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

Early Days: Volume 1, 1927-1931

Fremantle, 1829-49

By J.K. Hitchcock

(Read before the Society 26 November 1926.)

Hitchcock, J.K. 1927, 'Fremantle, 1829-49', Early Days, vol. 1, part 1: 11-23.


It is not easy to find anything fresh to chronicle in relation to the history of Fremantle during the first two decades of its existence. The material available is very meagre and for the most part events not already recorded have passed beyond living memory, as the life of even the oldest would embrace but a small part of that period. But few written records that have not already seen the light of day are extant. Those who may have once possessed old diaries, letters, etc., did not realise how greatly such mementoes of the past would be prized by future generations, and therefore took no pains to preserve them, consequently much that would have interested us to-day has been irretrievably lost.

We may, however, briefly recount some of the more outstanding incidents connected with the history of Fremantle prior to the convict area, which began with the arrival of the Scindian on June 1, 1850.

As everyone knows, the town derived its name from Captain Charles H. Fremantle, of H.M.S. Challenger, who arrived on May 2, 1829, and took possession in the name of King George IV., by hoisting the British flag on Arthur’s Head. The first of June is always observed as Foundation Day, although it was upon the second of that month that Captain James Stirling, with his commission as Lieutenant-Governor arrived in the Parmelia with Surveyor-General Roe and the first contingent of immigrants. The first landing was made on Garden Island, and it was not until June 18, 1829, that the proclamation annexing Western Australia to the British Empire was promulgated from Rous Head (the starting point of the North Mole).

The first arrivals were destined to suffer many hardships amid heart-breaking surroundings, for we are told:—

“When Fremantle was first occupied the land was separated from Arthur’s Head by a chain of pools, and the all-pervading sandiness of the long stretch of low-lying coast reduced the ardour of the bravest of the pioneer band. They arrived in the very depth of winter; few or no tents had been provided for their accommodation, and no sort of cover had been prepared on shore. The weather even for winter, being unusually severe, the unfortunate women and children were exposed to the most harassing priva-


tions, and had frequently to sleep under umbrellas as the only covering from deluge of driving rain that swept up from the Indian Ocean. Champagne cases, pianos, and even carriages were later used in improvising temporary buildings. Only with the greatest difficulty could these unfortunate people, unused as they were to rough colonial life, light fires for cooking purposes.” [Lucifer matches had not then been invented.]

These first settlers, however, appear to have faced the situation with courage and determination, for in January, 1833, we find a visitor from Van Diemen’s Land thus recording his impressions of the infant town:—

“Fremantle’s appearance is certainly a bed of sand, but in most parts of the townsite upon the several allotments, is found a vein of sandstone, about two feet from the surface, in sufficient quantity to build a cottage on each, and to wall the land. I was astounded, as doubtless all those who have visited that settlement have been, that the same bed of sand will produce vegetables, such as cabbages, carrots, turnips, onions, potatoes and peas, than which nothing can be finer. There is scarcely an allotment in Fremantle fenced in and inhabited that has not a well and excellent fresh water.”

Mr. George Fletcher Moore in his diary (1834) gives a less flattering description of the town, which, he says, was:—

“a bare, barren looking district; the shrubs cut for firewood, the herbage trodden bare, a few wooden houses among ragged looking tents and contrivances for habitation, one poor hotel, a poor public house into which everyone crowded; our colonists a few cheerless dissatisfied people, with gloomy looks, plodding their way through the sand from hut to hut to drink grog and grumble out their discontent to each other.”

Mr. Moore must have been in a cynical mood when he wrote in this strain, for the subsequent progress of the town proved that the pioneers who laid its foundations were anything but the drunken lot of grumblers he made them out to be.

The writer’s grandfather, with his wife and family, arrived by the Simon Taylor in 1842, and by that time the town was well laid out and contained two hotels, Government buildings, and three or four stores. The landing place was at the western end of the tunnel which had been pierced through Arthur's Head to connect High-street with the then existing jetty.

