Escape Cliffs

Escape Cliffs is a place on the northern coast of the Northern Territory of Australia and the site of the fourth of a series of four failed attempts to establish permanent settlement in Australia's Top End. The previous attempts were at Fort Dundas, Fort Wellington and Port Essington. Escape Cliffs lies on the western coast of the Cape Hotham peninsula, and the eastern shore of Adam Bay, near the mouth and estuary of the Adelaide River. It lies about 60 km north-east of Darwin and is located in the Cape Hotham sector of the Djukbinj National Park. There is no road access, though it is sometimes visited by yachts.[3]

Escape Cliffs
Escape Cliffs Northern Territory, looking north east.jpeg
Escape Cliffs Northern Territory, looking north east
LocationHotham, Northern Territory, Australia[1]
CoordinatesCoordinates: 12°08′S 131°15′E / 12.133°S 131.250°E / -12.133; 131.250
OwnerLimilngan-Wulna Aboriginal Corporation[2]
Invalid designation
Official nameEscape Cliffs
Designated12 January 2000 [1]
Escape Cliffs is located in Northern Territory
Escape Cliffs
Location of Escape Cliffs in Northern Territory
Escape Cliffs is located in Australia
Escape Cliffs
Escape Cliffs (Australia)
Boyle Finniss was in charge of establishing the Escape Cliffs settlement


In 1864, the year after South Australia was granted control over the Northern Territory, the South Australian government decided that settlement of the area was desirable and sent a surveying and settlement expedition under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Boyle Travers Finniss, a former Premier of South Australia. He had been instructed to establish the settlement at Adam Bay and chose the Escape Cliffs site despite disagreements with other members of his party. It was intended to cover settlement costs through sales of land, much of which had already been presold to speculators and intending settlers even before the expedition reached the site and began their survey work.[4] Finniss believed that the site could produce tropical vegetation and would be suitable for wool-growing and cattle farming.[5]

After a confused start, following an abortive initial move to another site some 65 km up the Adelaide River, the establishment work at Escape Cliffs began. Problems included incursions by the local Marananggu people[6] (which culminated in the spearing of several horses and men, murder of two Aborigines and one settler), and the unsuitability of the land due to tidal flooding and poor drainage in the wet season, exacerbated by personal jealousies, poor leadership and the need for constant vigilance, resulted in ongoing disputes and deteriorating morale. Following complaints and unfavourable reports to the South Australian government, notably by Dr. Goldsmith, Finniss was recalled in 1865, replaced by his second-in-command Manton. John McKinlay, who was sent by the government to assess the viability of Escape Cliffs or find a better site, in 1865, declared it worthless,[7] Manton reported there was nothing they could usefully do there but guard their stores.[8] In October 1866 Government ordered a recall of Manton and his men aboard the steamer Eagle, Captain Hill, which left 11 January 1867, transhipped to the Rangatira at Sydney, and arrived in Adelaide 2 February 1867.

Two years later, following a better-organised expedition by George Goyder, settlement began at what is now Darwin.[4]

On 12 January 2000, a parcel of land at Escape Cliffs was listed on the Northern Territory Heritage Register.[1]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Escape Cliffs". Heritage Register. Northern Territory Government. 12 January 2000. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Place Names Register Extract for Djukbinj National Park". NT Place Names Register. Northern Territory Government. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Escape Cliff" (PDF). Darwin Sailing Club. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 March 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Escape Cliffs: Initial Settlement and Exploration". Litchfield Council. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
  5. ^ Howitt, William (2011). The History of Discovery in Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand: From the Earliest Date to the Present Day. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 390. ISBN 9781108029506.
  6. ^ Jones, Philip (2019). Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers. New York: Hurst Publishers. pp. 146–147. ISBN 9781849048392.
  7. ^ Plowman, Peter (2007). Coast to Coast: The Great Australian Coastal Liners. New South Wales: Rosenberg Publishing. p. 19. ISBN 9781877058608.
  8. ^ "The Northern Territory". South Australian Register. XXXI (6319). South Australia. 4 February 1867. p. 2. Retrieved 9 June 2019 – via National Library of Australia.