Fremantle Stuff > people > Frederick Mason (1839-1921)

Frederick Mason

Born in 1839 as Frederick May, he changed his name for some purposes to Frederick Mason, and was also known as John Mason.

Frederick May was a brass finisher who received 10 years and transportation to the Colony of Western Australia for receiving.  He was one of the wealthiest businessmen in Fremantle, with a number of businesses and many employees. He owned land in De Lisle Street, North Fremantle, including the original 1888 Swan Hotel, the Queens Hotel in Swan Street, and across John Street (Tydeman Road) in 1888 the land on which the Railway Hotel and Mason's Hall were later built. He owned the land when William Waldock was manager/licensee of the Railway Hotel. (But see the decision of the Licensing Court in September 1893 to not [yet] grant the license to Waldock, despite Mason's support.) He also owned 1882-1921 lot 409, 66-70 High Street, on which an (extant) substantial two-storey building, Mason's Building, was constructed in 1908, designed by John McNeece and built by J. Anderson. It was later known as a branch of the Commonwealth Bank.

He also owned a substantial property called Masons Gardens in Dalkeith, which he apparently bought for his sons in the 1890s. It was a fruit orchard and then a major market garden, second in importance only to Gallop's. It is now a public park. The family home was near the corner of Adelma Road and Melvista Avenue, where the park still is.

Frederick May was born 16 June 1839 at 28 Pool Terrace, City Road, Saint Luke, Middlesex to James Thomas May, watch motion maker, and Mary Ann May (Galler/Doughty). The 1851 census shows that the father James Thomas May had died, as Mary May (36) is a widow, and pocket book locket maker. The children are: James (16), Emma (14), Frederick (12), Amelia (9) and Henry (7).

Frederick arrived in the Swan River Colony in 1864 as convict 8075, John Mason aka May, F, and Way, F., aged 25, on the Merchantman. He had been sentenced to 10 years at Middlesex 9/3/1863, for receiving stolen goods. He was described as a brass finisher, single, 5' 4 1/4" with auburn hair, blue eyes, fair complexion, and a middling stout build. He was recorded as being born in 1837 and aged 25, however when he died he was said to be aged 94 in 1921, which would mean he was born 1827. It's more likely that his age at death is wrong.

Fred and Amelia had 5 sons, 3 of whom died very young. Sons Charles and Frederick Mason survived. Amelia died in 1876, and in 1880 Fred and his housekeeper Alice Marshall had a daughter Alice May Mason Marshall, followed in 1882 by Henry Albert Mason, and 1883 Ernest Edwin Mason. All the children were known by the name Mason. Sadly, these children of Alice found out in 1898 that their parents were not married when their father married another woman, Bertha Sophie Hillmer. Marriage 503/1898 Fremantle; May/Mason (registered in both names), Frederick to Hillmer, Bertha Sophie.

Out of shame of being illegitimate, young Henry shot himself in the head, and died soon after in his mother's arms (see the story at the bottom of this page).

Fred divorced Bertha in 1904 - apparently they had never lived together - and later married Alice in 1910, and after he died in June 1921, Alice died suddenly in August 1921.
Marriage 161/1910 Fremantle; May, Frederick to Marshall, Alice.
Death 20/1921 Fremantle; Mason, Frederick. Buried in the family grave at Karrakatta Cemetery, Congregational area, Section AA, Gravesite 0235.

Frederick and Amelia Mason (May) had 5 children born at Fremantle, all registered as May. Those who died young were also registered as May. The family lived under the name of Mason, including Mary from Amelia's first marriage:

1869 Charles Bonwell May, died 1870 4 mths old
1871 Charles Henry May, died as Mason in 1904 aged 32.
1872 Frederick May, died as Mason in 1961 aged 88.
1874 Bonwell James May, died 1874 5 wks old.
1875 Frank May, died 1876 5 mths old.

He died 24 June 1921, buried Karrakatta AA0235, his funeral having left from his premises in Swan Street North Fremantle, the street where his family lived in 1898.

His Ticket of Leave was dated 26 May 1866, and he married soon after to a widow, Amelia Garden, who had a daughter, Mary, aged one. Marriage 2822A/1868 Perth; Garden, Amelia to May, Frederic. Note: Frederick used the last name May in marriage and birth registrations, and Mason in daily life.