From that time until after the arrival of the first batch of convicts in 1850 the town does not appear to have made very rapid progress, for we are told that at this period:—

“Fremantle was a small insignificant place scarce worthy of the. name of town. High-street had a few decent looking houses as well as one or two hotels of fair proportions, but what is now


the centre of the town had only a few stringy bark cottages dotted here and there. It was indeed a dismal spot. North and south as far as the eye extended there was nothing but miserable sand covered by stunted bushes.”

The institution of the convict system, however, inspired the struggling settlers with fresh courage and gave a great impetus to Fremantle, but as our present purpose is to deal only with the history of the town from its foundation till the year 1849 we will confine ourselves to a resume of the most noteworthy occurrences between those periods.


Between June 2 and December 31, 1829. eighteen vessels arrived at Fremantle.

On September 5 of the same year the first sale of town allotments took place, the buyers being W. Lamb. J. Hobbs, L. Samson, and T. Bannister. The next sale was to John Bateman a few months later. Of these names, two—Samson and Bateman—are still prominent in the town, being those of the founders of the two oldest established commercial houses in the State. The firm of L. Samson and Son was established in 1829, its founder, Mr. Lionel Samson, with his brother William, having arrived in the colony by the Calista in that year. The business is still located in Cliff-street, where it first started, having enjoyed a continuity of existence from its foundation up to the present day. Associated with its earlier fortunes was Mr. Alexander Francisco, the maternal grandfather of Sir Walter James. K.C., who later conducted a wine and spirit merchant’s business on his own account as well as holding the position of postmaster at the Port. [It may be here noted that the pioneer storekeepers at Fremantle were Messrs. Leake, Shenton and Samson.]

Although the firm of J. and W. Bateman was not established under its present name until 1860, its genesis really goes back to 1830, when the John Bateman above-mentioned, who was the great-grandfather of the present heads of the firm, arrived from England by the Madonna and founded a business which is now in the front rank of commercial houses, and which has played no small part in the development of the State.

Amongst the passengers by the ship Gilmore, which arrived at Fremantle in 1829 was Captain Armstrong, a Waterloo veteran, whose wife was a daughter of Neil


Gow, the celebrated Scottish violinist and musical composer. I do not know whether the mantle of the famous musician has fallen upon any of his numerous descendants in Western Australia, but certainly the military instinct which distinguished the Armstrong who fought under Wellington seems to have been transmitted to succeeding generations, for it is said that the names of no fewer than 50 of the clan are recorded upon various rolls of honour throughout the State. Among its Fremantle representatives in the great war were Lieutenant Herbert Bateman, Corporal William Bateman and Privates Vernon Bateman and Ken Pearse, of whom the first two made the supreme sacrifice on the field of honour.


In the months of May and June, 1830, severe storms were experienced, causing much loss and discomfort to the settlers.

In December a native was shot and killed while robbing Mr. Butler’s garden at Melville. A few days later the blacks killed Mr. Butler’s servant, a man named Entwistle.

Thirty-one vessels arrived during the year, among them being the ill-fated Rockingham, with 250 passengers, who had decided to throw in their lot with the Colonisation Company, promoted by Mr. Thomas Peel, to form a settlement in the new colony. The story of the complete failure of this ambitious project has been too often told to need recapitulation, but some incidents in connection with the voyage and wreck of the Rockingham may be of interest.

Ill-fortune seems to have attended the venture from the very start. Lying outside the mouth of the Thames, the passengers were congratulating themselves upon the auspicious commencement of the long journey before them, when it was suddenly discovered that the ship had parted her anchor and drifted on the deadly Goodwin Sands. Out of this perilous position she was extricated without injury at the rise of the tide, but, though escaping destruction at the very outset, the Peel Settlement expedition was not yet to be allowed a peaceful course.

