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Fremantle 1829-1832: an illustrated history

Steve Errington

Errington, Steve 2017, 'Fremantle 1829-1832: an illustrated history', Fremantle Studies, 9: 15-29.

The first European residents of Fremantle were 25 men from Captain Charles Fremantle's ship HMS Challenger. [1] The party, led by navy Lieutenant John Henry, landed on 6 May 1829 in the south bay and included Lieutenant George Griffin and ten marines. They put up tents and started building a palisaded fort on the narrow neck below Arthur Head. They also made a garden and set about growing some vegetables.

On 17 June 1829 the men were relieved by troops of the 63rd Regiment who had recently arrived on HMS Sulphur which had accompanied the Parmelia. Commanded by Captain Frederick Irwin, the 63rd set up company headquarters at the fort but in July moved to what became known as Cantonment Hill, about one and a quarter miles from the mouth of the estuary. From here Ensign Robert Dale drew the site of the future town of Fremantle and this was published in London and distributed with the 24 March 1830 issue of the Foreign Literary Gazette. [2]

Image 1: 'A view in Western Australia from the Left bank of the Swan River‚' from a sketch by Robert Dale, made from Cantonment Hill. (Art Gallery of Western Australia).

When the Calista arrived on 5 August 1829 carrying the first group of private settlers nothing was ready for them - all the government officials and tradesmen from the Parmelia were still living on Garden Island. [3] Lieutenant-Governor James Stirling saw the Calista arrive when he, his wife Ellen, surveyor John Roe, his wife Matilda, and assistant surveyor Henry Sutherland were on their way to Woodman Point for a picnic. [4] The settlers on the Calista and the other August arrival the Marquis of Anglesea came ashore at the south bay, now filled in as the Esplanade Reserve. Mary Ann Friend, who arrived on the Wanstead on 30 January 1830, captured the scene showing goods still piled on the beach. Her painting also shows the Anglesea which had been driven ashore in a September gale.

Image 2: Mary Ann Friend's painting of the south bay, now the Esplanade Reserve (State Library of Western Australia).

On 25 August 1829 Lieutenant William Preston and Augustus Gilbert, clerk, both from the Sulphur, lunched on the mainland under a shelter built as a mess for the officers of the Challenger. They found the garden in very good order and the vegetables very green. They dined on beef, pork and some mustard and cress. [5] As they sat in their shelter they probably saw Surveyor-General John Roe hard at work among the Calista arrivals. The first entry in Roe's field book [6] was made on 25 July 1829 when he was taking soundings around the Parmelia with Government House on Garden Island as one of his bearings. On the arrival of the Calista he hurried to the site of Perth to lay out some streets, but 25 August 1829 found him at Fremantle sketching out the shape of the future town.

Image 3: Surveyor-General J.S. Roe’s preliminary plans of Fremantle (State Records Office of Western Australia, cons 3401).

He concentrated on the narrow neck between the south bay landing place and the north or ‘river’ bay. His first sketch shows Cliff Street parallel to the Arthur Head cliffs with High Street at right angles. He then drew in three more unnamed streets, apparently stopping at the fort. In time, the second, third and fourth streets were named Mouat, Henry and Pakenham Streets after the First, Second and Third Lieutenants respectively on the Challenger.

A few pages later in his notebook Roe began to flesh out his plan with allotments, the first 15 (soon reduced to 14) running roughly north to south on the western side of Cliff Street. All lots were 75 x 150 links, less than a quarter-acre. This sketch also shows the position of the government garden which the Snell-Chauncey plan shows was still there in 1844, and both of Roe’s sketches show swampy land south of High Street. Although in Perth Roe had given alphabetical labels to his blocks of allotments in Fremantle he kept it purely numerical, numbering the lots in the first four streets from one to 119 running always north to south.

The first 24 Fremantle lots were allocated [7] on 5 September 1829. [8] They were taken by arrivals from the Calista and the Marquis of Anglesea - the Parmelia people all moved to Perth. Several men who would be prominent in Fremantle affairs secured lots: George Leake in Cliff Street, Lionel Samson at the north end of Mouat Street, and Daniel Scott in Pakenham Street. In addition the government kept lots at the northern and southern ends of Cliff Street for official use.

