Written by Hellen Harris
James Cronk was born in Tottenham, England in 1811. He was apprenticed to the sea as a lad and made voyages to such places as the Cape of Good Hope, Sydney and Van Dieman’s land before returning to London. James gave his address as 1 Brook Street, Radcliff when he applied for assisted passage on his application to immigrate to South Australia. James was engaged as an agriculturalist to John Brown an Emigration Agent . At the age of 25 years old he sailed for South Australia in the three masted barque the Afficaine. The Africaine was approximately 126 feet long and 27 feet wide and 316 tons and was the first ship to bring paying immigrants to South Australia. The voyage took 4 months, and arrived at Holdfast Bay on the 4th November 1836 after leaving London Docks on the 28th June 1836. John Brown also arrived on the Africaine.
While waiting the arrival of Governor Hindmarsh on the Buffalo, with the assistance of shipmates he sank a well, the first in the province and obtained a moderate supply of water at 14 feet. James later sank two more wells, one in Halifax Street, and one in Gilles Street. James Cronk was present a few weeks later at the Proclamation of the Colony of South Australia.
In 1837 James wrote a letter to his family in England, that he was the first person to venture over the hills in search of the natives, and that about 18 miles from the town he found a group of 35 Aboriginal people. The women and children were very frightened; as he was first white man they had ever seen. James told his mother in his letter that he gave the Aboriginal people sugar and biscuits and in return they took him hunting for birds and possums. In his letter he went on to say that he was learning the Aboriginal language and that the Aboriginal people brought him Cockatoos and Opossum skins for which he gave them bread in return. To earn his living James sold these skins for 3 shillings each and cleared 1 pound a week.
In ‘Robert Gougers ‑ South Australia in 1837’, a footnote reads ‑ Mr. Brown, the Emigration Agent to whom Mrs. Brown and this enterprising (J Cronk) servant, the natives of the colony are under great obligation. They have, in fact done the work of Protector of Aboriginals as far as the maintenance of good feelings between the whites and the natives are concerned. Their kindness to the Aboriginals has been uniform and striking. At the arrival and reception of Governor Gawler, James Cronk was noted as being a Sub Inspector and Interpreter in 1838.
In a letter of Williarn Wyatt’s, Protector to Aborigines he recommended the appointment of James Cronk and stated 1 have twice communicated with a person called James Cronk and find he is willing to accept the vacant position provided he can obtain 30 shillings a week and rations. The high character borne by Cronk and the confidence placed in him by the Aboriginals rendered him extremely eligible to fill the situation. He is now getting 25 shillings a week as a survey labourer. 1 may also add that he is the only man in the colony whose knowledge of the Aborigine dialects is sufficiently extensive to be immediately available”.
James Cronk made one of the earliest contacts with the Kaurna people, and retained his position until the end of 1840. At this time James was living in Halifax Street and owned along with John Bagg block 523. On the 13 h March 1841 James married Jane Storer (widow) who was proprietor of the Rob‑Roy Hotel. Later that year James Cronk was offered 45 pounds for his block, which he accepted. With this money he bought land at Modbury. In 1842 James and Jane moved onto section 840 where they took up farming and built their home.
In 1845 James Cronk who was able to read and write was appointed Pound Keeper of the Public Pound erected on section 840, district A (later Highercombe) on the Dry Creek. James retained this position for a few years. In 1852 James Cronk went to Forest Creek in Victoria searching for Gold and was listed as having sent home 17 ounces of gold with Tolmers first gold escort from Bendigo, Victoria.
James Cronk signed a petition (memorial) to form the District of Highercombe in 1853 and the first assessment records state that he owned 114 acres on Sections 840 and 1573.
Notes taken from a family history, (though not proven) state the name was originally De Cronk and the family were French Huguenots, that James father was a gardener to a wealthy family and married their daughter. A brother John arrived in South Australia in 1838.
10 children. Ann was borne in 1849, married Charles Morris when she was 18 years old and had 7 children. William was born in 1851 and married Rebecca Barber when he was 23 years old and had 8 children. Henry John was born in 1853, married Susan Rawlings when he was 23 years old and had seven children.
Jane Cronk died 13’h March 1884 of Dysentery aged 66 years old and is buried at the Walkerville Cemetery. James Cronk died 5.7.1904 of Senile Decay aged 93 years old and is buried at Hope Valley along with three other family members.
James Cronk lived a long life at his farmhouse on Wright Road, Modbury near Dry Creek. He came to South Australia when the colony was first settled. He was an enterprising young man who worked for the government and then moved to Modbury as farmer, a true pioneer of the district and the State. His home on Wright Road is no longer there, as it was demolished in 1971 to make way for new development.
Information taken from :
‑ “From Settlement to City” ‑ Alan Auffi
‑ Upright Files ‑ Tea Tree Gully Library
‑ Cemetery Records ‑ Tea Tree Gully Library
‑ Records ‑ Births, Deaths & Marriages
Cronk ‑ Family History ‑ Robyn Outram (nee Corston) & Joy Coker
Africaine Ships Manuscript
(S.A. Archives 565 D.T.)
James Cronk who was engaged by John Brown the Emigration Agent. for 35 pounds was recorded in the Register of Emigration labourers as “Agriculturist” aged 26 and was writer of the only letter to be discovered from a Steerage passenger on the Africaine.