The Rockingham had no sooner negotiated the chops of the Channel on her outward voyage than a furious gale arose and denuded her of every stitch of canvas in a very short time. For a while the ship was in con-


siderable danger, but rode out the gale in safety, and in a very dilapidated condition managed, with the help of the tide, to make Falmouth Harbour. Here she was refitted, and after a fortnight’s delay proceeded on her voyage, which was uneventful until the ship dropped anchor outside Garden Island. Then arose the problem how to get through the line of islands and uncharted reefs which intervened between the vessel and the shore. The Rockingham sailed off and on for a week outside Garden Island, her captain being afraid to attempt any of the passages through the reef in the absence of any definite information as to the soundings. Ultimately a man-o-War’s boat came out between Garden Island and Carnac just in time to warn the vessel back from an attempt to make the passage to which the captain had at last made up his mind. The ship was accordingly put about, and once more the Peel expedition escaped disaster. A naval officer came on board and brought the ship safely in, and the voyagers took their first close view of the new land when, in May, 1830, the Rockingham dropped anchor off Clarence, about 13 miles south of Fremantle.

But the new settlers had to experience difficulty and danger in getting themselves and their belongings ashore. The elements arose in fury once more against the ship as she lay at anchor within a short distance of the promised land, and Mr. Peel chose this inopportune time for commencing the work of disembarkation. He began by ordering that all the single men should proceed to Garden Island, and accordingly they were placed in four of the ship’s boats. The boats tried to make out from the ship to the island, but the gale, which was blowing hard inshore, drove them back and carried them to the mainland beach. Most of the boats were overturned in the surf, but the occupants reached dry land in safety.

The ship itself fared no better than the boats. The wind had lashed the waves into raging fury, resulting in the vessel being cast on to the beach broadside on. As she stranded, the quarter boat, which was drifting by, was secured, and by this means an attempt was made to land the married men and their families. The wind was howling furiously all the while, and the breakers rose and dashed themselves upon the beach with terrific force. It was an anxious moment for all when the


quarter boat loaded with its human freight, put forth from the ship's side to cross the small space of seething waters which lay between the stranded vessel and the shore. It was a yet more anxious moment when the boat was seen to turn completely over in the breakers, scattering its human freight in the surf. A rush was at once made by the single men on shore to assist the helpless strugglers in the water, and it is satisfactory to know that although there were many narrow escapes from drowning, all the voyagers were brought safely to shore. Fortunately, the coast at the spot is sandy, rather than rocky, or the result might have been very different.

Although they had escaped the fury of the waters, the unhappy voyagers found themselves in a sorry plight. The bleak sea beach offered no shelter, and no stores or provisions had been brought ashore. A scanty supply of food was afterwards obtained from the ship’s stores, but these rations soon became exhausted, and a period of semi-starvation ensued. A wooden house, which had been thrown overboard from the ship during the storm, was observed drifting to the southward, and was secured and put up, thus accommodating some of the stranded voyagers. The rest had to find cover at night as best they could, and many slept in old casks, or under other extemporised shelter. They remained at Clarence for about one year, waiting patiently for Peel to fulfil his contract to place them on the land; but, when the winter came, the weaker among those who had not moved away died off from exposure in an unsheltered position and lack of the bare necessaries of life.

Learning of the wretched plight of the Rockingham’s passengers, Governor Stirling invited them to come to Perth, and most of them accepted the invitation. With the tools they had brought on the ship for use in the new settlement they built boats, to enable them to reach the capital, to which at that time there was no road from Clarence. Having found their way to Perth, those who survived the first terrible year of disappointment and hardship became absorbed in the general population of the new colony; and thus ended the abortive attempt to found an agricultural settlement under the auspices of Mr. Thomas Peel. Deserted by his party, Peel lived for many years in solitary indigence on his huge but unproductive estate, and died almost a pauper


His last resting place is in the little cemetery at Mandurah.