Five more passenger ships arrived in October and many more lots were granted or changed hands in the ensuing weeks. Thomas Bannister took two lots in Mouat Street and John Bateman two lots in Henry Street. Richard Lewis, John Hobbs and Robert Maydwell secured lots in Cliff Street. Henry Trigg obtained blocks in both Cliff and Mouat Streets. James Henty chose back-to-back blocks in Henry and Pakenham Streets near the south bay. Phillip Dod chose his first block at the High and Henry Streets corner. Robert Thomson obtained land on the north-west corner of High and Pakenham Streets where he built the Stirling Arms Hotel.

Lionel Samson immediately announced that he planned to set up a store for selling spirits and other articles. The following year he and brother William bought lots 9 and 10 in Cliff Street, including the stone cottage on lot 10 built as a speculation by John Hobbs, master of the brig Thomson. [9] The cottage is now a private Samson family museum.

George Leake’s first house in Cliff Street was a temporary one. In January 1830 his daughter Anne described it as ‘a square place made of rushes which we have dignified with the name of house’. [10] She described Fremantle as a town ‘made of rushes or of wood and there are also a great many tents’.

Image 4: Mary Ann Friend's view of Fremantle looking past Ferry Point towards Perth (State Library of Western Australia).

Jane Roberts, who arrived on the Wanstead that month wrote in Two Years at Sea that the town ‘consisted of well-erected tents and wooden houses near the shore’. [11] Mary Ann Friend from the same ship thought the town resembled ‘a Country Fair and has a pretty appearance, the pretty white tents looking much like booths -- at present there are not above five or six houses. [12] This is shown in another of her paintings which looks upriver to Perth. It wasn’t actually a good site for a town; it was swampy in winter and the glare from the white sand was blinding in summer.

Image 5: Fremantle in 1832, an inset in ‘Discoveries in Western Australia’ published by J. Arrowsmith in London 31 May 1833 (private collection).

The first printed plan forms part of ‘Discoveries in Western Australia’, a collage of maps published by J. Arrowsmith in London in May 1833 but drawn months earlier by Alfred Hillman. It includes a triangular market place east of a new Market Street. In February 1831 Lieutenant Governor Stirling had proclaimed market places in the principal towns for the ‘interchange, purchase and sale of grain, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, fish, vegetables’ etc. He proclaimed Wednesday as market day for Fremantle. The map is also of interest as it shows King's Square, not in its present location, but between Pakenham and Market Streets. It also shows the town’s southern boundary, now South Street.

Image 6: Fremantle in 1833 with detail showing southern boundary marked by the wreck of the Thames. From a copy made by WK. Shenton (SROWA, cons 3868/109).

In the next surviving plan, completed 20 March 1833, the market place has disappeared and King’s Square has been moved eastwards and rotated to take its present orientation. This plan includes extra lots (shown in blue) east of Pakenham Street and surrounding an extended High Street. It also reveals that the southern boundary was set by a prominent landmark marked on the map, [13] the wreck of the ship Thames, blown ashore in May 1830. A close perusal of the west end section of the map reveals another interesting feature. In his book A Colony Detailed Ian Berryman lists‚ [14] 19 deaths in Fremantle in 1830 but the cemetery in Alma Street wasn’t opened until 1831. The 1833 plan indicates that lots 433 and 448, shown in maroon, in Market Street were ‘reserved to the Crown, being the site of the original Burial Ground’.

Image 7: Fremantle in 1833, detail showing original burial ground in Market Street in maroon.

By December 1829 the social fabric of the town was being established. There was already a doctor in private practice (Dr Thomas Harrison) though no hospital. There was a post office, in the stranded Marquis of Anglesea. Deputy Harbour Master Daniel Scott was the first postmaster but in May 1830 he was replaced by Lionel Samson who continued in office until February 1832.

Samson’s post office in Mouat Street (#18), Dr Harrison’s house (#17) and the Stirling Arms Hotel (#15) are three of the prominent buildings identified in Wallace Bickley’s painting, published in London September 1832. The painting also shows the limestone bar blocking entry to the Swan River estuary (#5).

