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 5:
The Fremantle Town Trust, 1848-71

While the colony was progressing towards the introduction of the convict system and the fundamental changes it involved, steps had been taken to enable towns and districts to control their own domestic affairs. Reference has already been made to the ‘Act to provide for the Management of Roads, Streets and other Internal Communications’ passed in June 1838. 1

A further act was passed on 4 April 1839 which empowered Town Trusts to propose a rate to be levied on the inhabitants for any specific object connected with the improvement of the town. 2

Perth, Guildford, Albany, and Bunbury availed themselves of the powers contained in these acts and formed Town Trusts. Fremantle, however, did not. As early as 28 January 1839 the Government Resident for Fremantle, R. McBryde Brown, wrote to the Colonial Secretary stating that he had ‘twice called a public meeting to elect Trustees for the town but without success, few of the inhabitants having taken out their Fee Simple, the necessary qualification’. 3

The original act (I Victoria No. 2. cl. V) provided for two sets of Trustees. First, there were those responsible for roads, bridges and ferries not within the limits of a township. They were to consist of Justices of the Peace and proprietors of land in fee simple to the extent of 1,000 acres. Second, there were those whose care was the ‘management, control, superintendence and charge of all streets, quays, jetties, wharfs, bridges and ferries in each township’. 4 The Trustees were to be Justices of the Peace who had their fixed residence within the township and all proprietors of allotments held in fee simple therein. It was the latter half of the act which would have made possible the establishment of a Town Trust for Fremantle. That Town Trusts came into existence in only four places suggests

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that the measure was premature, so we find that the acts which replaced these two earlier ones on 23 September 1841 sought to establish the two sorts of Trust on clearer and more specific terms. The first established, what came to be known as the General Trust, whose responsibility was the construction and management of roads and other internal communications in the Colony of Western Australia. The amount of land to be held in fee simple by Trustees was reduced from 1,000 to 320 acres. The second act was framed to ‘Provide for the Improvement of Towns in the Colony of Western Australia’. It gave the Town Trust power to divide streets into districts for the purpose of the act, and established the personnel as a chairman, a committee of five, as well as a treasurer, surveyor, collector, etc. The qualifications were as before and meetings of the Trust were to be held quarterly on the first Mondays in January, April, July and October. 5

Still Fremantle made no move, so that in the years that followed we find matters which would properly have been the business of the Town Trust being handled by the government resident. These included such contentious subjects as the responsibility for the maintenance of the ferry, the alienation of King’s Square to the church, and so on.

It was not until 1848 that a Town Trust came into being in Fremantle, and then in the most unostentatious manner. The first indication of its existence is contained in a letter from Daniel Scott to the Colonial Secretary, dated 6 April 1848. It apologizes to His Excellency the Governor for having omitted in terms of the act of Council to report the office-bearers of the Town Trust of Fremantle ‘elected in January last’. The office-bearers were: D. Scott (Chairman) , A. Francisco (Treasurer), W. Pearse, H. Davis, J. Bateman, H. Yelverton.

On 12 April 1848 the Colonial Secretary replied on behalf of His Excellency, accepting the officers elected, and advising that they would be duly gazetted. This was done in the Government Gazette of 17 April, and on 22 April the Perth Gazette published the information as an item of news. It is a moot point, therefore, whether the Fremantle Town Trust can be said to have begun on 6 April when the chairman belatedly informed the governor of its existence, on 12 April, when the governor officially confirmed the

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election, on 17 April, when the members were officially gazetted, or on 3 January 1848, the first Monday of the month, when presumably the election was held.

For the first few years, the newly created body seems to have been uncertain of its powers. We find frequent letters to the Colonial Secretary, seeking a definition of these. For instance, in October 1849 the chairman, Mr D. Scott, wrote asking that ‘as the right of cutting firewood on Government Lands four miles round the Town of Perth has been given to the Town Trust of Perth . . . [that] the same privilege be given to the town of Fremantle for both the cutting of firewood and the quarrying of stone—except that which may at any time be required for the Public Service.’ 6 This request was agreed to and the area over which the right was granted was defined as four miles from Fremantle on the left bank of the river, and on the right bank up to four miles from the boundary of Perth.

The first rating of property is contained in a letter of 5 February 1850, when the sum of 5s. was fixed for all allotments in the western portion of the town and 2s. 6d. on all allotments in the eastern portion. 7 In 1851 the rate was raised. The sum of 20s. was levied on all allotments west of Point Street, Queen’s Square and Henderson Street, north of Essex Street—and 10s. on all other allotments. Similar rates continued in force for some years. Actually, no minutes of the Town Trust exist earlier than 1856, so that the activities of that body must be gauged from the correspondence between the chairman and the Colonial Secretary. They consist mainly of widening footpaths in High Street, and repairs to High, Henry, Mouatt, Pakenham and Leake Streets. On occasions prison labour was used for these purposes, but there is no evidence that the Town Trust made excessive use of convicts who were primarily employed in carrying out public works.