Among the Rockingham’s passengers were the forbears of the well-known Mews family, who trace their pedigree back to Peter Mews, who was Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1672.

The Rockingham (which may be regarded as the Mayflower of Western Australia) also brought to these shores two other notable families—Tuckey and Adams. “Grandfather” Tuckey, whose numerous descendants are so well and favourably known in Fremantle and Mandurah, was a veteran of the Peninsular War, and his silver medal, with the bars for Toulouse, the Pyrenees, and other engagements, is a much prized heirloom in the Tuckey family. William Adams was one of the heroes of Waterloo though he did not claim the distinction of being, the “Bill Adams” whom legend credits with having won that famous battle. His descendants are legion, and permeate Fremantle to such an extent that it would be difficult to throw a stone in any of its streets without hitting one of them.


During the year 1831 twenty-seven vessels from overseas arrived at Fremantle.

It is not generally known that in 1831 a township called Kingston was laid open for selection at Rottnest. Lots were sold to R. M. Lyon, C. Northcote, and D. Scott, but the town never advanced beyond the paper stage. It would be interesting to know who now holds the Crown grants of the lots that were alienated.

In this year a monthly service of boats was established between Fremantle and Guildford, no roads worthy of the name being yet in existence. A canal was cut through Point Walter spit, which shortened the distance between city and port by about two miles. This was allowed to silt up, and consequently the wayside inn which catered for the boat crews and passengers traversing the river was abandoned as Point Walter ceased to be a stopping place. Traces of this old half-way house near the water’s edge at Point Walter may still be seen a few yards west of the jetty.

In May, 1831, Western Australia’s first newspaper, the Western Australian Journal, was established. It was issued in manuscript and sold at 3/6 per copy. In December of the same year W.A.’s first printing press


was landed from Van Dieman’s Land and from it was issued the Fremantle Observer, which was printed in a hut at Hamilton Hill (Spearwood) by Charles Macfaull and W. K. Shenton. The little press and a copy of the paper may be seen to-day in the Perth Museum, with its history concisely expressed by Edmund Stirling, who subsequently owned it. That little press printed the libel which was the cause of Western Australia’s only duel. This was fought on the south bank of the river a little to the west of the present traffic bridge, the combatants being Mr. Clark, a Scotch lawyer, and Mr. Johnstone, a merchant. The latter was fatally wounded.


During the year 1832 thirteen vessels arrived at Fremantle.

The first vineyard in the colony was planted at Hamilton Hill by Charles Macfaull and Edmund Stirling. The vines were obtained from the Cape of Good Hope.


Twenty-one vessels arrived during the year 1833.

A youth named William Keating was killed by natives at Bull’s Creek. Two brothers named Valvick met the same fate at Preston Point.

The first horse race in the colony was held at South Beach on October 2, 1833. It is recorded in racing annals that at this race meeting Mr. Lionel Samson ran a horse which he entered under the expressive if not euphonious name of "More in Sorrow than in Anger.” This little whimsicality was quite characteristic of the kindly old gentleman.


In 1834 mails between Fremantle and Perth were carried by a runner whose remuneration was l\ per week. The road between the two centres w*as then a mere bush track through the sand as the river afforded better and cheaper means of transit, both for goods and passengers.


On January 31, 1835, Mr. J. Bateman was appointed postmaster at Fremantle. The first post office was situated in Henry-street in a little vine-clad cottage which stood at the rear of the terrace of offices now owned by Mr. James Mews, of Claremont. Some idea


of the smallness of the amount of business transacted may be gleaned from the fact that the address and date of receipt and delivery of every letter was recorded in a book. Imagine that being done nowadays!


In May, 1836, the first locally built seagoing vessel was launched at Fremantle. She was named the Lady Stirling, but is not identical with the paddle steamer of that name which plied between Perth and Fremantle from 1857 until the early ’seventies.


