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

Early Days, Volume 3, 1938-1948

Reminiscences of Mrs. K. Clifton

Clifton Mrs K. 1946, 'Reminiscences of Mrs. K. Clifton', Early Days, Vol. 3 Part 8: 39-42.

A paper prepared by Mrs. K. Clifton, and read to the W. A. Historical Society by her son, Mr. Harold Clifton, on 26th July, 1946.

My earliest recollections of W.A. date from the time I landed in Fremantle from the sailing ship “Jennie Oswald.” from Victoria, in 1867. I came with my parents; Captain Devine was the master of the ship. Our first house in Hay Street was about midway between Milligan and George Streets and was next door to a Mr. and Mrs. Arnold. I believe one or more of these houses are still in existence. Beyond our house in Hay Street it was all bush and sand; we looked across a rough waste of land to the Wakefords’ home, which now is part of the Mount Hospital. The Barracks was at the top of St. George’s Terrace as it is now.

Mount Street, too, was only a rough road of sand which led up to the Rifle Butts, all in the bush, now King’s Park. Just past Milligan Street was a house in which Mrs. Broadhurst lived; Mr. Howling’s chemist shop is now opposite. There were houses or vacant grants both sides of the street up to William Street.

Opposite the Wesley Church was Mr. G. Shenton’s Store now “Economic.” Next door further along was Major Hillman’s house; further along was Mr. Patton’s Store, well known to the past generation. It was afterwards bought by Mr. Hearman, who sold the business to Mr. Moore. Many other small places are still fresh in my memory.

I went to Miss Clay’s school held in a two storied house at the right hand corner of Lord Street and St. George’s Terrace; it became later The Christian Brothers’ College. Miss Clay moved to an old house in a big grant opposite Chief Justice Burt’s house in Adelaide Terrace. Later she moved her school to a house at the corner of Howick Street and Lord Street opposite the Roman Catholic Palace. You went down steps to the door below the level of the road. That house is still there.

We moved to a house in St. George’s Terrace, it was far back from the road. On the right was Mrs. Purkiss house, nearer the road; on the left a small two-storied house where Miss Lennard had a school. Next to her Mr. Leitch’s Livery Stables. Then came old Mrs. Leake’s house. Her son, Mr. George Leake, father of pretty daughters, lived in Barrack Street where the Weld Club now is.

Near the corner of William Street and the Terrace was a house and business, where Mr. Cummings lived, and across William Street was Mr. Dyer’s house, then Mr. Stirling’s house. He of “The Morning Herald” or “Inquirer” fame.

Next Mr. George Shenton’s solid and cool looking house, and in a big grant next a very tiny cottage where a Mr. Miller lived who made mother-of-pearl ornaments and book markers with ends emblematic of “Faith,” “Hope” and “Charity.”

On the opposite side of the Terrace where Foy and Gibson’s establishment now is, was the West Australian Bank, a long two-storied building back from the road. One end of the building was the banking chambers and the other end and top storey the dwelling. It had an imposing iron railing enclosure, similar to that of the present Royal Mint. Some years later the directors of the bank had the building erected which is now occupied by the Bank of New South Wales on the site of Mr. Cumming's business.

Next door to the bank was Colonel Bruce’s home; later it was where Dr. Scott lived, Mr. Absolon’s house was further along and attached to Habgood Absolon & Co.'s business premises on the corner.


The Freemason’s Hotel where the Palace Hotel is now was far back from the road and had bricked up banks and steps from the Terrace and William Streets.

Further along built far back was a Church and some single storied houses, also Mr. Charles Shenton’s three-storied house with steps up the bricked embankment.

Mr. Padbury’s business came next with The Weld Club on the corner. Across Barrack Street was the Post Office, a long single-storied building off from the road. A new Post Office was later built there and used as the General Post Office until the present building in Forrest Place was built; the old site now being used as the Treasury.

Next came Cathedral Place with St. George’s Cathedral far back. It was in that Cathedral that I saw the Rev. Francis Hare ordained by Bishop Hale as a Deacon. The present St. George’s Cathedral was built later and the old one demolished.