Indeed, one of their earliest activities was the construction of a new gaol, the space in the Round House at Arthur's Head being totally inadequate for their accommodation. Following the arrival of the Scindian in June 1850, Governor Fitzgerald visited Fremantle and arranged to lease the premises of Captain Daniel Scott, adjoining the site of the modem Esplanade Hotel, at a rental of £250 per annum. The governor promised to spend £1,000 on improvements

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which were to be deducted from the rent. Here all convicts were housed by the end of the month.

There was some divergence of opinion as to where the new gaol was to be erected. The comptroller-general. Captain Henderson, favoured a site on Mt Eliza overlooking the town of Perth. This the governor refused to countenance, and finally the hill overlooking Fremantle was chosen and by an ordinance of the Legislative Council on 4 August 1851, was vested ‘in certain officers in trust for Her Majesty, her Heirs and Successors for ever’. 8

Hard white stone was quarried from the hill and near the bank of the river at North Fremantle. Timber was brought from Woodman Point, where it was rolled into the sea, chained to a flat punt, and towed parallel to the beach by horses. Fremantle now became, according to Kimberly, ‘the theatre of activity ... of depraved serfs, officially known by numbers, forced to work under the directing eye of free men’. 9

As there were not enough mechanics among the prisoners, free men were imported from South Australia. A tram line was laid down from the hill to the valley below it, where soil excavated from the upper levels was deposited. The work was of necessity slow. First to be completed were the Pensioners’ Barracks. In 1853 activities at the prison were speeded up, they became really brisk in 1854 and in the following year, when the structure was only half finished, the convicts took possession of their new quarters. In June 1856 Fremantle was visited by a particularly severe whirlwind which did considerable damage to the new building, in spite of the fact that it had promised to be what Kimberly calls ‘a model of solidity’. Captain Wray, who was in charge of the Royal Engineers, reported that ‘the whole of the northern boundary (150 yards long and 20 feet high and, in some places, 2 feet 6 inches thick) was laid perfectly flat, turning over on its foundation like a hinge.’ The storm also made a gap forty yards long in the western or front boundary and blew down two chimneys. Other minor damage was done to the main buildings.

Other works undertaken in Fremantle in the early years of the convict period were the commissariat buildings in Cliff Street, warders’ quarters in Henderson Street, and comptroller’s residence,

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known as ‘The Knowle’, which stands in the present area occupied by the Fremantle Hospital.

Certain features of the convict system in Western Australia should perhaps be emphasized at this stage. In the first place, it was introduced at the request of the colonists themselves in order to supply much needed labour. The class of convict introduced to the community was very different from those transported to the eastern states earlier in Australia’s history. No female convicts were admitted, and many of the male convicts took advantage of the opportunities provided to become free citizens in a new country. Furthermore, it was stipulated that free settlers were to be introduced in equal proportions to the number of convicts admitted. Finally, there is no question that the Western Australian colonists prior to 1851 were fine types from every point of view, and they remained to leaven the community with their high social and moral principles. [A detailed examination o£ the convict period in Western Australia is to be found in Unwilling Emigrants, by Alexandra Hasluck (Oxford University Press, 1959).]

The resentment of many at the first introduction of convicts was soon overcome. In two respects the new system had interesting and somewhat amusing reactions upon Fremantle. In 1854 the townspeople, inspired to civic dignity by the unwonted building activities at the port, petitioned Lord John Russell that the seat of government should be removed from Perth to Fremantle. In the same year, the residents of Guildford requested that the convict establishment be removed from Fremantle to their town. Both requests were rejected, but that they should have been made indicates that convictism, far from investing the colonists with a sense of shame, was appreciated for the material benefits which it undoubtedly conferred upon a society which, during its first twenty-one years, had tightened its belt on more than one occasion in the face of almost overwhelming difficulties.

It was in this atmosphere that the early Fremantle Town Trust laboured to serve the interests of the port. During the greater part of that time, Daniel Scott remained chairman. For a while in 1851 and again in 1852, the position was held by Mr J. W. Davey, but the beginning of 1853 found Captain Scott back in control. During 1855 Mr T. Carter replaced him, but thereafter Captain Scott

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continued as chairman until 1859, when he was succeeded by Mr C. A. Manning. (For summary of members of Fremantle Town Trust 1848-1871, see Appendix 5.)

