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 7:
The Town Council, 1871-1883

No doubt, the transportation of convicts to the colony brought much needed labour for public works, but there was a growing body of opinion against the perpetuation of a system which the eastern colonies had long since abandoned. The first official indication that it was about to end was conveyed to the House of Commons in 1865. The Report of the Superintendent of the Establishment in Fremantle for the same year stated: ‘Sooner or later the industrial employment of prisoners will be abandoned in all civilised countries'. 1 The colonists accepted its end as inevitable. Some welcomed it; others, fearing it would mean disaster to the colony, urged that compensation should be granted them for the loss of this supply of cheap labour. 2 This request was never seriously entertained by the Home authorities, nor, indeed, by the majority of the colonists themselves.

The last convict ship was the Hougemont [Hougoumont] which arrived on 10 January 1868, bringing thirty-eight Fenians. In all, from 1850 to 1868, there were 9,721 convicts brought into Western Australia. During the same years, computing two children as one adult, there were 6,122 free settlers, which is somewhat below the equal proportions promised at the outset. When the system ceased there were still 3,158 men serving their sentences. These remained, in ever reducing numbers, under the control of the Convict Establishment which the imperial government maintained until late in the eighties.

But, while materially the colony benefited and spiritually it appeared to suffer little harm, its political progress had been seriously retarded. In 1850—the year in which Western Australia began to admit convicts—an imperial act had been passed, 3 providing that, on the petition of one-third of the householders, an ordinance would

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be passed establishing a new and more democratic Legislative Council. One-third of its members would still be nominated, but the remaining two-thirds would be elected. So long as Western Australia continued to receive convicts this was regarded as impracticable.

However, when it was known that the system was to end in three years, a public meeting was held in Perth on 21 February 1865 and a committee was formed to draft a petition. A total of 1,303 signatures were obtained, and although these were subsequently reduced to 898 bona-fide names, the number was still sufficient within the terms of the act. In spite of this, the Legislative Council persuaded the Secretary of State for the Colonies to agree to a compromise. For the time being, only one half of the members were to be elected; the other half were to remain nominees of the governor. The term of office for all members was to be reduced to three years, and the colony was divided into six sections for the purpose of representation: Perth, Fremantle, Guildford, Murray, Eastern Districts, and Champion Bay.

The first Legislative Council election was held in 1868, when Mr Walter Bateman became Fremantle’s representative. Three years later a more democratic Legislative Council was established, consisting of 12 elected members, 3 official nominees and 3 unofficial nominees. Fremantle representatives of this body for its first session were Messrs E. Newman and W. D. Moore.

An early ordinance of the new Council was an Act for Establishing Municipalities, which was passed on 2 January 1871. 4 Thus it came about that after the Fremantle Town Trust, in accordance with the practice of many years, met on the first Monday of January 1871 for its annual election of officers, it was informed on submitting the names of the newly elected members that the act under which it existed had been repealed. A copy of the new act would be forwarded as soon as it was printed, so that the necessary elections could be made under its new provisions.

The last meeting of the Town Trust was on 20 February 1871. Seven days later a public meeting was held in the Oddfellows’ Hall for the purpose of ‘electing a Chairman and Council for the Town under the provisions of 6 Victoria, Ordinance 34’. 5 The resident magistrate, Mr J. G. Slade, was in the chair and the following were present: Messrs E. Newman, W. D. Moore, W. S. Pearse, Jackson,

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E. Solomon, W. E. Marmion, E. H. Higham, W. Jose, H. M. Lefroy, J. Doonan, J. Herbert, J. Chester, J. J. Harwood, Armstrong, Henderson, Leach, H. Albert, Thompson, Ware, W. Duffield, D. B. Francisco, W. Hayes, Curedale and others.

Mr E. Newman proposed Mr W. S. Pearse as Chairman of the Council. This was seconded by Mr Marmion and carried unanimously.

A ballot then took place for councillors to represent the three wards, and the following were elected:

West Ward: Messrs G. Pearse, G. A. Davies, H. Dixon;

North Ward: Messrs W. E. Marmion, J. Chester, D. B. Francisco;

South Ward: Messrs W. Jose, W. Hayes, L. A. Manning.

Messrs H. M. Lefroy and J. Doonan were elected as Auditors, and Mr W. D. Moore as Treasurer.

The first meeting of the Town Council was held in Mr John Thomas’s Hotel on 10 March 1871, when Mr George Thompson was appointed Clerk and Collector on a commission of £6 per cent of all moneys collected, excepting fines. The chairman was requested to procure a common seal for the Council, to be engraved with a ‘Swan’ and ‘Fremantle Municipality’ round it. Thus a new chapter was opened in Fremantle municipal history. (For a complete list of those who served on the Town Council, 1871-1883, see Appendix 6.)

