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Escape Cliffs

Civil Administration - Escape Cliffs – Adam Bay

In July, 1839 HMS Beagle on it’s second great voyage had arrived at Port Essington. The Beagle had on its first trip sailed round the world in 1831 -1836 and abroad her at that time was Charles Darwin. The Beagle this time was under the command of Capt. J.C. Wickham RN. With him was Lieut. J. STOKES, second in command. On the 9th September 1839, the Beagle discovered Darwin Harbour, naming it after Charles Darwin. HMS Beagle sailed into Adam Bay in 1839. The Adelaide River empties itself into the sea at this point. The mate of the Beagle, L.R.Fitzmaurice and a surveyor Charles Keys, explored the bay and the mouth of the Adelaide River. They came ashore to make compass adjustments because of the ironstone in the rock, and to select a free spot away from the influence of the ironstone. A sandy beach was chosen at the foot of some red cliffs. About 24ft in height. As the compasses were about to be checked, a large party of natives appeared armed with spears, which they were about to deliver. They were unable to pick up their firearms and so they started to dance and shout. They continued to do this until a ship’s boat came to the beach, and they ran to the waters edge and swam out to the boat. Hence the name Escape Cliffs. Colonel Boyle Travers Finniss, aged 57 years, a graduate of Sandhurst Military College, arrived in the colony of South Australia as an assistant to the first Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light, and assisted him to survey the City of Adelaide. Finniss held many appointments in the Public Service in South Australia, including Deputy Surveyor-General; Treasurer; Acting Governor; Commissioner of Police; Registrar –General; Colonial Secretary; Premier and leader of the Opposition (Naturally, not all once) In the year 1863, the portion of North Australia now known as the Northern Territory was transferred from the Colony of New South Wales to South Australia. Hence the name Northern Territory which signified the Northern Territory of South Australia. On the 14th April, 1864, Finniss was named as the first Government Resident of the Northern Territory. He was given instructions to proceed to Adam Bay and there to find a site suitable for a city. If this site was unsuitable, he was explore elsewhere, including the areas of Port Darwin and Victoria River. Finniss’s expedition had 40 men in the party. His second in command was J.T.Manton, a surveyor. On the 23rd April, 1864, the expedition left Port Adelaide in the sailing ships Henry Ellis, Beatrice and Yatala, which carried store and livestock. The expedition arrived at Escape Cliffs in June of 1864. The men in the expedition were divided into the following categories – surveyors, deputy surveyors, draughts-men, chainmen, survey hands, boatmen, carpenters and a blacksmith. Finniss found it necessary to appoint seven men to serve in what he called the Rural Constabulary. They were Acting Inspector LITCHFIELD, Constables F.FINNISS, DOUGALL, BOYD, S.KING, G.CHRISTIE and J.ROSS. These men were the first police to be appointed in the Northern Territory. There was considerable trouble with the blacks in the area and a stockade was built; this was manned by the Rural Constabulary. They were responsible for the protection of life and property and to apprehend offenders. The constables also carried out the duties of stockmen, drivers and members of the exploring parties. The members of the force received the same rate of pay as a constable of Police in Adelaide. In Finniss’s financial estimates for the year 1866, the Police and Gaol Department was listed as follows – one sub-inspector; one sergeant; ten constables, two Turnkeys and one assistant turnkey. The area surveyed by Finniss for a town site was not suitable. The survey was carried out in the dry season, and when the wet season came the area was flooded. Finniss would not change his ideas and so the settlement remained. In May 1864, surveyors Hamilton and McMinn and a man named Stow, with others decided that they would leave Escape Cliffs in an open boat called the Forlorn Hope. They sailed for Camden Harbour in WA and then to Geraldton. (1,600 miles) McMinn and Stow went onto Adelaide and presented a report to the SA Government about Escape Cliffs Conditions grew worse at Escape Cliffs and Finniss was recalled to Adelaide and was subject of a Royal Commission. He became the scapegoat for the failure of the settlement. The blame was not his alone and there was certainly a good deal of fault on the Government’s side. After Finniss’s departure, Manton was in command at Escape Cliffs and John McKinley, the noted explorer was sent to explore the country for a better site. McKinley and Manton did not get on and would not confide in each other. The Government in SA became very concerned with the situation at Escape Cliffs.

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