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James Harding

Captain James Harding was Harbour Master from 1851 until 23 June 1867, when he drowned while attempting to assist a ship in distress in Gage Roads. Four of his crew drowned with him, included Peter Dandie. John Tapper was among those attempting a rescue. The body was not found until weeks later, identified by the clothing, on the beach at Garden Island, after which his remains were interred 12 August.

There are two tombstones from the Skinner Street cemetery which were removed to Fremantle Cemetery and placed along the Heritage Trail and which refer to the death of James Harding: those of Peter Dandie (aka Thompson/Johnson)*, and of Isaac Price and Samuel Akers (on the same stone).

As for Harding himself, there is a Harding family grave at Anglican AA1649 in Fremantle Cemetery with this inscription on the headstone:

Sacred to the memory of Emily Louisa Harding who died 18 July 1851 aged 8 years
also Maryann the wife of James Harding who died 21 January 1852 aged 40 years
also Mary Rose Harding who died 4 April 1853 aged 11 years
also Capt. James Harding who was drowned 23 June 1867 aged 59 years

Fremantle Cemetery staff have informed me that the remains of all four members of the Harding family named on the stone have been exhumed and reinterred in the grave in the new cemetery. The father must have buried in the Skinner Street cemetery, but at least one of the others must have been first buried in the Alma Street cemetery.

James Harding's first wife Elizabeth was also known as Maryann, and is so named on the family gravestone (above). She arrived in Fremantle in 1850 with him and their four children. Harding was appointed harbourmaster in 1852, following Daniel Scott. In 1852 Elizabeth died, and Harding married Jane Harris, who died in 1862. Aged 52, he then married Sarah Wickliffe (or Wycliffe), who was under 21, in 1863.

His only son James Richard was one of the three men who were killed in NW WA in 1864, and later represented on the controversial Explorers Monument on the Esplanade.

In 1866, Harding bought the land at Butler's Swamp which later became the (now former) Perth suburb of Graylands. Maria Gray (nee Wickliffe) had come from Victoria in 1870, probably to support her sister, and married John Gray (a survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade) in 1872. By 1870 Sarah was resident in the Asylum, unable to manage her affairs, and Maria Gray was appointed to administer her estate. The Butler's Swamp land was purchased in 1889 by John Gray. After his death in 1891 it was offered for sale in 1896 as the 'Graylands Estate'.

On June 23 [1867] Captain James Harding, the harbour master, with his boat crew were going to the assistance of the barque Ivy and the ... barque Strathmore which were dragging their anchors in a strong gale when the boat capsized and all were thrown into the water. A rescue party went out in charge of John Tapper and found one of the men (Patterson) clinging to the boat. Captain Harding and four of the crew had got on with him, but, becoming exhausted, were washed off. One of the crew, Peter Thompson, alias Dandy [Dandie on his tombstone], had left on an oar hoping to reach shore and obtain assistance, but he was never seen again. Dandy was one of the two survivors from the Lass of Geraldton, which had foundered off Mandurah a few weeks previously. Captain Harding was the maternal grandfather of Sir Edward Wittenoom. Hitchcock: 49, 51.

References and Links

Mikus, Pamela 2013,Graylands: The Evolution of a Suburb, Hons dissertation, Murdoch University, principal source of most of the above, available on the internet.

Page for John Gray at Diane Oldman's WA Crimean War Veterans site - which has been archived.

Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia, 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council.

Page for the Harding grave at Find a Grave.

Inquirer and Commercial News, Wednesday 14 August 1867, which reported the discovery of the body and the funeral >

* Peter Dandie's name appears like that, and with that spelling, on his memorial stone. Hitchcock spells it Dandy, and writes Peter Thompson first. There is also an Alma/Skinner burial record database which gives his other name as Johnson.

Garry Gillard | New: 2 November, 2016 | Now: 1 October, 2023