The excavation of the tunnel under Arthur’s Head was commenced in 1837. It has often been erroneously stated that this tunnel was the work of convicts, but it was begun and completed long before the first batch of convicts arrived, as was also the gaol, commonly known as the Round House, which stands immediately over it. Up to 1849 the stocks still stood outside this octagonal-shaped building, but those ancient instruments of correction were then fast falling into disuse and soon after were abolished.

In 1837 the Fremantle Whaling Company began operations by capturing a whale off Carnac. Long before this American whalers were frequent visitors to these waters and reaped a rich harvest. The day of kerosene had not yet dawned and the odoriferous whale oil, in the old-fashioned chimney-less and smoky lamps, was the principal illuminant available. In those days whales frequently came into Fremantle Harbour at certain periods of the year and for many years whaling was a staple local industry.

The rival crews were those of John Bateman and Joshua J. Harwood and when whales were sighted the boats of the two firms were manned immediately, whilst the townspeople congregated at various points of vantage to watch the race for the prizes to be won. The natives used to come to Fremantle in hordes when the whaling season was on, and feasted to satiety on the scraps after the oil had been boiled from the blubber.

1838 and 1839 The native prison at Rottnest was established early in 1838. In September of the same year vaccine matter was introduced into Western Australia for the first time.

1839 was uneventful.


The Wt'Htprn Auntr*lUui Historical Society


1840 and 1841

The first shipment of Western Australian produce for London left Fremantle by the ship Shepherd in January, 1840.

The foundation stone of the old Wesley Church in Cantonment-street was laid by Governor Hutt. This building is still standing, but has been enlarged and is now used as the church hall and Sunday school.

1841 was uneventful.


The foundation-stone of the old light-house at Rottnest was laid on January 21, 1842. At this time and for many years after the pilot station at Rottnest was in charge of Captain Edward Back, progenitor of the Back clan of Fremantle. He came of old seafaring stock and was related to Admiral Sir George Back, the Arctic explorer. After his retirement from the pilot service Captain Back frequently acted as nominal master of vessels whose actual masters were unable for the time being to comply with the new conditions under which no ship could clear from the port unless her master held a certificate of competency.

On April 6, 1842, the foundation-stone of the old St. John’s Anglican Church was laid by Governor Hutt. This church stood in the centre of King’s Square, which comprised the block of land bounded on the south and west by Newman and William-streets, and on the north and east by Adelaide and Queen-streets, the site of the old church being that portion of the existing High-street which lies between the present church and Mr. Twinem’s offices. The High-street of that day, therefore, had a church at one end and a gaol at the other.

The mystery of how the church acquired possession of King’s Square was a subject of much controversy in bygone days. Both King’s and Queen’s Squares were originally set apart as breathing spaces for the people, but somehow it came about that a church was built in the centre of the former. Eventually it was decided to bisect both of them and run High-street through them. The Church of England, however, claimed and established ownership over the whole of King’s Square, and had to be bought out. When the erection of a new church was in contemplation the town bought from the church all that portion of the square south of the


present church enclosure, retaining part of it for the extension of High-street and as a site for the Town Hall and selling the triangular portion east of the Town Hall on which shops are now built.

The town, through some jugglery, suffered a similar loss of territory in connection with the Park, which originally included the land on which the old Lunatic Asylum (now the Old Women’s Home) was built and thence down to Quarry-street, the land between Quarry-streets and the present park area being sold to private people and built upon.

How Fremantle lost its much prized recreation ground, “The Green,” and the wharf extending from Cliff-street, may also be briefly stated: In the early days the area between Phillimore-street and Packenham-street was shallow water, the present irregular line of buildings along the south side of Phillimore-street marking what was once the river foreshore. The townspeople, by constituting themselves working bees, reclaimed the land and planted it with couch grass, thus creating the old recreation ground which was known as “The Green.” Naturally the people were very wroth when it was proposed to resume this land for railway purposes, but ultimately they were appeased by being granted a sum of £500 for improvements to the park, and Fremantle’s first railway station was then built on the reclaimed area. It is now the site of the Customs House, Chamber of Commerce and other buildings, the new railway station being located at the foot of Market-street.

