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

Early Days, Volume 8, 1977-1982

Those fabled firsts of the Swan River Colony

Rica Erickson Hon. D. Litt. (UWA) FRWAHS

Erickson, Rica 1979, 'Those fabled firsts of the Swan River Colony', Early Days, vol. 8, part 3: 7-15.

In this year 1979, when the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Swan River Colony is being celebrated, many pioneer-family reunions are being organised, and family trees are being brought up to date. Similar gatherings were held fifty years ago during the centenary celebrations. The differences between these reunions is that in 1929 most families could establish their lineages by referring to the memories of parents or grandparents. Today the seventh or eighth generations of locally-born are far removed from such first and second-hand sources of information. They rely upon published works and original documents. On the whole they have a relaxed attitude towards the exposure of formerly embarrassing information, and also accept philosophically the shattering of treasured family legends handed down through several generations. Some of these legends have achieved the sanctity of the printed word and will persist as long as books remain on our shelves, even when errors are subsequently discovered and the truth established. In 1929 there was a pardonable eagerness among Western

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Australians to claim the honour of having an ancestor who was one of the first to arrive in the colony. There was much speculation also on who was the first to be wed, the first to be born, the first to die, the first to set foot, etc. There was no Battye Library then to refer to for documentary evidence. Also, the Registrar-General's records dated only from 1841 when the registration of births, marriages and deaths was first required by law. So in 1929 there were many sons and daughters, or grandchildren of the pioneers of 1829 who were racking their brains to remember dates of births, deaths and marriages. Was mother born in this year or that? And on which ship had their ancestor arrived? One of the first for sure, but could it have been the first? The Parmelia, a vessel of 443 tons, which brought Lieutenant-Governor Stirling and his party to Western Australia in June 1829, could not have accommodated all those who, a century and more later, were said to have sailed in her.

It was in this situation of bewildered enquiry and doubtful claims that the Western Australian Historical Society was born. Its members endeavoured to establish the true facts. In particular P.E.C. de Mouncey, of the Registrar-General’s Office, found many interesting details in the very early Anglican church records dating from 1829. These filled the gap in knowledge prior to 1841. He sought the support of the Society in his moves to have such records incorporated in the Registrar’s official files. Some thorny questions relating to births, marriages and deaths were answered in his two papers published in Early Days in 1929 and 1930.

Meanwhile Dr Cyril Bryan listed the passengers on some of the early ships involved in the settlement of the colony, and later published a series of booklets on the subject. Of particular interest were the first three vessels, the Challenger, the Parmelia and the Sulphur.

Captain Fremantle, in command of the Challenger, had gone ahead to carry out formal annexation of the country. He arrived in April 1829 in stormy weather, and his sailors made a first encampment on the mainland in early May. Like the Dutch navigators who touched on these shores many years before, these seamen cannot be regarded as settlers.

The Parmelia, which brought the colonising party under Stirling, dropped anchor in sight of the entrance to the Swan River on 1st June 1829, the day officially declared and annually commemorated as Western Australian’s foundation day. The vessel had the misfortune to stick fast on a sandbank and was in real peril. The dramatic events of the next twenty-four hours, when stores were unloaded and the women and children put ashore on Carnac Island, banished any thought of ceremony or precedence in stepping ashore. Lieutenant John Morgan, the keeper of the government stores and the only man in the party on the island, claimed in later years to have been the first settler ashore. The Davis family claimed that the first female to set foot in Western Australia was three-year-old Charlotte Davis, who, after being

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carried ashore by a sailor, happily occupied herself, amid all the fearful bustle and confusion, by filling a bottle with sea-shells. A few of these shells are still treasured family relics.

A week later the Sulphur, under the command of Captain Dance, arrived and dropped anchor in Cockburn Sound. Its complement of soldiers of the 63rd Foot, under Captain Irwin, was here to guard the infant colony. Some of the soldiers were promptly landed at Garden Island to assist in the construction of dwellings and other buildings. The remaining soldiers, all the womenfolk and children, and the crew were obliged to stay on board for several days waiting for the stormy weather to abate and so allow them to land at Fremantle and occupy the encampment the sailors had made. The soldiers’ wives claimed they had been the first white women on the mainland, since the females of the official party were still on the islands off the coast — a nice distinction indeed!

In later years recurrent debate centred mainly on claims of the earliest births in the colony. Several were of children of the soldiers. The first is generally conceded to have been Joseph, son of the bugler John Mitchell and his wife Jane, who was bom on 10th June on board the Sulphur in Cockburn Sound. The first child born to a Parmelia passenger was Henry Sutherland, who came into the world at Perth on 5th October 1829, but survived only until 1833. He was not actually the first white child born in Perth, for the holder of this honour is not so clearly established. The Anglican registers record both baptismal and birth dates. In some cases the births occurred before the newcomers reached the colony, but were set down for Perth as their place of registration. For instance, Henry, the son of Robert and Ann Budden, was shown as having been born in Perth on 30th July 1829, whereas in fact he must have been born at sea, for his parents arrived on the Marquis of Anglesea on 23rd August.