The Town Trust had consisted of a chairman and five committeemen; the new act created a Council consisting of a chairman and nine councillors, three of whom were from the West Ward, three from the North, and three from the South. Continuity of policy was ensured by the election as first Chairman of the Town Council of Mr W. S. Pearse, who had been Chairman of the Town Trust for the whole of the preceding year. Of the five committeemen, three were re-elected as councillors. They were Messrs G. A. Davies, J. Chester and W. Jose. The first-named, G. A. Davies, had a long record of service, being a councillor from the inception of the Town Council until Fremantle became a Municipality in 1883, and for several years thereafter.

For the first six years of its existence the chairman and the nine councillors of the Town Council were elected annually. In 1876, however, the act was amended to provide that councillors should

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retire in rotation and then be elected singly for a period of three years. The election of the chairman continued to be for one year only.

Throughout the whole of the twelve years the Council pursued a vigorous works policy. Each annual report shows additional streets cleared, levelled or metalled. A project which occupied its attention more continuously than any other single work was the construction of a stockade along Fitzgerald Terrace, as Marine Terrace was then called. This was an affair of piles and stonework designed to prevent the encroachment of the sea upon private property. It was a running sore upon municipal finances. In 1875 Councillor Snook moved that a sum of £600 be borrowed to complete the stockade, but it was decided to let the matter stand over temporarily. This is the first occasion on which a loan was suggested at a meeting of the Fremantle Town Council.

By 1878 the progress on the stockade had been so slow and the storms during the winter of that year so disastrous to near-by property, that government assistance was sought to complete the work from Russell Street to Grey Street, a distance of 400 feet. When this was not forthcoming, £500 worth of Municipal Debentures were issued at 7 per cent, redeemable in eight years. These were subscribed at par by the Marine Insurance Company, which had, in the previous year subscribed to a debenture issue of £500 at a premium of 1.5 per cent.

Both of these loans were raised at a time when the finances of the Council were far from buoyant. The balance sheet at the end of 1877 revealed an overdraft at the National Bank of £297. By February 1878 it was £393. 5s. In successive years, the overdraft was reduced and the addition of a special rate of one penny in the pound (raised later to one penny half-penny) to the standard rate of 5 per cent on all property over this period, provided for the repayment of both debenture issues. That the financial position was restored to a state of health was due in no small measure to the vigorous policy of Mr E. H. Higham who was chairman during the years 1878-80, and again in 1882.

It was Mr Higham who, as a councillor on 7 June 1876, made the first suggestion for the erection of a Town Hall. He moved that the Colonial Secretary be approached to set apart a Government

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Reserve in South Terrace for this purpose, and a deputation consisting of Messrs E. H. Higham, H. M. Lefroy, G. Pearse and B. C. Wood waited upon His Excellency on 19 June to learn his views in the matter. 6 In between these two dates, advice had been received from the Commissioner of Crown Lands that the Reserve situated between Essex Street, South Terrace, Cliff Street and a right-of-way had been approved by Governor Robinson to be appropriated for the purpose of a Town Hall and municipal offices.

His Excellency the Governor approved also of the four recommendations of the deputation, viz.:

1. that prison labour be granted for use in the construction of the Town Hall;

2. that plans and specifications be prepared by the government free of charge to the Fremantle Town Council;

3. that stone be allowed from the government quarry at North Fremantle;

4. that the Legislature be asked to grant a liberal sum towards the erection of a Town Hall. 7

The Government Engineer, Mr Thomas, visited Fremantle towards the end of June, inspected the site, and prepared a rough draft of the building which was to have an upper and lower floor. There were to be two main entrances, one in South Terrace, the other in Essex Street, and the building was to be dominated by a handsome clock-tower. On the upper floor, there were to be a main room 80 feet by 40 feet, a supper room and cloak rooms; the lower floor was to consist mainly of offices.

A public meeting of ratepayers was held on 11 July 1876 to consider the question. It was decided to request the Town Council to raise a loan of £3,000 as a contribution on the part of the ratepayers, provided that at the forthcoming session of the Legislative Council the sum raised by the town would be supplemented by a similar grant from the government. The only dissentient voice at this meeting was that of Mr W. E. Marmion, who advocated a more central site and moved unsuccessfully that the Town Council be instructed to purchase the allotment in High Street opposite Mrs Lloyd’s store.