Image 8: Wallace Bickley, ‘View of Fremantle, Western Australia (from the Canning Road)’ with prominent features numbered (AGWA).

In the early months there were many grog shops and much drunkenness and petty thievery. Lieutenant Governor Stirling’s response was to appoint unpaid magistrates and constables. On 9 December James Henty and George Leake were appointed Justices of the Peace for Fremantle. At the same time Richard Lewis was appointed Chief Constable with Robert Maydwell and Thomas Wall as Constables. On 30 August the following year Thomas Bannister was appointed the first Government Resident in Fremantle, charged with the superintendence of the general interest and welfare of the townspeople.

Some of the grog shops were an asset to the town. James Turner landed in Fremantle from the Warrior on 13 March 1830 and within half-an-hour he was delighted to buy some bread and cheese and porter from one of them. [15] There was also at least one coffee ‘shop’. A ‘man of colour’ called James had opened a coffee tent ‘for the convenience of the labourers and those who required an early cup of coffee with other refreshments.’ But on 5 March 1830 it burnt down despite the best efforts of Captain Matthew Friend, John Butler, Robert Thomson and William Samson who were nearby. An immediate whip-round raised £13 and enabled James to re-open. [16]

There was neither church nor clergyman. There should have been a Colonial Chaplain but the Reverend John Wittenoom only accepted the position on 19 January 1829, too late to join the other officials on the Parmelia. [17] For the first few months the largely Anglican colonists were without a representative of the established church. However, an Anglican clergyman appeared unexpectedly in November 1829 when Captain Stirling’s old ship the Success arrived from Sydney. On board was the Reverend Hobbes Scott, formerly Archdeacon of New South Wales, who was returning to his English parish. The Success ran aground off Carnac Island leaving Scott stranded in the colony for nine months. It is known that Scott took morning prayers for 90 at Fremantle on 20 December and spent much time at the port after Wittenoom arrived on the Wanstead and settled in Perth.

Joseph Hardey, leader of a group of Wesleyans who arrived on the Tranby a few days after the Wanstead, had brought a transportable house and this was also used for their Sunday services. On Sunday 7 March the house was lent to the Anglicans for a morning service attended by Mary Ann Friend and Jane Roberts. The latter was one of those who returned in the evening for the Wesleyan service. [18] By August 1830 the wooden house was converted into a coffee house for £78 per annum rent. [19] It was over ten years before Wesleyan and Anglican churches appeared in Fremantle even though Government Resident Bannister asked early on for plans for an Anglican church to be drawn up. [20] The Kings Square site of the future St John’s can be seen on the 1833 town plan.

By February 1830 the little town had a newspaper, The Fremantle Journal and General Advertiser, edited by James Anthony Gardner (24). There was no printing press in the colony so Gardner, who had just arrived from Sydney on the Leda, simply produced a handwritten paper. It was first issued on 27 February from the Stirling Arms Hotel where Gardner was living.

When Henry Trigg wrote home to Gloucester in October 1829 he told his wife Amelia that there was no general shop. [21] But the first issue of the Fremantle Journal carried an advertisement for the Australian Depot in Cliff Street. In it Richard Lewis respectfully informed the inhabitants of Fremantle that on Monday 8 March he intended to open a general retail and wholesale store. He had for sale a large variety of drapery, hosiery and haberdashery, as well as pickles and preserves, kitchen utensils and cutlery. He also had ladies’ combs and brushes together with guns, pistols and ramrods.

In the second issue Lewis listed gingham checks for aprons, an assortment of muslins, ladies’ stays, tooth and nail brushes, thimbles and scissors, knives of all description, cutlasses, Sykes patent powder horns and blunderbusses. In his 4 April issue editor James Gardner sang the praises of this ‘Emporium of Useful Articles’ and encouraged everyone to ‘pop in and get a bird’s eye view of the ‘London bazaar in miniature' [22] (bazaars were just appearing in London and were the forerunners of department stores [23]). Lewis’s early advertisements are unusual in that they contain no mention of beer, wine or spirits.

