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   More Killing
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   Ferguson's Place
   Deserting Husbands
   Sex and Sheep

   Adams' Birth
   The Adams Family
   Ann Mason
   Edward Adams
   Labourer's Life

   Was he literate?
   Writing Skills
   Other People
   Adams' Letters

   A Carpenter?
   Birth Information
   Van Dieman's Land
   South Australia
   Port Adelaide
   Emigration Agents
   Labourer's Lot
   Crystal Brook

   Drinking Problems

   Registry Office
   Established View
   Kudnarto's Dress
   High Fashion
   Wedding Ceremony

   Land Please
   I have a dream
   The Licence

   The House
   Who Gains
   Farming Capital
   Reality sets in

   Port Henry
   Bullock Drays
   Watering Holes
   Skilly Creek


The Trial

Skilly Creek
   Money Problems

   Single Life
   Kudnarto's Death
   Loss of Land

Land Claim
   Unresolved Issues
   Terra Nullius
   Land Conflict
   The Facts

   At One


   Adams' Letters


Police Court

Trial Report

The Civilising
   White Women
   Missionary activity

1860 Report
   Report Origins
   Gender Imbalance
   Blame the victims
   British Law
   Land Loss
   Social Alienation

Tom & Tim

   Primary Sources
   Secondary Sources


The Early Years of Adams

A Carpenter?    Birth Information    Van Dieman's Land    South Australia    Port Adelaide    Emigration Agents    Sheep    Labourer's Lot    Crystal Brook    Footnotes   

A Carpenter?

Somewhere in his youth, he might have become an apprentice carpenter and thereafter a journeyman but it is not clear as to why he never pursued that trade in South Australia. On his Marriage Certificate, Adams describes his occupation as that of carpenter. It is unknown as to whether he actually undertook any work as a carpenter. One suspects that he never completed his apprenticeship in carpentry which would allow him to practice his trade. The name of Adams does not appear on the Register of Apprentices.

However, there seems to be a fall off of the number of apprentices in Leicester. This decline in apprenticeships was a cause of concern and note by the local authorities. In the period from 1720 to 1835, it was recorded that there was little variation in the number of registered apprentices in each decade. Compared to this, the population increased dramatically indicating that the value placed upon apprenticeships declined. Contemporaneously, the reduction in the overall numbers of apprentices was linked to failure of artisans and traders to make possession of the Borough freedom which was compulsory. This reduced the power of the city corporation to control the town's economic affairs. [1]

There is also a suspicion that the profession stated upon the marriage certificate may have been only been a statement to cover a lack of trade. The reason is to give some semblance of pride or false status when undertaking the wedding ceremony. The false information given to the Deputy Registrar by Adams was not unique. He misled the Deputy Registrar about his age by claiming it to be 35 years whereas it was in reality 37. Furthermore, he lied about his marital status and so it cannot be of any surprise that he too would give false information about his profession.

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Birth Information

During his life, misleading people about himself presented no real problems to Adams. One item of his life, his date of birth seems to have been an inconvenience. Over time he persistently gave varying dates to various authorities. There are on record six public statements of his age at different times while living in South Australia. The following table illustrates the problem with giving credibility to Adams' testimony. The table states the public source where he was asked to quote his age. This age is then subtracted from the date when the record was made to arrive at an estimated date of birth. Out of the six known entries in South Australia, three are accurate while three entries are off the mark. The best that can be said is that he believes he was born sometime between 1809 and 1814. Adams would not have been directly affected by his lack of accuracy, it is only to the surviving family that this causes trouble. The comparisons of dates of birth are shown in Table 6.

Sloth and lack of initiative characterised Adams. He seemed not to be able to come to terms with working for himself. This latter characteristic will be amply demonstrated later on. He seemed to need someone to direct his activities. His employment as shepherd and the later reluctance to perform anything but the most menial of tasks seems to indicate that his skill at his chosen profession as carpenter was not highly regarded by potential employers or clients. Thus the only work available for him would have been that of shepherd which was not excessively demanding nor did it require a great level of skill.

27 Jan 1848 Marriage Certificate Cert. No. 333
28 Jan 1848 SA Register 21/1/48 p.4d.
8 Nov 1864 Royal Adelaide Hospital Adm. No. 809
15 May 1881 Destitute Asylum Adm. No. 173
16 Dec 1881 Royal Adelaide Hospital Adm. No. 1989
28 Dec 1881 Destitute Asylum Adm. No. 418

Table 6. Official Records of Thomas Adams Date of Birth
[DOB = Date of Birth. The date given is the year in which Adams would have been born according to the age given by Adams at the time of making that particular record.]

