reality of yesterday.
As will later become clear, Adams is capable of lying when he perceives some material advantage. In this case, it was to the benefit of Adams to portray this situation in order to gain greater benefits for his family. It also did not hurt the family’s standing for they became, in Hale's eyes, a cause célèbre. After all, Hale dined upon this story on at least three occasions to which he confesses when he states: "Two or three times I quoted this case". However, there is every chance that the ever resourceful story teller Adams would have touched Hale's purse for a contribution towards his continued education process from Kudnarto. There is also little doubt that the only institution where such education funds were expended was the Derby Arms rather than St Mark's Episcopalian Church.
One final note. This discussion only deals with the literacy of Adams. While there is little evidence that Kudnarto was literate, it can be inferred that she did indeed pick up the fundamentals of reading and writing. This would have occurred during her stay at the school at the Native Location. Whether she retained this information after leaving the school is a matter of doubt. She would have been able to identify letters and possibly write rudimentary words. However, to suggest that Kudnarto was literate and capable of teaching her husband is absurd.
During his life, Adams may have been a great many things. However, he was not illiterate. He certainly had very poor literary skills and possibly wrote very little. This does not condemn him, it only explains his circumstance. The story of literacy did strike a cord in the heart of Hale who went on to use this information to sell his Poonindie concept to the greater community. Everyone benefited from this subterfuge.
1. Kurdsen, S., (1971), Graphology - The New Science, Galahad Books, New York. Return to text
2. More specifically, St Mark's Episcopalian Church in Penwortham. Return to text
3. This hut belonged to Peter Ferguson from Crystal Brook. Return to text
4. Hale, M.B., (1889), The Aborigines of Australia: Being an Account of the Institution for their Education at Poonindie in South Australia, London, SPCK., p. 76. Return to text
5. Legislative Council Select Committee, (1860), Report on the Aborigines, Paper 165, SA Govt. Printer, q. 2492, p. 94. Return to text
6. Schürmann,E., (1987) I'd Rather Dig Potatoes: Clamor Schürmann and the Aborigines of South Australia, 1838 - 1853, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, p. 77. Return to text
For comments, bick bats and bouquets
256 colours, 800x600