As early as 1851 the Fremantle Literary Institute had been established. Its president was the government resident, Mr R. McBryde Brown, and in 1854 it sought permission to exchange Lot 564 in Adelaide Street for Lot 433 in Market Street, the latter being considered much better situated and more suited to the purposes of the society which proposed to commence building as soon as the exchange could be conveniently made. Market Street was beginning to assume greater importance in the town, and in the following year the governor granted permission to extend it to the new jetty which was being erected at Ferry Point, on the inside of the river mouth.

Most organized bodies found themselves in conflict with the policy of Governor Kennedy who had come to the colony in July 1855. The Fremantle Town Trust was no exception. The first brush occurred over its decision to order the pensioners at North Fremantle to pay 5s. for all cattle depastured on crown lands. 10 Kennedy, with rather more tact than he usually employed, suggested that it was ‘impolitic to tax those old Public Servants’ and hoped the Town Trust would make ‘an exception without strictly enforcing the law’. This was agreed to in March 1856, with a promise (or a threat, it is not clear which) that the matter would be further considered at the next annual meeting. It does not appear to have been discussed again, so that the Town Trust apparently waived what appeared to be its legal right.

It took a firmer stand, however, when in October 1856 Captain Daniel Scott was dismissed by His Excellency the Governor from the Commission of the Peace. It demanded and obtained full details of correspondence relative to this dismissal and when the chairman resigned office, the Town Trust took a vote by ballot and unanimously decided not to accept the resignation. Whether he was subsequently reinstated as a Justice of the Peace is not clear.

An ambitious project was set on foot in September 1858 when Mr C. A. Manning, following advice received from Henry Manning of London, offered to supply the Town Trust with 18-20,000 tooled Yorkshire flagstones for paving-blocks. The offer was accepted and it was decided that High Street should be paved first along the

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northern side from Cliff Street to the church, then along the southern side. A request that the flagstones be allowed to enter the colony free of Customs Duty was agreed to by the governor and the Executive Council. At the annual meeting in January 1859 the tender of Messrs J. & W. Bateman for landing the first 4,000 stones was accepted. By February they were ready for laying and the use of convict labour was sought. However, as no skilled labour was available among the convict population, His Excellency offered the services of three sappers of the Royal Engineers.

This offer was gratefully accepted and the work was set in hand. Subsequently, the Town Trust decided that, instead of paving both sides of High Street, they would pave only the northern side and then pave one side of Henry, Cliff and William Streets in that order, before two sides of any street were contemplated. It was found during this work that some walls projected over the street boundary and had to be removed.

In June 1859 the sappers of the Royal Engineers were withdrawn as their services were needed elsewhere and tenders were called for the work to be finished by private contract. To offset the expense, the Town Trust was granted the right to collect dog-licences, poundage fees and fines. The successful tenderer was Mr Robert Ferris, who apparently completed the work, although not always to the satisfaction of the Trust. Indeed, within a month of starting, he was warned to be more careful in jointing the stones, and ordered to take up some of his work or his contract would be cancelled. Incidentally, this Robert Ferris (the name is variably spelt Ferres) and his brother John were very early settlers. They claimed to have been the first ones to have burned lime successfully from the stone about Fremantle. Their lime-kiln was built in February 1830.

At the end of 1859, 17,400 feet superficial had been used in paving the northern side of High Street, the western side of Henry Street, and the eastern side of Cliff Street. The balance sheet for that year shows a credit of £42.5s. 5d., and of an expenditure of £684. 2s. The cost of paving footpaths was easily the major item—£352. 0s. 5 1/2d.

No doubt, Fremantle had cause to be proud of its enterprise in this direction. As the 1859 report points out, ‘If a seaport town be considered as the shop door and shop front of the district which it is the sea outlet to, the more it be improved and rendered commodious

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and attractive, the more such a district must be benefited thereby.’ That the flagstones were durable is also indicated by the fact that some are still in use in front of the Customs House in Cliff Street. A small area has been paved with them in the new Historical Museum in Finnerty Street.

The Town Trust planned further improvements to its streets, including the levelling and metalling of Bannister Street, filling up the hollow in Suffolk Street, levelling and metalling the river end of Henry Street. Stone was to be carted for the continuation of High Street along the south-east side of King’s Square, Henderson Street, Essex Street and South Terrace. In much of this work convict labour was to be used. Other works listed for early attention were walling in the reserve at the east end of Essex Street, levelling and metalling South Beach from the Customs House to the sea jetty, building a drain under the sea-wall opposite Mouatt Street and filling in the spacious hollow from the river end of Cliff and Henry Streets.

This ‘spacious hollow’ was no doubt the swamp which originally occupied a considerable area of the townsite just behind Arthur’s Head. [See Fremantle in 1832, Plate 2a.] As early as 1839 Mr Anthony Curtis offered to buy Lots 85-86 in Henry Street and Lots 109-110 in Pakenham Street ‘at present lying waste, useless and under water’. He sought them at a reduced price, in return for filling up the swamp and enclosing the blocks with a stone wall.

