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 4:
The second decade

One of Governor Hutt’s first measures was to increase the membership of the nominated Legislative Council by the addition of four nominees: William Brockman, George Leake, Thomas Peel, and William Tanner. But even nominees have minds of their own and when he proposed a land tax to increase the revenue, the Council opposed it so strenuously that the governor tactfully withdrew the suggestion. 1 He did, however, succeed in imposing fines on land-owners who had not improved their properties. This was intended to encourage greater agricultural activity, but that it extended also to holders of town lots is clearly shown in the correspondence of the Government Resident for Fremantle during 1839. In that year fines up to £10 were imposed on some holders of town lots at the port, a number of prominent residents as well as a number of absentee owners being included.

During the whole of Governor Hutt’s term of office the dearth of labour was a serious handicap. It had been agreed that proceeds from the sale of crown lands should be used to bring out migrants, but sales had fallen to such an extent that only £156 was received from this source during the years 1839-44.2 This shortage of labour is shown by the fact that the pastoral industry during 1839-44 increased threefold, whereas the number of acres under wheat remained almost stagnant. The former required less labour than the latter.

The colony's finances, which had always been somewhat hazardous, were assisted by the establishment of two banks. The Bank of Western Australia issued its prospectus in January 1837, and began business in June of that year. From 1838 it paid dividends until on 24 April 1841 it was absorbed by the Bank of Australasia. Two

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months later the Western Australian Bank was formed with a capital of £20,000.

Fremantle had now grown into a substantial little town with a population of between 300 and 400. Mr E. W. Landor, who arrived in the colony in August 1841, wrote that

the houses appeared to be generally two-storeyed, and were built of hard marine limestone. Notwithstanding the sandy character of the soil, the gardens produced vegetables of every variety . . . We dined and slept at Francisco’s Hotel, where we were served with French dishes in first-rate style, and drank good luck to ourselves in excellent claret. 3

The road to Perth he found ‘a truly miserable one, being at least six inches deep in sand the whole way’. Of Perth itself he says:

The streets are broad and those houses which are placed nearest the river possess, perhaps, the most luxuriant gardens in the world . . . Many of the houses are well-built—brick having long since superseded the original structures of wood—and possess all the comforts of English residences . . . The great misfortune of the town is that the upper portion of it is built upon sand, which is many feet deep. The streets, not being yet paved, are all but impassable, but happily each possesses a footpath of clay, and it is to be hoped that the cartways will ere long be similarly improved. 4

Francisco’s Hotel, referred to above, was the Crown and Thistle in High Street. By 1843 there were five other hostelries in the port. They were: the Waterman’s Arms in Mouatt Street (William Heard), the Stirling Arms in Pakenham Street (Robert Thomson), the Stag’s Head in High Street (Anthony Curtis), the Union Hotel in Market Street (John Wicksted) and the Albion in Henry Street (John Duffield).

Fremantle, being built upon limestone country, was not short of material for road-making, even if its roads were at that time of a whiteness which dazzled the eyes. Its main thoroughfare was High Street which ran from the gaol at Arthur’s Head to a point where in August 1843 the first St John’s Church of England was opened. Visiting the port on this occasion, the Rev. J. R. Wollaston notes that Fremantle, which he had not seen for two years, was ‘very much improved in new buildings’. 5 The governor and his court came

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down from Perth for the opening of St John’s, described by Wollaston as ‘a substantial stone building, with a tower and dome surmounted by a cross'. 6 After the ceremony, ‘there was a very handsome cold collation at Mr Brown’s and several little speeches indicating excellent Church feelings were delivered.’ 7 The minister in charge was the Rev. George King, LL.D., who had been appointed in 1841 and remained until 1849.

This new church was built in the middle of King’s Square which was originally surveyed and set apart as a public reserve. The first intimation of a desire to alienate it for church purposes is contained in a letter from the government resident of 11 March 1839. 8 In reply, His Excellency Governor Hutt advised that it was a matter for the Trustees of Church Property to decide. In August of that year the proprietors of allotments facing King’s Square petitioned the governor to sanction the church site in the centre of the square. The signatories were as follows:

Lot 536, W. T. Graham
Lot 538, Wm. L. for E. W. Lamb
Lot 539, R. McB. Brown
Lot 534, Charlotte Duffield
Lot 378, Wm. L. for Cora M. Lamb
Lots 379 and 380, William Nairn Clark
Lot 559, John Duffield
Lots 381 and 385, Anthony Curtis

Apparently the petition was successful for on 9 February 1840 the government resident, Mr R. McBryde Brown, wrote to the Colonial Secretary, Mr Peter Brown, advising him that the site had been appropriated for church purposes following an application to the Trustees of Church Property. 9 When it was subsequently decided to bisect the square and continue High Street in an easterly direction, the church claimed and established ownership over the whole of King's Square, and had to be bought out. When the present St John’s Church was erected in 1879, it occupied the northern half only, while the town bought from the church authorities the southern triangular portion on which the Town Hall and a block of shops were subsequently built.