Two early babies who were recorded for Perth were William Mullighan, born on 10th September, 1829 and Thomas Corrigan, on 17th September, but there is no contemporary evidence of the birth of Edward George Barron, who, according to Dr Bryan, was the first white child born in Perth, the happy event having taken place in the military hospital marquee on 17th September. The lack of any contemporary record of young Barron’s birth can be attributed to the fact that his was a Catholic family; when all the Barron children were baptised in their own faith many years later, their dates of birth were not set down. The claim for the Barron boy must have rested on the fact that, whereas Privates Mullighan and Corrigan and their families removed to India when their regiment was transferred there, Private Barron and his family remained as settlers. The boy could well have been regarded as the first child of settlers who was born in Perth.

For long it was said that the first white girl born in the Swan River Colony was Sophia Roe, the Surveyor-General’s daughter who was later to become Mrs S.P. Phillips. This misapprehension

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was perpetuated in several well respected histories, including Battye's Cyclopedia of Western Australia. Her birth took place on Christmas Day 1829, but the Anglican baptismal registers show the names of four other girls born earlier. De Mouncey found that Sophia King was born on 17th September, Mary Ann Studsor on 18th October, and Ellen Stirling Broun on 31st October, and he accordingly awarded the palm to Sophia King.

It was unfortunate for the printed record that de Mouncey examined baptismal records only up to 1842. Recent research has revealed that, when several of die children of Thomas and Elizabeth Dent were baptised in 1830, one of them, Sophia, was then declared to have been born on 1st September 1829 at Fremantle. According to family legend, her mother was carried ashore from the Marquis of Anglesea and gave birth on the beach. That baby, Sophia Dent, grew up and married an American sailor who was engineer on the Swan River steamer Lady Stirling. He died a terrible death from scalding in 1860 when the engine exploded. The young widow had six children, all of them reared in the firm belief that mother was the first white girl born in the colony but none able to prove it. The recent discovery of her baptismal record in 1850, some twenty-one years after her birth, leaves room for doubt about the accuracy of the given date. However, fairly conclusive proof is available in an application her father made for a land grant on 16th November 1829, less than three months after his arrival on 23rd August. While the passenger list of the Marquis of Anglesea states that he and his wife came with three children aged nine, six and two years, his application for the land included mention of their fourth child, Sophia, aged two months, so suggesting a birth date in early September.

Thus in 1979, 150 years after that blessed event, credit for the first white girl’s birth can be given where credit is due. Nevertheless it is doubtful whether Battye’s claim for Sophia Roe or de Mouncey’s claim for Sophia King will ever be erased from the record.

The first death was of John Parsons, a sailor from the temporarily-stationed H.M.S. Challenger, who was killed at Garden Island in June by a falling tree. In those days when the Swan River was the colony’s main thoroughfare, drownings were frequent, the equivalent of the modern road toll exacted by the motor car. For instance, Mrs Budden and her young child were both drowned in January 1831 when the boat in which they were crossing the Swan River capsized. The first burial recorded in the East Perth cemetery was of Private John Mitchell of the 63rd Foot on 4th January 1830; he was not the same man as the father of the first boy who was born in Western Australia.

The earliest marriages were also a matter of some later debate. The first wedding was of James Knight and Mary Ann Smith on 18th January 1830, the celebrant being Archdeacon T. H. Scott. The groom was a clerk who arrived on the Calista on 5th August

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1829 and found employment with Peter Broun, the Colonial Secretary. The bride was a Parmelia passenger who was Mrs Broun’s servant. She was one of several women named Mary Ann Smith who were in the colony in the early years, which has caused some subsequent confusion, but this bride was the only person of that name resident at the time of the marriage. Her wedding preceded that of James Cockman and Mary Ann Roper by two months. Cockman descendants long believed that their ancestors were the first pair wedded, but in fact they were the third, the second couple having been George Eyre and Catherine Bamber.

The search for these details has stimulated curiosity about the later lives of these first settlers who arrived in June 1829. The most eminent among them are well known, but what of Davis the blacksmith, Fendam the cooper, Hokin the bricklayer, and the other artisans whose labours made the settlement possible? Also, what of the handful of soldiers who sought their discharge in Western Australia and planted their families deeply in its soil? Biographical details have been gathered together in recent years and made readily available through publication in volumes 1 and 3 of the Dictionary of Western Australians.

