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 2:
Laying the foundations

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During these months of early activity, the main stores and many of the settlers remained on Garden Island. Surveys of the immediate neighbourhood of the Swan River were undertaken by Mr J. S. Roe, but with the arrival of additional ships this work was suspended in favour of surveying allotments in the two townsites. The first sale of these blocks took place on 5 September 1829, when twenty-four lots were sold in Fremantle.

The Surveyor-General’s Letter Book for that year shows the following original owners of Fremantle town allotments: 1


William Lamb 4 & 18
Isaac Jecks 5
Edward Barrett Lennard 6
Robert Ansele Partridge 7
Rivett Henry Bland 8
William Steward 9 & 10
John Cleland 11
George Leake 15, 16 & 17
Richard Wells (for Col. Lautour) 25, 26, 37 & 38
Robert Lyon 19 & 31
Lionel Samson 27 & 28
Thomas Harrison 30
James Kenton 53
James Knight 71
Daniel Scott 105

In addition to the above, the government reserved Lots 1, 2, 3, 12, 13 and 14.

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It is interesting to note that the firm of L. Samson & Son was established that year and was granted a merchant’s spirit licence. Both the business and the spirit licence have been in operation ever since upon the original lot then granted. This is understood to be a record for continuity of tenure unequalled by any other commercial house in Australia.

Further sales took place at subsequent dates in 1829 as follows: 2

October 8
Nathaniel Cowell 20
--- Wall 40
October 13
Henry Trigg 52
October 14
James Henty 94 & 118
October 21
John Hobbs 9 & 10
Thomas Bannister 29
October 22
Henry Trigg 22
Richard Jones 45
October 27
Hugh Macdonald 42 & 43
Lewis Mayo 44
October 31
Evan Powell 41
John Alexander Dutton 55
Phillip Hayman Dod 61
Richard Gardner Sams 82 & 106
November 3 John Whatley 23 & 24
Richard Wardell 59 & 60

Of these, Lots 9 and 10 are shown as transferred to John Hobbs from William Steward who purchased them at the original sale on 5 September. One of the main conditions of the sale was that the occupants were required to erect buildings to the value of at least £100 within one year of the date of allotment. Among the land-

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owners in the above list is Thomas Bannister, who was appointed on 50 August 1850, the first Government Resident in Fremantle.

Unfortunately, after 5 November the entries in the Surveyor-General’s Letter Book, do not indicate the persons to whom subsequent sales of land were made, but it is clear that there were no further sales until 10 February 1830. A complete list of land-owners is in existence for the year 1837, and is published as an Appendix, together with a map of the Fremantle townsite in 1833, showing allotment numbers. (See Appendix 2.)

The vessels whose early arrival precipitated these initial land sales were the Calista on 5 August, the St Leonard on 6 August, and the Marquis of Anglesea on 23 August. In addition to stock and general cargo, they brought 177 men, women and children, bringing the total number of settlers to 244, in addition to the 57 officers and men of the Sulphur. It became necessary to speed up the general survey and on 29 September the first grants were made.

Two more ships arrived in September, the Thomson and the Amity, both of which carried government stores and some stock. In October no fewer than nine ships arrived—the Georgina, Lotus, Euphemina, Orelia, Caroline, Cumberland, Governor Phillip, Atwick, and the Admiral Gifford. Not all brought colonists, but 235 new settlers disembarked during this month. The Lion and the Dragon arrived in November with general cargo and some stock, and in December the Gilmore arrived with 182 passengers, amongst whom was Mr Thomas Peel and the first instalment of his settlers. Some of these newcomers took up temporary residence at Fremantle or on Garden Island. Some, no doubt, went as soon as possible to the capital.

Meanwhile, the infant towns of Perth and Fremantle had sprung into being. Lieutenant Breton, R.N., gives a graphic picture of Fremantle as he saw it:

Tents and huts in every variety; goods of all descriptions scattered about in disorder; the emigrants employed, some in cooking their provisions, and others in sauntering about, or landing their effects; many looking very miserable and a few equally happy; different kinds of animals, just landed, and showing evidently how much they must

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have suffered during so long a voyage; such was the scene I witnessed on landing at the spot on which the future principal seaport of Western Australia was to stand. 3

Dr T. B. Wilson, Surgeon R.N., describes how during the same month he

fell into conversation with a gentleman busily employed building a punt ... an ex-captain of the army, a good musician, passionately fond of music, and completely out of his element here. So thought I; yet the building of a flat-bottomed boat showed both talent, ingenuity, and a determination to do some good. 4

