By John Pedler
Published: Friday, August 4, 2023
Traditionally, South Australian towns and geographical features have been named after dignitaries, expedition patrons, local settlers, places back home, First Nations’ stories and obvious features, such as Salt Creek.
But there are a handful of names which simply reflect the emotion of the day.
All seemed hopeless
Things weren’t going well for explorer Edward John Eyre as he pushed passed the northern Flinders Ranges, looking for a route into the country’s interior.
He’d already been bogged in a muddy Lake Torrens, and was struggling to find fresh water – most was too salty to drink.
So, the name he bestowed on the small hill in the distance is a fair indication of his mood.
The view from the top of Mount Hopeless certainly wouldn’t have improved his demeanour – it sits on the edge of the vast Strzelecki Desert.
From here, he abandoned his northward journey and turned west towards Streaky Bay.
A chance meeting
On the afternoon of 8 April 1802, the French ship, Le Geographe, captained by Nicolas Baudin, and the English vessel, HMS Investigator, skippered by Matthew Flinders, met off the coast of what is now Victor Harbor.
Baudin was coming from the east and Flinders from the west, and although they believed their countries were at war – again – the meeting was cordial and the two explorers exchanged travellers’ tips. A treaty between England and France had recently been signed but neither captain knew.
Flinders named their meeting place Encounter Bay, in honour of the occasion.
A check of Limestone Coast and Kangaroo Island maps reveals a number of French names that resulted from Baudin’s expedition, including Lacepede Bay, Guichen Bay, Cape Du Couedic and Vivonne Bay.
Baudin never made it back to France, dying in Mauritius from tuberculosis on the return trip.
Flinders also wound up in French-governed Mauritius on his return journey, seeking repairs for his leaky replacement ship, the Cumberland, which he’d picked up in Port Jackson (Sydney).
The HMS Investigator wasn’t in the best nick when it left England, but Flinders had managed to nurse it through most of the journey until it was eventually declared unseaworthy.
He arrived in Mauritius only three months after Baudin’s death and a day after Le Geographe sailed for France.
War between the two nations had since resumed and Flinders was detained for six and a half years due to spurious claims he was a spy.
Disaster at sea
Flinders’ 1801-1803 expedition to circumnavigate New Holland, now known as Australia, endured its fair share of incidents, but the tragedy that led to the naming of Cape Catastrophe had the greatest effect on him.
While his ship was off the southern tip of Eyre Peninsula, a small cutter carrying eight crewmen was sent ashore to find fresh water to top up dwindling supplies.
At dusk, the team was seen returning, but by nightfall they’d failed to arrive.
The search party sent out the next morning came across the beached wreckage of the cutter but no sign of the crew. Despite further searches along the coast, they were never found.
Before continuing their voyage, the ship’s crew went ashore one last time to a place Flinders named…
The crew left an inscribed copper plaque at the cove commemorating the eight lost sailors, including Flinders’ close friend, John Thistle, who he’d served with for several years.
Flinders also preserved their memory through more substantial monuments, naming the offshore islands Thistle, Williams, Smith, Hopkins, Lewis, Grindal, Taylor and Little.
Memory Cove is one of the most pristine places along the SA coastline and has been declared a Wilderness Protection Area. Visitation is limited to 15 vehicles a day and there are only five camp sites.
A saviour honoured
In the early to mid-1800s, King Frederick William III of Prussia – now part of Germany – was enthusiastically persecuting the local Lutheran community, following their rejection of his decree to unite with the country’s other major protestant branch, Reformed Christianity/Calvinism.
So, in December 1838, with the support of George Fife Angas (Angas Street), a pious man and founder of the South Australian Company, 187 Prussian Lutheran immigrants arrived at Port Adelaide aboard the ship, Zebra.
Upon their arrival in SA, the ship’s Danish captain Dirk Meinertz Hahn helped negotiate a deal whereby the new settlers were granted 100 acres of land in the Adelaide Hills, rent-free for the first year.
They named the settlement Hahndorf, in recognition of the man who contributed so much to their new life. A bronze bust of Hahn sits in the Pioneer Memorial Garden on Main Street.