Of the 111 pioneer souls listed below, forty-seven were married (or widowed) at the time, with twenty-nine children aged fourteen years and under. Within ten years of their arrival, fifteen adults and two children were dead, while twenty-six or twenty-eight adults and six of the children had left the struggling colony. When Governor Stirling finally departed in January 1839, little more than half the original band of settlers remained; yet today their descendants are numbered in many thousands.

As the years took their toll and one after another of those earliest pioneers died, colonists noted with particular interest those who were still living. The last survivors were three siblings of the Drummond family, which in 1979, has multiplied to the sixth generation. Jane, the eldest daughter, married Michael Clarkson in 1833, had seven children, and died at Toodyay in 1906 at the age of ninety-two years. Her brother, John Nicol, married Mary Shaw in 1852, and died without issue at Geraldton in 1906 aged ninety. The youngest Drummond, Euphemia, married Ewen Mackintosh in 1849 and had eleven children. For her last fourteen years, she was the sole surviving Parmelia immigrant, still alert and active until she died in January 1921 at ninety-four years of age. There are many people alive today who remember her and can recall having listened to her stories of the early days. Thus in the span of two lifetimes, hers and that of senior citizens of today, we can bridge the original Foundation Day in 1829 and the celebrations of 1979, a period of 150 years. This is a forceful reminder of the brevity of the history of Western Australia.

The following list, with basic biographical details, records the passengers from the Parmelia and, distinguished by an asterisk, the servicemen who arrived on the Sulphur and became settlers or

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landholders. Known dates of birth and death are shown only for those who remained and died in Western Australia. For some of these new colonists, their main occupation or supplementary livelihood was with the substantial grants of land awarded them in respect of the movable property they brought out with them.

* BARRON Edward (1796-?), Colour Sgt 63rd, later a policeman and publican; arrived with wife Jane (1800-78) and first three of their eleven children; many descendants.

BLAKEY Thomas; arrived with wife Sarah in the service of the Stirlings; he also in government employ as messenger; transported to Tas. for stealing in 1838; she left for England in 1836.

BROUN Peter Nicholas (1797-1846), in civil service as Colonial Secretary; arrived with wife Caroline and first two of their twelve children; widow and children left for England in 1848, but some of the children returned to W.A.; many descendants.

CAMERON George, worked his passage on the Parmelia, later in government employ on works; married in W.A. and had one son, but later history unknown.

* CONNOLLY John (1800-52), Pte 63rd, later in government employ as messenger, afterwards a farmer; married in W.A.; many descendants.

CURRIE Mark John, in civil service as harbourmaster and postmaster; arrived with wife Jane; they left for England with two children in 1832.

DALY Jane, widow of Dr Tully Daly who drowned at Cape Town en route; arrived with four children; left for England in 1830.

* DANCE William Townsend, captain of Sulphur; arrived with his wife Helena Barbara; they left for England in 1832 with their infant son.

DAVIS John (1813-37), nephew of Thomas Davis, in government employ on works, later employed in local whaling enterprise.

DAVIS Thomas (1787-1853), in government employ as blacksmith and on works, later in Drummond’s employ; arrived with wife Catherine (1798-1835) and two children; many descendants.

* DAWSON Richard, Lieut. R.N. on Sulphur, later attached to 63rd Regt, in government service as acting harbourmaster and sheriff; left for England in 1833.

* DOBBINS James, Pte 63rd, later a publican; married in W.A. (to Margaret Hodges); left for Mauritius in 1845.

DRUMMOND James (1784-1863), unsalaried botanist and agricultural adviser to the government, soon a prominent

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farmer; arrived with wife Sarah (1782-1864) and six children; many descendants.

ELIOT George (1816-95), a relative and private secretary to Stirling, later in civil service as resident magistrate; married in W.A.; many descendants.

ELLIOTT James; arrived in Mrs Daly’s service; listed in 1832 census, but later history unknown.

EVANS Richard (1802-30); arrived in service of Broun; later in other employ.

* FARMER Patrick (d. 1872), Pte 63rd, later a shoemaker; arrived with wife Margaret (1803-65) and first of their nine children; many descendants.

* FARMER Thomas (1808-32), Pte 63rd; arrived with wife Ann Catherine (1807-70) and first two of four sons; she remarried twice, had five more children, and was thrice widowed; many descendants.

FENDAM Alexander (1789-1833), in government employ as cooper and assistant to keeper of stores; arrived with wife Mary (1788-1831); both buried at Garden Island.

FERGUSON John, in government employ as carpenter and shipwright; left for India in 1831.

FRUIN Jane; arrived in service of the Curries; left with them for England in 1832.

GAMBLE Eliza (1799-?); arrived in service of the Drummonds, and remained with them at least twelve years, but later history unknown.

HALL John (1791-1831), painter in government employ.

