Fremantle Stuff > Ewers

John K. Ewers 1971, The Western Gateway: A History of Fremantle, Fremantle City Council, with UWAP, rev. ed. [1st ed. 1948].

Chapter 1:
The gateway is opened

On 2 May 1829 Captain Charles H. Fremantle hoisted the Union Jack on the south head of the Swan River. On that day, to quote his own report to the Admiralty, ‘formal possession was taken of the whole of the west coast of New Holland in the name of His Britannic Majesty’. 1 Captain Fremantle had been sent for that precise purpose in H.M.S. Challenger, a unit of the Indian squadron under the command of Commodore Schomberg.

Thus a new chapter in British colonization was opened and a lonely spot on the Western Australian coast-line assumed historic significance. For centuries its sands had bleached beneath the summer suns, while the waters of the Swan River toiled across the rocky bar that lay at its mouth. In January 1697 the Dutchman Willem de Vlamingh had visited it and found the fabulous black swan. In June 1801 the Frenchmen Hamelin and de Freycinet anchored at the river mouth and a party had gone inland as far as the junction with the Helena River. In March 1827 Captain James Stirling, with the Colonial Botanist from New South Wales, Charles Frazer, had explored the river and penetrated to the foothills of the Darling Ranges.

It was this third visit which led directly to the formal annexation in 1829. Captain Stirling wrote at the time:

The richness of the soil, the bright foliage of the shrubs, the majesty of the surrounding trees, the abrupt and red-coloured banks of the river occasionally seen, and the view of the blue summits of the mountains from which we were not far distant, made the scenery round this spot as beautiful as anything of the kind I had ever witnessed. 2

Mr Frazer was impressed too. He concluded his report on the Swan River district by saying:

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I hesitate not in pronouncing it superior to any I have seen in New South Wales eastward of the Blue Mountains, not only in its local situation, but in the many advantages which it holds out to settlers. 3

Governor Darling, impressed by these reports, recommended the early establishment of a settlement. He wrote:

As Captain Stirling’s visit to Swan River may attract attention and the report find its way into the French papers, it appears desirable, should His Majesty’s Government entertain any intention of forming a settlement at that place, that no time should be lost in taking the necessary steps. 4

Similar fears had prompted Darling three years earlier to send a detachment of troops and a few convicts under Major Edmund Lockyer to Princess Royal Harbour in King George’s Sound. Lockyer was to take possession, by act of occupation, of the western portion of the continent. He had arrived on Christmas Day 1826 and remained until April 1827, when he handed on his command to Captain Joseph Wakefield. This tiny settlement at Albany (at first called Frederickstown, although the name seems never to have been actually used) continued until it was absorbed into the colony established later at the Swan River.

It so happened that, at the time of Governor Darling’s despatch, urging a settlement at the Swan River, Mr Thomas Peel, a relative of Sir Robert Peel, the then Home Secretary, was anxious to invest capital in a colonial venture. A syndicate, of which he was a prominent member, forwarded a memorial to the government making the ambitious proposal that it should undertake to settle 10,000 persons in the Swan River Colony within four years, in return for a grant of 4,000,000 acres, one half of which would be subsequently made available to individual settlers after they had served a given period of probation. 5

Such a scheme involved obvious risks which the British government was unwilling to undertake. It therefore proposed to offer land to Mr Peel and any others interested in the venture at the rate of 40 acres for every £3 invested. 6 These terms, and the reduction of the syndicate's grant to 1,000,000 acres to permit other settlers besides, disappointed Mr Peel’s colleagues who promptly withdrew their support. However, Peel’s own enthusiasm was unshaken and

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numerous others, when the terms of settlement were made known, began to make preparations for a new life in a new colony.

Accordingly, Captain James Stirling, upon whose glowing recommendations the decision to colonize the Swan River district had been made, was appointed Lieutenant-Governor. A hired transport, the Parmelia, was fitted out to convey him and his establishment to the place of government, and H.M.S. Sulphur was detailed to accompany him with a detachment of the 63rd Regiment of Light Infantry.

On 6 February 1829 the Parmelia sailed from Spithead and was joined two days later by H.M.S. Sulphur from Plymouth. W. B. Kimberly tells us that

all eyes eagerly sought for the last glimpse of England, and when that was gone comfort was to be had in the presence of the Sulphur, which, with its white sails leaning to the wind, made a handsome consort vessel. For two days she kept on the larboard beam, and then she followed astern. Sometimes she stood up boldly to their gaze, and the passengers could watch her prow dashing the water into glistening foam, or else her hull dipping in the distance. 7

On 16 April they reached Table Bay. Here Captain Stirling took on board four draught oxen, a plough, a waggon, and other requirements for the Swan River Colony. Here, too, he was fortunate to discover at a loose end Mr H. W. Reveley whom he enrolled on his staff as civil engineer, an office of considerable importance to a new settlement which had apparently been overlooked when the original establishment was being drawn up. An unfortunate tragedy marred the vessel’s stay in this port. Dr T. Daly and his eldest daughter, aged eight, were drowned when the boat in which they were returning from a shore visit on 25 April was swamped. Their loss cast a heavy gloom over the little band of pioneers, reminding them collectively and individually that the adventure upon which they had set out was fraught with possibilities equally as unpredictable as this. Dr Milligan was taken on at the Cape to replace him as a surgeon to the colony.