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Van Dieman's Land

Moving to Australia would have proved a wonderful boon to escape the grinding poverty of England. Possibly it was this move to Australia that caused him to give up being a carpenter. At this time, fares from England to all parts of Australia were very attractive since they were subsidised by land sales. In colonies other than South Australia, this was done to attract non convict labour.

Prior to coming to South Australia, Adams was attracted to Van Dieman's Land. [2] He travelled to Van Dieman's land on the 366 ton barque Ann. It departed from London and arrived Hobart town on 30 September 1833. The passage to Australia would have been very uncomfortable. The voyage by sailing ship for a poor migrant was hard. The sleeping accommodation consisted of rows of bunks with no privacy and little ventilation. Rations were poor and cooking generally bad. Going steerage in a migrant ship was an experience very few people want to endure any more than once in a life time. [3] However, arrive there he did. He listed his trade as shepherd and sought out work.

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South Australia

South Australia held a magnetic lure to all. As advocated by Wakefield, the prime philosopher of South Australian systematic colonisation, south Australia was the place where a scientific experiment in the creation of the perfect society was being constructed. The idea of Wakefield was to use land to set the equilibrium between capital and labour. Wakefield states:

Where do we find the just medium? The answer appears to me to plain and satisfactory. As a wise man wants just as much as will keep him in the best health, but no more: so a wise government would grant just enough land to enable the people to exert their utmost capacity for doubling themselves, but no more. It is needless to enlarge upon this mere truism. But the wisest government must have to invent some rule, by which to measure out the due increase of land according to the increase of people; for it is not enough to say that the land ought to be doubled in quantity, as often as the people should double in number. As the people would increase gradually, so must the quantity of land be augmented by degrees. How, then might the gradual increase of land be so regulated as to be neither inadequate nor excessive? By, it appears to me, requiring a payment in money for the title to waste land, that is, by selling grants of land, instead of bestowing them gratis, - instead of persuading people to accept of them.... Still, how is the proper price to be ascertained? I frankly confess that I do not know. I believe that it could be determined only by experience; but this I do know - that if nine farthings per acre should check the natural increase of people, by causing a scarcity of well-paid employment, it would be too much; and that, if ninety pounds per acre should not promote the greatest increase of wealth and civilisation, by maintaining a constant supply of the demand for well-paid labour, it would be too little. [4]

At the same time as South Australia was becoming very successful in attracting the attention of both British and German colonists, it also attracted the attention of social commentators. One of the most influential commentators, Karl Marx took a different approach to this notion of systematic colonisation. Far from being a new style of society, Marx believed that it was a more efficient way of bringing the proletariat under the strict control of the capitalists. In his description of the new society, he unflatteringly compares it to the pea and thimble trick. it looks alluringly like the eldorado but the reality was a new method of enslavement and exploitation. He summarised his analysis of Wakefield's scheme in his seminal work, Capital when he wrote:

"How then, to heal the anti-capitalist cancer of the colonies? If men were willing, at a blow, to turn all the soil from public into private property, they would destroy certainly the root of the evil, but also - the colonies. The trick is how to kill two birds with one stone. Let the Government put upon the virgin soil an artificial price, independent of the law of supply and demand, a price that compels the immigrant to work a long time for wages before he can earn enough money to buy land, and turn himself into an independent peasant. The fund resulting from the sale of land at a price relatively prohibitory for the wage-workers, this fund of money extorted from the wages of labour by violation of the sacred law of supply and demand, the Government is to employ, on the other hand, in proportion as it grows, to import have-nothings from Europe into the colonies, and thus keep the wage-labour market full for the capitalists." [5]

So even Marx, the great commentator forgot that the people most exploited were not the European proletariat but the Aboriginal people. Even the great Marx could not conceive that the Aboriginal people could suffer in ways that were unimaginable to him. Perhaps Marx didn't even know that there were even any Aboriginal people living in Australia because of the fiction of terra nullius.

However, as with his contemporaries, Adams, being a 'European have-nothing', would have been only too willing to swap the sordid squalor of his poverty in England for the vast new opportunities that presented themselves in Australia. The virtues of life in South Australia were well sold in England. The census of 1844 shows an expanding colony with a vigorous growth in white population as it reached in excess of 17,000 people. This population level was reached within the first eight years of colonisation.

