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

Early Days: Volume 1, 1927-1931

Reminiscences of Perth 1830-1840

By Mrs. Edward Shenton [Compiled from the reminiscences of the writer’s mother, Mrs. F. Lochee]

(Read before the Society, April 1, 1926)

Shenton, Mrs Edward 1961, 'Reminiscences of Perth 1830-1840', Early Days, vol. 1, part 1: 1-4.


Mrs. Lochee, nee Emma Purkis, was a child between seven and eight years of age when she arrived at the Swan River Colony with her parents. Mr and Mrs. James Purkis and family reached Fremantle on the Egyptian, on February 14th, 1830, after a very trying voyage. They landed on the beach between North Fremantle and Cottesloe, where they remained for nearly two months, living in tents barricaded round with all the packing cases containing their furniture and provisions in order to keep away any marauders. Many times they thought the tents would be blown away as the gales were so severe. There were many other families camped on the beach besides the settlers from the Egyptian. My mother said these settlers, although on a sandy wind-swept beach, managed to have some pleasure as they had a piano. The only name I can remember of this company is that of Lieutenant Shaw, R.N., and his wife. Mr. Purkis brought w'ith him a blacksmith, carpenter and herdsman, and they were accompanied by their wives.

The only way to go from Fremantle to Perth was by river in a large rowing boat, and my mother said she could never forget the beauty of the scenery when they arrived in Perth. From Point Lewis to Mill-street, she said, there was a high hill running right down to the river and the bank as far back as Hay-street was very beautiful in colours of green, yellow, white and pink, with small streams running at intervals into the river. From Mill-street commenced another long hill, which ran as far as Bennett-street, and was clothed in the same


beautiful verdure and broken by gaps and running streams. Where Government House ballroom now stands was a ravine and a running stream.

Mr. Purkis and his family landed at the general landing place, called the Government jetty, which was at a spot on the foreshore directly below the present site of the Soldiers’ Institute. When they arrived the bush had been cut to make St. George’s Terrace the same width as now from Milligan-street to Lord-street (now Victoria-avenue), and there was a narrower cutting (Adelaide-terrace) to a decline in the roadway. Mr. Purkis’s grant of land stretched from the present site of the Bank of New South Wales along the terrace to the Commercial Travellers’ Club and down to the river. It was not long before he had his family and his belongings on his land. Their accommodation consisted of one large tent with a fly, which was divided into three rooms for sleeping, lined with blankets and carpeted with blackboy rushes over which mats were placed, four smaller tents for the employees and one large living tent. Deep trenches were dug around each tent to keep away wild animals or snakes.

One night the family were awakened by strange noises. Some person, it appeared to them, was trying to get under the tent. “Natives,” everyone thought, for the object looked black. After quarter of an hour of fear, they discovered that it was an old sow, who was a great pet and wanted to get into them, although she had very comfortable quarters of her own.

The natives were not always inclined to be friendly. In fact, Midgegooroo, their chief, would never make friends. He was hanged some time later on the corner of the block where the Deanery now stands, because of the diabolical murders of settlers he and his tribe had committed. His body was left hanging on the tree as a warning. As soon as Yagan, his son, became chief of the tribe there was no more trouble with the natives. Yagan was a fine fellow and had always wanted to be friends with the white people.

My mother remembers seeing Midgegooroo hanging on the tree as she passed on her way from Government House, where she went every day to be educated with the Governor, Sir James Stirling’s child.

The natives always called my grandmother Budgera, saying that she was “a black woman jumped up white woman,” and they always wanted to make friends with


her, which she could never make herself do. My mother on the contrary soon made friends with the blacks and they used to bring their babies to her to be bathed and clothed.

Governor Stirling’s tents stood on the brow of the hill in Government House grounds, overlooking the river. The spot is now a lawn, and a post of the tennis court fence now stands on or very near the spot that was occupied by the Governor’s official tent.

The military force occupied a large square, between St. George’s-terrace and Hay-street, stretching from Barrack-street to the Deanery fence in St. George’s-terrace, and from Barrack-street to Pier-street along Hay-street. There were rows of tents all around the square. The hospital tent was almost in the middle of the square, the officers’ tents on the site of the Burt Memorial Hall, and the non-commissioned officers’ tents on the site of the Treasury Buildings, at the corner of Barrack-street and St. George’s-terrace. The gaol was on the present site of the Deanery.

The governor had to visit Fremantle and the Swan district, and to do this he went in his official galley, which was painted white and had a red and white awning.

It was manned by four sailors dressed in regulation dress—white in summer and navy blue in winter. My mother said it was a very pretty sight to see the boat gliding along the blue water with splashes from the oars and a setting of green on the banks and blue above. She often watched him out of sight as she and his children generally went down to the jetty to see him off when he went on his visits.

There were always two companies of soldiers in Perth besides those at the out-stations.

My grandparents and family lived in tents for two years while my grandfather and his men built the house. It was built of bricks made from clay on his own premises.

Balls were given by the Governor and Lady Stirling even when Government House was only a tent. The balls generally lasted till daylight because the settlers on the Helena and Swan had to cross the river near the Causeway on horseback to get back to their homes, and it was very easy to get off the ford in the dark into quicksands and deep water. Horse races were always held in Perth on the first of June by the Perth Amateur Jockey Club, which was mostly composed of the gentlemen


of Perth and the officers of the regiments stationed in Perth.

My grandfather, like many others, brought vines There were beautiful vegetable and strawberry gardens with him from the Cape and planted them in his grounds, at Claise Brook, and it was a common thing for riding parties of ladies and gentlemen to go there for “strawberry afternoons.” Picnics by boat both up and down the river were frequent and also excursions on horseback to the hills. There were many good fruit and vegetable gardens at the foot of Mount Eliza.

Most of the plays and concerts in Perth in the late ’40s were held in the Court House. Balls were generally held at Hodge’s Hotel, which was at the corner of William-street and the Esplanade.

In the early days of Perth there was an Acclimatisation Society, which made the Botanical Gardens (the present Government Gardens). Mr. Purkis and Mr. Lochee were members of the committee and planted oak trees and Norfolk Island pines, one of which is still standing.

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