During the voyage, the lieutenant-governor officially proclaimed the chief executives of the colony he was about to establish. They were: ‘Commander Mark J. Currie, Harbour-Master; Lieutenant

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John Septimus Roe, Surveyor-General; Mr Peter Brown,* Colonial Secretary; Mr James Drummond, Superintendent of Government farms, gardens and plantations; Mr C. W. Mangles, Superintendent of Government stock; Mr H. W. Reveley, Civil Engineer; Mr William Stirling, Registrar; Mr John Morgan, storekeeper; and Mr H. G Sutherland, Assistant Surveyor’. 8 Most of these positions, which were confirmed subsequent to the landing, were purely honorary. # Land was sighted on 1 June and the vessel proceeded to pick its way carefully through the shoals and sand-banks into Cockburn Sound. Fear and hope no doubt alternated in the minds of the pioneers on board as they gazed at the white, sandy coastline of their new home. As if to confirm their fears, the Parmelia twice grounded and was only with difficulty and some damage to her hull refloated. But to reinforce their hopes, the Challenger was there to give them welcome, and six days later the Sulphur dropped anchor beside them.

* To avoid confusion, throughout this book the spelling of the name, ‘B-r-o-w-n’, is used. This is how the Colonial Secretary signed his name until 1843 when he reverted to ‘B-r-o-u-n’, the original spelling of the family name. His reasons for doing so need concern us. Those interested will find an explanation in WAHSJP. ii, pt xviii (1935), specifically pp. 3-5.

# For full list of personnel which left England on board the Parmelia see Appendix I.

Meanwhile, Captain Stirling had decided to disembark passengers on Garden Island, where stores were unloaded and buildings erected as temporary shelters. On 18 June a party went ashore at Rous Head on the north of the river mouth, where the Colony of Western Australia was officially proclaimed. 8

Captain Fremantle of the Challenger had spent his time since he arrived in May making surveys of Cockburn Sound and organizing parties which explored the surrounding country. He remained on hand, giving assistance to the administration until 28 August when the Challenger sailed for India, leaving the protection of the colony to H.M.S. Sulphur and the 63rd Regiment of Light Infantry.

Before this date, however, Stirling had selected and named sites for two towns. One at the mouth of the river he chose as the port of the settlement and named Fremantle in honour of the captain of the Challenger. It was an obvious choice. For the immediate future, at least, all communications with the interior would be by way of the waters of the Swan River, even though the rocky bar at its mouth

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rendered it difficult of access from the sea to all but small boats. The choice of a site for the centre of administration proved more difficult. The advantages of Point Heathcote, on the south side of the river, near, the junction of the Canning, were weighed against those of a locality to the east of Mt Eliza on the northern bank. The former would provide contact by land as well as by water with the port which was on the southern side of the mouth of the river. The latter would necessitate the subsequent erection of a bridge across the river, but it did have direct access to the superior farming land at Guildford, where it was expected an early concentration of settlement would take place.

The latter consideration prevailed, and on 12 August, the birthday of King George IV, the site of Perth was proclaimed by the ceremony of the chopping down of a tree on the allotment set apart for military barracks. It was named Perth out of compliment to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir George Murray, whose birthplace was Perth, Scotland.


1 Report by Captain Fremantle on the annexation and settlement of Western Australia, 2 May 1829. Microfilm R.16A of MS., BL.

2 Captain James Stirling, ‘Narrative of operations’, accompanying letter of 18 April 1827 to General Darling, Letters and Reports with associated papers relating to the Swan River at the time of his exploration visit in 1827. Typescripts of MSS with letter from Sir Nicholas Lockyer, R.428A., BL.; original in Mitchell Library, Sydney.

3 Report of Charles Frazer, Government Botanist of New South Wales, in J. G. Hay, ed.. The Visit of Charles Frazer to the Swan River in 1827 . . . (Perth: J. G. Hay, 1906).

4 Governor Darling to Earl Bathurst, 21 Apr. 1827, Historical Records of Australia, Series I, xiii, p. 264.

5 ‘Memorial from Mr Thomas Peel, Sir Francis Vincent and others to Secretary Sir George Murray, 14 Nov. 1828', Historical Records of Australia, Series 111, vi, pp. 588-90.

6 ‘Conditions for land grants at Swan River, Colonial Office, 5 Dec. 1828’, ibid, p. 594.

7 W. B. Kimberly, History of West Australia, (Melbourne: F. W. Niven Sc Co., 1897), p. 40.

8 Stirling to Sir George Murray, 10 Sept. 1829, end. No. 9, Swan River Papers, iii, B.L. See also J. S. Battye, Western Australia: a History (Oxford: O.U.P., 1924), p. 83.

9 Peter Brown, ‘Colonial Secretary's Journal of events connected with the public service*, attached to Stirling’s Dispatch of 10 Dec. 1829, Swan River Papers, iii, p. 1, BL.

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