No more is heard of this plan, partly because in the years that followed the Council’s finances were far from buoyant, and also because a new development in the town directed their thoughts

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away from the South Terrace Reserve to the site at present occupied by the Town Hall in High Street. The Church of England authorities were contemplating a new building to replace the old St John’s Church, which, it will be remembered, had been opened in the middle of King’s Square in September 1843. The first hint of this in the Council’s minutes is the request of the Rev. D. Glyn Watkins that the strip of land round the church wall should be transferred to the Church of England. This was made on 2 August 1876, and was rejected by the Council. 8

On 23 March 1877 Rev. Watkins repeated his request and also sought a bonus in return for a right-of-way through the church grant as a continuation of High Street. Plans were laid on the Council table and councillors studied the triangular piece of land facing William Street as a possible site for a Town Hall and municipal buildings. They recommended granting the strip of land sought by the Church Building Committee, but a suggestion that a bonus of £300 be paid for the right-of-way was negatived by 5 votes to 4. In June Rev. D. G. Watkins offered, not only the right-of-way for the continuation of High Street, but also the triangular block on the south side of that right-of-way for £500. This was in effect agreed to and it was decided to seek a loan for this amount. The W.A. Bank declined to grant a loan, but the National Bank was prepared to do business for a moderate term on the joint and several guarantees of the members of the Town Council at a rate of 10 per cent per annum. This the Council disapproved of, and decided to issue debentures, which, as has already been stated, were subscribed by the Marine Insurance Company at 1 1/4 per cent premium, and bearing interest at the rate of 7 per cent.

On 2 January 1878 a cheque for £506. 5s. was received from the Marine Insurance Company, and eight days later £500 was paid to the Church Building Committee. This was undoubtedly a wise investment for the future. That it was made at a time when the Council had a bank overdraft of £393. 5s. speaks well for the courage and foresight of the councillors.

By agreement with the church authorities, the Council was to have the power of taking over the right-of-way if it had not been handed over by 31 December 1880. Subsequently, the church sought and was granted an extension of the lease, undertaking to pay

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interest at the rate of 7 per cent on the purchase money until such time as possession could be given.

In April 1881 the Chairman, Mr Elias Solomon, again raised the matter of a Town Hall. His suggestion that a bonus of £25 be offered for a design for a building to cost £4,000 was referred to the half-yearly meeting of ratepayers, at which an attempt was made to persuade those present that the building known as ‘Manning’s Folly’ should be purchased for £1,200 and converted into a Town Hall. 9 This found no favour with the meeting, which decided:

That a sum of £50 be offered for the approved plans and specifications of a Town Hall and Municipal Chambers to be erected on the site already purchased by the Council in High Street, and that the ultimate expenditure be limited to £10,000, and the present outlay to be not more than £6,000. 10

Tenders were accordingly called, and on 8 November 1881 the plans were examined. Those submitted by R. B. Lucas & Co. of Adelaide were chosen and the sum of £50 forwarded to the successful tenderers. Subsequently, these plans were discarded in favour of those of Messrs Grainger & D’Ebro of Melbourne, which were considered ‘far superior to those already accepted by the Council’. It was decided to seek a loan of £6,000 by the issue of debentures of £100 each. This was later increased to £6,500 to allow the purchase of a fire engine for the town, but when in April 1882 a poll was taken in response to a signed request from a number of ratepayers, a majority of 43 vetoed the loan proposal. 11

The details of the vote are not without interest. There were 625 voters on the electoral roll. If more than one-third, or 209 voted against the loan, the proposal was vetoed. The number of votes cast against it was 252, giving a majority of 43. This cast the plans of the Council into confusion, but it did not altogether disconcert them. In May they sold the block in South Terrace, previously proposed for a Town Hall site, to Messrs Sandover and Mayhew for £850, and resolved that this amount be placed to their credit for the new Town Hall. In January 1883 they agreed to borrow £10,000 by debentures—£6,000 to be used for roads, £3,500 for the commencement of a Town Hall, and £500 for the purchase of a fire engine and hose. Apparently the decision to appropriate such a

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large proportion of the loan to road works met with the approval of the ratepayers, who, no doubt, felt they were getting something for their money. But when the debentures were placed before the public, there was only one response. Mrs Sarah Stephens of Greenough applied for £500 worth. It was certainly disappointing, but, peace to Mrs Stephens’s shades, they decided to accept her application and devote the £500 to the purchase of a fire engine. Three banks were approached without success. Enquiries were made with regard to the floating of a loan in London, but as this seemed a remote possibility it was decided to approach the government for assistance. On 24 August 1883 the Legislative Council passed a resolution agreeing to make available a sum equal to 10 per cent of the estimated cost of the Town Hall, but not exceeding £2,000 in all. One-fourth of it was to be paid on laying the foundation stone, the balance by instalments, as the building proceeded. His Excellency the Governor, however, agreed to place £500 on the estimates for 1884.

