Search our Site:
   Reading Aid


The Kaurna
   Skillogolee Creek
   Before Settlement
   Tribal Organisation
   Sexual Relations
   European Views

   Birth Date

Early Years
   Daily Life
   Child Rearing
   Food Gathering

   Sexual Relations

   John Hill
   Stanley County
   Skillogolee Creek
   Emu Plains

Land Grants
   The Protector
   The Reality
   Early Days
   Land Selection
   Land Holdings
   Land Usage
   Racial Theories

   Double Standards
   More Killing
   Harem Life
   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


Chapter 7 ~ Shepherds and Their Flocks

Tensions    Killing    Double Standards    More Killing    Harem Life    Prostitution    Ferguson's Place    Deserting Husbands    Rape    Sex and Sheep    Footnotes   


During this period of the 1840's there was a great deal of tension between the shepherds and the Kaurna people around the Skillogolee Creek region. During this period, European settlement grew rapidly displacing the traditional land owners from their sources of economic survival. This land grab by the settlers seriously disturbed the indigenous people's lifestyle to such an extent that they began to starve. To ease their deprivation, the Aboriginal people resorted to prostitution for food or theft. Each solution brought in its wake increased tension.

Go to top


One illustration of this tension and its underlying causes, a series of letters were exchanged between George Charles Hawker at Bungaree the various government officials. The topic of correspondence concerned the murder of an Aboriginal woman by a hutkeeper, George Gregory, who worked for John Jacob, at his farm "Woodlands", at Penwortham. These exchanged letters detail the inner tensions between the various Europeans, articulated by Hawker regarding the treatment of Aboriginal people and the underlying racial superiority assumptions of the European community.

The series begins with Hawker outlining the problem in a letter dated 27 January 1843.

It is with great regret that I have to report to you for His Excellency's information the death of a black woman who was shot by a hut keeper of Mr Jacob. As there is a great number of blacks at present at my station and in the neighbourhood I would beg and submit for His Excellency's approval whether a visit from Mr Moorhouse would not be advisable and remove any unpleasant feelings or plans of revenge of the natives against the whites. [1]

The letter from Hawker is very matter of fact showing a great deal of concern about the gathering of the Kaurna people near his station rather that any ideal of serving justice. He understands that the death of the woman raised deep feelings of vengeance which would render the lives of the Europeans very unsafe. Hawker knew that Moorhouse was able to speak to the Kaurna people in their language and thus requested his help.

When the Governor received this letter, he called for the immediate presence of Moorhouse. After some discussion, Moorhouse was sent to investigate the incident himself and make a full report to the Governor. When Moorhouse arrived back in Adelaide, he filed the following report on 8 February 1843:

I have the honour to report my return to town on the 6 th ult. from visiting the station of Mr G.C. Hawker Esq. on the Hutt River. I was requested by His Excellency the Governor to proceed to that district in consequence of a report having been forwarded to His Excellency of the natives being in a state of anxiety on account of a woman having been shot by a hutkeeper in the employ of Messes Jacob. I obtained no further evidence about the case as neither natives nor Europeans witnessed the scene. I spoke to the natives about the event and explained to them the course that would be taken with the hutkeeper - he would be tried and punished as a murderer. They evinced no feeling of exasperation or revenge and after several conversations upon the subject they calmly said we hope the "pepa meya" (the Judge) will hang him.

I fortunately met with a native from Mt Bryant and informed of settlers about to proceed to the westward of his country. I requested him to inform his acquaintances of the fact and recommended him to keep from too intimate contact with the settlers and especially from theft. [2]

Not being an investigative officer, Moorhouse did what he could during the journey. He states quite candidly that there were no witnesses to the killing. However, it is evident that other shepherds had already told Moorhouse about their recollections of the facts and furthermore, reported their beliefs. The shepherds’ beliefs formed the basis of his further conclusions. It is revealing that Moorhouse has already made up his mind on this matter. He has accused Gregory of murder and expects him to be punished accordingly. The Aboriginal men he speaks with anticipate that the sentence will be similar for Gregory as occurs with the Kaurna - death.

The nature of the incident is not detailed in Moorhouse’s letter but his warning to the Nugunu man at Mt Bryant seems to hint at the probable cause of the incident leading to the killing. He recommends that the man inform his acquaintances not to have too intimate contact with Europeans or steal from them. The warning made and order of wording in the warning seems to confirm this suspicion. This circumstance is analogous to that event detailed in an earlier chapter. Again, a woman was shot by a hutkeeper. Again it occurs after the theft of some sheep. Again there was inferred prostitution involved with non-payment of debt.

