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

Early Days: Volume 2, 1932-1936

Major Edmund Lockyer

Robert Stephens

Robert Stephens, 'Major Edmund Lockyer', Early Days, Vol. 2, Part 19, 1936: 1-9.

[An address delivered by Mr. ROBERT STEPHENS at the UNVEILING of a MONUMENT to MAJOR LOCKYER, at RESIDENCY POINT, ALBANY, on March 12, 1936.]

The ground upon which we stand this afternoon for the purpose of unveiling a permanent record of Major Edmund Lockyer (57th Regiment), soldier, explorer, administrator and civil servant, is sacred ground—sacred by reason of its having been impressed with the footprints of men great in their achievements, unsurpassed in their courage, whose names are writ large in the annals of our race, and whose blood we are proud to boast flows in our veins.

Vancouver heads the van. On September 29, 1791, from the heights of Mount Clarence, Captain George Vancouver gazed on the harbour upon the shores of which we stand, and which, in the spirit of the age, he named Princess Royal Harbour, in honour of the then Princess Royal, whose natal day he thus celebrated.

A decade later, in the second week of December 1801, there anchored off the Point upon which we are assembled this afternoon, H.M.S. Investigator, flying the flag of one whose fame we should recall each time the name of our country is breathed or spoken, for it was Captain Matthew Flinders, renowned among the greatest of the world’s navigators, who gave us that name, “Australia.” Between the location of the monument before us and what is now the site of the Albany Woollen Mills, Flinders and his party pitched their camp and remained for


a month. Members of his party comprised men whose names have a permanent place in the annals of our race. They include Lieutenant John Franklin, later Sir John Franklin, famed in Arctic exploration; Robert Brown, an army surgeon, renowned as a botanist; and William Westall, the painter, who made the sea his constant theme. The ground upon which we stand on this memorable occasion must often have been trodden by these men.

The last important visitor to this historic spot, prior to the arrival of Major Edmund Lockyer, was Lieutenant Phillip Parker King, who cast anchor off the Point before us in his tiny ship Mermaid on January 20, 1818, and remained for a period of 12 days. It was the same Mermaid—a vessel of only 84 tons—in which Major Lockyer (some seven years later) explored the Brisbane River. King’s party also included men whose names shine brightly in colonial history—Allan Cunningham, famous for his work as a botanist in New South Wales; and, more familiar to us, Lieutenant John Septimus Roe, who later was to accompany Captain Stirling and assist in laying the foundations of the Colony of Western Australia as the first Surveyor-General. Another member of King’s party, but of a vastly different type, was Boongaree, chief of the Broken Bay (New South Wales) tribe of aborigines, who was perhaps the first aboriginal inhabitant of Australia to circumnavigate the island Continent, which his ancestors had inhabited from time immemorial.

It is on record that the first visit of Lieutenant King to these shores was occasioned by the fact that considerable interest and activity at this period was being displayed by the French on the western shores of Australia. Just as it was the same interest and activity which was the reason some eight years later for the visit to these shores of Major Edmund Lockyer. The voluminous correspondence in the few years immediately preceding Major Lockyer’s arrival, between Earl Bathurst, the British Colonial Secretary, and Governor Ralph Darling, of New South Wales, reveals the fact that the fear of annexation by the French was a real one, and that the establishment of an outpost on the shores of King George’s Sound was intended as a gesture


to the world of a definite and permanent occupation of the territory.

[Mr. Stephens then referred to the prominent part the Army, as well as the Navy, had played in establishing the State, mentioning the names of Ensign R. Dale, Lieutenant Erskine, Captain JT. Molloy, Captain Bannister, Captain Collett Barker, Lieutenant (later Sir George Grey, Lieutenant Egerton-Warburton and Corporal Kent. The first of the long line of military men was Major Edmund Lockyer, founder of Albany.]

