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John Tapper (1831-1895) was the son of Daniel and Ann, who were among the unfortunate people who arrived in 1830 on the Rockingham as part of Thomas Peel's venture. They already had three children, and another four were born in the colony, including John. Daniel was a boatman. John followed him in working at sea, beginning with whaling.
He is probably best remembered for his heroic but unsuccessful attempt in 1867 to rescue Harbour Master James Harding who nevertheless drowned during his own attempt to assist a stricken vessel.
John's son, another John Tapper, was also drowned, lost at sea in 1882 from the Ruby.
Western Mail obituary, 15 June 1895, page 26:
One of the oldest native-born West Australians died at Fremantle on Wednesday, in the person of Mr. John Tapper. The deceased gentleman was a native of Fremantle, at which place he was born in 1832—63 years ago—when white people were to be counted in an hour in this colony. Mr. Tapper in his young days followed what was then the principal industry on the coast of the colony—whaling—a pursuit in which he was very successful. Many tales are told by old Fremantle residents of the excitement caused by the return of a whaling party, and not a few of the sexagenarians alive at the port at the present time refer regretfully to the absence of the periodical bustle along the beach caused by the arrival of captured whales. In those far gone by times of excitement, when little was dreamt of the future of the colony or of the part it was to play in the world's affairs, Mr. Tapper took a prominent position. Always energetic, and knowing little of the meaning of hardship through being every day familiarised with it, he was always successful. He was an institution at the port, and on more than one occasion distinguished himself by deeds of smart and plucky seamanship. In the year 1867 a terrific gale occurred at Fremantle in which the Harbour Master's boat was overturned while engaged in assisting vessels in distress. The then Harbour Master, Captain Harding, and four of his crew were drowned, and John Tapper, with a volunteer crew, put off in the face of almost certain death to the rescue of the survivors. The result of the conduct of Mr. Tapper and his gallant crew is recorded in a testimonial presented to him by the townspeople of Fremantle. This was accompanied by an address which read as follows :—
"Presented to John Tapper by the undersigned residents of Fremantle, for conspicuous acts of bravery in endeavouring, in his whale boat, to save life, and rendering assistance to vessels in distress at the port of Fremantle, Western Australia, during many years past, and especially for his prompt action in having on the 23rd June, 1867, when by the swamping of a boat the lives of the Harbour Master and four of his crew were lost in the performance of public duty. The thanks of the town are also presented to the following volunteer crew:- Thos. O'Grady, Jas. Casey, Robert Johnson, Ross Hunt and Geo. Trevor Butcher, who at the risk of their lives accompanied John Tapper on that occasion."
The signatures to the address were C. A. Manning, G. A. Attfield, John Willards, John P. Stone, Geo. Clifton, Leonard Worsley Clifton, J. T. Cooke, O. W. Eichbaum, John Thomas, W. E. Marmion, T. H. Dixon, Father Martelli, W. S. Pearse, E. Alderson and Geo. Bostock. During the later years of his active life Mr. Tapper was engaged in the lightering business at the port. He was an ardent foundation member of the New Swan Lodge of the M.U. Order of Oddfellows, the premier friendly society in the colony both in age and strength. Mr. Tapper leaves two sons and two daughters who are it is understood well provided for. His death, which took place on Wednesday morning, was somewhat sudden, his illness being of a short duration. The remains were buried on Thursday afternoon, when the local branch of the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows accorded their late brother a last tribute by attending the funeral in a body.
TAPPER, John, b. 1831 (bp. 1833), d. 12.6.1895, son of Daniel & Ann, m. 27.4.1853 (Frem) Mary Ann Abbs COOK b. 1835 d. 1.10.1922, dtr. of Thomas Abbs & Ann who arr. 27.7.1850 per Sophia. Chd. John b. 1854 (Frem C/E), Thomas b. 1856 d. 1945, Rose Mary b. 1873, Daniel b. 1878, Florence b. 1880 d. 1961. Whaler & lighterman at Fremantle & storekeeper at Suffolk St by 1877. On 23.6.1867 at great personal risk, he attempted to rescue Harbour Master Harding who drowned. Tapper was presented with a watch in recognition of his efforts. Owner of vessel Nautilus. Foundation member of Oddfellows Lodge at Frem. He employed 2 T/L quarrymen in 1868. His widow bt. 360 acres at South end of Bibra Lake which became the property of son Daniel, the dairyman. C/E . (Erickson.)
Western Mail obituary, 15 June 1895, page 26.
'Loss of the Harbour Master and His Crew', Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, 5 July 1867, p 3
'The Gale at Fremantle', Inquirer & Commercial News (Perth), 10 September 1873, p 3
found five skeletons on a wrecked ship, Inquirer & Commercial News (Perth), 5 November 1879, p 3
The address to John Tapper mentioned above was presented to the Museum of Fremantle by the family at the time of the opening.
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