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Robert Powis

In the following year [1839? Thomas] Bailey made over the lease to Robert Powis, a tailor, who allowed the inn licence to lapse within a year but remained at Prospect Place with his family and continued his tailoring. The main claim Powis had to fame was his horticultural prowess: in 1842 he succeeded in cultivating an aloe to bloom at the height of 40 feet. He then threw open his garden to the public at a shilling a head. Periodically he advertised his tailoring from ‘The Half Way House’, as he seems to have called the building during this period. (Pascoe: 16)

The inn mentioned by Pascoe was the Bush Inn aka Halfway House/Prospect Place which was established by John Butler even before 1832 when he was granted the land at Swan Location 84 (now Peppermint Grove). The Inn was licensed to trade from April 1830. It was on the Perth-Fremantle track, and apparently in the area bounded by the present Forrest, McNeil and View Streets and the river—near enough to it to be a stopping-off for river traffic as well as for travellers on the track. It was in Swan Location 84, which is today's Peppermint Grove. Butler had handed the lease in about 1835 to Thomas Bailey, who continued to run the Bush Inn until 1838, when the Perth to Fremantle route was altered to the alignment of what would later be the Stirling Highway, leaving it isolated and unable to cater for travellers on the new road - at which point Powis took it on.

Bolton & Gregory:
Powis and his family settled in contentedly. ... Robert Powis sought no part in public life. His great hobby was the cultivation of his aloe. How he obtained it one can only conjecture, but by cherishing it sedulously and building a shelter to ‘preserve the blossom from the frequent and powerful winds which prevail in this quarter’ he produced a plant forty feet high which came to bloom in the summer of 1842. Such a blossom, he was sure, was ‘one of the grandest sights that this Colony can, or perhaps ever will again produce’, and he threw his garden open for those members of the public who could afford a shilling admittance. It must have been a simple, placid community whose citizens would travel miles through the summer to Freshwater Bay to watch the aloe bloom.

His easygoing existence was shattered in June 1847 by the unexpected arrival in Fremantle of Ann Butler and her daughter, returning to Australia after a trip to England. Without troubling to visit the property, she advertised Prospect Place for rent. Several weeks passed without a tenant offering, and in September she determined to make a visit, having heard that Powis was in possession and ‘wasting the place and furniture’. There was no meeting of minds. According to Ann Butler, Powis was very abusive and doubled his fists at her. Surprisingly, she took no further action for over two years.

Powis feared ejection so little that in 1848 he managed to scrounge the means to acquire a flat-bottomed boat and set up his two sons in business cutting and delivering banksia firewood. In February 1850 he unwisely wrote to Ann Butler advising her that he intended to vacate the property in May and asking her to present his two sons with some of the furniture. She refused. Some time later an Aboriginal woman informed her that Powis was conveying a large boatload of articles from Freshwater Bay to Perth. Finding the old Bush Inn at Prospect Place stripped bare, she went with a constable to Powis’s new residence and discovered her missing property there. Court proceedings followed. Powis was found guilty of theft, but in consideration of his being an old colonist he was awarded the light sentence of six months’ hard labour. (Bolton & Gregory: 12, 14-15)

POWIS, Robert, b. 1778. d. 10.1865 (Perth), arr. 14 .5 .1830 per Rockingham with wife & 2 sons, m. (UK) Elizabeth b. 1788. Chd. Charles b. 1816. Henry b. 1818. A tailor by trade, he rented Mrs Jones' house in Perth for his business. His sons were on roadworks in 1832 & he sought work as a postman 1834. Perth retailer of spirits 1844. Advt. his "Halfway House" at Freshwater Bay for lease as he planned to leave in 6.1847. Contracted to supply wood to Frem. gaol 1848. Sentenced to 6 mths labour for stealing in 7.1850.

References and Links

Bolton, Geoffrey & Jenny Gregory 1999, Claremont: A History, UWAP.


Pascoe, Robert 1983, Peppermint Grove: Western Australia's Capital Suburb, OUP.

Tuckfield, Trevor 1971, 'Early colonial inns and taverns', Part 1, Early Days: Journal and proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, 7, 3: 65-82; Part 2, 7, 7: 98-106.

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