Plymouth, the southern English town associated in the mind of every Briton with Admiral Drake and the finishing of a game of bowls before proceeding with his fleet to engage the Spanish Armada, was the birthplace of Edmund Lockyer. There he was born on January 21, 1784, 42 years before, to the very day, upon which he was, as Major Lockyer, to hoist the British flag upon the now historical spot upon which we stand this afternoon. Of Edmund Lockyer’s early years and of his career in the Army, very little is known, except that he entered the Army as ensign in 1803, was promoted successively Lieutenant in 1804, Captain in 1805, Major in 1819. Associated with the 19th Regiment, he served in India and Ceylon in the capacities referred to. In 1824, he exchanged into the 57th Regiment (the “Diehards”) while this regiment was quartered in Ireland, and in 1825, sailed from Portsmouth in the Royal Charlotte with a detachment of that regiment, reaching Port Jackson on April 28. Acting under instructions from Sir Thomas Brisbane, he left Sydney in the Mermaid and explored the Brisbane River. In 1826, consequent upon the fear of French annexation previously referred to, he sailed from Sydney in the brig Amity with a detachment of the 39th Regiment and a party of convicts to establish a settlement at King George’s Sound, of which he was appointed first Commandant. The party on board the Amity were:—

Major Edmund Lockyer (in charge of expedition and first Commandant at King George’s Sound).
Lieutenant Colson Festing (Commander of H.M.S. Fly, escort).
Captain Wakefield (39th Regiment and second Commandant at King George’s Sound from April 2, 1827).
Captain D’Arcy (Senior Officer).


Mr. Amed Lockyer (Storekeeper, son of Major Lockyer).
T. Hanson (Master, Colonial brig Amity).
Mr. West (Mate, Colonial brig Amity).
John Browne (Gardener).
William Woods (Royal Veterans Corps, Governor of convicts).
Thomas Woods (Royal Veterans Corps, Overseer of convicts).
Soldiers of the 39th Regiment: Privates Diggins, Forward and Banks and 15 other rank and file, together with three women and two children.
Convicts: Denis Deneen, John Ryan, — McGee, — Smith and 16 other convicts unnamed.

Governor Darling’s instructions to Lockyer were detailed. If he found the French already in possession, he was to tell them that “the whole of New Holland is subject of His Britannic Majesty’s Government,” but, if he reached the Sound first, and French explorers came later, he was merely “to avoid any expression of doubt of the whole of New Holland being considered within this Government, any division of it, which may be supposed to exist under the designation of New South Wales, being merely ideal.”

Lockyer left Sydney on November 9, put in at Port Dalrymple on the 20th, reached Hobart east-about on December 1, and anchored in Princess Royal Harbour— the inner basin of King George’s Sound—on December 25. He succeeded in establishing friendly relations with the aborigines (after a brief trouble resulting from their previous brutal treatment by visiting sealers), founded a village on the site afterwards known as Albany, and formally annexed the territory on January 21, 1887. Having fulfilled his mission, he returned to Sydney on April 3 in H.M.S. Success with Captain James Stirling.

Major Lockyer’s instructions, received from Governor Darling, were to establish a settlement on King George's Sound, and after having placed it on a proper basis, to hand it over to Captain Wakefield, who accompanied him. From Wednesday, October 8, 1826, when he embarked on the Colonial brig Amity in Sydney Harbour to proceed to King George’s Sound, until Monday,


April 2, 1827, when he embarked on H.M.S. Success to return to Sydney, Major Lockyer kept a detailed diary, which surely is a masterpiece. Most fortunately, it has been preserved for the nation, the original being in the Public Library of New South Wales, Sydney. It is a very human document, recording the most minute details of the experiences of the little party.

This afternoon the time is not available to quote extensively from the diary referred to and it is felt that one quotation will suffice. The exception is the entry in the diary under the date of Thursday, December 28. 1826. “Having examined both (Oyster and Princess Royal) Harbours, I am compelled from not being able to find a more eligible situation, to fix on the one immediately opposite where the brig (Amity) is at anchor (now Residency Point), and where Captain Flinders had his tents pitched at the watering place when he was here in H.M. Surveyor vessel the Investigator (in 1801).”