Go to top

Double Standards

The final chapter in this episode only shows the standards of justice available at the time. Aborigines were hung for the murder of Europeans but Europeans faced little consequences after killing an Aboriginal person. Moorhouse relates this melancholy tale. This verdict was totally in contrast to Moorhouse's earlier expectation. Sadly, Moorhouse accepts that Gregory will not be punished for his crime. On 12 April 1843 he finishes his tale with a report to the Colonial Secretary. He writes:

On the 26 th January a woman lost her life under peculiar circumstances. The sheep at Mr Hughes' station on the Hutt River, had been scattered during the night of the 26 th, the fence of the fold had been taken down and 80 sheep driven out. The shepherds and watchman concluded that the natives had been there as tracks of naked feet were visible. Two of Mr Hughes' servants, in company with a hutkeeper in the employ of the Messrs Jacob went in search of the natives, and met with a man and his wife about a mile from the station. The natives were asked to accompany the Europeans to the sheep station and had the promise of receiving bread and flour for so doing. They consented to go to the station. The man escorted by Mr Hughes' two servants and the woman by Messrs Jacob's hut keeper. The man escaped and was pursued by his two guards, the woman made an attempt to escape, struck Mr Jacob’s' servant and seized his gun. The boy Gregory resisted several of her blows until, according to his statement, he was afraid of being overcome; he resolved then to defend himself to the utmost and as soon as his gun was liberated from her grasp, he shot her. On 23 Ult. [3] Gregory was indicted and tried before the Supreme Court upon the charge of "manslaughter" but the jury returned a verdict of "not guilty" on the ground of their belief, that the prisoner acted in self defence. [4]

This did little to calm the ill feeling between the Kaurna people and the European settlers. The return of the verdict of "not guilty" through self defence was akin to declaring an open season on killing Aboriginal people.

Go to top

More Killing

It was not long before the next recorded incident occurred. Again it was Hawker who reported the killing to the Governor. This time it was Hughes’ shepherds who did the killing.

Writing from Bungaree on 27 June 1843, Hawker detailed the circumstances of the killing. There is nothing explicit or implicit in the statements of Hawker that would lead one to conclude that he considered it just and proper that an Aboriginal was shot by a shepherd defending a flock. In looking at the letter, Hawker indicates no desire to arrest the shepherd or commit him for trial. Hawker reports that:

I have the honour to forward to you for His Excellency's information the particulars of the death of a native who was shot at one of Mr Hughes' Out-Stations on Sunday night June 18 th whilst in the act of stealing sheep out of the fold. It appears to me from the depositions which I enclose that no blame attaches to the hutkeeper William Skelton for his duty is to defend the sheep during the night. Besides the natives have been fairly warned by Mr Moorhouse of the consequences of stealing sheep. I have not therefore committed him for trial. If the man should be wanted, the police will know where to find him. [5]

It is into this emotion charged environment that Adams entered into the employment of Ferguson in 1844 and subsequently met Kudnarto.

Go to top

Harem Life

Kudnarto was already at Ferguson’s station before Adams arrived. However, she did not spend a long period of time with her promised spouse. From the age of about twelve until fourteen, Kudnarto remained married to her husband. Then an event occurred which allowed her to leave her spouse and commence living with Adams in his hut at Crystal Brook. The reason for Kudnarto leaving her spouse could only stem from two sources: either Kudnarto's husband had died and she was free to marry again or Kudnarto's husband sold her to Adams. It is only conjecture as to which reason is the answer. However, it is believed that the sale of Kudnarto to Adams by her spouse was possibly the explanation for her change of men. The reason that led to the sale of Kudnarto by her spouse, the relationship between Aboriginal spouses requires understanding.

Meyer's description about harem life made it singularly unattractive. The life of a woman in a harem was not particularly pleasant for it was filled with menial work, low esteem and constant rivalry with the other women in winning attention and favour of the husband. In addition, if she was one of many in a harem, her spouse would not have had as many scruples in letting her go to another person than as if she were his only wife. Men with harems showed no reluctance in selling their wives off to other men. Meyer details the following situation that prevailed at the time in relation to the selling off wives by husbands to other men.