November 2nd. 1837
Dear Mother, Sisters and Brothers
I have embraced this opportunity of addressing you with these few lines to you. hoping they, will reach you with safety and find you all ill good health, as It leaves me at present. and thank God for it, for 1 have never enjoyed better health than I have in this country,. The climate is exceedingly” fine, the winter here is, like Spring in England. for the frosts are very trifling, not sufficient to cause ice. The spring is very pleasant, the summer is warm, but w c have cool breezes generally from the westward, they rise about 10 o’clock. and continue all day I think in my opinion that this country is far. superior to Sydney and Van Dieman’s Land. as I have experienced all these colonies. I decidedly pass my opinion on this place in every respect to land and climate for I have been a good deal about the country since I have been here and had a good deal of Intercourse with the natives. I begin to talk their language very fair‑. considering the short time I have been here, 1 was the first person to venture over the hills in search of them, about 18 miles from the town. there were 35 In number. The women and children were very frightened when they, saw me as I was the first white man they had ever seen. They, gave a shriek, the men took to their spears, but did not offer to throw them at me. The men were quite naked., as that Is their usual way here in the woods. for they, could not climb trees with their clothes on, they chip a piece of bark out. to place their foot in every step. until they come to the limb of the tree, for they get young birds and possums out of the holes, But me and my master ‑were out shooting cockatoos a few days before when we fell in with 4 of the them and we took them down to our tents and gave them plenty. of biscuits and sugar so those men knew us again and made much of us. I took with me 6 lbs of’ sugar and 16 lbs of biscuits. I shared it amongst them. except about 2 lbs as 1 kept them for myself. The sun was just going down as I fell in with them. I slept but little that night, but one of the natives kept singing and beating 2 sticks until daybreak, which I thought was to keep watch. The next morning I went out hunting with them, the women and children were so frightened of my gun that they would not go with us, they all seemed astonished at its sending a bullet 3 inches in a tree at a distance of about 200 yards. I shot a quantity of birds and they got several opossums which is rather larger than a foot so we had a sumptuous feast. The next morning I persuaded them to come down to our tents: the women objected at first, I then made motions to them that I would give them plenty of sugar and biscuits, then they consented to come, but when the women saw the ships in the bay they stared in astonishment to look at them. They stopped close to my tent that night, the next day they went away, they came down again in about a fortnight afterwards and had several corroborees, but now they stop about the town and fetch wood for the people for some bread. They now bring me in young cockatoos and opossum skins for which I give them bread in return. I sell them for 3/- each so 1 clear about 1 pound per week, that and my wages together is better than I should get in England. The natives, just before I wrote these lines to you, ask me to go with them about 11 miles in a north east direction and ask me to take two kangaroo dogs with me. They tell me there is plenty of kangaroos, emus and other birds. They tell me there is two big rivers of fresh water where there is plenty of wild duck and black swans, they say that there is some large plains out that way and that the natives are very frightened of us for they were coming to have a look at us when there was a ship coming in it fired two big guns which frightened them so they turned back again. I have not made up my mind whether I shall go or not. Dear Kindred I do not know what sort of account you have heard of this place, my opinion is, as many more, that there is every promising prospects of a flourishing colony.
The town is improving very fast and we have not had to undergo one half of the inconveniences as I expected we should, for we have never been short of provisions yet, for the vessels are continually coming from Sydney, Van Dieman’s Land and other places. We have some large flocks of sheep and herds of bullocks and cows, also horses; and vessels still coming in with stock and provisions. The land produces very fine rich grass of various sorts. The town is beautifully situated on 2 spots of rising ground, with a strong running stream of water through the centre which runs all the year round. The town is surrounded by large plains. The people have made gardens and their crops have turned out very fair crops. I have seen small spots of wheat and oats, looks remarkably well at present. Any person coming out here can never regret it; for labour will always be in full demand and 1 hope 1 shall have the pleasure of seeing my, brothers and relations out here. I have 1 ¼ acres of land in the town which wi11 become very valuable in the course of a few years. My master gave 5 pounds per acre and I have been offered 80 pounds for It but refused to sell. 1 sold 3/4i acre I purchased for 10 Pounds per acre I sold for 23 pounds a few later. Labour of’ every kind Is in full demand. Wages here is for labouring, men, about 30/- to 36/- per \week. mechanics from 50/- to 60/‑ per week. Price for provisions, Fat beef’ and mutton 1/‑ per lb. Salt pork 10d. butter 2/-. fresh butter 3/‑. sugar 8d. tea 3/‑,kangaroo 9d. mild 8d per. quart. beer 1/2 to 1/6 per quart. Dear Mother. I hope you have received the letters I have sent to you. 5 in number, for I am in expectation of seeing my brother John and William Gray; here shortly, also a letter from you. The gentleman Mr Gouger has had the kindness to favour me with bringing these lines to London for you, which he will be so kind as to send ,on a letter when he resides. As you can ask any questions of’ the colony. and of’ our way of employment: and if either of my sisters and brothers would like to come out here. He will have the kindness to give you any instructions how to proceed. When I write the next letter I will endeavour to send you something home. You will be so good as to give my kind respects to Mir & Mrs Lambert & family that 1 have not seen John yet, but hoping they have heard from him. Dear Mother. give my kind love to Uncle and Aunt Nolles. that 1 sent their letters to Sydney by, post, soon after 1 arrived ill the colony and tell them I am doing well: and to my cousin Thomas Grandshaw and family, and tell him to remember me to his father, mother and family.
Deal‑ Mother. Give my kindest love to all my sisters. brothers and relations and remember me to all inquiring friends and tell them 1 am in good health and doing well. Thank God for It.
I remain your affectionate son.
In South Australia
Next door to the Prince Regent|