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Frederick Weld

Cyril Bryan:

PERTH NAMES. 12. Weld of Weld-square. By Cygnet.

WELD of Weld Square was that Governor Weld who ruled the Colony autocratically but beneficently from 1869 to 1875. Before coming to Western Australia he had been Premier of New Zealand, and after leaving here he became Governor of Tasmania and later Governor of the Strait Settlements. He was the most bewhiskered Governor the colony boasted, and he has the further distinction of having the most exclusive club and the dirtiest square in Perth named after him.

Frederick Aloysius Weld - later to become Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld, G.C.M.G. - was born in 1823 of parents who claimed a purple lineage in English history. At the age of 21, bursting with desire to serve the empire and to tread the road to adventure, he emigrated to New Zealand where he varied the life of a pastoralist with tours of exploration which served to further open up that young colony. His energy and zeal soon brought him to the notice of the Governor, Sir George Grey - that pioneer of the north-west of Western Australia - who saw in him a kindred spirit, and in 1848 he was offered a seat in the Legislative Council, a nominated body. He declined this but threw himself into the movement for representative Government which was then agitating the colonists, and when this was gained in 1853 he found himself elected as one of the first members of the first Parliament of New Zealand.

In 1860 Weld attained Cabinet rank when he became Minister for Native Affairs, but a year later the Government was defeated. The next few years were the most critical and most troublesome years in New Zealand history. The Maoris were growing increasingly restless and heading for the Maori War which convulsed the Colony for some years; and this delicate situation was complicated by a "private fight" between the Governor and the General Commanding the Imperial troops (which at that time garrisoned the Colony) as to the use of these troops in the ensuing fighting. The result of all this was that the credit of the Colony was shaken to its foundations and the Colonial Stocks were a drug on the market. Finally, in 1864 when things were blackest, Sir George Grey turned to Weld and called on him to form a ministry and restore order out of chaos.

Weld did it, but general-like he first laid down the terms on which he intended to do it, and in doing so enunciated for the first time in colonial history the rights and responsibilities of a ministry charged with responsible government. His first step was to reject the aid of Imperial troops in subduing the Maoris. This task he declared to be the duty of the settlers, and he founded irregular units which carried on operations against the Maoris in guerilla fashion. But what contributed most to the end of the war was Weld's policy of opening up the country by building roads. The Maoris subdued, Weld set himself to give them a full measure of justice, and though he taught one tribe a salutary lesson by confiscating their lands, he initiated at the same time legislation to safeguard Maori rights and to allow them representation in Parliament. Side by side with the extension of roads he introduced the electric telegraph to connect the north and south islands, and he removed the seat of Government to Wellington which thus became the new capital. Then, having in less than a year lifted the country from the slough of despair and the depths of depression, a grateful people ejected him from office; whereupon he returned to England!

But his fame had preceded him and to such an extent that the Secretary of State for the Colonies actually announced, before Weld's arrival, that he intended to offer the ex-Premier a Colonial Governorship. A change of Government in England, however, delayed this; but the new Government, entertaining the same high regard as their predecessors for Weld's talents as displayed in his administration of New Zealand, honoured the promise and Weld was offered the Governorship of Western Australia, the term of office of Governor Hampton expiring just then. One of Governor Weld's first duties on his arrival in the Colony was to open the Perth Town Hall, on June 1, 1870, and his impressive speech on that occasion thrilled his hearers and shed much eclat on his administration. It was then that Governor Weld uttered that prophetic phrase: "At last she moves!" which electrified our grandparents and became the Colony's proud slogan for the next 30 years.

HIS governorship was a notable one. His predecessor, Governor Hampton, had built edifices and bridges and jetties; Governor Weld built in other ways. He inaugurated representative government. He put the education system of the Colony on a firm basis. He satisfied the churches by grants of land according to the number of their adherents. He encouraged the spread of local government by municipal bodies. He urged the introduction of railways, and had the privilege of cutting the first sod of the first railway in Western Australia. He established the electric telegraph, and has the honour of having planted at the foot of William-street the first pole of the telegraph line which was to connect Western Australia with South Australia.

But perhaps Governor Weld's best claim to remembrance in Western Australia is that he gave John Forrest his chance, selecting that young surveyor, at the age of 22, to lead that first of the many exploratory trips which made him a nation's idol, brought him world-wide fame, and carried him to the House of Lords, the first Australian peer.

Weld left Western Australia for Tasmania with great regret on both sides. If he ruled firmly, he ruled wisely and the colony flourished under his administration. From 1875 to 1880 he was Governor of Tasmania. In the latter year he was knighted and sent as Governor to the Strait Settlements where he accomplished great things, and is remembered in Port Weld, He retired in 1887 and died in England in 1891, leaving six sons and seven daughters.

Besides Weld Square, Governor Weld's name is on the map in Weld Springs where John Forrest was attacked by the natives on that expedition across unknown Australia to Adelaide in 1870.

Governor Weld's brother-in-law Francis de Lisle was his aide de camp. De Lisle Street in North Fremantle was probably named after him. Weld Square is on Beaufort, Parry, and Stirling Streets.

References and Links

Cygnet [Cyril Bryan], 'Weld of Weld-square', West Australian 15 October 1938: 5.

Bio by T. S. Louch in ADB.

Weld's report to the Earl of Carnarvon, 1874, Fremantle Shipping News.

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