If one from another tribe should arrive having anything which he devises to purchase, he perhaps makes a bargain to pay by letting him have one of his wives for a longer or shorter period. The Europeans are aware of this and therefore if any woman whose company they desire refuses to go with them, they commonly go to the husband with some bread or tobacco or articles of clothing, who then compels her to grant what the white man desires. [6]

Due to her willingness to leave her husband, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Kudnarto was possibly married to an old man with a substantial harem. Kudnarto was the youngest member of the harem and thus given all the worst tasks. Added to this, her relationship with the other women would not have been easy which led to living in a situation of tension and strife. Faced with the pressure of prostitution and little prospects of happiness it is hardly any wonder that a woman of fourteen would only be too happy to trade this life.

Go to top


This prostitution was generally the fate of most Kaurna girls who attended the school at the Native Location. Moorhouse found it difficult to come to terms with this fate for he refers to their prostitution with priggish prudery. He betrays a sadness at the waste of the lives of the girls. In 1860, [7] he made the following observations about the lot of the girls from his school in testimony:

Question number Question Moorhouse's Answer
2494 And the girls went as lubras? - The went to the men, and they were generally found handy about the house. They frequently became bad, however.
2495 Couldn’t they, by being properly placed, receive any benefit? - Perhaps, by being among European women. They generally become common, however; and consequently, would not breed. They became, in fact, prostitutes. This was one reason of the natives dying off so rapidly.

Go to top

Ferguson's Place

One must assume that Kudnarto did not begin to live with Adams immediately. Also, the evidence suggests that there is a strong possibility that the relationship with Adams began as a contract for prostitution. Adams may have offered Kudnarto's spouse payment for Kudnarto’s favours. The payment would possibly have been a dead sheep, the common currency of shepherds at the time. [8]

Their relationship would have been gradual in growth. The reason for this conclusion lies in the fact that at this time Adams would be gradually becoming conversant with Kaurna customs and language. Thus their relationship may have lasted for a few months when Adams would have courted her with sheep or any property exchange that her husband desired. After a time Adams possibly realised that he enjoyed her company.

This would have been the developmental period of their relationship in which Kudnarto and Adams grew to be very fond of each other. As with all good romances, pragmatically, both Adams and Kudnarto could give the other something they desired. It was a mutually beneficial tryst. Kudnarto received relief from the misery of competition and abuse in a harem while Adams received companionship. As an onlooker, Kudnarto's spouse received considerable payment to allow this relationship to grow and develop into an affair of the heart. Everyone in the equation received benefit.

If Meyer's observation about harem life fits in with the schema of Kudnarto's treatment by her Aboriginal husband, it is not surprising that Kudnarto was happy to leave him and eventually live with Adams. She personally preferred living with Adams rather than becoming or remaining the wife of an Aboriginal man who did not really care very much about her physical or mental well being. [9] The idea of being the sole spouse of a man who proved himself capable of providing her: "... liberally with everything she required ..." [10] proved to be extremely appealing to Kudnarto. Consequently, at some stage in their relationship, Kudnarto felt that she would do better with Adams rather than be part of a group of competing women as in an Aboriginal man's harem. This sentiment apparently found full approval from Kudnarto's family and her husband's family. [11]

Go to top

Deserting Husbands

This situation was not considered extraordinary. Girls who hated their husbands were not frightened to run away from them. Girls who married at twelve were still emotionally immature and sometimes found marriage to be an extremely oppressive institution. The penalty for a woman who deserted her husband was a beating if she was caught. Sometimes they parted by mutual consent. The following evidence given by Mr George Taplin of Point McLeay at the Legislative Council's Minutes of Evidence on the Aborigines on 26 September 1860 [12] gives some insight into the relationships between men and women.