I went to a bazaar held in the new Town Hall, and was also taken up to the top of the Town Hall clock tower before its completion, and well I remember the many tiny steps and the ropes and tools lying about, in 1870 at the age of 8 years I went to Albany, and travelled in a covered van seated on top of mail bags, but with a possum rug wrapped round me for warmth. We also had a large biscuit tin of provisions. There were four horses to the van and we left from the old, long, Post Office building about 3 o’clock on a lovely afternoon. My uncle, Mr. C. H. Compton, was returning to Calcutta after his visit to W.A. and took charge of me. The road after the Causeway for a short distance was made of tree stumps driven into the ground, sawn off and covered with sand. (I think Mr. Helmrich was Post Master at that time.) There were four in the van and we took three days and nights over the journey, the road being merely a bush track. Our only stops were to change horses; a horn being blown by the driver a mile away as we drew up to the stopping place the four fresh horses were led out. I think we stopped first at the very old “Narrogin Inn,” but I do remember clearly Kojonup which, as now, is on the main road to Albany, with its long whitewashed Inn and the tree we drove round to the entrance.

I still recall the bright sunny morn on our arrival at Albany. I waited there some days at a Mrs. Toll’s for my steamer, and slept in a bunk built into the wall. The long journey by boat to my steamer which was to take me to Victoria, in the middle of the night, was rather alarming for a child of 8 years of age. I was en route to New Zealand.

In 1876 I returned and transhipped at Albany from the R.M.S. Sumatra, her last trip, to the S.S. Georgette, lying at the jetty; Captain Michael O’Grady, Master. Our journey up the coast to Fremantle took five days including stops when anchored off Vasse and Bunbury, and we went through the Challenger Passage between Garden Island and Carnac.

My people lived in Fremantle then and little did I think I was destined to live there over fifty years. Our house at that time was known as “Willow Bank Cottage” in Cantonment, now Victoria Road. Afterwards we lived in Cliff Street in a house belonging at one time to Mr. Wallace Bickley.

The Pier Hotel was at the corner on the left and the Honourable W. E. Marmion was on the right. Next to them lived an old lady named Mrs. King with her two daughters. Next adjoining her house was the first Western Australian Bank, which was opened by my husband for the clients in 1878. Across a blind right of way was the manager’s small dwelling which in 1879 became my home for about 16 months.

There was an empty grant at the corner on which some time later the Bank of N.S.W. was built and opened.

In Cliff Street opposite was James Pearse’s house. He produced and edited the “Herald.” His office and printing place was attached to our house on the left, and on the right of us was a long attached room which became the first office of the Adelaide Steam Ship Co., Mr. James Lilly, manager.

“The Green” was where Phillimore Street is now and occupied space nearly to the river. The Perth Volunteers came down sometimes on a moonlight night for a parade there with the Fremantle Volunteers. Mr. Fay was the Fremantle Band Master. The Perth cricketers too came occasionally for a friendly game with the Fremantle players; Mr. G. Parker and a young Mr. Back were two of the best players on the Fremantle side.

When the railway was built the station opened on to Cliff Street and also on to Mouatt Street as well. The “Green” was then destroyed and became the street it now is leading to the quay or the new Harbour.

The old Church of St. John stood in the centre of High Street surrounded by a fence. I was confirmed there by the late Bishop Parry, married by the then Rev. D. Glyn Watkins, and my eldest daughter baptised in this Church. A year or two later the Church was demolished and High Street was straightened as a main thoroughfare as it now is. The Sunday School was held on Sunday afternoons in the present State School opposite the Convent.


At the bottom or sea end of High Street was the tunnel, well known to all today. It is built on a curve, and on the sea side some Government buildings were built up against the cliff. The steps on each side merged half way into one flight, then led to the Round House and the Harbour Master’s house on the left, the Court House on the right near which was the 9 p.m. Curfew Bell which was also rung for a “Fire Bell.” No other houses were there except closer to the river was Government Cottage with the Flag Staff; both are still just the same.

At the back of the Round House was the Signal Station and we used to pass it on our way to the ladies bathing beach, steps down were cut out of the cliff and caves similarly as shelters when donning our modest bathing attire. The beach was divided from the men’s by rocks which ran out to the sea. The beach could not be seen from the jetty although it had been considerably lengthened to accommodate larger steamers which later came such as the S.S. Rob Roy and the S.S. Sultan from Singapore and farther. There were no trains in the 70’s. We went to Perth by paddle steamer, also by mail dog cart, for which we had to book a seat over night. It left at 8 a.m. and carried 3 passengers; there was also a passenger van which stopped at “Bullens” so called half way.