However, few of the others impressed him equally favourably. ‘The greater part of the settlers yet remain here’, he says, ‘not one having gone to his farm. It is a bad place, owing to the idleness, roguery and thieving of those people brought out as servants, and also some others of a higher denomination. It is so bad that the Governor designated it a “sink of iniquity”, and stated that he took no measures to make it better, on purpose to force people to go to their farms.’ 5

It is not difficult to imagine the hardships which faced settlers in that inaugural year. Nor is it difficult to imagine the anxieties of those who found themselves parents in such strange and hazardous circumstances. There were no fewer than five births in or near Fremantle in 1829. The first recorded is that of Joseph, son of John and Jane Mitchell, which took place at Garden Island on 10 June, only ten days after the arrival of the Parmelia. The father of this, the colony’s pioneer baby, was a bugler of the 63rd Regiment of Light Infantry. The second birth is of a son to the wife of another soldier. This is mentioned in a letter of the Colonial Surgeon Dr Charles Simmons, written from Garden Island on 4 August 1829, but no names are given. 6 On 26 October Thomas, son of Joseph and Eliza Cox, was born, and on 15 November John, son of Owen and Margaret Jones. Both Cox and Jones were seamen on H.M.S. Sulphur. The only Fremantle settlers, as distinct from members of naval or military establishments, to become parents in that year were John and Sarah Purkis, whose son was born on 7 November, and with true pioneering pride was named John Fremantle. Purkis was at that time a baker in the town.

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On 9 December 1829 the first appointments for maintaining law and order in the town were made. They were: Justices of the Peace, George Leake and James Henty; Constables, Richard Lewis, T. Wall, R. Maxworthy and R. Maydwell.

At the end of January 1830, Miss Mary Ann Friend wrote that Fremantle 'strongly resembles a County Fair and has a pretty appearance, the pretty white tents looking like booths—at present there arc not above five or six houses.' 7 She commented on the absence of gardens, excepting the potato-patch ‘which appeared tolerably flourishing', and said that there appeared to be ‘a great want of energy on the part of the settlers’. Maybe she overlooked the fact that the middle of the summer was not a propitious time fin gardening and that, moreover, few settlers had had either the time or the opportunity to devote themselves in the first six months to horticulture.

Interesting pictures are also given by Miss Jane Roberts who spent seven weeks ashore at Fremantle early in 1830 when ‘Fremantle consisted of well-erected tents and wooden houses near the shore.' 8 She makes no attempt to minimize the difficulties with which the inhabitants of these had to contend, but she has an appreciative eye for details. She writes:

We had just finished breakfast, when a flock of the finest sheep approached, attended by a remarkably handsome old man and a large shepherd’s dog.

As he came nearer, a general exclamation and salutation took place: it was spontaneous and irresistible. To see a person at his time of life who had made a voyage of upwards of fifteen thousand miles was truly interesting. He stopped, looked at his sheep and his dog, and seemed to be thinking more of them than of himself; at last with the greatest simplicity he said that, considering all things, he thought they looked very well. These were the first words he uttered. We perfectly agreed with him; and certainly the approach of this old man with his crook, his sheep, and his dog, formed as beautiful a picture as I ever saw. 9

Neither of these ladies apparently thought Fremantle a ‘sink of iniquity'. Perhaps their sex prevented them from too closely examining the seamy side of life. James Turner found in March 1830 that the town was composed of a good number of miserable looking tents, most of which were grog shops, however, to tell the truth,

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these said shops were very good things, as I got some bread and cheese and porter in one of them half an hour after I landed.' 10

There is no record of how many ‘grog shops’ to which Turner referred were in existence, but the actual hotels for which licences were granted in January of that year were four in number. They were: the Stirling Arms (Robert Thomson), the Collins Hotel (Robert Collins), the South Sea Hall Public House (William Rolfe Steele), the George IV Public House (William Dixon).

No doubt, early Fremantle presented a spectacle which varied according to the temperaments of the observers. George Fletcher Moore, writing at the end of 1832, recalls his impressions two years earlier:

a bare, barren-looking district of sandy coast; the shrubs cut down for firewood, the herbage trodden bare, a few wooden houses, many ragged-looking tents and contrivances for habitations,—our hotel, a poor public-house into which everyone crowded,—our colony, a few cheerless dissatisfied people with gloomy looks, plodding their way through the sand from hut to hut to drink grog, and grumble out their discontents to each other. 11

Then he goes on to contrast this with conditions in December 1832:

Now there is a town laid out in regular streets of stone houses with low walls, and in some places palisades in front; two or three large, well-kept inns or hotels, in which you can get clean beds and good private rooms. The soil there is loam resting upon a stratum of easily worked limestone and possessing a fertility almost beyond belief, with abundant water near the surface. 12