But there the story passes to the Municipal Council. A new act was passed on 8 September 1883—An Act to Amend ‘The Municipal Institutions Further Amendment Act, 1882’. 12 Clause V of this act reads:

From and after the passing of the Act the name, style and title of the corporation of the town of Fremantle . . . shall be “Mayor, Councillors and Burgesses of the Town of Fremantle”. [It adds that] the present Chairman of the Council of the Municipality of Fremantle shall be the first Mayor of the said town, and shall continue in office up to the thirtieth of November next.

So the story of the Fremantle Town Hall passes from the period under review. It will be told in a subsequent chapter.

That the Council felt the need of a permanent home is shown by their peregrinations during these years. In 1871 they were renting rooms in the Oddfellows’ Hall. In 1876, they shifted to premises owned by Mrs Lloyd in High Street. In 1879 they occupied a portion of the Literary Institute, where they remained until the opening of the Town Hall in 1887.

The first Clerk of the Council, the equivalent of the later position of Town Clerk, was Mr G. Thompson, who received a salary of £20 a year. He was appointed in March 1871 and resigned on 2 January

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1874. His place was taken by Mr G. B. Humble, who had been elected as Councillor for the North Ward at the previous annual meeting. Mr Humble, who was Head-Master of the Fremantle Boys' School, continued to serve in both capacities for many years. When the Chairman became the Mayor in September 1883, Mr Humble became Town Clerk, a position he occupied with distinction until 1904.

During the whole of this period the Fremantle Town Council had a busy time welcoming and farewelling governors and honouring explorers. Among the latter were Colonel P. E. Warburton and his party who arrived in Fremantle by sea from the north, after having made a hazardous journey through central and north-western Australia in 1873-74. Towards the end of 1874, John Forrest and his party were received with addresses of welcome and a banquet on their return to Fremantle, after crossing the continent from west to east. The following year Ernest Giles made the crossing in the opposite direction and was suitably feted by the inhabitants of Fremantle. In November 1879 the flags were flying in honour of the arrival of Alexander Forrest and his party after pioneer exploration in the Kimberleys.

Governors came and went at a great rate during these years. On each arrival or departure, the town was beflagged, there were processions and banquets, and illuminated addresses were prepared by Mr E. C. Dean who seems to have been the colony's expert in these matters and must have found their preparation quite a lucrative side-line.

Only two of these events were marked by anything untoward. The first was the arrival of Governor Robinson by the Georgette from Albany. The reception was planned for 11 January 1875, but as it happened the Georgette arrived unexpectedly at 9 p.m. on the previous day. The Governor was thereupon invited to come ashore and stay incognito at Maloney's Hotel, returning to his ship at daybreak so that the official landing could take place at the appointed time.

This was but a trifling matter and the Council showed commendable consideration for His Excellency's personal comfort. However, when farewelling Governor Sir Harry St George Ord in 1880, the personal feelings of Her Majesty’s representative were not permitted to outweigh the Council's sense of truth and justice.

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Governor Ord had not been popular. Indeed, Councillor Snook opposed spending ratepayers’ money on one ‘who had proved himself so unpopular as Governor Ord'. 13 This opposition was overcome, but into the farewell address, the following clause was inserted:

There may have been a diversity of opinion amongst the people of Western Australia upon some points of Your Excellency’s administration, but upon this we have no occasion to dwell, assured as we are that in all Your Excellency’s actions and in the suggestions you have made on various questions. Your Excellency has followed the honest convictions of your judgment and that you have been animated by a sincere desire to promote the welfare of this province. 14

To this His Excellency took very strong exception. He wished this clause deleted altogether. The Colonial Secretary approached Mr Marmion, M.L.C., who in turn approached the Town Council. This angered the councillors. The chairman indignantly pointed out that ‘this was the first time in which he had ever heard of a Governor wishing to dictate to a Public Body what should be said in an address'. 15 The Council’s decision was unanimous. The offending clause stayed in and Governor Ord no doubt received it with an equanimity born of long practice in public affairs.

It must not be concluded from the foregoing that the Town Council concerned itself merely with planning to spend ratepayers’ money on a Town Hall building and on champagne and turkey for explorers and governors at the Emerald Isle Hotel.

