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Sappers and Miners

The Royal Corps of Sappers and Miners was absorbed, in 1856, into the Corps of Royal Engineers. The first sappers arrived in 1837, but the main contribution to the Colony was made by the 20th Company, from 1850, with the arrival at that time of convicts. The officers were Royal Engineers. Notable among those officers were Edmund Henderson and Henry Wray.

The first transported convicts arrived on the Scindian in 1850. With the 75 convicts were 55 pensioner guards, Captain Henderson RE, and five sappers. The Anna Robertson in 1851 brought Lt Wray, 2ndLt Edmund Du Cane, and 65 sappers. Marion brought another 30 sappers in 1852, with Lt William Crossman RE. The Nile arrived in 1858 with 268 convicts, Lts Sim and Thorold, and 27 sappers.

Five instructing warders from the 20th Company that came here on the Nile in 1858 were Crimean War veterans: John Burns, John Collis, Alexander Gray, George Hopkins, John Wade. Other vets were two convicts, a warder and E.M. Grain. Their details may be found on Diane Oldman's CW vets site, as well as her sappers site.

Sappers Barracks

The main quarters for the Sappers were on the corner of Henderson and Queen (previously Doonan) Street, in three buildings, from the left: the single men's quarters; the offices (top); and married quarters (the longest building). See the map below. There were also two double-storey cottages on the corner of Henderson St and South Terrace for 'instructing warders' (sappers who instructed and supervised the work of convicts).


This part of an 1877/1885 map shows the Convict Establishment boundaries as: Hampton Rd on the right-hand edge; Alma Rd at the bottom; South Terrace and Henderson St to the left; and Holdsworth and Knutsford Streets (not named) at the top. On the left, cnr Henderson St and South Terrace are a pair of semi-detached houses, the residents of 'instructing warders' (sappers who instructed and supervised the work of convicts). On the corner of Henderson and Queen Streets are the main quarters of the sappers (later Royal Engineers), from the left, the single men's quarters, the offices (top), and married quarters (the longest building). That site is now the position of the (former) police station and courthouse.

Sappers Cottages

The map above shows two Instructing Warders houses, left, on the corner of Henderson St and South Terrace. There were planned to be three. The third one, if it were built, would have been on Lot 1360, where the Scots Church now still stands. The Markets building is now where the other two were. All the available plans show a third cottage, but the 1877/1885 surveyor's map shows only two, with a vacant Lot 1360, so it seems likely that the third was not built.

The adjoining 'cottage accommodation' for the Instructing Warders is a little more sophisticated, in three pairs of single-storey two-roomed cottages, each with a separate entry hall and an enclosed yard with a roofed shed and privy. Individual kitchens were a later addition. There is no drawing of their external appearance although it is easy to imagine a shingle roof pitched fore and aft over limestone walls. Their form is a little unusual and would have produced an unusual aesthetic. The architectural origins are not clear, but the Fremantle units may be based on the Portland model. Their demolition was to make way for Scots Church in 1890, and the Fremantle Markets in 1898. Campbell: 3.5.


Part of Campbell's map showing the still-extant Warders Cottages on the left, the South Terrace Pensioners Barracks (demolished 1950s) on the right, and the three Instructing Warders houses in the centre. He writes (above) that the one on the right was replaced by the Scots Church (but it may not have been built - see above). The other two remained until they were demolished and replaced by the (extant) Markets.

References and Links and Notes

The English word 'sapper' comes the French 'saper', ultimately from a word for a spade, 'sappe', as the principal purpose of sappers was to dig trenches and tunnels. 'Mining' referred to digging a trench up to fortifications in order to place an explosive charge under them.

See also my page about Convict Hiring Depots.

Campbell, Robin McKellar 2010, Building the Fremantle Convict Establishment, PhD, UWA (Faculty of Architecture). Available online to download (not from this site) as a 40MB PDF.

Campbell, Rob 2017, Henderson & Coy, Royal Engineers & the Convict Establishment Fremantle, WA, 1850-1872.

Diane Oldman's pages for Royal Sappers and Miners in Western Australia, and Crimean War Veterans in Western Australia, as follows:

Royal Sappers and Miners in Western Australia.

Crimean War Veterans in Western Australia.

Garry Gillard | New: 7 October, 2016 | Now: 15 July, 2023