Here is an obvious transformation, and it may be as well at this point to pause in order that we may watch the development of the colony through these years. In 1830 no fewer than 27 vessels arrived, bringing over 1,000 new settlers. Among these were more of Peel’s emigrants on the Hooghly (12 February) and the Rockingham (14 May). The latter ship was cast up on the shore during a severe storm, its passengers being landed with the utmost difficulty and suffering for many months from inadequate accommodation and severe shortage of food. It was the beginning of the end of any success that might have attended Peel’s attempt at establishing a large settlement within the colony.18 His labourers drifted away from

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him, Peel himself failed to receive the grant of land he had expected, and he died almost a pauper after living ‘for many years in solitary indigence on his huge but unproductive estate’.

But Thomas Peel was never the hub around which the activities of Western Australia revolved. His settlers were absorbed into the community which, during that year, expanded in at least three directions as a result of thorough and systematic explorations. In the first half of 1830 an enormous area of land was alienated in the Leschenault district, in the vicinity of the modern Bunbury; about the same time the Plantagenet County near King George’s Sound was opened for settlement; a little later, a few hardy pioneers made their homes at Augusta. Ensign Dale brought back glowing reports of the fertile Avon Valley, where the townsites of York, Beverley and Northam were selected. Considerable grants of land were made in this district, but because no suitable stock routes were known, settlement was delayed until towards the end of 1831.

All these grants were made on the generous scale laid down at the beginning of the colony. In July 1830 the Home government issued an instruction that after 31 December the scale would be halved. All future emigrants would receive 20 acres instead of 40 for every £3 invested, and 100 acres instead of 200 for every servant brought out In 1832 grants were abandoned in favour of land sales at a minimum rate of 5s. per acre.

The lavish terms upon which land had been alienated caused many heart-burnings. Not only did the cheapness of the land attract some settlers unsuited to the rigours of colonization; it led almost all of them to become land-owners out of all proportion to their ability to be producers. Thus we find at the end of 1831 over a million acres allotted, but only 200 acres under cultivation. Most of these were on the upper reaches of the Swan River, and, although the areas planted produced good crops, the supply was hopelessly inadequate for the needs of the population.

During these initial years, the colony depended for its subsistence largely upon goods brought by ships from England, India and the other Australian colonies. When these arrived regularly, food was plentiful and prices low. When they were delayed, as they often were, the colonists tightened their belts and paid high prices for what little was available.

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Fremantle, as the port of the colony, became the distributing centre. A few stores had been erected and most of the residents found a lucrative trade in hiring boats to those who wished to convey goods by river to Perth and beyond. In 1831 a monthly service was established to Guildford and a canal was cut through Point Walter spit, reducing the distance by about two miles.

The colony's earliest newspapers had their genesis in Fremantle. The first of these, the Fremantle Journal and General Advertiser, made its appearance on Saturday, 27 February 1830. Published by James A. Gardner, it consisted of four pages of hand-written foolscap and sold at 3s. 6d. per copy. On Sunday, 20 June 1830 the same enterprising publisher produced in similar format and at the same price the Western Australian Gazette. However, James Gardner left the colony in that year and the press apparently lapsed until 19 March 1831 when Mr W. K. Shenton of Fremantle published the Western Australian and Perth Gazette. This was also handwritten in its early issues and sold at 3s. per copy.

In April a printing-press was imported by John Weavell, from whom it was purchased by Mr Shenton, and the first printed copy of the paper appeared on 25 April. In June Shenton transferred the editorship to Mr Charles MacFaull and it was this journal which later became the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, fore-runner of the modem West Australian. The earliest extant copy in print is No. 7, 11 June 1831, when it bore the imposing title of the Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal. A four-page printed newspaper, the Western Australian Colonial News, edited by William Temple Graham, subsequently appeared in Fremantle. Copies of this exist as early as No. 13, 9 January 1833. This venture died out and the former shifted its headquarters to Perth, so that it is not until the sixties that we again find Fremantle with a newspaper of its own.

One of the high-lights of 1831 was the first governor’s ball on 2 September. No doubt some Fremantle residents made the long river trip to the capital and took part in the dancing which, apparently, was conducted with great verve and lasted until six in the morning. Indeed, socially the little community was progressive. A church had been erected in Perth, and in Fremantle on 27 February 1831 fortnightly services in the Harbour Master’s Office were

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started by Rev J. B. Wittenoom. A literary society had been formed and an Agricultural Society was enthusiastically discussing the problems inherent in the cultivation of the soil in a new country.