In the first issue Phillip Dod had advertised double brown stout for sale. [24] Dod was only nineteen when he arrived on the Atwick in October 1829, but he opened a High Street shop which in June 1830 Gardner equated to a London Chandlers Shop. By February 1831 Dod was advertising sacks of flour, Negrohead tobacco, white beaver hats, Epsom salts, castor oil, green paint and pickles. By 1832 he had a wholesale business right on the beach at the south bay. [25]

Richard Lewis’s next known advertisement appeared on 19 February 1831 in the new West Australian Chronicle and Perth Gazette, also published in Fremantle. This advised shoppers that he had Tenerife wine, Sydney cheese and bacon, and both Mauritius and Java sugar. But after twelve months’ experience he was possibly wiser - these delights were available ‘for ready money only’. This advertisement prompted the Depot’s port rivals to advertise in the second issue of the Chronicle. Charles Smith, George Johnson, George Leake and Dod all listed their wares, while Thomas Puckrin of Pakenham Street advised the public that he was selling 2 lb loaves of bread for 8d.

Smith, Johnson and Leake were wholesalers or merchants rather than shopkeepers. Charles Smith had Sydney pork, Irish butter and Van Diemen’s Land hams as well as port, sherry and bottles of claret for 25s a dozen. Smith regularly gave his address as Regent Street. As he owned lot 79 on the western side of today’s Henry Street it suggests that Henry Street had an earlier name.

George Johnson had arrived from Van Diemen’s Land in September 1829. He had a substantial establishment on the eastern side of Henry Street, near the south bay. This consisted of a stone store with sitting room and bed room. Given that it also had a marble chimney piece, French windows and Venetian blinds it was clearly his residence too. It also had a counting house [26], the nineteenth century name for a business’s office. In February 1831 he advertised sugar by the bag at 3d per pound (in Fremantle it retailed for 4d to 6d per pound). He also offered cheroots, wheat, rice, sherry and ‘superior French claret’ in cases of three or four dozen bottles for 25s per dozen, all for cash. Sadly, in August 1832, he fought a pistol duel with solicitor William Clark and died of his wounds despite being attended by Dr Harrison.

George Leake also advertised for cash only. His wares included shoes and boots, Van Diemen’s Land flour, sago, pepper, nutmegs, cloves and hyson and souchong teas. At that stage all tea came from China and was often advertised by variety. Knowledgeable shoppers could buy either black teas (congou or souchong) or green teas (hyson or twankay).

When George Russell arrived in the Drummore in February 1831 he found [27] that ‘the township consisted almost entirely of tents, with a few wooden buildings in the shape of stores and small shops’. He also noted ‘all the ground in and around the township was very sandy, and when walking about the sand was up to one’s ankles’.

In March 1831 William Wood and William Okely started a bakery in Cliff Street, advertising that bread rolls were available every morning at eight. Richard Lewis then abandoned the retail trade, transferring this aspect to Wood and Okely. 28 By May 1831 the partners had opened new premises at the south-west corner of High and Cliff Streets and were advertising flour, tea and sugar together with slops (ready-made clothes) and ‘stores of every description’. [29]

1831 saw many civic improvements. By January civil engineer Henry Reveley had overseen construction of a twelve-sided gaol - the ‘Round House’ - in an incredibly prominent position high above Cliff Street at the end of High Street. [30] Until then, prisoners awaiting transportation to Van Diemen’s Land were kept in the Marquis of Anglesea, Fremantle’s own prison hulk. Henry Vincent, the gaoler of the new prison, replaced Thomas Wall as constable.

March 1831 saw the first attempt to improve port facilities. Reveley started building a ‘rough stone jetty or landing place for boats’ at Anglesea Point at the west end of the South Bay. [31] However, this was either unfinished or a failure because 12 months later Daniel Scott was building a jetty in ‘Fremantle Bay’ opposite his block at the end of Essex Street and it was already 75 feet long. [32] By July 1832 it was completed and he was able to advertise his landing charges. [33]

A school was also started. In April 1831 Lancelot Cook announced that he had just opened a school ‘in the house formerly owned by Captain Pearce'‚ [34] - presumably on lot 45 in High Street, in the house owned by Captain Walter Pace. Cook taught the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic to boys up to fourteen (he readily confessed his inability to teach algebra or geometry [35]).

