Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Early Days: Volume 1, 1927-1931

Letters of early settlers

Cowan, E. D. [Edith Dirksey] 1927, 'Letters of early settlers', Early Days, vol. 1, part 1: 55-58.

[Read before the Society June 24, 1927]

Collected by Mrs. E. D. COWAN, O.B.E.


Extract from letter written by Mrs. Thomas Brown, who arrived in the Colony in March, 1841. The letter which is dated July 3, 1841, was written from Grassdale, York, where Mrs. Brown had settled with her husband. On the outside of the letter it is stated that it was received in England on June 3, 1842—eleven months after despatch:—

“We are as yet almost without the common necessaries of life though it is only the distance of seventy miles that parts us from the household conveniences that we set out well provided with from England. We look forward to haying them brought over the hills to our remote residence by degrees, but the first object is to get the ploughing and sowing done to provide us all with bread next year. Twenty-five pounds per ton is the charge for conveying goods from Fremantle to York—eight or nine times the cost of bringing them 13,000 miles over the sea from England. Between Fremantle and Perth and from thence to Guildford the sand is so loose and deep that a horse of good strength cannot, without difficulty, draw an empty cart over it. The mode generally adopted for the transport into the interior of goods is to take them in boats up the Swan as far as Guildford, but in this way innumerable obstacles present themselves. The course of the river is very circuitous, several shoals come in the way, over which the boats have to be dragged by the boatmen, and there is no certainty of getting things conveyed in safety, for it frequently happens the boats are swamped. The boatmen all bear a very bad character—there is said to be not one honest and sober man of that calling who plies on the river. We were run aground full twenty times in coming up to Mr. Tanner’s (Caversham Rise, near Guildford) and coming up the Swan did really appear to me. the most dangerous part of our voyage.”

Extract from letter written by Miss (or Mrs.) Jane Dods on December 4, 1833 :—

Our colony is generally in want of something. Four months since neither oil nor candles were to be had for


money, and the last three months we have been without tea and sugar, which is a great privation.

"The Alligator sloop is in harbour at this moment, and returns to Madras in a month's time."

“Mr. Dods is in the midst of his harvest, which demands our grateful thanks to the Almighty for the bounteous gifts he bestows upon us—in addition to bread we have potatoes in plenty, and a very agreeable fruit called Cape Gooseberry, which comes into bearing the first year it is planted, and continues in fruit seven or eight months, which is a great luxury as it is sweet and acid."

Extract from letter written by Mr. T. Dodds, at Cobham, near Toodyay to John Edmeades, Esq., Nursted Court, near Gravesend, England, on February 1, 1839:—

“I trust the time is not very far distant when we shall be comfortably fitted out. It has indeed been a hard fight. You seem to think the kangaroos are getting scarce, but we find it otherwise, for although there are so many hunters in the district, we never go out without catching, but in addition to the kangaroo we have the good fortune to capture an emu now and then, which affords much better sport to the hunter, and is much more valuable as food, the largest weighing 90lbs. It is of most excellent flavour, and so exceedingly fat that the steaks resemble the rump of a young beast. In regard to the appearance I dare say you have seen them in the Zoological Gardens, therefore shall only add that their eggs are splendid ornaments, and as they are very uncommon we have procured a pair of them for our collection for Mr. William; we have a fine set of dogs that will kill or catch anything, no less than six greyhounds, but I have given up hunting for the more substantial occupation of attending my flock. We do not expend any powder and shot on parrots, as the pigeons are very plentiful, but to tell the truth, ammunition is too dear to sport with. Now I shall conclude this subject, wishing you were here to enjoy it.

“In regard to farming I have little to say except that we have more land in cultivation, and less corn this year than last, owing to a severe drought, which seems to be a portion of the calamity felt so keenly in New South Wales; 'tis said of one gentleman alone that out of 200 acres of wheat only 50 could be reaped, and that only averaging four bushels per acre; indeed, our near


neighbour, Mr. Brockman, has fared no better, but, thanks to Providence, ours yielded ten. Grain is likely to be a very high price, indeed, it is now selling at 15/-per bushel, and before next harvest most likely it will be 30/-; blest are those who have plenty. The newcomers are buying up everything they can lay their hands on, and there is so much talk of breeding horses for the Indian market that no one will part with a mare except for a most exhorbitant price. Indeed, I believe you would sell as good a one for £5 as I should be obliged to give £70 for; in short, I cannot name anything that is cheap.

“The natives are very peaceable in their behaviour, but shocking thieves. I purchased our land of an old native the other day for half (?) bushel of wheat, and now they come so seldom to see us that the girls often complain of their absence, as they do all the drudgery for them in wood and water. They are very superstituous, believing in charms, for which the following is a specimen.

“One of the females was taken ill, and the doctor or charmer was called to exercise his skill. He commenced by placing one foot on the body of the woman, pressing very hard, in order to dislodge the snake which they suppose to have entered the body of the afflicted, while they were sleeping, and thereby causing the acute pain they feel. After using a variety of incantations, which he concluded by biting the part affected, making the patient believe that he has succeeded in drawing the snake out, then shaking the dust from his own sacred person to heal the wound inflicted by his teeth, he goes round the company to find two persons willing to receive the said snake between them, which he pretends he is carrying in his mouth, and when the persons are ready to receive it they submit to the biting and scratching of the charmer to render the ingress of the reptile as easy as possible .... this perfects the cure, but, alas, in this instance the poor woman was none the better, and the volunteer was none the worse. Still, their faith remained unshaken. The poor creatures seem to have some confused idea of a future state, as they inform us that the spirits of their departed friends traverse the great waters and then become white, and at last they have concluded that the settlers are no less their relatives restored to them with plenty of bread and good


things, which they have a right to share with us, as their law compels them to divide whatever they have; but they live in constant fear of each other’s tribe, for as soon as one dies or is killed the relatives dart off in quest of a female whom they kill to keep him company on the way, and to appease the spirit that it may not trouble the tribe of which they are in great dread. And again, if one son of a family kill another individual the relatives of the deceased person do not retaliate on the offender, but spear an innocent brother, observing that it would be too great an indulgence to kill the murderer as he must live to be tormented by his own conscience. They think us fools and blockheads to have forgotten everything that happened while (?) we were sojourning with them, and, of course, black like themselves. [Letter torn.] My (?) mother’s name is Talbar, and her sons often came to see her, some of them men older than herself.

“They committed a most barbarous murder about 20 months since on two unoffending ploughing settlers, who were at ploughs a long distance from home, when they were surrounded by 40 natives, and speared to death. This was done to revenge the loss of two of the tribe, who had the day before been apprehended by the police, and taken to Fremantle Gaol for thieving and throwing a spear with an intent to kill at a farmer in the harvest field; however, they got such a dressing that I don’t think they will venture to play the same game again in a hurry, for a Lieutenant Bunbury headed the soldiers and scoured the country ... which has so intimidatedthem that they declare they will never spear a white man again. [Part of letter appears to be missing.]

" ’Tis said Sir James Stirling was so much affected on leaving the colony that he lost the power of bidding farewell to his companions. Lady Stirling was no less sensible of the affectionate regard of the settlers, and we sincerely hope, they will reach their native land in safety.”

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