Question number Question Taplin's Answer
1414 If a native leaves her husband, is there any punishment? - They might waddy her.
1415 Kill Her? - No; give her a good punishment.
1416 Have you heard of cases where they are beaten to death? - No.
1417 Do they not think that the husband has unlimited power over them? - It would depend on her relatives; the husband must suffer for it, if he kills her, if she had powerful relatives.
1418 Does polygamy exist amongst them? - Yes.
1419 To any extent? - Yes.
1420 Do you think it justifiable? - Decidedly not.
1421 Do you teach them to work? - Yes.
1414 Have you women at your station who have left their husbands? - There was one girl there, but she is not there now. She had left her husband because he got another wife, and she was neglected.
1422 She was very young? - Very young. They got the children away when they were ten years old or less.
1423 Is there not another woman belonging to your establishment who has left her husband? - There was at the time. She left her husband with his consent, as he had two other lubras. It was a commercial transaction between the Murray tribes and the Point Malcolm tribe. They gave the woman to the Murray tribe, but she would not live with them, and was taken by force from the Point Malcolm blacks.
1424 Supposing that she has a half-caste child, and falls in with her husband, is there any probability of his waddying her for leaving him? - She has gone back to him.
1425 Was she one of those on whom you considered that you had made some impression? - Well, I thought so; but the poor girl was in a distressing position on account of her husband getting another wife. She was like an outcast in the tribe, for she could not reconcile herself to the idea of his having another wife.
1426 How long did she remain at the establishment? - Some time.
1427 Had she made any progress in reading? - She was the best reader of the lot. She can read words of two syllables.
1428 On the whole, she was one of those to whom you considered that you had imparted the greatest amount of instruction, and had made the most serious religious impression? - Yes; she was a very intelligent girl, indeed.
1429 Yet she has left you? - Yes; because her position there was considered disgraceful by the other natives.

In another recounted incident about women leaving their men, Mr George Mason, a Sub-Protector of Aborigines who lived in Goolwa, detailed a situation where a young wife deserted her husband. He tells this story:

"We have one (girl) living with us, thirteen years of age, now. My wife taught her to read and write, and made her a useful servant. She took a black husband and went to Mr Taplin. She left him again and come (sic) to my place. Before she left me she had left her husband." [13]

Go to top


To illustrate the consequences of obtaining sexual relations with an Aboriginal man's wife without consent of either the husband or the wife, the story of the shepherd Armstrong on Yorke Peninsular is most instructive. Armstrong had instructed his assistant to report to him if he saw a woman in the bush. This particular man was feeling great need for a woman at that moment. Moorhouse takes up the story and details the following actions:

"On the morning of the 11 th July, the boy saw a native, named Tyulta, with his wife, a little from the station, and told Armstrong where they were. Armstrong immediately went to them, seized the woman for sensual purposes, and after accomplishing all that he desired, liberated the woman to return to her husband. The passions of the husband were naturally aroused, and whilst under their influence, avenged the insult upon Armstrong by spearing him." [14]

Go to top

Sex and Sheep

In view of the sexual practices single shepherds participated in at the time, one can only surmise that Adams possibly bought Kudnarto from her husband after they had established a strong relationship. Any cohabitation would need to be preceded by proper payment. The act of taking a woman without compensation was considered to be a crime punishable by spearing. European shepherds were not exempt from this punishment. The stealing and defiling of women was considered to be a heinous crime. Since there is no evidence of irate relatives demanding satisfaction for Adams defiling one of their women, it is safe to conclude that the Kudnarto's husband and all the concerned relatives expressed satisfaction with the transaction. This situation was exemplified by any lack of opposition by these people to the marriage to Kudnarto. Thus, one can conclude that Adams fulfilled all the proper rituals and activities according to Kaurna law and as a consequence was able to cohabitate with Kudnarto in peace.

The loneliness of the single shepherd in an isolated part of the state brought the problem of them needing company. European women were scarce in this part of the country. They were reluctant to live in such primitive conditions with little infrastructure to assist them. Furthermore, the shepherds never received high regard from the eligible women as being the best people to marry. Since their pay was low and their conditions Spartan, shepherds came from the flotsam of society and thus presented themselves as ill educated, rude in manner and coarse in behaviour to the white women. To make up for this lack of European women, the shepherds looked towards other men, Aboriginal women and their sheep for company. The predominant number of shepherds, being heterosexual, preferred Aboriginal women since they were the only available women.