As the diary is too long to quote in detail, a brief record of Major Lockyer’s three months’ sojourn in the infant settlement is contained in the following report (his own), addressed to Governor Darling and dated April 2, 1827, which was the day upon which he boarded the H.M.S. Success on his return voyage from King George’s Sound to New South Wales.


“In obedience to the instructions given to me, I embarked on board the Government Colonial Brig Amity and proceeded in conjunction with Lieut. Wm. (?) Festing*, H.M. Ship Fly to King George Sound, and have to submit the following report of the country and its productions, as also a description of its Sound and Harbours.

“After a boisterous and tedious passage of six weeks we arrived at our destination on the 25th December, 1826. Passing through the Sound we entered the Southern or Princess Royal Harbour by a narrow passage scarcely half a mile in width between the heads, the southern one or Point Possession being a bare mass of granite about eighty or one hundred feet high, with little or no vegetation on it, this point being connected with a ridge of hills which forms the southern boundary of the harbour from Bald Head the entrance of the Sound by a small neck of sand hills; the north point being a part of the mainland separating this from Oyster Harbour. On passing the entrance Princess Royal Harbour presents a most magnificent sheet of water, but does not afford, except in a small space, sufficient depth of water for ships of any considerable tonnage. Lieutenant Festing having caused the Brig to be anchored as close to the northern shore as the depth of water would allow, and nearly as possible where Captain Flinders had anchored His Majesty's ship Investigator when on discovery. On looking about for a suitable place for fixing settlement and no one presenting a more favourable one than a spot nearly abreast of


where the vessel was at anchor on the north shore, in a pretty situation between the hills, the eastern one of at least from four to five hundred feet in height, the one to the westward nearly as high but more bluff at the top being one solid granite rock with a part of its side being quite steep for about thirty or forty feet, under which is some large timber, but little of it fit for the saw-pit. The eastern hill sloping some parts suddenly, the others more gradual, thickly covered with a coarse grass, honeysuckle, trees of different species and a stunted gum, with considerable quantities of loose granite of various shapes and sizes. The ground on the lower part between these hills is a mixture of a dry sandy vegetable mould from twelve to eighteen inches in depth, varying considerably in its proportion of sand, with the remainder boggy or swampy land. On a rising spot of ground nearer the western hill or Mount Melville in a piece of ground of about five hundred yards square, is Frederick’s Town, where the store hut, barracks and officers' residences are at present built. On a projecting point on the beach below the settlement a flagstaff is placed and the two cannonades mounted, which is easily seen on a ship crossing the Sound and the opening to Princess Royal Harbour. Nothing like a river—beyond a small running stream in one or two places—in this Harbour.

“The Sound itself is a fine harbour, completely shut in from all winds or heavy seas from the ocean. Mount Gardner and the two islands—Michaelmas and Breaksea—protecting it completely from any gale from N.E. and East. Bald Head affording the same protection from S.S.E. to S. and S.W. For large ships the Sound is perfectly secure for all purposes of refitment and need not resort to the inner harbour except for heaving down.

“A rock under water not previously known was discovered after our being there nearly two months, in the very centre of the passage leading into Sound from sea between Bald Head and Breaksea Island, and has only eight or ten feet of water on it. With the sea from the Southward the sea breaks on it.

“Oyster Harbour lying about two miles and half to three miles north-east of Princess Royal Harbour has a bar entrance on which the greatest depth is thirteen feet, between the heads five to seven fathoms for a short distance, when it becomes a shoal all over except a very narrow channel, the passage of two rivers at the head or north shore; one on the north-west side of no importance. being very small, the other much larger being one hundred to one hundred and sixty yards broad for six miles when a ridge of rocks running across prevents boats going further uu and immediately the river, which is here fresh, becomes considerably narrower and full of falls and rapids having more or less strength when influenced by rain.