Image 9: The Fremantle Observer 25 April 1831, Western Australia’s first printed newspaper (RWAHS).

When John Weavell arrived as supercargo on the Eagle from Van Diemen’s Land in April 1831 his cargo included a printing press, and the manuscript Chronicle was replaced by the printed but short-lived weekly the Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal. This was printed in a shed in Market Street (opposite Short Street) which also housed co-editor William Shenton’s flour mill. Weavell advertised his cargo in the first issue on 25 April 1831. His wares included Taylor’s best Double Brown Stout, perfumery, sewing cotton, pins and needles, starch and blue, and ‘apples, potatoes, onions, and carrots in high perfection’. These were available from James Solomon’s store at the estuary end of Pakenham Street.

These early shops and stores were not regular shops that can be found in today’s shopping strips. And possibly there weren’t any like that for the first two years. In October 1831 William Temple Graham in the second issue of his newspaper the Western Australian, wrote ‘We soon hope to see something like regular shops established in Perth and Fremantle’. [36] He claimed that some of the stores were unfit to enter with offensive smells, myriads of rats and the danger of breaking necks by falling over boxes of soap.

By May 1831 there were five public houses. [37] The Stirling Arms at the corner of High and Pakenham had been joined by the South Seas (its High Street neighbour), the Albion in Pakenham Street, the Commercial and the King George IV. [38]

Image 10: Lt George Dashwood’s two views of Pakenham Street, September 1832 (AGWA).

On 6 September 1832 Captain Fremantle returned on the Challenger to the town named after him. He found ‘several houses built, mostly occupied by persons keeping stores’. [39] This suggests that he thought that ‘real’ houses were made of stone or brick. Lieutenant George Dashwood from the Challenger has left us two well-known sketches of streetscapes of built-up Pakenham Street. One shows the Stirling Arms Hotel and part of Harbourmaster Scott’s house, the other the cottage-store built by James Solomon, later used by John Weavell.

Image 11: Richard Morrell, ‘View of Fremantle, Western Australia. From Church Hill, East of the Town’ with the swamps featured prominently (AGWA).

By August 1832 Fremantle had been established for three years. Two paintings completed that month or a little earlier record what the Swan River Colony’s port looked like. The first, completed in August 1832, is by Richard Morrell. In the letter written on the back of his painting, Morrell claims that there were about 120 houses in Fremantle sheltering a population of about five hundred. [40] His painting shows Scott's jetty and includes the three-acre wheat and barley fields planted by his family about ‘half-a mile from Fremantle’. Morrell, incidentally, refused to acknowledge Perth as the capital arguing that Fremantle was much more deserving of the honour. His painting (completed in winter) also highlights how the town was divided by the swamp through which raised causeways have clearly been built.

Image 12: Jane Currie, detail from ‘A Panorama of the Swan River Settlement 1830-32’ (Mitchell Library, Sydney ML 827).

The causeways over the swamp also appear in the painting completed by Jane Currie before she left the colony in August 1832. It was painted from a different viewpoint and with some charming detail. The swamp was an accepted part of the geography of the town for years to come. [41]

In a September 1832 gift to future Fremantle historians Captain Fremantle wrote of the town ‘in spite of its sandy & unpromising appearance at landing, I have no doubt ... of it being in time a place of Consequence’. [42]

Fremantle Studies Day, 2013


1 Lord Cottesloe (editor), Diary and letters of Sir C H Fremantle, CCB relating to the founding of the colony of Western Australia 1829, London, 1928, p. 42.

2 It was later redrawn to provide the front page of the 12 March 1831 issue of the London Mirror.

3 Steve Errington, ‘Garden Island in the winter of 1829’, Early Days, Journal of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, v 14, pt 1, 2012, p 1.

4 Augustus Gilbert, Swan River diary, p. 56-58. J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History (BL), Acc. 6782A.

5 Ibid p 52.

 6 Field Book No 1. Surveyor: A Hillman, 1829. State Records Office of Western Australia (SROWA). I am greatly indebted to Dr Shane Burke for pointing out that the field book was actually that of J.S. Roe.