The West Australian, Monday 27 June 1921; Deaths: MASON.--On June 24, 1921 at his late residence, Swan-street North Fremantle, Frederick beloved husband of Alice Mason and father of Frederick (Riley-road, Claremont) Ernest, and Mrs. F. Wand (May), of North Fremantle aged 94 years. Privately interred June 25 1921 at the Karrakatta Cemetery.


Design & Art Australia Online. Writer: Dr Dorothy Erickson.

Frederick Mason was born Frederick May into a family of jewellers in Birmingham and London. He trained as a brass finisher in England. He was later apprenticed, as John Mason, to fellow convict goldsmith Chom Reichberg in Perth. Years later he set up his own premises as Fred Mason and specialised in work using pearls.
Those convicts who arrived in the 1850s and sixties with trade skills were often very successful. In 1875 The Inquirer printed a description of a piece made by Mason; “ ... massive gold pendant, pear shaped, set with pearls. In the centre … a beautiful gem weighing 100 grains”.
Mason was appointed goldsmith to the Governor Sir William Cleaver Robinson. The high point of his career was winning a first class medal at the 1881 International Exhibition in Perth.
The papers described his work in glowing terms: “...nothing shown in any court can compare, for beauty and value, with Mr Mason’s show of clocks and jewellery … his beautiful exhibits of pearl jewellery, are the product of his own workshop.” Only two pieces of Mason’s work are known.


The West Australian, Thursday 16 June 1898

North Fremantle was thrown into a state of intense excitement last night, when a lad named Henry Mason, well known in the community, committed suicide by shooting himself through the head with a revolver.
The first news of the occurrence reached Fremantle at 8.30 o'clock. It was then reported that the lad Mason and a younger brother had been playing together with a revolver, and that weapon went off unexpectedly, causing the boy's death. That impression still existed at the seaport when a WEST AUSTRALIAN representative left Fremantle at 10.30 o'clock for North Fremantle.
Immediately on his arrival, however, the reporter ascertained that a painful domestic tragedy had taken place - that, in fact, young Mason had committed suicide in consequence of having recently ascertained that he was an illegitimate child, this knowledge having preyed on his mind.
No one is better known in the Fremantle district than Frederick Mason, the natural father of the deceased. He was popularly called " Old Fred. Mason." The possessor of a vast amount of landed property at North Fremantle and Fremantle, and the reputed owner of the greater part of High street, Mason is certainly one of the wealthiest men in the Fremantle district, if not in the colony. He has resided in the neighbourhood for a great number of years, and for 20 years had lived at North Fremantle with a woman to whom it was generally believed he was lawfully married.
This is the painful fact on which the tragedy hinges. By his supposed wife Mason, who is about 50 years of age, had a family of five or six children, and the astonishment of his acquaintances was great indeed when about a month ago he married Mrs. Hilmer, a widow, also of North Fremantle.
Mrs. Hilmer is a woman in the prime of life, and had children by her first marriage. She was Mason's tenant in the occupation of the Railway Hotel at North Fremantle, for some two or three years, and relinquished the license to marry her landlord. This event naturally excited a good deal of observation and excitement in the locality, but the interest was abating until last night's painful occurrence revived it.
The deceased, Henry Mason, was 16 years of age, and had been employed as a junior clerk at Messrs. Mcilwraith, McEacharn and Co.'s shipping office at Fremantle. In addition to being highly spoken of by his employers, the lad was a general favourite at North Fremantle, and was known as " Sonny " Mason.
In the light of later events the knowledge of his father's marriage to Mrs. Hilmer would appear to have preyed very considerably on the youth's mind. It, of course, revealed to him the fact that he was an illegitimate child, and probably he imagined that people would hold him in contempt for that reason.
Mason and his newly-made wife had made preparations to proceed on a holiday trip to the Eastern colonies. Everything was ready for their departure by the German mail steamer Karlsruhe, which was to sail from Fremantle last night. From what our representative could glean from the confusing accounts given by persons who were interviewed, most of whom had obtained their information from hearsay, Mason was proceeding by arrangement shortly after 8 o'clock to visit and say farewell to his children, who resided with their mother at the old home in Swan street.
The deceased and another brother walked up as far as the corner of John and De Lisle streets to meet Mason. The father and the two boys met close to the North Fremantle railway station and right opposite the Railway Hotel, which, as previously stated, Mason owned, and Mrs. Hilmer had kept. The father came over to the corner where the boys were standing and shook hands with one son. He then offered his hand to Henry, but the latter, instead of accepting it, put a revolver to his own head and fired. The bullet entered the youth's skull just by the right car and came out on the other side of the head above the left ear.
The main facts regarding the subsequent events were supplied to the WEST AUSTRALIAN representative by a man named John Riley. Mason fled immediately, and as the only other eye-witness was reticent as to what transpired, it was difficult to get a cohesive and intelligent account.
Riley happened to be passing at the time in company with his wife. He heard the revolver discharged, and on running across to see what was the matter he saw the deceased lying on the ground and the revolver just near his right hand. A crowd quickly gathered, the ill-news of a tragedy having spread with rapidity.
Young Mason, who was still alive, was removed to his mother's residence in Swan-street, and Dr. Rommeis was sent for. The doctor found the boy in an unconscious state. There was no possibility of his recovery, and the lad died two hours afterwards, i.e., at about 10.30 o'clock.
Upon searching the body of the unfortunate youth, whose death under such painful circumstances has caused profound sorrow at North Fremantle, a note was found, containing the sentence, " Everybody knows why I committed suicide."
It was simple in composition, but how clearly it betokens the state of the poor boy's mind when he committed the dreadful act. He does not appear to have cherished any hatred of his father. It was only that life was not worth living with the "bar sinister" upon his name. The bullet was provided for himself only.
The police, who, of course, were communicated with, instituted steps to ascertain the whereabouts of Mason, the father of the deceased. A brother of the deceased remarked, in the presence of our reporter, that he was pretty sure his father had also committed suicide. The water-police, at a late hour, went on board the German mail steamer Karlsruhe, by which Mason was to have sailed, but they could find no trace of the missing man. The police also ascertained that Mason had not booked a passage on the steamer.
The general opinion in North Fremantle was that the man had committed suicide, because no trace whatever could be found of him or his movements since the suicide of the boy was discovered.
Another strange fact was the disappearance of the newly-married wife. She also had not been found up to the time our reporter completed his inquiries. The police declined to furnish the Press with any information, and the residence of Mrs. Mason (nee Hilmer) was not disclosed.
A crowd had gathered round the house in Swan-street, to which young Mason was removed, and people were congregated together in the streets discussing the sensational events of the evening.
It was a painful duty to have to interview the distracted mother. One of the boys, recognising our reporter, warned his mother to "Hold her tongue, as it would be all over the country in the morning."
An inquest on the body of the deceased is to be opened at the Fremantle Court House at 9 o'clock this morning.
A sister of the deceased left Fremantle for Adelaide in the Marloo last week.
Frederick Mason was found on board the Steamer, with his new wife Bertha. Fred was taken off the ship by the police, but Bertha was allowed to continue to the Eastern States.
The inquest found:
The jury, after a short retirement, delivered the following verdict: —'We decide that Henry Mason came to his death by suicide, brought about by the disgrace and shame which he felt had been thrust upon him, and we believe that at the moment he was not responsible for his actions.'