“The banks on both sides are covered with very large timber of various descriptions common about Port Jackson, and the blue gum, though not in such plenty as other kinds, is far better than is about Sydney.

“The soil, even on the banks of this river, is very indifferent, being chiefly a red earth covered with ironstone rubble and large pieces on its surface, through which a number of shrubs force themselves in great variety, and a number of running rivulets of beautiful fresh water are met with on its banks.

“The ground between the two harbours is principally very rocky, chiefly granite on the rising grounds, but the low part being all swamps. Near the sea shore a large lake of fresh water of a mile in length and one quarter in breadth. Between this lake and the settlement there is some good land which would answer well to commence a farm on to produce vegetables as well as grain. With this exception I could find very little soil that was capable of immediate cultivation, but with some little trouble and time the bogs or swamps which could be easily drained, might be brought into cultivation with every probability of success, being precisely similar to those around Port Jackson, and under all circumstances I consider King George Sound to present far more advantages than was first experienced there.


“That there must be good land in the interior is certain, and not far distant the natives having all kangaroo mantles made from the skins of the larger sort and which are always found in good soil where there Is fine grass.

“Having penetrated nearly forty miles into the interior direct north from the settlement, the country passed through became better as I proceeded inland, where a ridge of mountains similar to the Blue Mountains on this coast, and from the luxuriant green foliage of the trees on this ridge which I could plainly discover with my Spy Glass leave little doubt but that good land commences there.

“The ground on which gardens have been commenced has as yet failed in producing any vegetables, which I attribute as much to the season not being favourable as to the soil, as also that the ground requires a little management previous to the seed being sown and which experience will remedy. A small quantity of maize was sown shortly after our arrival and failed from the same cause, as also that I am of opinion maize will not answer so near the sea shore at King George Sound, the climate being much colder there than in the same latitude on the east coast. Everywhere fresh water is to be had in the greatest abundance, and of good quality.

“The timber is in great variety and fit for any purpose being very similar to what is found in the country around Port Jackson.

“Limestone can be produced whenever it may be required, as the settlement advances. For present uses immense quantities of shells can be obtained more convenient. Granite in variety, convenient for all purposes of buildings, etc. Ironstone is also common.

“Fish to be had in almost any quantity and variety very good, with exceeding fine oysters.

“Kangaroos are not scarce and some very large.

“Black swans, wild geese, ducks, musk duck and teal, with curlew, redlegs, sandpipers, and a number of other water birds with pelicans.

“Black and white cockatoos with a great variety of parra-quetts, with also a great variety of small birds that sing very prettily, but I did not observe any with particularly handsome plumage.

“The only animal except the kangaroo that was met with was the native dog, some of them were observed in a tame state accompanying natives.

“The natives are numerous and from appearance their condition being good, they cannot be at a loss for food. Many of them are tall, about the middle size, and well made, and some good countenances, and may fairly be said to be good looking. Their colour in general very dark. Many of them had light hair.

“At first they are shy and cautious of approaching strangers but are soon reconciled and become familiar and are a lively good natured set of people, with proper management perfectly harmless. Their weapons consist of a spear about seven feet, barbed, and thrown with a womera; a stone hatchet and knife of very rude construction.

“I did not observe any disease amongst them. Their skins were sleek without a blemish, neither did any of them present an unhealthy appearance. Two only had marks of spear wound, whether caused by accident or by war I could not learn.

“The climate is exceedingly pleasant and entirely free from hot winds, the land wind from north and north-east being cool.

“The importance of King George Sound as a place necessary to occupy must strike every person acquainted with this country. An enemy holding it would with its cruise completely cut off trade, except by convoys, to Van Diemen's Land and Port Jackson from Europe, the Cape, Isle of France and India.

“Its present want of good soil in the immediate neighbourhood is only a temporary inconvenience, as from the report of the sealing gangs that the country around the coast towards Geography


Bay and the Swan River is excellent for its soil, which is confirmed by the recent visit of Captain Stirling: in His Majesty's Ship Success to those parts.

