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Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw

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by Paula McManus (subscribe)
Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia.
Published January 29th 2017
Island of the Dead
There's a big rock at Penneshaw that sits under a hundred year old dome shaped shelter and overlooks the foreshore. This fairly obscure rock and its unusual house play a significant role in South Australia's history.

Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island
Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island (©paula mcmanus)

The rock, named Frenchman's Rock, was inscribed by the members of Nicolas Baudin's crew on the ship Le Geographe in 1803 on their expedition to map the coast of New Holland (now Australia). They stopped at the bay to collect meat and fresh water. Baudin and his crew stayed for 3 weeks and during that time, he mapped the island and collected many flora and fauna specimens.

A year earlier, Baudin met Matthew Flinders at Encounter Bay and despite the English and French being at war with each other, they exchanged information. Flinders told Baudin that there was an abundance of food, water and timber on nearby Kangaroo Island - it was a chance meeting which has created one of our state's most fascinating history stories.

Matthew Flinders, when landing in 1802, found the island to be a humanless sanctuary. The island was originally inhabited by Aborigines but stories of their existence and departure from the island are largely unknown. It seems that they left the island sometime in the last 2000 years with little knowledge of why or how. What is known is that the island was called "Karta" or "Island of the Dead" by the tribes in the southern part of the South Australian mainland around the Murray River - the Narrinyeri people.

Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island
Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island (©paula mcmanus)

While taking time out to restock the food and water supplies on board HMS Investigator, Flinders and his crew killed 31 kangaroos and he wrote that "half a hundredweight of heads, forequarters and tails were stewed into soup...and as much steaks both officers and men as they could consume by day and by night.... In gratitude for so seasonable a supply, I named this southern land Kanguroo (sic) Island ..."

In 1803 French navigator Nicholas Baudin stopped at the island, stocked up on his food and water supplies and explored the island. Baudin named many of the beaches and bays - the French influence is still strong on the Island today, as are the names and places along the Fleurieu Peninsula on the South Australian mainland.

Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island
Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island (©paula mcmanus)

Baudin and his men announced their arrival to the island by inscribing the rock. The inscription reads: "Expedition de decourverte par le commandant Baudin sur le Geographe 1803". The English translation is "Expedition of discovery by Captain Baudin in the Geographe 1803".

Penneshaw was originally known as Hog Bay due to the pigs that were released by Baudin. The name Hog Bay was later changed to Penneshaw - which is a combination of the names of Dr FW Pennefather, private secretary to Governor Jervois and Flora Louisa Shaw, The Times colonial editor. The main beach at Penneshaw is still called Hog Bay Beach.

While on his way back to Europe, Baudin met Isaac Pendleton, an American seal hunter, near Albany on the southern coast of Western Australia. Baudin told Pendleton about the massive seal colonies that he had seen on the island. Baudin also most probably told Pendleton about Port Dasche because within a matter of months the sealer had set up camp there and promptly renamed it American River.

Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island
Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island (©paula mcmanus)

The sealers and whalers were successful on the island - there was a massive source of wildlife there for them to supply the growing China trade. They worked ferociously on the island and their pursuit of the local animals was relentless for the next few decades. The sealers were reported as being a wild and unruly lot.

Captain Sutherland described the sealers in 1819 as 'little better than pirates' depicting them as people who 'dress in kangaroo skins and wear sandals made of seal skins and smell like foxes'. The men brought Aboriginal women to the island - most of them from Tasmania. The women were highly valued for their exceptional hunting and swimming skills and could efficiently kill large numbers of seals.

Sealers and whalers were constantly on the move according to work and the season; many of these early seal hunters stayed and eventually settled permanently on the island. Their names feature largely in this period of Penneshaw history.

The original Frenchman's Rock is part of the South Australian State Heritage Collection and is owned by History SA. Constant exposure to the weather elements began to deteriorate the rock and it was moved into the Historical Relics Collection at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1918. It then went on display at the Mortlock Wing at the State Library before coming back to the island where it is on permanent display at the Kangaroo Island Visitor Centre on Howard Drive in Penneshaw. The rock at the dome on the foreshore is a replica.

Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island
Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island (©paula mcmanus)

Is a small coastal town on the northeast tip of the Dudley Peninsula on Kangaroo Island. The town is the island's major port for the SeaLink ferry coming across Backstairs Passage from Cape Jervis.

The replica Frenchman's Rock and monument can be found on Frenchmans Terrace. Kangaroo Island is Australia's third-largest island after Tasmania and Melville Island The island stretches for 155km from east to west and is 55km at its widest point. It's a unique blend of wildlife, scenic wonders and wilderness.

Stay for a day or so, walk or ride the nature trails, visit nearby Cape Willoughby lighthouse and join in on a nocturnal walking tour to see the local colony of Fairy Penguins who call the foreshore home. Penneshaw certainly has a lot to offer!

Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island
Frenchman's Rock, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island (©paula mcmanus)

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Why? Visit this famous rock!
Phone: 8553 1185
Where: Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island
Cost: Free
Your Comment
well done on the big green badge Paula. wonderful photos as always. X
by Kat May (score: 3|1448) 1770 days ago
Great article. Congrats on Green Badge too.
by Di Hill (score: 2|579) 1769 days ago
Nice article Paula and congrats on the award :)
by Former Writer (score: 3|1221) 1761 days ago
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