7 The blocks were not sold, as many authorities state, but were granted on condition buildings worth at least £100 were erected within twelve months.

8 John K Ewers, The Western Gateway, a History of Fremantle, 2nd edition, Fremantle City Council, 1971, pp 6-7.

9 Desmond A. Lambert, ‘The Lionel Samson Story: a brief history of Australia’s oldest family business’, Early Days: Journal of the Western Australian Historical Society, v 9, pt 4, 1986, p 74. Lambert appears to be in error - the Snell-Chauncey map of 1844 shows stone houses on lot 10, not lot 9. See also Survey Department Unregistered H1/14, SROWA.

10 Early Days: Journal of the Western Australian Historical Society, 1950, v 4, pt 2, pp 87-88.

11 Jane Roberts, Two years at sea, London, 1834, p 47.

12 ‘The diary of Mary Ann Friend’, Early Days: Journal of the Western Australian Historical Society, 1931 v 1, pt 10, p 2.

13 The Plan of Boundaries for the Town of Fremantle endorsed by Governor Stirling on 19 April 1836 confirms that the southern boundary extended ‘due east from the wreck of the Thames’. SRQWA Plan 19E. This also established the eastern boundary at what is now Carrington Street.

14 Ian Berryman, A colony detailed: tbe first census of Western Australia 1832, Creative Research 1979, pp 159-62.

15 J Munro McDermott, 'The Turners at Augusta 1830-1850’, Early Days: journal of the Western Australian Historical Society, 1930, v 1, pt 8, p 42.

16 ‘The diary of Mary Ann Friend’, p 9.

17 Letter dated 19 January 1829 from J.B. Wittenoom to R.W. Hay, Swan River Papers, v 5, p 1.

18 Jane Roberts, p 81-83.

19 Ian Berryman, Swan River letters, Swan River Press 2002, v 1, p 195.

20 J L Burton Jackson, Frowning Fortunes. the story of Thomas Bannister and the Williams River district, Hesperian Press 1993, p 23.

21 Bruce Devenish, Man of Energy and Compassion, Wongaburra Enterprises 1996, p 80.

22 Western Australia Gazette and General Advertiser, 4 April 1830.

23 Pamela Horn, Behind the counter. shop lives from market stall to supermarket, Sutton Publishing, 2006, pp 96-100.

24 Western Australia Gazette, 13 June 1830, p 3.

25 Observer, 19 May 1832.

26 Perth Gazette, 16 February 1833.

27 George Russell, The narrative of George Russell of Golf Hill, with Russelliana and selected papers, London, 1935, p 47.

28 West Australian Chronicle and Perth Gazette, 5 March 1831.

29 Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 23 May 1831.

30 Henry Reveley, report of the Civil Engineer’s Office, 12 March 1831, SROWA, Acc 36, 13/121.

31 Ibid. A 484-foot jetty was built on this site in 1855 (see J S H Le Page, Building a State, Water Authority 1986, p 74).

32 Letter written 10 March 1832 by Daniel Scott to Peter Brown, SROWA Ace 36, 21/51.

33 Western Australian Colonial News, 28 July 1832.

34 Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 25 April 1831, p 4.

35 Letter written 18 June 1831 by Lancelot Taylor Cook to Captain Bannister, Government Resident, SROWA Acc 36 16/74.

36 Western Australian, 29 October 1831. See also The Sydney Gazette, 31 January 1832.

37 Letter written on 3 May 1831 by Louisa (Lucy) Woods to John Charman her father. Quoted in Valerie Fitch, Eager for labour, Hesperian Press 2003, p 85.

38 Western Australia's early inns and taverns have been reviewed by Trevor Tuckfield. See Early Days, Journal of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, 1971 v 7, pt 3, p 65 and 1975 v 7, pt 7, p 98.

39 Lord Cottesloe (editor), Diary and letters of Sir C H Fremantle, p 87.

40 Letter written 8 August 1832 by Richard‘Morrell, BL Acc 62A.

41 For example see Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 12 January 1833 and 18 May 1833.

42 Lord Cottesloe (ed), Diary and letters of Sir C H Fremantle, p 88.

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