Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000

Cawthorne, William - Legend of the Red Kangaroo

The Legend of Kuperree or the Red Kangaroo: an Aboriginal tradition of the Port Lincoln tribe.1858. William Cawthorne was a schoolmaster who emigrated to Adelaide in 1841. He took a special interest in the traditions of the Aboriginal people and their relations with the white settlers. This first edition is very rare and of particular interest as it has annotations by the author.

Cawthorne with comments
Cawthorne with notes by the author

The Legend of the Red Kangaroo consists of a poem of some forty verses and eight pages. The first verse is as follows;

The ripplng waves of Boston Bay

Lay glimm'ring in the fading day

Growing shadows were length'ning o'er,

Dark'ning the islet's shore.

The story is about a kangaroo named Kupirri "of stupendous size" and two famous aboriginal hunters, Pilla and Inda, and their attempts - eventually successful- to kill him.

In Note 1 to the Preface the author refers to some giant kangaroo bones found in the Breccia Caves, Portland indicating that the legend may have some basis in fact.

Cawthorne was clearly fascinated by the legends of the aborigines and states in Note 2 to the Preface "There is scarcely a constellation in the heavens that has not its appropriate legend, and the animals of the land are invested with the supernatural."

This first edition is heavily annotated by Cawthorne with words changed and at least verses crossed out.

William Cawthorne was a schoolmaster who emigrated to Adelaide in 1841. He opened his own school and became head master of Pulteney Grammar. William Cawthorne was also a sketcher and watercolorist who exhibited his work in Adelaide. He went to the goldfields to try his luck but was unsuccessful. He kept a journal 1849-1859 the original of which is in the State Library of New South Wales. He was also a member of the Adelaide City Council 1870-1873.

RGSSA catalogue rgsp 829.12 C 383 1858-1900.  (2 editions).

The following extracts are from the Royal, York Gate Library and Gill Library, Significance Assessment Report, Prepared for the RGSSA by Susan Marsden, November 2009.

2.1.2 #Cawthorne, WA [Aboriginal legend -- Cawthorne: bound collection] 1858-1900.

Contains two editions of The legend of Kuperree [Kupirri], or The red kangaroo: an Aboriginal tradition of the Port Lincoln tribe; a metrical version by WA Cawthorne: an 1858 printing, [1900] printing (2nd ed.). [Including MS notes by the author]

These titles are of historical significance for their association with the theme of Aboriginal Australian folklore, and for their rarity. The 1858 volume also derives significance from the fact that it is personally annotated by Cawthorne. The only other libraries holding the first edition are ANL and SSL. Other libraries have copies of the second edition.

William Anderson Cawthorne (1825-1897) is included in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB). He was an artist, author, and schoolmaster and founder of the National Building Society in South Australia. He immigrated to South Australia in 1841, opened a school in Adelaide, was headmaster of Pulteney Grammar School and ran his own Academy. He developed an enlightened interest in Aboriginals, publishing The Islanders (1854), an account of white-Aboriginal relations in South Australia before colonization, and The Legend of Kuperree, or the Red Kangaroo … (1858), on the traditions, of the Port Lincoln tribe. His book, Who Killed Cockatoo? (Adelaide, 1862) is the earliest children’s picture book written and published in Australia.

These titles are of historical significance for their association with the theme of Aboriginal Australian folklore, and for their rarity. Between copies 1 and 2 are repeated pages. Gill has two copies of the first 1858 edition, one with MS notes and drawings by the author, evidently intended for a second edition for second edition (1900) (illustrated above, p 9 of MS). The 1858 volume also derives significance from the fact that it is personally annotated by Cawthorne. The only other libraries holding the first edition are ANL and SSL. Other libraries have copies of the second edit

Reference

Marsden Susan, Significance Report for the York Gate and Gill Libraries, prepared for the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia, Adelaide 2009.