In later years, this area was a constant embarrassment as a source of drifting sand. In 1861 a Board was appointed by the Town Trust to ascertain how best this sand-drift from vacant allotments could be overcome. It recommended that the government should enclose all vacant crown lands in the area between Pakenham Street and South Terrace and thence across William Street and King’s Square with a stone wall 5 feet high. The stone was to be quarried and the wall built by convict labour. The Town Trust was to level sandhills and fill swamps, planting bush fences round vacant allotments which were to be sowed with couch grass.

The work of filling in the swamp continued throughout 1863, sand being used with seaweed spread over the top of it to prevent erosion. From time to time complaints were made about the stench

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of decaying seaweed which was claimed to be ‘at times almost insufferable’.

Throughout these years the rates remained static at £1 per allotment. In 1865 following the throwing open for sale of 177 new town allotments in the southern portion of Fremantle, the rate dropped to 10j. for two years, but it became £1 again in 1867. Hampton Road had in the meantime been levelled and metalled and this provided a new district from which quarried stone was available. This led to plans for forming and metalling Suffolk and Norfolk Streets and the building of a road round the new cemetery in Skinner Street, which had been dedicated in 1852 and continued in use until 1899. There was also the old Church of England cemetery, Lot 392, Alma Street, which had been consecrated in 1831.

Since January 1859 the Chairman of the Town Trust had been Mr C. A. Manning. He died on 1 February 1869 with a record of nine years of office. He had not sought re-election at the Annual Meeting in 1868, when Mr E. Newman was elected. In 1870 Mr W. S. Pearse took office and continued until the Town Trust was replaced by the Municipal Council in 1871.

In Mr Manning’s last year of office a new system of rating was inaugurated. First it was suggested that all property ‘for the current year should be rated according to its rental value, but no allotment to be rated lower than 5s. per annum’.11 Considerable discussion took place over this new move, and the meeting adjourned for a fortnight when the following detailed rating scheme was drawn up:

£2 on each allotment in High Street (from the steps leading up to the Court House to King’s Square), Cliff Street, Mouatt Street, Henry Street, Pakenham Street (including Lots 135, 136, 120, 408, 425, 440 and 441), Market Street (including Lots 143, 144, 127, 401, 229, 432 and 456), William Street (including Lots 541, 539 and 374), Essex Street (including Lots 152 and 153), and Lot 221, Freemasons’ Hotel. 12

£1 on each allotment in Short Street, Leake Street, Bannister Street, Nairn Street, Cantonment Street, Point Street, Adelaide Street (including Lots 311, 346, 399, 358, 359 and 298), South Terrace (from Market Street to Howard Street), Norfolk Street (including Lots 155 and 156) Suffolk Street (including Lots 158 and 159), Henderson Street, Collie Street and Hampton Street.

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5s. on every other allotment in the town purchased up to 30 December 1867.

About the same time, the Town Trust exercised its power to sell blocks on which there were arrears in rates. This caused some heartburnings and a number of defaulting owners challenged the decision and were in some cases successful.

In the year that Mr Newman was chairman, 1869, the rating scheme was placed on the basis of rental values. The actual wording of the motion was that ‘An assessment be levied for the current year of 5 per cent on the real or estimated rental, the maximum to be fixed at £----------, and the minimum at £5 for all allotments.’ 13 Be-

fore agreeing to this. His Excellency very rightly sought to be enlightened as to what the maximum might be. A subsequent meeting fixed it at £350. This continued in force until the end of the Town Trust in 1871.


1 I Vict. No. 2, cl. V, An Act to provide for the Management of Roads, Streets and other Internal Communications.

2 2 Vict. No. 5, An Act to enable the Inhabitants of any Township to assess themselves for the improvement of the town.

3 Govt. Res. to Col. Sec., 28 Jan. 1839, C.S.O., B.L.

4 I Vict. No. 2, cl. V.

5 3 & 5 Vict. Nos 16 & 18.

6 Daniel Scott to Col. Sec., 8 Oct. 1849, C.S.O., B.L.

7 Idem, 5 Feb. 1850, C.S.O., B.L.

8 14 Vict. No. 22, Ordinance to rest the site of the convict prison at Fremantle in certain Officers in Trust for Her Majesty, her heirs and successors for ever. In The Statutes of Western Australia, i, p. 2.

9 Kimberly, History of West Australia, p. 158.

10 Chairman of Fremantle Town Trust to Col. Sec., 12 Dec. 1855, C.S.O., Town Trusts 1855, B.L.

11 M.F.T.T. 8 Apr. 1868, F.T.H.

12 Ibid. 27 Apr. 1868. is Ibid. 22 Feb. 1869.

Go to Chapter 6: Fremantle under the Town Trust.

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