However, in 1843 High Street had a gaol at one end of it and a church at the other. Wollaston notes that on the opening day the

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flagstaff at Arthur’s Head, directly opposite the church at the other end of the street, was decorated by Lieutenant Helpman of the H.M.S. Champion ‘with every flag he could find’. 10 A British flag flew from the tower of St John’s.

Governor Hutt had also visited Fremantle in 1840 to lay the foundation stone of the old Wesleyan Chapel in Cantonment Street. Indeed, to celebrate the occasion, nine boats left Perth early on the morning of 16 September. The whole party, numbering some 300 people, met at the tunnel at Arthur’s Head and marched in procession led by the governor to the site of the church. After the laying of the stone, the Rev. W. Smithies, who had arrived in the colony the previous June, preached the sermon. The building was opened on 24 May 1842. It served for many years until it was replaced by the present church in 1888. The old building was finally demolished in 1929.

The earliest record of Roman Catholic services in Fremantle is contained in a letter from the government resident on 11 December 1843, applying for the use of the Court House on Sundays ‘until a place could be secured for the Service of the Roman Catholics in this town’. 11 The reply was: ‘Most certainly, if not required for other public purposes.’ Whether this building was so used is not clear, but the application preceded by two years the official establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in the colony, which dates from the arrival of Dr Brady in 1845. In the following year the Isabella brought seven priests, a sub-deacon, a French novice, eight catechists, two laymen, and seven Irish Sisters of Mercy. The first Roman Catholic place of worship in Fremantle was officially opened towards the end of 1846 when a house situated on Lot 67, Henry Street, was purchased. The chapel was served on Sundays by a priest from Perth. There was no resident priest in Fremantle until 1855, when the first Sisters of St Joseph arrived with several missionaries. Soon afterwards the building of presbytery, chapel and convent commenced in Adelaide and Parry Streets, the work being completed in 1859. Since then the convent has been enlarged, schools built, and a handsome gothic church has been erected in Adelaide Street.

But while Fremantle was laying spiritual foundation stones, the colony of which it was the main port was getting deeper and deeper

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into material difficulties. The revenue for 1843-44 showed imports (exclusive of freight) valued at £36,440, and exports of only £13,363. 15s. Of the latter, the main items were wool and whale oil. 12 Obviously, such a state of affairs could not last. When the members of the Legislative Council proposed to increase the ad valorem duties on all exports, His Excellency Governor Hutt declined to use his power of veto although he disagreed personally with the proposal. He went on to say that he was glad he was not himself a settler, nor likely to live among them, because in his opinion, ‘the doom of the colony was sealed.’ 13

In August 1844 the Colonial Secretary, Mr Peter Brown, analysed the cause, effect and cure of the depression which was worse by far than that which the colony had suffered in its first few years. In fact, the difficulties then had been due to under-production and the settlement had been on short commons pending the arrival of ships with stores. But now the reverse was the case. The population had not increased in keeping with the colony’s ability to produce. Prices had fallen as a consequence and Mr Brown declared:

Although we have plenty of real property and stock of every description, we have not a shilling which we, as a colony, can call our own. We have no balance in our treasury; the balance in the commissariat chest is the property of the Queen. As individuals we have loose silver in our pockets—but only as individuals—for as colonists it is the property of the foreign creditor. 14

He then went on to outline the remedy, which was to embark upon an active programme of exporting every commodity the colony could supply. Merchants, he said, should accept for export such items as oil, bone, wool, gum, bark, skins, cheeses, hams, tongues, salted provisions and preserves. It was a sound analysis and turned people’s minds to the fundamental cause of their present predicament.

In spite of the depression, the Western Australian Bank paid a dividend of 15 per cent for the first half of 1844 and 12.5 per cent for the second. But the following year, the dividend dropped to per cent and its rival, the Bank of Australasia, was obliged to close its doors. Many settlers clung to the belief that the high land prices were responsible for their troubles, but nevertheless they

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began to cast around for new commodities which could be produced and exported.

Fremantle was, of course, specifically interested in this challenge. Not only was it the major port of the colony; it was also the centre of operations of a group of merchants whom Mr Peter Brown had challenged to take the initiative and purchase from the settlers commodities which would find an overseas market. A shipment of horses and cattle was sent to Mauritius and brought high prices. Further exports of stock took place in 1845 and a trial consignment of sandalwood was shipped.