Commodity shortages continued to be their chief source of anxiety.

In January 1832, wheat was 25s. per bushel and there was only six-weeks supply in the colony. By April it had risen to 35s. Other prices were correspondingly high, and much capital that should have gone into production had to be expended upon the necessities of life. When, towards the middle of the year, there was no abatement of their difficulties, the colonists requested the lieutenant-governor to proceed to England to seek assistance from the Home government. After consulting the Executive Council—a nominated body which had held its first meeting in February of that year—he appointed Captain Irwin temporarily in charge of the colony’s affairs, and left on H.M.S. Sulphur in the second week of August.

Meanwhile, Fremantle had undergone a marked change. We have already noted the contrast between 1830 and 1832 drawn by Mr G. F. Moore. Lieutenant Dashwood, who revisited the colony with Captain Fremantle in September 1832, says:

The Captain was much surprised to see the spot which he took possession of three years ago, without then even a trace of human being, making really a very respectable show and promising soon to be a large town bearing his name. 14

Captain Fremantle was disappointed in the Capital,

as it does not appear to have made much progress, very few houses having been built and many of those scarcely worthy of the name . . . The only good one of brick was built by Captain Irwin and is now let to the Government for a Store. 15

He then goes on to say,

Perth has not kept pace with Fremantle, as the latter has many pretty tolerable houses and several are in progress, and in spite of its sandy and unpromising appearance at landing, I have no doubt, if the Colony continues, of its being in time a place of Consequence. 16

Perhaps Captain Fremantle was prejudiced in favour of the town which was named in his honour, but confirmation of his picture is provided by a water-colour executed by Richard Morell in the same

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year. Reproduced in this volume, it shows a compact and tidy little settlement, and two water-colour sketches by Lieutenant Dashwood, one of which is also reproduced, further confirm the fact that Fremantle in 1832 was not without a charm of its own.

A visitor from India, Colonel J. Hanson, is of the same opinion. Writing of a visit in that year (1831), he says.

There was an excellent little Inn established when I was there, the ‘Stirling Arms,' at which the comforts were fair and the charges moderate. Several good Stone and Brick Houses were in progress, the property of respectable settlers, and indeed all classes seemed to be governed by the same praiseworthy spirit of industry and good feeling towards each other. 17

Among the new buildings was the gaol, known as the Round House, erected the previous year to the design of the civil engineer, Mr H. W. Reveley. On approaching Fremantle from the sea, it was the most prominent piece of architecture in the town. Captain Irwin describes it as ‘a handsome octagonal building of white cut stone, erected near the edge of a precipice which overhangs the mouth of the river’. 18 It is still standing today, probably the oldest existing building in Western Australia.

No doubt the most exciting event of this period was the duel fought on the morning of Friday, 17 August 1832, between William Nairne Clark, a solicitor, and George French Johnson, a merchant, both well-known Fremantle identities. 19

The cause of the quarrel was a business matter. Apparently Johnson anticipated trouble, for, after receiving two abusive letters from Clark, he took the precaution of making his will. Two days later, while he was talking to a group of men outside Mr Solomon’s house, Clark approached him and said, ‘You are a scoundrel and a blackguard, and if it was not from motives of prudence, I would give you a sound drubbing.’

Johnson made no reply. He merely turned on his heel and walked away. But that evening Thomas Newte Yule delivered Johnson’s challenge in person to Clark at Richmond House, the residence of William Temple Graham who was a solicitor with some literary ability and, at that time, publisher of the weekly Western Australian Colonial News. Present also at the time was William Lamb. Details

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were discussed between Graham, acting on behalf of Clark, and Yule who represented Johnson.

Next morning at sunrise Johnson and Yule rode up and fastened their horses to the palings of the fence. Clark was waiting for them with Graham and Lamb. Graham and Yule, the two seconds, advanced, shook hands and went inside the house. For twenty minutes these two discussed details while the principals bit their fingernails outside. When all was ready, they repaired to a near-by paddock where Dr Thomas Harrison was in attendance.

No details of the actual duel have been preserved, except the fact that pistols were used. Johnson’s aim went astray, but Clark’s was deadly. Johnson fell to the ground with a bullet in his right side just above the hip bone. Dr Harrison examined the wound, which was one inch wide and twelve inches deep, and shook his head gravely. Dr Langley was called in and the two did what they could to staunch the flow of blood. Later, Johnson was taken to his house in Cantonment Road. Next morning he died.

