Fremantle Stuff > bridges > ferries
Ferries were established either late 1832 or early 1833 at Fremantle (exact location unknown) and at Preston Point, operated by John Weavell (for John Thomson).
It was decided to close the Fremantle Ferry and support a single operation to Preston Point.
A Mr Pearce continued to operate a Fremantle ferry illegally and was taken to court by Weavell and Thomson. The court granted Pearce the right to operate the Fremantle ferry for foot travellers only until the lease expired.
The Fremantle Ferry has now been identified as from Ferry Point (Willis Point) to Lionel Lukin's property Lilburn, up from Water Street, at the end of which there was a small jetty. [For a view of Willis's Point, see this painting by Charles Russell.]
It was decided in July 1835 to close both that Fremantle ferry and the one at Preston Point and and open a new one below the Cantonment.
Its location is shown on this 1847 map. The cartographer at that time called it the 'old' Ferry.
This Cantonment Ferry is the one which the Melville history (v.i.) identifies as being directly west of Cantonment Hill and operated by John Duffield. There is a complaint in the local paper in January 1836 after the Ferry Point ferry had closed about the poor service of this new ferry, to which Duffield replies in a letter to the paper. His interest in replying is presumably because it is he who is running the service.
Tenders continued to be called for the operation of this ferry and in July 1838, a six month tender was called. It appears to have been unsuccessful because in August 1838 the Fremantle Town Trust decided to take over the management of the Ferry.
[All of the above is from research conducted by members of the Duffield family, to whom (especially Philip Pope) many thanks.]
In the absence of bridges and with Perth being located on the opposite side of the river from Fremantle, cross-river ferries were set up at key points. These broad-beamed, flat-bottomed craft were rowed across the river along thick rope hawsers strung from bank to bank to counteract the pull of the current. Alfred Waylen hoped to establish such a ferry at Point Walter, on the eastern side of the spit. In April 1830 he wrote to the Colonial Secretary, inquiring if it was
the intention of the Government to form a road from Fremantle to Point Walter — to be connected with the road on the opposite side at Freshwater Bay by a ferry, in the event of which I beg leave to state my wish to be allowed the exclusive right of carrying passengers, goods, etc.
The official response was that a decision had yet to be made about ferries. but that his application would be considered in due course. Indeed no ferry terminus was ever located at Point Walter, where the river was broad and the crossing difficult. It was also remote from Fremantle. Instead. road travellers from Perth would follow the northern bank of the river until they were almost opposite their destination.
The first cross-river ferry was located in Fremantle and operated by the former Kent farmer Robert Thompson [Thomson]. By the end of 1832, however, Thompson had left the mainland to take up residence on his Rottnest Island grant. Meanwhile, John Weavell was attempting to start a ferry at Preston Point, although the authorities were reluctant to issue a licence while another service was supposedly in operation further downstream. It was only through his persistence, his preparedness to spend large sums of money on facilities and the convenient departure of Thompson, that the service finally passed into his hands. He immediately constructed jetties at Preston Point and at the head of Rocky Bay, clearing a line of road to John Butler’s grant in present-day Claremont. He also took pains to warn potential rivals of his exclusive rights to operate a ferry along the whole stretch of the Swan between the Narrows and Fremantle. Weavell’s early enthusiasm waned, however, for the service was poorly patronised, difficult to operate and expensive to maintain. In March 1835 he gave up and left the colony for Van Diemen’s Land.
The ferry service then passed to John Duffield, who was convinced that Weavell had erred in locating the ferry at Preston Point. Determined to find the most appropriate crossing place, Duffield carefully examined the river downstream from Melville Water. Unimpressed with the claims of Point Walter, he decided to return the service to its original site. His jetty on the Fremantle side was erected due west of Cantonment Hill. From there the ferry ran northwest to its terminus on the North Fremantle bank, immediately above Lukin’s property and some 1,200 metres from the river mouth. Although the stream was narrow there, the crossing proved far from satisfactory.
During a nor’-wester it is nearly impossible to cross the river or, if you accomplish it, it is accompanied with some danger and a certainty of being well drenched by the spray which breaks over the boat. There exists, we believe, but one opinion — that the place selected for the ferry is inappropriate for that purpose.
In 1839, after the Collector of Revenue had repeatedly failed to find a lessee for the Fremantle ferry, it was once again returned to Preston Point, linked to Fremantle by a new road built by prisoners from the local gaol. Although the crossing was safer and more comfortable than that at Fremantle, the service was not cheap. Tolls ranged from ninepence per person and 1/6 per horse and rider, to 9/- for a heavy waggon and 10/- for a flock of 60 sheep. Melville: 27-29.
Nathaniel Ogle wrote in 1839, in The Colony of Western Australia: A Manual for Emigrants:
Passage boats regularly ply between Freemantle[sic] and Perth, performing the distance in about two hours. Should the journey by land be preferred, horses are easily procured: the traveller has to cross a horse-ferry at Preston Point, about a mile and a half higher than Freemantle; and from the opposite side a road runs to Perth, along a loose sandy track passing through an open forest.
October 2nd of that year  saw the opening of the North Fremantle traffic bridge. That was built by convict labour, the stone for the approaches being quarried by the chain gang. Previously both passengers and vehicles were conveyed across the river by ferry boats worked by convicts. Hitchcock: 52
Special cross-harbour ferries were in use to take lumpers to work on the North Wharf, as seen below in this c. 1930 photo by George Davidson. John Dowson writes that two of the Harbour-Trust-owned ferries were Victor II and Ivanhoe. That's the tug Wyola in the right background.
Thanks to the Fremantle Library for this c. 1930s photo no. 2379.
These vessels conveyed the lumpers (waterside workers) to the various landings along North Wharf (Quay). The Ivanhoe and Victor II were Harbour Trust owned; the remainder privately chartered. The tug Wyola is visible on the right. In the background is the original slipway which was abandoned during WWII.
Many thanks to Philip Pole and other descendants of John Hole Duffield for the detailed information at the top of this page.
Cooper, W.S. [William] & G. [Gil] McDonald 1989, A City for All Seasons: The Story of Melville, City of Melville, top map from that.
Dickson, Rod nd, They Kept This State Afloat: Shipbuilders, Boatbuilders and Shipwrights of WA 1829-1929, report, Maritime Archaeology Department, WA Maritime Musem, no. 89.
Dowson, John 2003, Old Fremantle: Photographs 1850-1950, UWAP.
Hitchcock, J.K. 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia, 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council.
Ogle, Nathaniel 1839, The Colony of Western Australia: A Manual for Emigrants, James Fraser, London.
Tuckfield, Trevor 1971, 'Early colonial inns and taverns', Early Days: Journal and proceeedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, 7, 3: 65-82; Part 2, Early Days: Journal and proceeedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, 7, 7: 98-106.
Garry Gillard | New: 29 September, 2017 | Now: 3 February, 2019