One of the Fremantle traders who ventured with an overseas consignment at this stage was Mr Anthony Curtis. His schooner Vixen (40 tons), made the long journey to Ceylon with a cargo of 4 horses, some potatoes, fish, a ton of sandalwood, and a few sheep. The Ceylon Overland Observer of 16 February 1846 comments excitedly on the arrival of 'the first vessel that has ventured hither for the purpose of trade’. The newspaper adds, ‘We would strongly urge the spirited owner of the Vixen to bring, next time, as much as possible (and in great variety) of the hardwood of the colony— it will be sure to meet with a ready sale in Ceylon for machinery of every description.’

As if to point to the future, the first steam vessel arrived at Fremantle in December. This was H.M. sloop Driver and the man on look-out at Arthur’s Head, seeing the black column of smoke, gave the alarm of a ship on fire. The residents of Fremantle rushed excitedly to the beach, where their excitement changed to curiosity and then to admiration. In fact, two years later a prospectus was issued of a company which planned to establish steam communication on the Swan River between Perth and Fremantle. But this was setting the clock forward a little too rapidly and subscribers were not forthcoming in sufficient numbers. 18

When Governor Hutt resigned on 28 January 1846 he no doubt still felt he was leaving a colony whose doom was sealed. He sailed on 19 February on H.M.S. Fly, after riding through the streets of Fremantle lined with cheering crowds. He was not a popular figure, but he was universally respected as one who did not readily abandon principles. His successor, Governor Clarke, arrived on 27 February. He was a sick man on arrival and died within a year.

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During that short period he gave generous support to the endeavour of the colonists to extricate themselves from the unhappy condition into which their affairs had drifted. One of his first administrative acts was to abolish pilotage fees and to make Fremantle for the time being a free port. The pilot met incoming vessels off Rottnest, conducted them to their anchorage free of charge, and while in port they paid no dues.

A month before Governor Clarke’s arrival, the Unicorn had left Fremantle with the largest consignment of Western Australian produce ever to be sent abroad in a single vessel. Wool, oil and timber were the chief items. During the year, sandalwood and jamwood were sent abroad, whaling revived, and a fisheries industry was established at the Abrolhos Islands. To assist trade, ships were under construction at Fremantle, three of them in August 1846, the largest capable of carrying 300 tons of cargo. In the following month the keels of two more were laid down.

During this and the next few years the hopes of the colony were raised by prospects of hitherto unsuspected mineral wealth. Coal was reported near the Murray, copper at Toodyay, and basalt at Bunbury. None of these proved to be capable of commercial exploitation, but while excitement ran high about them the settlers’ determined efforts to diversify and expand their exports were bringing results. In 1847 exports amounted to £24,535 as against imports to the value of £25,463.16 The leeway was being overhauled. Meanwhile they had lost the services of the man who had spurred them on to this effort. The Colonial Secretary, Mr Peter Brown, died at the age of 49 on 5 November 1846. He was one of the original settlers who came out on the Parmelia and had given the best years of his life to steering the little community through its difficulties. The death of Governor Clarke in the following February intensified the sense of calamity which brooded over the colony.

Major F. C. Irwin was appointed Lieutenant-Governor pending the arrival of a successor, while Mr G. F. Moore temporarily assumed the office of Colonial Secretary. Irwin was a man of determination and foresight. Among his immediate plans he announced his intention to erect a stone jetty in South Bay, Fremantle, alongside which large boats might discharge their cargo. The jetty was to be connected with Cliff Street by a macadamized road.

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But the lieutenant-governor was not popular with many settlers who bitterly opposed his proposal to impose a licence upon all sandalwood cut in the colony. In spite of this, the export of sandalwood increased rapidly. In 1848, it was the largest item, £13,353. 10s. worth being sent away from Western Australia. Wool was second to the value of £9,666, and oil third at £3,571. 17

However, the colony was not yet over its difficulties. When Governor Fitzgerald arrived in August 1848, he found roads and public works languishing for want of labour. A private remark passed by the new governor, that men from Pentonville with their wives and families might with advantage be brought out from England, raised the question of the advisability of admitting convicts. The idea was not a new one. The settlers about King George’s Sound had ventured the proposal as early as 1834, when it had not been seriously entertained elsewhere. Ten years later we find it being given an airing at a meeting of the York Agricultural Society. In April 1845, at a public meeting in Perth to consider the advisability of admitting pardoned convicts from Van Diemen’s Land, there was much opposition to the suggestion, but in July an anonymous letter in the Inquirer strongly advocated convicts as the solution of the colony’s problem. The same month Mr F. C. Singleton denounced the suggestion in the Legislative Council. ‘No dearth of labour can be so extreme’, he said, ‘as to warrant our having recourse to such a hazardous expedient for a supply.’ 18

