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

Early Days: Volume 6, 1962-1969

The Foundation of British Rule: H.M.C.S. Amity & H.M.S. Success

Marcus Conrad

Conrad, Marcus 1964, 'The foundation of British rule in the West: H.M.C.S. Amity and H.M.S. Success', Early Days, vol. 6, part 3: 62-64.


His Majesty’s Colonial Brig Amity dropped anchor in King George’s Sound on the 26th December, 1826. Aboard her were eighteen soldiers and one sergeant of the 39th Regiment, commanded by Captain Wakefield, and twenty-three convicts. The expedition, which was to annex half a continent, sailed from Sydney under the command of Major Edmund Lockyer, and his orders were to found a settlement and establish England’s claim to the whole of Western Australia, which was then known as New Holland.

The decision to found a settlement at King George’s Sound was made in London, after the Colonial Office had received reports that French explorers were active off the coasts of Australia. But, in Sydney, New South Wales, Governor Ralph Darling, under whose orders the expedition sailed, had long been apprehensive of French designs on the vast unclaimed territory. Also he had received reports of French and American whaling activity off the south-west coast, and he realized that if England did not annex Western Australia, then the French would. Now whether the French ever entertained serious thoughts about claiming and colonising any part of Australia is a subject that has never been settled to everyone’s satisfaction. Nevertheless, it was the anxiety felt concerning French intentions in the area that resulted in the Amity being sent to the West

Major Lockyer, and Lieutenant Festing, R.N., sailing master of the Amity, were rowed ashore to find a suitable campsite and although their first impression of the country was unfavourable, they soon revised their opinion. On Friday, the 29th December, tents were pitched near a stream of fresh water and the convicts began landing stores and baggage. Huts were erected in the weekend and within a week ground had been prepared for gardens. Then, at dawn on Sunday, the 21st January, 1827, the Union flag was run up on the flagstaff, followed by a ceremony at noon when a 21-gun salute was fired from the two small carronades that had been landed to defend the settlement. The detachment of the 39th Regiment raised their muskets and fired a feu de joie; extra rations were issued all round and the settlement began its official existence. They named it Fredericktown in honour of the then Duke of York and Albany, heir to the throne of England. But in 1832 the town became officially known as Albany.


At 8 o'clock in the morning on the 24th January, the Amity weighed anchor and stood out to sea, homeward hound for Sydney.

The uncertainty of supplies which arrived irregularly by ship from Sydney, together with the isolation of the new settlement made it an unpopular station for the garrison who remained there for more than four years.

One of the first visitors to Fredericktown was Captain James Stirling in command of H.M.S. Success, who arrived in 1827 on a voyage of exploration to the south-western part of the continent, then so little known. It was on this voyage that he explored the Swan River and later it was his enthusiastic reports on the country that led to his being chosen as the first Governor of a new settlement at the Swan River. The authority then vested in James Stirling was separate from that of Governor Darling in New South Wales. So, by proclamation in March 1831, the settlement at King George's Sound passed under Stirling’s administration and the garrison returned to Sydney.

Now, of the two ships that played such an important part in the establishment of the sister settlements of the West, we know comparatively little. All that is known of the brig Amity is that she was of 148 tons, and that she probably mounted a few cannon, though the records are not definite on this latter point. As a brig she would have been a two-masted vessel, square-rigged on both the fore and main masts, with a gaff-rigged spanker on the aftermost or main mast. She was mainly employed in the coastal trade between Sydney, Hobart and Port Dalrymple, carrying government stores, official despatches, troops and convicts. Brigs were generally fast vessels, especially when sailing close-hauled, easily manoeuvrable and good sea-boats. Hence their popularity in the colonial coastal trades

Fortunately we know quite a lot more concerning H.M.S. Success. She was the seventh ship of the Royal Navy to bear that name. Her keel was laid down in the Pembroke Dockyards in July 1823, and she was launched in 1825, the total cost in labour and materials for her construction being £14,310. Captain Stirling was her first master, and she cleared from Portsmouth bound for the British Far Eastern Station, with a crew muster of 153 souls. In her, Captain Stirling explored the south-west, and then, one month after his return to Sydney, he sailed in her to effect the transfer and re-establishment of the Melville Island settlement at Raffles Bay where a fort was built, and after a six-weeks’ stay, Success sailed homeward bound for England.

In 1831, the Success was listed for the ship breaker’s yard; the reason for this seems hard to understand in view of the fact that she was only six years old and was a fast sailer. Anyway, she was not broken up then, for she was still in service in 1833 as a head-


quarters vessel for salvage operations. But her final years are shrouded in obscurity.

The Success has often been called a Sixth-Rate ship, but to be more correct she should be designated a 28-gun frigate. The term Sixth-Rate was applied to naval vessels of the eighteenth century which were built under the establishment of 1741 which provided for the carrying of their armament on two gun decks, though usually only about six guns were mounted on the lower of these two decks. By the nineteenth century the term “frigate” became more usual for the old sixth-rater which was now distinguished by having her armament mounted on a single gun deck. After the Anglo-American War of 1812, frigates became the classic fast warship of the British and Continental navies.

Frigates were ship-rigged vessels and an interesting sidelight on these craft is that right up to 1855 they were equipped with large sweep oars which could be worked out of the stern ports when the vessel's head had to be brought round in a calm.

These then were the ships and men that were connected with the establishment of the English settlements in the West and the annexation of the western half of the Australian continent to the British crown.

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