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John Septimus Roe

John Septimus Roe, 1797-1878, was the first Surveyor-General of Western Australia. He was a renowned explorer, and a Member of Western Australia's Legislative and Executive Councils for nearly forty years.

He and his wife Matilda Bennett (for whom Matilda Bay is thought to be named) arrived on the Parmelia 1st June 1829. He laid out the first plan of the town of Fremantle (and that of Perth, etc.).

The family lived in Middle Swan. Many places are named after him, including Roe Street in Perth, the Roe Highway, and the town of Roebourne. He was buried in the East Perth Cemetery.


Roe's very first sketches of the Fremantle town plan (from this source)

The W.A. Times, Friday 31 May, 1878, p. 2:
Death of Captain Roe, R.N.
The announcement of the death of John Septimus Roe, commander, R.N. (for such was the rank he had latterly held), will have been heard throughout the colony with great regret. As the years go by, the old familiar faces which shone with vigour of manhood, or the riper thought of middle age, when their owners, long years ago, set foot on these shores and sought to test new fields of fortune under the strange stars of this brighter hemisphere, one by one depart. Some to re-visit the home and haunts of youth and manhood, and to spend the last years of the allotted span amidst the greatly changed surroundings that the scenes of their earlier years must now present. Others, as in this instance, melt into the "illimitable azure," and realise the grand secret of the other world. Bending to inexorable fate, they go hence. And not-withstanding the vigorous life and broader liberalism, the greater independence, and the free thought which life in colonial society instils into the rising men of the still existing generation, the loss of the old faces that formed such prominent links between the old world and the new can be ill-spared, and cannot for long years to come, if ever, be made up. Still our little world goes on. The advance of our civilisation, and the increase of that spirit of emulation which marks the progress of young communities will gradually hide the hiatus of this kind that ever and anon occurs, and the departed men who fill a prominent space in the public eye gradually fade into a pleasant memory. By few will such a hold on the recollection of those who knew him be taken as by Captain Roe. The demonstration which took place yesterday on the occasion of his funeral, when almost every public man of any position, besides many humbler friends, were in attendance, testified to the fact of the esteem and regard which the deceased had secured for himself in this community.
The comparatively retired life which Captain Roe led since he ceased from the discharge of his public duties, had to a certain degree prepared the public for the event which we now record, and which took place at his residence, in Adelaide Terrace, on Tuesday morning, the 28th instant. When the melancholy intelligence was announced, a universally expressed feeling of deep concern proclaimed that it was no ordinary individual who had been taken from amongst us. The few days that have since elapsed amply testify that this feeling has extended itself beyond the limits of our metropolis, and that it will spread from one end of the colony to the other wherever the public and private worth of the deceased was known and appreciated. It is now fifty years ago since Captain Roe was appointed Surveyor General of this colony, a position which he held up to his retirement a few years ago, when a pension of £600 a year was voted him by the Legislative Council as the best acknowledgement they could offer of his public character -- a tribute which the circumstances of the colony would not allow to be more extensive. But it was not alone as the head of the survey and land department -- where, by his immaculate and efficient administration he secured for the department the entire confidence of the community -- the deceased was identified with the colony, from its earliest settlement. He took a prominent part in the work of exploration, as well as in the formation of the political history of the colony. In all, his actions were such as to entitle his memory to be cherished as that of a man to whom the colony owes a deep debt of gratitude. He was not a man who courted public applause. His nature was the reverse of democratic. But he was a patriotic and conscientious man, of unblemished integrity. And a man of that character is often a greater benefactor of his fellow-men than those who make all sorts of liberal professions for the sake of notoriety and power.
The mortal remains of the deceased officer were borne to the grave yesterday morning amid every mark of esteem and respect that departed worth could possibly evoke. an unusually large concourse of people assembled to pay their last tribute to his memory. Nor was the procession any the less representative than it was large. Citizens of all classes were represented, from His Excellency the Governor (who was in personal attendance) downwards. Nor was it, we opine, any vain and empty compliment that induced so many to join in the throng of mourners, but rather a sincere and heartfelt feeling of affection and regard for a man who throughout life had proved himself a worthy citizen, no less than a true-hearted friend. His Excellency the Governor, in compliance with the request of the leading inhabitants, was pleased to direct that the remains of the deceased should, as a mark of the estimation in which he was held by his brother colonists of all grades, and in recognition of the eminent services rendered by him during a residence of 49 years in Western Australia, receive the homor of a public funeral. The hearse, with the coffin, left his residence in Adelaide Terrace, at ten o'clock, and was met at the Cathedral gates by the public officers and others taking part in the procession. The Metropolitan Rifle Volunteers formed a lane for the hearse to pass through, from the Cathedral gate to the Cathedral door, and afterwards formed at open order on the opposite pathway, in readiness to receive the body on coming out of the Cathedral. The Volunteers then headed the procession in fours, with arms reversed, followed by the Band, which commenced playing the Dead March as soon as the procession was formed on St. George's Terrace. The military arrangements were under the orders of the Hon. the Commandant. The Superintendent of Police had entire control of all the arrangements connected with the procession and ceremony. The body of the deceased was met at the Cathedral door by the clergy and choir, and on the conclusion of the funeral service, which was conducted by Bishop Parry and the rev. F. Coghlan, the procession formed as follows ...
On arriving in front of the Cemetery, the mounted escort formed across the road, on the further side of the gate. The firing party on reaching the top of the Cemetery Hill, opened out their ranks to right and left, halted and faced inwards, rested on their arms reversed, forming a lane for the body to pass through. After it had passed, they formed in open order at the grave and fired three volleys in the air on the termination of the funeral service.
We thus leave the departed officer in the tomb, but the memory will continue in the minds of his numerous friends and acquaitances in every part of the colony. And, hereafter, the name of John Septimus Roe will be ranked in history being the real benefactor of Western Australia. The W.A. Times, Fri. May 31, 1878, p.2.

David Whish-Wilson:
... the initial surveying of the city in that first year of settlement, 1829, by John Septimus Roe. Perth was the first colonial city in Australia built to a plan, and the plan dictated an orthogonal shape parallel to the Swan River foreshore, defined by town blocks subdivided into ten allotments. There were strict rules as to the placing of buildings set back from the verge. The prohibitions against the unnecessary cutting down of native trees meant that in many respects Perth began its life resembling the contemporary garden suburbs that surround its city hub now. (16)

References and Links

Braid, Eva 1975, 'John Septimus Roe: first explorer of the wheatlands; the search for an inland sea', Early Days, Volume 7, Part 7: 81-97.

Jackson, Janice Lynne Burton, Not an Idle Man: A Biography of John Septimus Roe, Western Australia's First Surveyor-general, 1797-1878, M.B. Roe, orig. Pennsylvania State University.

Mercer, F. R. 1962,¬†Amazing Career: The Story of Western Australia’s First Surveyor-General, Perth.

Uren, Malcolm 1967, Entry for Roe in the ADB.

Whish-Wilson, David 2013, Perth, NewSouth, UNSW, Sydney.

Link to Roe's 1833 Fremantle town plan in Wikimedia Commons

Wikpedia page.

The 1853 daguerrotype of the Roe family is courtesy of SLWA #062345PD.

Garry Gillard | New: 17 October, 2015 | Now: 15 March, 2024