Jewell Parade, North Fremantle, previously known as Jewell Street, was named for Frederick Mason, obviously because he was a jeweller, and owned much of the land in that area. The next street was called Mason Street, though the name was changed to Pearse Street after Frederick Mason died.

An example of the work of Frederick Mason, as shown on an episode of the English television programme Flog It! filmed in Ipswich in 2017.  The set of gold and diamond shirt studs in a box with "F. Mason, Watchmaker & Jeweller to His Excellency" (the Governor of Western Australia), stamped on the silk lining of the box's lid was valued at £60-80 and sold for £55.
The story was that a family member had come to WA in the late 1800s and had subsequently returned to England and the studs had been found among the effects of the deceased father of the women who brought them to the show.

Mason family reunion, from Williams.

The same Mason family reunion in Masons Gardens, 2 February 1983, from the Post newspaper. (If anyone has a better copy, please send it to me.)

Frederick's nephew Charles Henry May came to Fremantle in about 1883 to serve as his apprentice. He himself went on to run a very successful jewellery business.

References, Links, Acknowledgements

All of the biographical material above was kindly provided by Ros May, g-g-daughter of the Charles Henry May who came to be apprenticed to Frederick: many thanks.

The photograph and information about the shirt studs was kindly provided by Lesley Russell: many thanks to her also.

Williams, A.E. 1984, Nedlands: From Campsite to City, City of Nedlands: 236-9.

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