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Port Adelaide

Adams left Van Dieman's Landarrived in South Australia on Thursday, 1 August 1844 at Port Adelaide. [6] He was one of many landless labourers drifting around Australia seeking work. Since Van Dieman's Land was in recession and presented no real opportunities to an unskilled person, maybe he felt the need to leave his home and seek work elsewhere. Maybe he informed his wife that he would find work and call for her after he was settled down. He used his money to purchase the cheapest fare, steerage, to travel to Port Phillip Bay. Then he took the 115 ton coastal schooner, the Hawk to Port Adelaide. [7]

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Emigration Agents

On his arrival at Port Adelaide, he would have been met by the Emigration Agent. The role of the Emigration Agent was defined in the Regulations for Selection by the Colonisation Commissioners [8] where it states:

Special Emigration Agents are to be appointed in the rural districts, for the purpose of selecting country labourers, under the following conditions:

1 st That the certificate of each emigrant's character and circumstances required by the regulations, shall be submitted to the Commissioners for their approval.

2 nd That the Commissioner resident in the Colony, shall be instructed to report to the Board in England respecting the character and conduct of the labourers so sent out, and the Emigration Agent will be entitled to receive 1 for every adult labourer, male or female, selected by him, of whom no unfavourable report shall be forwarded within six months after his or her landing in the colony.

The payment system for the Emigration Agent ensured that they would take a keen role in ensuring that their clients were placed in suitable, long terms positions. To a new arrival from a distant shore, such a service was very welcome. It was even more welcome when a person who travelled steerage and subsequently arrived with very little money and desperately needed employment.

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The conditions that prevailed in the young colony were such that it was seen the as the land of opportunity. Sheep were seen to be the agricultural business that would produce the greatest profits. Entrepreneurs emerged to satisfy the demand for people to establish sheep stations. One man in the business, C.W. Stuart of 316 Grote Street imported 10,000 sheep from Van Dieman's land in 1839. To the prospective sheep station owner he was prepared to deliver the sheep to the station as part of the sale. In so doing, he would provide the shepherds, dogs, netting, tarpaulin and any other item necessary to move the flock. Payment for this stock was geared towards the potential earnings of the flock where 50% of the purchase was paid on purchase and the balance was paid within 6 or 12 months secured by a bill of sale with an interest rate of 10%. [9] This allowed the sheep station owner the ability to shear at least once, thus giving the pastrolists a chance to generate some cash flow.

By 1842, it was firmly established that sheep was to be the key to economic development in South Australia. In a letter from Howard to G.F. Angus on 25 January 1842, [10] Howard details his opinions based upon practical experience. He writes:

I would sooner take my chance of settling in South Australia than I would in the penal colonies. We have here in comparison of them a moral, virtuous population.... We have several large Places of Worship, some of which may be called elegant in reference to their architectural structure.

I will just conclude by saying that Sheep farming is considered much more profitable than the cultivation of the soil, and in this Colony there are many extensive districts of unoccupied land where sheep or cattle stations may be formed without any danger of interfering with or being interfered with by neighbours.

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Labourer's lot

The conditions under which labourers were employed were considered to be extremely good and healthy. In the self congratulatory report from the Select Committee on South Australia, the committee members elicited answers that would reflect favourably upon the colonial experiment. Even though the information sought was prompted in a particular mode, the evidence given does allow a glimpse at conditions. The evidence of A. McShane, a surgeon, [11] is very revealing. When cross examined over his impression of conditions, the following interaction took place:

Questioner Question McShane's Answer
Chairman What description of persons came under your observation having gone out to the colony as emigrants? Agriculturists, small farmers, and mechanics generally, and female servants.
Chairman Did they find ready employment upon their arrival in the colony? Generally.
Chairman At what wages? Labourers 7s. per day, carpenters and masons 12s. , 14s. or 15s. a day; stone cutters the same, and others in the same proportions.
Chairman Do you mean to say that they found ready employment upon their arrival, at those wages? I had no difficulty, or very little difficulty, in finding them employment.
Lord Howick Were they generally a respectable class of emigrants? They were a good class, certainly.
Mr Hope Can you give any idea what their living cost? Single men in a boarding-house had their board and lodgings for 1 5s. a week.
Captain A'Court Working men? Mechanics, or whatever they might be.
Mr Hope What was included in that? Board and lodging, meat and drink, not washing. The same person earned 2 2s. as a labourer, and 4 4s. a week as a mechanic; that is to say, supposing he was a carpenter or a builder he would earn 4 4s. a week.
Chairman Was there any indisposition on the part of emigrants to go into the interior of the colony to farms remote from Adelaide? Not on the part of agricultural labourers; on the part of those that came from large towns, particularly London, there was an indisposition, they would rather hang about the town.
Chairman What sort of employment did these obtain? There was a great deal of building going on, which furnished employment, and some were engaged as house seventies and assistants in shops, warehouses and offices.
Chairman What sort of houses have the agricultural labourers in the country; for instance, at Mount Barker? They have huts, mere huts.
Chairman Were those huts prepared for them by the farmers before their arrival on the farms? If the farmers were already established they would have huts for their labourers; if not, they would put them up in a few days. They look upon a mud or a framed house of wood as a permanent structure; if they had not those they put up tents or huts of rough materials, which answer very well for a little time. They drive stakes in the ground and weave wattles and small boughs between those stakes, and then plaster it in a rough manner with soft mud, so as to make it tolerably comfortable.

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Crystal Brook

It was into this environment and these conditions that Adams arrived and sought work. It is evident that Adams found suitable employment as a shepherd around the Crystal Brook area with Peter Ferguson. The first time Adams appears in any surviving official record was three years after his arrival. When he comes to the attention of the government, he is still working as a shepherd working for a Mr Peter Ferguson at Crystal Brook in 1847. [12] The Protector of Aborigines, Matthew Moorhouse gives details about him to the Colonial Secretary while speaking about Kudnarto's situation. [13] At this time, he had been living with Kudnarto since 1846 which was estimated to be a cohabitation for over 18 months. It is reasonable to believe that this was the first job that Adams undertook in 1844 and he remained at this location for many years. Kudnarto at this time was also helping at Ferguson's sheep station [14] which made it easier for the two to meet.

In a letter from Moorhouse dated 17 June 1847, [15] he states that Mary Ann had lived with Thomas Adams for 18 months. A letter of 1855 actually states the year when Adams commenced living with Kudnarto when he says: "Having fell in with on the aboriginal natives of this colony in one thousand eight hundred and forty six and through her goodness I married her" which tends to confirm the date of 1846. [16] The actual month when they commenced cohabitation would have been in either January or February of 1846.

After the two commenced living together, Adams was now firmly ensconced with his new lover. His passion for her and also the potential land grant gave him a strong incentive to further cement this relationship. Marriage and all its consequences was seen to be a handy way of increasing his affluence. The true thoughts of an ignorant shepherd.

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1. Victoria County History of Leicester, Volume IV, The City of Leicester, pp. 166 - 168.  Return to text

2. Destitute Asylum, Admission. No. 173, 1811, 15 May 1881, GRG 78/49.  Return to text

3. Clark, C.M.H., (1973), A History of Australia, Vol. 3, Melbourne University Press, pp. 228 - 230.  Return to text

4. Wakefield, E.G., (1929), A Letter From Sydney and Other Writings, Everyman Edition, J.M. Dent, London, pp. 77 - 78.  Return to text

5. Marx, K., (1890), Capital, Vol. 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, pp. 722 - 723.  Return to text

6. The South Australian Resgister, 3 August 1844.  Return to text

7. The South Australian Resgister, 3 August 1844.  Return to text

8. Third Report of Colonization Commissioners for South Australia, Parliamentary Papers, (1839) Volume XVII, Paper Number 255, Appendix Number 11, p. 255.  Return to text

9. The South Australian Resgister, December 1839.  Return to text

10. Letter dated 25 January 1842, Angus Papers, Mortlock Library.  Return to text

11. Select Committee on South Australia, Parliamentary Papers, (1841) Volume IV, Paper Number 394, pp. 138 - 141.  Return to text

12. The South Australian Resgister, 23 June 1847.  Return to text

13. Letter dated 17 June 1847, GRG 52/7/1, pp. 196 - 197.  Return to text

14. 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

15. Letter dated 17 June 1847, GRG 52/7/1, pp. 196 - 197.  Return to text

16. Letter to the Governor's Private Secretary dated 16 December 1855, GRG 3/38, RSO No. 219 (1855).  Return to text


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Section 346
Skillogolee Creek
The house that Thomas Adams built
Skillogolee Creek
The first letter of Thomas Adams from
Skillogolee Creek