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Henry Passmore, 1840-1920, was a veteran of the Crimean War, a prison supervisor, a dredger, and public servant. After retirement he served on the North Fremantle Council. Born in Barnstaple, he came to the Swan River Colony aboard the Racehorse in 1865, died at Raleigh Avenue, North Fremantle, and was buried in Karrakatta Cemetery. Passmore Avenue in North Fremantle is named after him. Before that it had the name he gave it: Raleigh Place/Avenue. He built seven cottages there or thereabouts.
Arguably, the most important thing Passmore ever did was to take C.Y. O'Connor out in his rowing boat and show him that the riverbed did not silt up. That was a crucial datum contributing to O'Connor's decision to remove the rocky bar to allow the harbour to be in the rivermouth. See John Dowson's Fremantle Port: 20-29, esp. p. 29.
Dowson, John 2011, 'Passmore's Fremantle':
Over the page can be seen the detailed and accurate embroidery Henry Passmore produced c. 1890 of the river with which he was so closely involved. A one-legged Crimean War Royal Navy veteran, he arrived in Western Australia in 1865.
By 1872 he was in charge of convicts on public works, including 20 convicts working Western Australia's first dredge nicknamed Governor Hampton's Yacht. The Colonial Secretary Malcolm Fraser quipped: "You will be able to say you commanded the first ship the Western Australian Government owned." Reconstructed by 1888 she became known as Black Swan and worked at the mouth of the river until C.Y. O'Connor arrived in 1891 and refused to allow convict labour in the building of the new port.
Passmore lived in John Street, North Fremantle.
The embroidery looks from North Fremantle across the river. Passmore's dredge Black Swan is in the lower left with the Priestman grab dredge to the right in front of the pilings intended to keep the dredged channels open. Over the river, the buildings shown are accurately placed. The 1880 railway station with its sheds that obliterated the Fremantle Green is in the centre, to the left of the North or River Jetty. Arthur Head has its 1878 lighthouse and signal mast, with ships at the Long Jetty behind. The limestone bar at the mouth of the river is clearly shown, with a narrow passage either side. Why Passmore chose embroidery is interesting, but his elder brother did work in a lace factory in England. This well-preserved artefact is a superb reminder of the Swan River at its mouth just before harbour works commenced in 1892. [The tapestry is in the WA Museum, at WAM PH-8604-046.] Dowson 2011: 21.
Dowson, John 2011,
C.Y. O'Connor: Building the Port
When C.Y. O'Connor arrived in 1891 to take up his appointment as Engineer-in-Chief, he soon decided that the new harbour should be inside the Swan River. He did not agree that such a choice would cause problems with sand drift, as raised by engineers like Sir John Coode. He had met, among others, Henry Passmore, who later wrote: "I was camped at Rous Head when Mr. O'Connor was considering the different schemes. In conversation he mentioned this fact of sand travel, which was denied by me. He said: 'Have you not read Sir John's report?' I replied, 'Yes I have, and notwithstanding this report there is no sand travel.
The day being very calm and the water like glass, I said 'Come I will prove to you there is no sand travel. I will show you the rocky bottom, the holes in the rocks, the seaweed growing in these holes, the limpets on the rocks also. If there was any sand travel you would see nothing of the kind.' He went with me in a boat. I asked him to fix his eye on the bottom, and he would be able to see what I said. The boat was pulled slowly, so as not to disturb the surface of the water. I am convinced he could see the bottom to 20 or 30 feet. On lifting his head he said, 'Where were you when Sir John Coode visited the State?' I replied, 'At Albany. Who gave him his information I could not say.' Mr. O'Connor was quite convinced there was no 'sand travel.' On the next day he brought Sir John Forrest that I might show him what I had shown Mr. O'Connor the day before." (The West Australian, Oct. 15,1912)
In a report dated December 21,1891, O'Connor dismissed another in-river option of a channel through the narrow neck of land opposite Rocky Bay because: "If the railway had not to be crossed twice, and the main road also twice, the state of the case would be materially different."
In early 1892 Parliament approved O'Connor's plan for opening the bar and constructing a harbour at the mouth of the river. It was estimated that £800,000 would be needed for a basic harbour. All along O'Connor received fierce support for his river plan from his Minister, Harry Whittall Venn, the State's first Director of Public Works and Commissioner of Railways. Until Venn was sacked in 1896 when phenomenal growth resulted in railway blockages, they achieved a great deal together, not only with Fremantle Harbour, but in the development of railways that fed the port. Providentially, the gold rush boom, and the financial independence of Responsible Government in 1890, allowed further allocation of large sums of money for the projects as they progressed.
The north and south moles were constructed of limestone from Arthur Head and Rocky Bay until the deteriorating quality led to supplies being sourced from Boya. Reclamation of some 20 acres on the north of the river and 54 on the south proceeded with the building of a retaining bank from end to end, 10 feet above the water level and 20 feet wide. By August 1896 the government issued orders to commence wharf construction, leading to 1,500 feet of quay being available for vessels by June 30,1897. But the depth of water alongside was only 20 feet. A wharf was built on each mole in 1897 to meet demand, the tough jarrah piles being driven straight into the limestone moles. In 1900 a jetty projecting into the harbour from the north quay was designed to attract mail-boats, as it was feared they may not get away fast enough from the south quay during high winds. In the end, the mailboats, the greyhounds of the sea, berthed at South Quay, later Victoria Quay.
Additional works included a slipway, breakwind, and lighthouses. The slipway at the base of North Mole was a timber structure (see overleaf), especially useful for repairing the four dredges, which otherwise would have had a voyage to Melbourne. The wooden picket breakwind of 2,200 feet east from the base of North Mole provided protection from north-west gales. Two lighthouses were erected on Rottnest, with a third at Woodman's Point. The 1878 Arthur Head lighthouse was gone by 1905, but South Mole had a lighthouse erected in 1903 and North Mole in 1906, with a temporary wooden one there from 1901 (see page 67). Dowsson 2011: 29
Dowson, John 2011, Fremantle Port, Chart and Map Shop, Fremantle: 21, 22-23, 29.
Presnell, Colleena 2019, Lash Me Fair: Henry Passmore, Renaissance Man, (novel).
Diane Oldman's page for Henry Passmore on her archived Crimean War Veterans site. (She does not mention any injury sustained by Passmore, let alone his losing a leg.)
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