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

Early Days: Volume 1, 1927-1931

Some old-time memories

By Mrs. J. B. Roe

(Read before the Society, October 15, 1926 and April 1, 1927)

Roe, Mrs J.B. 1927, 'Some old-time memories', Early Days, vol. 1, part 1: 4-6.


My first school was one kept for children of about eight years old by an old maiden lady named Kingham. Then, after a couple of years, I went to the school of the Sisters of Mercy. From there I went to a finishing school kept by a Mrs. Knight, who had come out from England as Miss Munro, as governess to Sir Arthur Kennedy’s two daughters. One Miss Kennedy became engaged to Lieutenant Oliver, a military officer, who was drowned when trying to cross the Causeway in the flood of 1862.

After this flood the Causeway was raised and a new bridge built by convict labour. The convicts were camped in the old magazine, the powder having been removed to a new magazine at Fremantle. One evening as the convicts were being taken to their quarters for the night, three of the men escaped and hid in the gardens along the foreshore of the river. Coming to our garden, which was near Hill-street, they hid in the thick bushes until near midnight, when the lights were out. They stole some food from the kitchen and entered the drawingroom by cutting a piece of glass out of the French window. The


noise of the glass breaking disturbed Mr. Roe and the convicts scampered off to their hiding place. Mr. Roe had to go to the police station, which was near the present site of the Supreme Court, and I was left alone, shaking like an aspen leaf. Next day the men were recaptured at North Beach.

I married Mr. James Broun Roe, the eldest son of Captain Roe, R.N., the first Surveyor General, in 1866. Mr. Roe bought my present property in Adelaide-terrace for £30, when it was all bush and many lovely wild flowers were growing on it.

A very old friend of my parents, Mr. Mends, was Commissary General when soldiers were stationed here in the ’50s. He owned the property called “Strawberry Hill.” and he lived in a cottage adjoining until his house was built. The hill at the back was laid out in terraces and planted with strawberries, hence the name. What feasts I used to have when helping to pick them!

I was only about twelve years old then. Mr. Mends owned the greater part of the foreshore at South Perth, and had a lovely fruit and vegetable garden along the river front. He built a nice cottage for the gardener and his wife and at the top of the hill he had stables and cow sheds.

Before Mr. Mends left the colony, he gave a large picnic, inviting all he knew and they were many. The picnic Was on the top of the hill at South Perth, partly under wide-spreading gum trees and a marquee. The road from the Causeway was all sand so only those who could ride could use it. The other guests were rowed across the river. Captain Palmer kindly allowed all his men that could row to row the guests across in four-oared gigs and those who owned dinghies rowed across themselves. A flat was also hired. It was a pretty sight to see all the little boats going over and trying who should get there first. The starting point was a jetty at the back of the present Government House. In those days Pier-street ran right through where Government House ballroom now stands to the jetty.

Mr. Mends was a fine old gentleman. We had many fine old gentlemen in those days, and young ones too! There was no club so they were only too glad to spend an evening having music or table games at some of the old homes. But they had to go away at 10 o’clock, when the house was locked up and the silver taken up to bed.


There was always a sentry guarding Government House and the Treasury Office. If a guest had to leave a little after ten, the sentry would call out "Who goes there?" and if the person did not answer, just for a bit of fun, the sentry would march him to the sentry box and keep him there until he explained why he was late or what he was doing there. It was thought dreadful to be out after 10 o'clock. There was always a bell rung at the gaol as a warning to ticket-of-leave men to go in and residents always locked up then and the visitors went home.

Captain Roe was a grand old man and has been, I am ashamed to say, almost forgotten. He studied for the Navy but did not like the life. He was offered and accepted the position of Surveyor General of Western Australia and came here in 1829 in the Parmelia with Governor Stirling. They had to come up to Perth from Fremantle in rowing boats and, on arriving in sight of the Mount, the Governor said, “I shall christen that Mount Eliza, after my dear wife. Mount Eliza it shall ever be." And some foolish person has suggested that it should be called by some more appropriate name.

Many persons blame Captain Roe for the way Perth was laid out, but they little know what he had to contend with. It was all bush, up hill and down dale, swamps, sand-heaps and lakes. On the north of Adelaide-terrace, from Hill-street to Victoria-avenue, was a swamp, and that is why there is a bend in the roadway from St. George’s-terrace to Adelaide-terrace. On the other side of the road was a high ridge, and from there to the site of Government House was a great hollow, which had to be filled up by taking the sand from the ridges before Government House could be built. Opposite the present site of St. Andrew’s Church, in St. George’s-terrace, there was a great hollow with a bridge across it. This gully was filled with castor oil trees. Past Barrack-street, on the north side of St. George’s-terrace, was another ridge, and when the street was levelled, all the houses and shops on the north side had to have steps up to their doors and afterwards have new frontages built. None of you can imagine what Perth was like even in my day. Mount-street was all black sand, no road, no houses. When we girls were given a half holiday, we used to take our lunch up the Mount and have it near the site of the present kiosk.

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