During the years 1845-6 a petition was in circulation, drawn up, so it stated, by ‘the landowners, merchants, and inhabitants of Western Australia’. It pointed out that through ‘mismanagement, inexperience, and ignorance of the seasons, great numbers of the early settlers lost or expended the greater part of their capital’, that they had struggled against a shortage of labour from 1838 to 1842, that Her Majesty’s government had repeatedly refused to lower the price of land, and that unless it did so ‘this colony must become absolutely useless to the British Crown, an encumbrance on the Empire, and ruinous to those individuals who have been led to embark in it the whole of their fortunes.' 19 The petition concluded that there only now remained the ‘hope that Her Majesty’s government will be induced to convert the colony into a penal settlement on an extensive scale’.

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How much this petition actually expressed the wishes of a majority of the settlers at the time it would be difficult to say, but its circulation no doubt caused many who previously scorned the idea to give it serious consideration. Official opinion was against it until Governor Fitzgerald, probably with instructions from the Home government to do so, mentioned the matter quite casually. After inquiring of the resident magistrate in each district how many labourers could be immediately absorbed, the governor wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies asking for 100 ticket-of-leave men from Pentonville. On 5 August 1848, Earl Grey had asked various British colonies if they would be prepared to receive ticket-of-leave men. He repeated his request to Western Australia. The eastern colonies and South Africa declined emphatically. Early in 1849 a public meeting in Perth resolved that

Application be made at once to Her Majesty’s Government to erect the colony into a regular Penal Settlement, the whole cost of the transmission and supervision of all such convicts as may be transported hither to be borne by the Home Government. 20

On 1 May 1849 an Order-in-Council was issued proclaiming Western Australia one of the places to which convicts could be sent from the United Kingdom. This was published in the Government Gazette on 6 November. For a while there was consternation; then, as they reviewed the situation, the colonists began to believe that at any rate here was something worth trying. Accordingly, on 1 June 1850, exactly twenty-one years after the foundation of the colony, the Scindian arrived at Fremantle with 75 convicts. The only other convict ship during that year was the Hashemy, which two years earlier had not been allowed to unload its human cargo at Port Jackson. It arrived on 25 October with 100 convicts. For eighteen years Western Australia perpetuated a system which the eastern colonies had repudiated.

Kimberly’s comments are worth noting at this stage:

many years after it was abolished no apparent taint was left on the community. Convictism in Western Australia and convictism in Van Diemen’s Land, Norfolk Island and New South Wales were totally dissimilar. It was a modified slave trade, where the bondmen were calculated to gain in morality, and where their native country was well rid of their presence. 21

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1 J. S. Battye, ed., Cyclopedia of Western Australia (Adelaide: Hussey & Gillingham, 1912) vol. i, p. 120.

2 'Proceedings of the Legislative Council, 19 June 1845', Inquirer, 25 June 1845

3 E. W. Landor, The Bushman: or, Life in a New Country (London: Richard Bentley, 1847), p. 41.

4 Ibid. p. 64.

5 [J. R. Wollaston], Wollaston’s Picton Journal, i, ed. Canon Burton Sc Rev. P. H. Henn (Perth: Pitman & Son, 1948), p. 263.

6 Ibid. p. 265

7 Ibid. p. 267.

8 Govt. Res. to Col. Sec., 11 March 1839, C.S.O. 1839, B.L.

9 Govt. Res. to Col. Sec., 9 Feb. 1840, C.S.O., B.L.

10 [Wollaston], Wollaston’s Picton Journal, p. 267.

11 Govt. Res. to Col. Sec., 11 Dec. 1843, C.S.O., B.L.

12 Government Blue Book 1844, compiled from official returns in the Registrar General’s Office (microfilm), B.L.

13 Quoted from Kimberly, History of West Australia, p. 133.

14 Kimberly, History of West Australia, p. 143.

15 Ibid.

16 Blue Book 1847, B.L.

17 Blue Book 1848, B.L.

18 ‘Proceedings of the Legislative Council, 23 July 1845', Perth Gazette, 26 July 1845; Inquirer, 30 July 1845. Quoted from Battye, Cyclopedia of Western Australia, p. 140.

19 Perth Gazette, 2 Jan. 1847. The memorial was sent by Governor Clark to Lord Stanley in a dispatch dated 2 Jan. 1847. Quoted from Battye, Cyclopedia of Western Australia, p. 140.

20 Perth Gazette, 24 Feb. 1849. See also Battye, Western Australia: a History (London: O.U.P., 1924), p. 203.

21 Kimberly, History of West Australia, p. 154.

Go to Chapter 5: The Fremantle Town Trust.

Garry Gillard | New: 27 June, 2021 | Now: 8 July, 2021