“I should recommend the attention of Government to a most important and valuable branch of trade which if some measures are not almost immediately resorted to, must be irreparably injured, if not destroyed altogether. The islands along the southern coast of this immense one, are more or less frequented by the black or fur seal, which by protection would not only afford a good revenue to the Government, but would also prove a nursery for seamen. A prohibition should be immediately given against any individual taking the seals or going at all to the Islands, the Government claiming them as part of the territory, and once in three years to farm the islands out for the season from November to the end of April following, or such other months as would be found not to interfere with their breeding or the time they shed their fur.

"The coast also abounds with the sperm whale and have not yet been molested from the whaleships not approaching so near the land from the dread of the coast, that as far as I can learn from the sealers who have been down here with common care and prudence not the slightest danger is to be apprehended.

"Should the Government decide on making King George Sound a penal establishment, it would be convenient as well as economical if ships with prisoners from England were directed to land such of them as would be intended for a penal settlement with a large supply of stores and provisions as might be ordered for King George Sound on their way to Port Jackson, and it would prevent the Colonial Government despatching vessels at unfavourable seasons or the chance of the settlement being run short of provisions, and a twelve months' stock should always be in store there.

"Great quantities of sponge is found on the shores around the harbours, as well as on the sea coast washed up and by dredging for it pieces would be brought up that would prove a valuable article of trade. There is also washed up pieces of bitumen or pitch.

"Salt can be made with little trouble at King George Sound. The rocks over which the sea when rough dashes fills the holes in them, and are found in a few days, the water evaporated, and fine, pure, white salt left in them.

"The islands on the coast and vicinity of King George Sound are frequented by penguins and mutton birds.

"The latter can be taken in any quantities that may be required and are an excellent substitute for fresh provisions. In the months of September and November their eggs which are very good and as large as those of ducks, are to be had in great quantities. Even in January some that we brought from the Eclipse Island, and of which I partook, were not at all inferior to duck eggs.

"I beg leave to accompany this report with a rough sketch of the Sound and Harbours, with the rivers, etc., country marked where good, indifferent and bad.

"April 2nd, 1827."

In 1827, after his return from King George’s Sound, he explored the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains, but failed to penetrate it. In September, 1827, deciding to settle permanently in Australia, he sold his commission and retired from the Army, and in November was appointed police magistrate at Parramatta. On June 6, 1825, Darling made him principal surveyor of roads and bridges, but, the Colonial Office having decided to abolish this office, on January 1, 1830, he handed over his department to the Surveyor-General, T. L. Mitchell.


In 1827 he had settled at Ermington near Parramatta, and in 1828 acquired by grant and purchase (the grant being a reward for his work in Western Australia) a property near Goulburn which he called Lockyersleigh. In 1847 he took a prominent part at Goulburn in the anti-transportation movement. In January, 1851, he attempted to develop an iron deposit near Goulburn which also gave indications of copper, but had no success. Over 30 years later the wall of the shaft he sunk was found to contain gold, but not in payable quantities. In 1852 he was appointed Sergeant-at-Arms to the Legislative Council, and in 1856 Usher of the Black Rod to the new council. He died on June 10,1860.

We stand on a spot made historic by Vancouver, and Flinders and Lockyer. In the minds of scholars their names will always be associated with this spot. But that is not enough. Their names should live on the lips and in the hearts of every one of us, and though it has taken us more than a century to do it, we should be more than satisfied that at long last there stands a memorial, the sight of which will bring home to the minds of all who behold it, the debt of gratitude we owe to Lockyer, and through him, to those others who followed after him in later years, who so ably and conscientiously laid the foundations of the State of Western Australia.

It is fitting that we should be reminded that here on this spot on a memorable Sunday, 109 years ago, the British flag was hoisted to the accompaniment of cannons booming a royal salute of twenty-one guns and the whole of Australia west of 135o East longitude was then formally and solemnly claimed as the possession of the British Crown.

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