* HEFFRON Patrick ( W.A.?), Pte 63rd, later a policeman; arrived with wife Ann (1809-65), who was later in the service of R.H. Bland and of the Lee Steeres; descendants in W.A.

* HODGES, George, Pte 63rd; arrived with wife Mary and two children; publicans; all left for Mauritius in 1845, but son George (1822-54) returned in 1846; descendants in W.A.

HOKIN William (c.1791-1831), bricklayer in government employ and publican; arrived with wife Mary Ann (1790-1876) who continued in retail trade, and their six children; many descendants.

* IRWIN Frederick Chidley, Capt. 63rd, Commandant of the military forces and twice Acting Governor for lengthy interims; retired to England with wife and children in 1854.

* JEFFERS Edward, Pte 63rd, later a storekeeper; arrived with wife Cecelia and son James; left for Vic. with large family in 1852.

KELLY John; arrived with wife Eliza in service of the Stirlings;

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left for S.A. in 1850.

KNIGHT Stephen Henry (1806-81), carpenter in government employ and later postmaster; married at Albany; many descendants.

LUDLOW Frederick (1796-?); arrived with wife Mildred (1803-34) in service of the Curries; then farm labourer but later history unknown.

McKAIL John (1810-71), carpenter and turner in government employ, later a prominent merchant; married at Albany; many descendants.

McLEOD Margaret, arrived in service of the Brouns; left for England in 1832.

MANGLES, George W., cousin to Ellen Stirling, in government service as superintendent of stock; left for England in 1833 or 1834.

MOONEY Patrick, servant in government employ; not listed in 1832 census.

MOORE James, indentured to J.L. Smith, boatbuilder’s assistant; left for Tas. in 1838.

MORGAN John, in civil service as keeper of government stores at Garden Island; arrived with wife Rebecca and daughter; left for Tas. in 1833.

MURPHY Patrick (1781-1830), arrived in Mrs Daly’s service, later in government and other employ.

OWEN William, worked his passage on Parmelia, later a merchant and teacher; married in W.A.; left with family for S.A. in 1850.

REVELEY Henry Willey, in civil service as engineer and architect; arrived with wife Amelia; left for England in 1838.

ROE John Septimus (1797-1878), in civil service as Surveyor-General; arrival with wife Matilda (1808-70); many descendants.

ROSSITER John, sailor on Parmelia, later a boatman on Swan River; not listed in 1832 census.

SHELTON William, nephew to Stirling, in civil service as clerk; left in 1835.

SIMMONS Charles (1803-31) in civil service as Colonial Surgeon.

SKIPSEY Mary Ann (1803-30), arrived as a servant.

SMITH James Lawson, carpenter and boatbuilder in government employ; arrived with wife Sarah; left for England in 1832.

SMITH Mary Ann; arrived in service of the Brouns; left with husband James Knight and children for Vic. in 1853;

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descendants in W.A.

SMITH Peter Parker, in civil service as clerk; left in 1830.

* STANTON (STAUNTON) John (1794-1877), Pte 63rd, later a policeman and businessman; many descendants.

STIRLING James, Lieut.-Governor, later knighted and appointed Governor; arrived with wife Ellen and two sons; left for England with large family in 1839; some descendants now in W.A.

STIRLING William (1799-1831), cousin of James Stirling, in civil service as registrar of the Board of Council and Audit.

STUDSOR Michael (1806-37), arrived with wife Maria (1809-89) in service of the Roes, later a shoemaker; descendants in W.A.

SUTHERLAND Henry Charles (1804-55), in civil service initially as surveyor and clerk and later as Colonial Treasurer; arrived with wife Ann (1805-50); many descendants.

* WARNER Charles, Pte 63rd, later a storekeeper, thatcher and upholsterer; married in W.A. and had two children, but later history unknown.

WELCH Thomas (d.1830), worked his passage on Parmelia, employee of Currie.

WRIGHT Charles D., in civil service as clerk; left for Tas. about 1832.


I. Berryman, A Colony Detailed: The First Census of Western Australia, 1832, (Perth, 1979).

C. Bryan (‘Cygnet’), Swan River Booklets, (Perth, 1935):
No. 3: The Story of H.M.S. Challenger
No. 4: The Story of the Birth of Perth
No. 5: The Story of H.M.S. Sulphur
No. 7: The Story of the Parmelia.

P.E.C. de Mouncey, ‘Births Marriages and Deaths Records of Western Australia’, in Early Days, vol. 1, pt. 3, 1929, and pt. 8,1930.

P. Statham, Dictionary of Western Australians 1829-1914, vol. 1: Early Settlers 1829-1850, (Perth, 1979).

E.S. and C.G.S. Whiteley, ‘The Military Establishment in Western Australia, 1829-1862’, (typescript, 1970, held in Battye Library).

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