Any partnership between men and women required the elements of both companionship and sexual relations. In return for their available sexual favours, the shepherds provided food and other things the Aborigines desired. Gifts were required to be given to both the women and their husbands. In explaining the activity of the shepherds in their relationship with the Aboriginal people, on 11 July 1843, Moorhouse recounts the following information:

The treatment of the native population by Mr Hughes' servants has been such as too frequently obtain, at many of the outer stations. The shepherds and hut keepers have been in the habit of giving them dead sheep or lambs, and in return have asked for native women. The natives have been drawn to the station by the supply of food, and they have become dangerous in the ratio of their numbers. So long as Mr Hughes' servants continue to supply the natives with food for the use of their women I am satisfied that there will always be a number in the neighbourhood of the stations and sheep and lambs will, from time to time, be taken away. [15]

This widespread practice of prostitution among the Aboriginal women highlighted one method used by Aborigines to supplement their food rations. After all, if starvation is one of the best aphrodisiacs, then by the hunger of their children and themselves, the Aboriginal women were kept in a perpetual state of wanton lust. Mr George Mason, under cross examination by The Legislative Council Select Committee undertaking their study on the Aborigines, stated that the wives of Aborigines visited the shepherds' huts specifically for the sake of supplementing their food supplies. [16]

In the circumstances of Kudnarto's personal story, it must be remembered that Adams was a man of his times and culture. Without judging him, he was a shepherd and thus the sentiments and practices of the shepherds no doubt applied to him as well as many others. Thus there is every possibility that he behaved in the same manner as his contemporaries. Shepherds were the people who had most contact with the Aboriginal people of the Kaurna tribe. Their contact was both social, cultural and sexual. His relationship with Kudnarto would have reflected the mores of the particular era.

Once Kudnarto and Adams began living together, they seemed to get along very well. Despite the combination between Kudnarto, an enterprising and risk taking woman and Adams, an ignorant man too accustomed to poverty. This match seemed highly unlikely to give any possibility of long term success. Both people came from totally different worlds drawn together by the common thread of being outcasts in white society.

While the nature of their relationship can be seen, it is hard to know the relationship Adams maintained with Kudnarto's relatives. In view of their kind support of him for his white marriage ceremony, it appears that he was on good terms. After all, he did not report any fear of attack or any other negative consequence of his contact with the Kaurna people. There is evidence to suggest that he might have identified very strongly with the Aboriginal people. To communicate with his new relatives, he would have had to have learned the basics of the Kaurna language. The fact that he was able to establish such a strong relationship with Kudnarto indicates that he must have been reasonably competent in speaking the Kaurna language or a mutually intelligible Creole. It is known that later Kudnarto went to the native School in Adelaide to learn English language which she is noted to have picked up very well. However, it is believed that the first language that the couple communicated in would have been Kaurna or a Kaurna-English Creole.

Go to top


1. Letter dated 27 January 1843, GRG 24/6, A131 (1843).  Return to text

2. Letter dated 8 February 1843, GRG 24/6, A182 (1843).  Return to text

3. On 23 March 1843 George Gregory was tried and acquitted of manslaughter. Criminal Sentences index cards No. 22, State Records Centre, GRG 36/1.  Return to text

4. Letter dated 12 April 1843, GRG 24/6, A495 (1843).  Return to text

5. Letter dated 27 June 1843, GRG 24/6, A764 (1843).  Return to text

6. Meyer, H.E.A., op. cit., p. 191.  Return to text

7. Legislative Council Select Committee, (1860), Report on the Aborigines, Paper 165, SA Govt. Printer, q's. 2494 - 2495, p. 95.  Return to text

8. Letter dated 11 July 1843, GRG 24/6, A823 (1843).  Return to text

9. Letter dated 17 June 1847, GRG 52/7/1, p. 196, - "She replies ... that ... she likes him much better than the black men."  Return to text

10. The South Australian Register, 23 June 1847.  Return to text

11. The South Australian Register, 23 June 1847.  Return to text

12. Legislative Council Select Committee, (1860), Report on the Aborigines, Paper 165, SA Govt. Printer, q's. 1414 - 1430, p. 60.  Return to text

13. Legislative Council Select Committee, (1860), Report on the Aborigines, Paper 165, SA Govt. Printer, q. 2007, p. 79.  Return to text

14. South Australian Government Gazette, 1 November 1849, p. 500.  Return to text

15. Letter dated 11 July 1843, GRG 24/6, A823 (1843).  Return to text

16. Legislative Council Select Committee, (1860), Report on the Aborigines, Paper 165, SA Govt. Printer, q. 2212, p. 85.  Return to text


Go to top

Navigate our site

Number of visitors since 1 February 2002:

For comments, bick bats and bouquets
Contact the Webmaster

Best view:
IE5, Win95,
256 colours, 800x600
Java Enabled


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