Fremantle Stuff > books and papers > Hutchison 2007

Mystery of a Headstone

David Hutchison

Fremantle History Society, Newletter, Spring, 2007

One of the friends that June and I have made during our regular visits to Fremantle Markets early on Friday mornings is Barry Strahan, a descendant of Thomas and Catherine Davis who arrived in 1829 on the Parmelia. He has a wide interest in Fremantle history. He was born in 1939 in a heritage house at 96 Hampton Road. This house was built for William Letchford (Cordial Manufacturer) and remained in the Letchford estate until 1931. Some time after that, but probably during the latter 1930s, it became a maternity hospital and was given an apparently Aboriginal name, meaning possibly ‘good baby’, ‘good babies’ or 'house of good babies’.

Barry told me about the Gourley Cottage that used to be close to the cliffs in East Fremantle about a mile upstream from the Traffic Bridge. It was believed to be one of the oldest surviving buildings at that time, some claiming that the original house was built in the 1830s. This has not been verified. Unfortunately, the cottage was demolished in 1970. The National Trust tried to find some group that might like to use it as headquarters, but none was prepared to meet the cost of considerable conservation and restoration then required.

In an article published in 1939/40 it was stated that the cottage had been occupied by the Gourley family for fifty years by that date. In an article in the Daily News (20 October 1961) there is an illustration of the cottage. At that date it was occupied by Robert Gourley, aged 88, 'the last survivor of the Gourley famly of parents and three brothers who came from Ireland 80 years ago'.

Robert and his brother Harry were well-known yachtsmen and boat builders. They were famous for building excellent yachts of the ‘semi-rater class’ which carried a very large area of sail. The fastest of their yachts were Whitewings, Cinderella and Pioneer, 22-footers, with two centre plates and ‘a mass of mainsail and spinnaker’. A Mrs George Nunn recalled many trips on the Pioneer.

It was a social event and you were the envy of your set if you received an invitation ... the girls were suitably chaperoned and there was no drink ... We would sail up the river for the weekend and the Pioneer would anchor at Bicton where the girls disembarked to sleep in a shack built specially for them, while the men stayed on board ...

The original cottage was of stone and two-roomed. There were ruins of another stone cottage about 150m south of the Gourley Cottage (towards the Traffic Bridge). The second cottage had an old boatshed in front of it. Barry Strahan told me that he and Ian Muir, brother of the late Robert Muir, were present when Robert Gourley raised a ‘hearthstone’ in the cottage. This must have been in 1945 or 1946 as Barry was six or seven years old at the time. Two flintlock pistols and a sword were discovered under it. I am making further enquiries about these.

The hearthstone was actually a headstone, bearing the inscription ‘Sacred to the memory of Frances Scott of Fremantle - aged 21 months 9 days - 9th March 1833’, according to a press report. Barry said that there was more text inscribed on it. I guessed that the infant was a daughter of Daniel Scott, who at that date was Deputy Harbour Master at Fremantle. He later became Harbour Master. I was able to confirm this. Frances was the 58th individual buried in the Alma Street Cemetery on the date shown on the headstone. Whether this is the date of her death or of her burial is not shown.

However, in those days, in hot March weather bodies were probably buried fairly soon after death. This is confirmed by a Government Notice issued by the Colonial Secretary, Peter Broun, on 13 February 1830:

The Lieutenant-Governor desires it to be notified that to prevent indiscriminate burials and unpleasant consequences arising therefrom in a warm climate, a Burial Ground will be set aside in Every Township or parish ... All burials ... must take place as soon after sunrise as possible or an hour precisely before sunset.

Alma Street Cemetery was consecrated in 1831, but may have been used earlier. It was closed by proclamation on 18 December 1895.

How was a poor child’s headstone taken from the Alma Street Cemetery to become the hearthstone of the old house in East Fremantle? I discovered what happened to it in the booklet Founders and Felons: a guided tour of Fremantle’s heritage, which gives details of persons buried along a heritage trail in the Fremantle Cemetery. Frances Scott’s headstone is one of those selected on the trail, although the booklet misspells her name as Francis. The entry for this headstone reads:

This headstone was found in a house in North [sic] Fremantle which belonged to Des Lambert, to whom one of the Scott children was married. It was being used as a hearthstone and discovered when the building was being demolished. It was then given to Fremantle Cemetery and incorporated in the Scott family graves.

Des Lambert was the accountant at Lionel Samson & Sons until about the late 1970s. The text suggests that he married one of Frances Scott’s sisters, which would not have been possible, although he may have married a descendant of the Scotts. Frances’ father was the first Deputy Harbour Master, and later Harbour Master, in Fremantle.

I visited the Fremantle Cemetery to view the headstone. There are two graves side by side; the right hand one is covered by a marble slab, which lists the names of Daniel Scott, his wife and children (including Frances). The left hand one has Frances’ headstone at its head, although the grave must be empty. The inscription on it is worn and difficult to decipher. Above what appears to be the date of her burial and her age at death, the inscription reads ‘Sacred to the Memory of Jane Frances Scott Eldest Daughter of Daniel and Frances Scott of Fremantle.’

Even if some of the buried remains were removed from Alma Street to the present cemetery, the headstone must have been removed before headstones were transferred to the new cemetery, so the location of her remains would not have been known.

Just as I finished writing the above, I received a letter from the Client Services Officer, Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, in which she states, ‘When cemeteries were closed down, headstones were often removed and reused as a hearthstone’. This appears to be a callous action and I hope that other removed headstones can be located and placed in their proper place at the Fremantle Cemetery.


Garry Gillard | New: 7 July, 2020 | Now: 7 July, 2020