1843 and 1844

1843 was uneventful.

In June, 1844, the first shipment of horses left for India.

The first execution of a white person in W.A. took place at Fremantle. The criminal was a boy from Park-hurst Reformatory named John Galvin, who was employed at Pollard’s farm at Dandalup. There, on February 21, 1844, he murdered George Pollard, aged 18. while he slept. It was a fearful crime, the victim’s skull being broken with an adze until it was a mass of bones, brains and hairs.

Galvin was tried on April 3, 1844, and was sentenced to be hanged and suspended in chains. At the trial he


confessed his guilt, and said the murder was the result of uncontrollable homicidal impulse. He was hanged three days later, the place of execution being about 10 yards to the left of the Round House looking towards the church. Heavy weights were attached to his feet, and the cart on which he stood was then moved from under him. The body hung for an hour and was then cut down and buried in the sand hills a little southwest of the Court House, which at that time stood near the present site of the Adelaide Steamship Company’s offices in Mouatt-street. The place of burial would, therefore, be somewhere to the rear of where the National Bank now stands, about midway between Mouatt and Cliff-streets.

Galvin had an extraordinary head, the anterior organs being very deficiently developed, while the posterior organs were of enormous size. An excellent mask of the face and cast of the skull were taken but it is not known what became of them.

It is said that during the first year or two of the colony’s existence several interments were made at a spot a little to the westward of where the Federal Hotel now stands. Human remains have also been found in other parts of the town. Nearly six years ago a skeleton was found when the foundations were being dug for the buildings in Adelaide-street now used as the District Registrar’s office. Prior to this one was found during the making of what was known as Lefroy’s Cutting (now Wray-avenue). This was allowed to lie about until it finally disappeared, and I remember the boys used to amuse themselves trying to piece it together. More recently a skeleton was unearthed when the foundations of a new building were being excavated near the riverside at East Fremantle. These may have been the bones of aboriginals, or else, as some suggest, there was no special place set apart in the very early days of Fremantle for the burial of the dead.


On February 24, 1845, a heavy north-west gale did much damage to buildings and shipping.

The first steam vessel, H.M.S. Driver, visited Fremantle. The novel sight caused the look-out man to mistake her for a ship on fire.


The first shipment of sandalwood from Fremantle was made in December of this year.


Three vessels built of jarrah were launched at Fremantle, the largest capable of carrying 300 tons.


In July and August. 1847, heavy rains and floods were experienced.


Between the years 1842 and 1848 (which was before the convict era) about 150 boys were sent to Western Australia from the Parkhurst Reformatory.

Most of them had merely been guilty of some boyish freak which to-day would have only earned them a mild lecture and a caution in the Children’s Court. Having been taught useful trades the majority of them ultimately became some of the best and most estimable of our pioneer colonists. Many of them, in fact, founded families, members of which have played no inconsiderable part in the development of the colony.


In 1849 an attempt was made to remove the bar at the mouth of the Swan, but without success. It was nearly half a century later before any but small vessels could enter the river.

A few old buildings in Fremantle, erected prior to 1849, may still be seen. One of these, a two-storey structure, stands at the corner of High and Queen-streets, and at that period was the only building of any pretensions east of King’s Square. Originally it had been an hotel (the “Rose and Crown”), but after the arrival of the convicts its licence was not renewed, on the grounds that it was too far out of town to be under effective police supervision.

This will give some idea of the extent of the settled portion of the town at that time. What is now the Park was covered by a dense growth of parrot bushes and scrub, and was the favourite resort of aborigines, who in those days were to be seen in large numbers about Fremantle, or “Walyalup,” as they called it.

Garry Gillard | New: 23 July, 2020 | Now: 14 April, 2021