The Oddfellows’ Hall was the only place one could have a concert or a ball for a long time. It stood between some shops— built later—and the Freemasons’ Hotel. It was later demolished. The directors of the W.A. Bank bought the property at the corner of High and Mouatt Streets belonging to Mr. A. Francisco, who was the Post Master then. It was altered for banking business which was carried on there for 12 years. We lived there also until the premises were demolished in order to build the present handsome big building. We returned from our temporary home and spent with our family very many happy years there. It is now the Bank of New South Wales. I have photogrophs of the first, second and third bank buildings.

The Post Office was moved to a Government building at the sea end of Cliff Street on the right hand side. A new building for the Post Office was erected opposite and used for many years but when the Railway Station was built at Market Street, the Post Office was moved to its present position.

Between the years 1877 and 1879 I took part in some theatricals held in St. George’s Hall, Perth, and later in the Amateur Operatic Society in the same place, when some of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas were excellently produced by amateurs. I was present at the opening night of this hall when the late Mr. Edward Mayhew took the part of "Myles no Coppaleen in the Colleen Bawn,” Mrs. Faulkener Wilkinson being the “Colleen.” Very few of those who took part in those days are now living. Before St. George’s Hall was built there were some "theatricals” held in the Mechanics’ Institute—now the Literary Institute—a new building. A play I saw was “Boots On The Swan,” Miss Penelope Sholl taking part.

In 1870 "The Minstrels of the West” was a society formed to raise funds for a grand piano for the Town Hall. The concerts were given in the hall and the piano after some years was paid for. The society became the Musical Union and Mr. G. S. Compton was conductor of both societies for many years. Mrs. James did yeoman work at the piano as accompanist. She was Sir Walter James’ mother. Many other well known names I remember. This was before the arrival of the very talented Onslows and Hensmans. The formation of a "Rinking” Club in the Town Hall was an important social event.

The first Exhibition held on the Esplanade (I have a paper print of the building) took place in 1881. The Cantata for the opening was composed by Mr. S. P. Needham, words by Mr. Francis Hart, was sung with an orchestra consisting of 15 players from an Australian Stringed Orchestra specially engaged from Melbourne. The solos were sung by Mr. A. C. Onslow, Mr. A. G. M. Rosser and myself, mine being "The Song of the Pearl.” There was an excellent chorus.

The turning of the first sod for the Perth-Fremantle railway; my husband was in the guard of honour. Later when the line to Guildford was finished we rode in the cab of the engine to Guildford by invitation from the contractor, Mr. Barnfield, before the official opening.

I was present at the foundation stone laying of the new St. John’s Church, also the opening and consecration of this fine building.

The opening of the Fremantle Town Hall in the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria’s reign was a great day for the town when two balls were given, one for adults and another next day for the children. The first stringed orchestra was formed for this occasion and the players became the nucleus for the development of orchestral playing. The Fremantle Orchestral Society laid the foundation for orchestral playing of works of eminent composers.

I remember the tipping of the first truck of granite for the North Mole and when the Harbour was ready the entrance of the first big steamer, the Sultan, to come alongside the wharf. She came from the long jetty with many guests on board.


The Harbour Scheme was commenced on 7th November, 1892. The official opening" was on 8th October, 1897. The first mail boat entered the Harbour on 13th August, 1900. The first Orient line boat to enter was the Ormuz, and the first P. and O. liner, India, entered the Harbour on 20th August, 1900.

I remember the first Croquet Club and the games being played in the Fremantle Oval. The first meeting to form a ladies' Golf Club was held in my drawing room in the W.A. Bank and was presided over by Mr. W. E. B. Solomon. Miss Ann Moore was elected secretary, I was elected captain and Mr. Solomon kindly undertook to be our handicapper. The men members admitted us to their club as associates and kindly provided us with accommodation in their first small building, but when the present club house was built we became members, and had our own entrance and rooms.

I remember the Masonic Hall being built on the Fremantle sea front, and now many years afterwards they let Mrs. “Meda” Smith have the bottom rooms to form and carry on the first Sailors’ Rest when all sailors were made welcome and entertained. Later the present building was erected. Mrs. Smith was the wife of Captain Smith who was Shipping Master at Fremantle, and she was well known and loved as a great social worker.

Now my address is finished and I crave forgiveness for seeming egotism. All I have written is true and in spite of my 84 years still fresh in my memory.

Garry Gillard | New: 6 May, 2021 | Now: 28 February, 2023