On the contrary, there was a continuous programme of road works, including the laying of more Yorkshire flagstones. A recurring item was the maintenance of the ‘main street in Fremantle’, which was Cantonment Road (now Queen Victoria Street) leading from the bridge into the township proper. This was the subject of an annual grant from the government, first of £100, but later reduced to £80 and then to £75, in recognition of the fact that much of the colony’s traffic passed over this road to and from the capital. An entirely new road was the extension of High Street in an easterly direction. This was started in September 1881 and was still in progress in 1883. (For the story of Fremantle street names, see Appendix 9.)

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The Council was busy, too, providing reserves for the recreation of its inhabitants. The Town Trust had unsuccessfully petitioned the government for the crown lands in South Terrace, but it was not until April 1872 that these were vested in the town. In the following year, the ground in the vicinity of the Lunatic Asylum (later the Old Women’s Home) was granted as a public reserve. A further grant was made in 1875 when the Green, including wasteland along the river front in the vicinity of Market and Cliff Streets, was made available as a recreation ground. This was resumed again by the government in 1878 for railway purposes, but in 1879 a further 45 acres adjacent to the previous grant near the Lunatic Asylum was vested in the town, by way of compensation. Thus was established the Park, for many years Fremantle’s largest and most impressive playing area. With a grant of £500 from the government the Town Council immediately set to work, levelling and fencing a portion of this reserve. A further addition to the open spaces of Fremantle was made in February 1884, when, following a deputation from the newly-formed Municipal Council, a commonage of 4,000 acres was set apart to the east of the town.

The first move towards a water scheme for Fremantle took place in November 1874, when the government proposed to lay pipes from the prison yard to the jetty for the purpose of supplying water to visiting ships. The Council asked that the pipes should be laid along High Street, instead of Essex Street as proposed, and this was agreed to. In July 1882 the government offered to supply the town with water from the wells at the prison. Following representations from a sub-committee, the government agreed to grant the Council a site for the erection of a reservoir and to grant what convict labour was available for its erection. If a small royalty were paid, they would be prepared to hand over the right of charging shipping for water supplied to them. However, nothing further was done for the time being, and many years went by before Fremantle had an adequate water supply.

In July 1882 the City of Perth Gas Co. offered to lay mains in the streets of Fremantle. This was deferred pending the successful operation of the company in Perth. Before any further decision was reached in this respect, Mr A. Gra Rosser offered in March 1883 to instal gas lighting in the streets of Fremantle. The Council sought

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the opinion of the Mayor of Beechworth, Victoria, where similar gas was in use, and on receipt of a favourable reply they gave Mr Rosser permission to go ahead, at the same time warning him that he could not be guaranteed a monopoly.

The health of the community came under consideration when in February 1876, following an outbreak of scarlet fever at Albany, twenty inhabitants of Fremantle petitioned the Town Council to take precautionary measures against the possible spread of the disease. A public meeting convened by the Council urged that steps should be taken to enforce the by-laws governing the sanitary measures to be observed by the townspeople. These, it was declared, were neglected by a large number of ratepayers. It further asked the chairman of the Council to urge upon the governor the necessity for the establishment of a hospital in Fremantle, or at least that temporary accommodation should be provided where indigent fever patients could be received, treated and isolated from the rest of the community. The Council endorsed this resolution, but there is no record that any immediate move was made in this direction.

As has been stated, the rates throughout the period of the Town Council remained static at 5 per cent. In the early stages this was subject to a 10 per cent discount for improvements, but this allowance was later discontinued. The anticipated revenue from this source showed a steady increase from £660 in 1874 to £1,020 in 1883. Indeed, these years were years of sound planning and real progress. Much of the work done laid foundations for the future, but two matters of real significance to the town’s prosperity lay outside the realms of the Council’s activities. These were improvements to the harbour facilities and the opening of the Fremantle-Guildford railway. They are discussed in the following chapter.


1 Quoted from Battye, Western Australia: a History, p. 251.

2 Ibid. p. 250.

3 13 & 14 Vict. cl. LIX.

4 34 Vict. No. 6, An Act for Establishing Municipalities, 2 Jan. 1871.

5 M.F.T.T. 20 Feb. 1871, B.L.

6 M.F.T.C. 7 June 1876, F.T.H.

7 Ibid. 17 June 1876.

8 Ibid. 2 Sept. 1876.

9 Ibid. 26 Apr. 1881.

10 ibid. 9 May 1881.

11 Ibid. 13 Apr. 1882..

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12 47 Vict No. 19, cl. V, An Act to amend ‘The Municipal Institutions Amendment Act'.

13 M.F.T.C. 16 March 1880, F.T.H.

14 Address, M.F.T.C. 24 March 1880, F.T.H.

15 Chairman’s remarks, M.F.T.C. 2 Apr. 1880, F.T.H.

Go to Chapter 8: Fremantle in the Seventies.

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