Clark, Graham and Yule were immediately arrested, Clark on a charge of wilful murder, the others on a charge of manslaughter. However, at the trial which took place on 1 October they were found not guilty, and in a leading article in his paper some months later Graham made some sententious observations on the unfortunate affair. ‘Thus fell in the prime of life a gentleman of the highest respectability and talent’, he wrote, ‘leaving his antagonist (a gentleman equally respectable) in a state of mind past our powers of description.’

The gentleman whose state of mind was past Graham’s powers of description later became proprietor and editor of the Swan River Guardian, published in Perth in 1836.

There is no record that the destinies of the colony were one whit shaped by this, the first and only duel to be fought on West Australian soil. But no doubt Fremantle tongues wagged vigorously at the time. Of far more lasting importance was the planting of the colony’s first vineyards at Hamilton Hill during that year. The vines were imported by Charles MacFaull and Edmund Stirling from the Cape of Good Hope.

Of considerable social significance, rivalling in importance the governor’s ball, was the first race meeting held on South Beach on

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2 October 1833. The Perth Gazette makes a pioneer effort at sporting news, as follows:

The first race was for ponies, the stake being a subscription purse of five sovereigns and the starters were Captain McDermott’s Dandy, Captain Taylor’s Doctor and Teaser, Leeder’s Bob, Solomon’s Tinker, and Samson’s strangely-named More In Sorrow Than In Anger.

The first heat was contested between Dandy and Tinker. Within a few yards of the winning post, Tinker’s rider, Master Butler, whether with the intention of jockeying or from accident we will not pretend to determine, cleverly sidled his antagonist off the course. In the second heat Dandy’s rider retaliated and Tinker bolted at the start, Dandy coming in without any competition. The third heat was well contested between Tinker and Dandy, the latter winning.

In the second race there were two starters: George Leake’s Jack and Samson’s black mare. Jack won.

In the third event there were three starters: Captain Erskine’s Perouse, S. G. Henty’s Jack, and Scott’s Grey. The latter beat Jack after a good race, Perouse bolting off the course.

The fourth and last race was for ponies, and the stake was three sovereigns. Five ponies were entered, but most of them preferring the branch roads soon after the start, the run was more amusing than edifying. 20


1 Surveyor-General’s Letter Book I, 5 Sept. 1829. Accession No. 525, B.L.

2 Ibid. 23 Oct. 1829.

3 Lt W. H. Breton, R.N., Excursions in New South Wales, Western Australia and Van Diemen’s Land, 1830-33 (London: Bentley, 1833), p. 16.

4 T. B. Wilson, M.D., R.N., Narrative of a Voyage round the World (London: Sherwood, Gilbert & Piper, 1835), p. 197.

5 Ibid. p. 223.

3 Charles Simmons, Colonial Surgeon to Colonial Secretary, 4 Aug. 1829, C.S.O., 1828-9, B.L.

7 ‘The Diary of Mary Anne Friend’, W.AH.S.J.P., i, pt x (1931) .

8 Jane Roberts, Two Years at Sea: Being the Narrative of a Voyage to the Swan River and Van Diemen’s Land, 1829-31 (London: Bentley, 1834), p. 47.

9 Ibid. p. 105.

10 J. Munro McDermott, ‘The Turners of Augusta’, W.A.N.S.J.P., i, pt viii (1930), p. 42.

11 G. F. Moore, Diary of Ten Years Eventful Life of an Early Settler in Western Australia (London: Wallbrook, 1884), p. 150.

12 Ibid.

13 For a detailed account of Peel’s life see Alexandra Hasluck, Thomas Peel of Swan River (Oxford: O.U.P., 1965).

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14 Quoted from a copy of extracts from the diary of Lieutenant Dashwood describing his visit to Western Australia, Sept. 1-13 1832 on HMS Challenger, published in the Sunday Times, 26 Sept. 1926, p. 10.

15 [Adm. Sir Charles W. Fremantle], Diaries and Letters of Admiral Sir Charles Fremantle, ed. Lord Cottesloe (Privately printed, London, 1928) .

16 Ibid.

17 Col J. Hanson, Letter describing a visit to the Swan River Settlement, Augusta and King George’s Sound, Letter to Captain Butterworth, 1831 (Privately printed, Madras, 1832), p. 2.

18 Quoted from P. Hasluck, ‘Glimpses of Early Perth and Fremantle, 1829-39’, WARHSJP, ii, pt xiii (1933), p. 44.

19 P. E. C. de Mouncey, ‘The Historic Duel at Fremantle between George French Johnson, a merchant and William Nairne Clark, a solicitor, in the year 1832’, WARHSJP, ii, pt v (1929), p. 1.

20 Perth Gazette, 5 Oct. 1833.

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