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Saturday, 19 June 2010


When my cousin John Acraman, the father of South Australian Football (see my earlier post), first emigrated to Australia in 1848, it was to join his brother Edward.

Edward had been in Adelaide with their uncle Edward Castle since 1846. Back home in Bristol a tea importing venture, Acraman, Bush, Castle and Co, had failed in 1846, and I wonder whether uncle Castle and nephew Acraman hadn’t been dispatched to the Antipodes to try to restore the family fortunes in some way. Both families were merchant venturers, speculative importers and exporters. Australia offered new opportunities for such men with its mineral wealth and vast runs of land for wool production all ripe for exploitation.

Edward Acraman’s letter to his uncle Charles Castle,
18th February 1847

I have one letter written by Edward Acraman. It's to another uncle, Charles Castle, on 18th February 1847. It’s a beautifully written, vivid account of his life in South Australia, full of detailed references to people, places and ships. Over four large sides he describes business proposals (including the partnership with James Cooke by which his brother John made his early fortune), a journey by horse across the outback (of modern day Greater Adelaide!), and his longing for home.

It is as he paints a picture of the dramatic sweep of the coast of Encounter Bay from his vantage point on The Bluff that his expansive mood suddenly changes.

“[We] walked up to the bluff … and after clambering up to the summit, with cautious steps descended to the opposite side, then stealthily crept holding by the rock along a narrow ledge from which a false step would have precipitated us 60 feet on the breakers below on which the vast waters of the Southern Ocean were bursting a silvery foam in the most serene, stilly weather, and at length reached a singular cave which the force of the sea has evidently worn in the cliff at a very remote period, and the view from which surpasses in grandeur perhaps any scene I have witnessed.

“On the right the coast is intersected by numerous small coves, too varied for description & on the left the scene is still more so, the numerous islands, looking but more dark and sombre by contrast with the lights of the native encampments on the opposite shore, the awful gulf beneath, into which one hasty step would plunge the unwary, the skeletons and bones of whales ranged on the beach, the houses & primitive huts scattered on every side, the immense distance of coast, which ‘neath an Australian sky is far more perceptible than an Englishman can well imagine, and the dark thickly wooded hills which frown around, completing one which though interesting in the extreme, causes a feeling of melancholy which will attract many to the same spot, though at the same time, if often prevailing, it would embitter existence.

The Bluff, Encounter Bay, South Australia

“If this dreary be the place I have attempted to describe with the sunny skies of the south Land to relieve it, how much more so would it be with the climate of England. And yet I never felt the desire to return home stronger than at that Bay, it is when looking on the sea, that I in common with many others, hope again to recross it, but duty has ordained otherwise perhaps for years to come. When that event does take place, if it ever will, it can only be with happier prospects than those which hurried me from my native land.”

He snaps out of his blue mood by returning to the subject of business – he is pleased that a ship, the Appleton, is sailing from Bristol and hopes he can fill it with a good return cargo. It is the Appleton which almost exactly a year later brings his brother John out to join him, surviving the worst Southern Ocean gale in living memory on the way. But John, on landing at Port Adelaide a week after the storm, discovers that his older brother has died twelve weeks earlier, during the Appleton’s passage, aged just 22.

The Success, similar in size to the Appleton,
was also caught in the storm of 31st March 1848.
Blown aground and with half her rudder gone,
she was floated off and eventually became a prison hulk.

I don’t know why. Was it sudden? Or was John rushing out to be with him? But poor Edward, so far from home and family, never did get to recross the dark waters back to Bristol.

A happier memory of him in my next post.

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