Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society
(Read before the Society August 29, 1930.)
Hasluck, Paul & F.I. Bray 1927, 'Early mills of Perth', Early Days, vol. 1, part 8: 62-84.
[This paper is based principally on the letterbooks of the Colonial Secretary’s Office, Perth, from 1830 to 1840. The files of The Perth Gazette, plans in the Lands Office, Perth, the Church Office records, Perth, the diary of the Rev. J. R. Wollaston, and G. F. Moore’s Ten Years in Western Australia were also consulted. Messrs. Bray and Hasluck collaborated in the research, and Mr. Hasluck wrote the paper.]
1.—THE FIRST HARVEST
This will not be a tale of three jolly millers, but of three ingenious men, who, with little profit to themselves. built and worked the first mills in the Colony. Only one of them was a professional miller. All of them, in the way they faced their difficulties, were kindred with the type of Australian you can meet any day in the backblocks, who can build a waggon, mend a motor car, or repair a set of harness with a few bits of fencing wire and an axe.
Before we relate their efforts, however, it will be worth while to examine the conditions in which they commenced their trade. The main body of the settlers at the Swan River did not land on the mainland until August, 1829, and the first lands were not allotted until September. A few seeds were scratched in but with little result. There was uncertainty about the seasons and the methods. Corn was not reaped until the end of the summer of 1830, and the first yield that could be dignified by the name of harvest did not come until the end of 1831. The yield was trifling. The Colony depended on imported flour and grain from Van Diemen’s Land, India, and the Cape, and when in 1831 and 1832 several expected ships were late in coming, the little band of settlers were in extreme want of some of the necessities of life. To grind their scanty home produce and the imported wheat they depended principally on the steel hand mills that they had brought out as part of their domestic equipment. Such mills continued to be used for many years, even after the sails of Shenton’s Mill were turning merrily beside the Swan.
For a review of the conditions in 1831 and 1832 the most convenient reference is the published journal of
George Fletcher Moore. We will start from the beginning of 1831, when the price of flour was 3d. per lb., and from £27 to £30 per ton. This seems to have been the normal base to which prices tended to return.
During the course of 1831 shipments became fewer, stocks dwindled and prices doubled. The Colony seemed to be forgotten. The expected vessels did not arrive from Hobart. The Sulphur, which had sailed to India, did not return with the expected provisions and in January, 1832, Moore gives a picture of a gloomy little group talking despondently of the want of flour. With only six weeks’ wheat left, the price was 25/- a bushel.
Happy then was the man who had laboured in the fields and sowed good seed. The small crops that had been sown in 1831 yielded well. “We are all eating the produce of our own fields and how sweet the bread,” Moore wrote on January 21, 1832. “This is made in the simplest way—we grind the wheat in our own hand mills...” In the same week he records that his neighbour Burges had imported some flour and was selling it at l0d. per lb. Three months later the position was so serious that “a small colonial vessel” was sent to Hobart for wheat and flour and the master of the schooner Helen, which called at the Swan River on the way from Hobart to Mauritius, was “constrained to spare the settlement” 20 tons of flour, some wheat and a few potatoes. Shortly afterwards one of the long-expected vessels came with a full cargo from Van Diemen’s Land. The coming of the Merope in April, the Cornwallis in May and the return of the Sulphur in June relieved want, but, comments Moore in May, “our pockets have been prettily picked in purchasing wheat at 35/- (nay, even 40/-) a bushel, when we ought to have had it for 10/-.” Apparently wheat at 10/- a bushel would have aroused no complaints from buyers.
As it was, with a strong demand on the local market taking prices as high as 35/- a bushel, the agriculturist could face the future with hope. Those were the bright days of farming. Moore, full of hope, seeded three acres—a big venture when one considers that the land had to be turned over with a spade. For seed he had already made provision. On April 26 he recorded an “exchange with Mr. Brockman of three young pigs for eight bushels of wheat, worth 15/- a bushel, which will afford
me ample supply of seed.” On May 15 he records that his men had finished the wheat sowing, “dibbling it in with forks.” In July he sowed again—two more acres—and as late as October he harrowed in some wheat on the flats.
In passing, it may be interesting to pause a moment to refer to agricultural practice in these early years. Apparently they sowed in both winter and spring, reaping the two crops about December and January. Moore records that Capt. Irwin got a 48-bushel crop without manure or fallowing by sowing a small patch on the flats in October and reaping in December. For his own crop Moore reckoned that 20 bushels was a safe average on which to calculate.
Moore’s crop, sown on the uplands in April, was five feet high on October 5, and harvesting commenced on November 28. Moore had previously recorded that his wheat was the earliest in the district. Seeing it in the sheaves he wrote jubilantly of a 40-bushel yield, and when threshing commenced on December 1 he noted: “A very fine grain and yielding well, but many ears are too green, which arises from the mixture of the seed.” A week later he was eating excellent bread made from the new grain, ground in his hand mill. On December 11 a baker came seeking wheat but the farmer would not supply him, except with a few bushels for his own use at 4d. per lb. On December 16 Moore sold some wheat in Perth. It was the first in the market and for one bushel he got 20/-. Some praised the sale; others blamed him for parting with it so cheaply. A week later the price was still 20/-. But other farmers soon began to reap, more ships arrived with flour and grain, and by the following April (1833), in recording a sale of six pigs by barter—currency was scarce then—Moore gives the value of wheat at 13/- a bushel. The bottom had fallen out of the market.
Moore, having reaped his hardly-sown three acres, complains of the small return. With the “present price of labor” it cost nearly 10/- a bushel to grow wheat. There is something familiar about his complaint.
Besides Moore, everyone else had planted extensively. While the crops were still growing he had written (in June, 1832): “We shall have in this settlement this year 435 acres under grain (last year 160), producing
on an average 15 bushels per acre, and probably shall soon be independent of imported corn.” Facing this record harvest of about 6,000 bushels, it was time to consider the erection of mills, and, accordingly, about the end of 1832, we may begin to look for activity in the construction of mills. On July 27, 1832, Moore wrote "...as to wheat, it will be so plentiful that we must see about mills of some kind or other. Steam machinery would be too expensive, and water power in most cases cannot be commanded, as there are few continuous streams: but windmills will yet be in general use. There has been but one experiment of the latter kind and it succeeded well.”
At this point we leave the era of grinding in small hand mills and turn to discover where was this first experiment with a windmill. The journey will take us to Fremantle.
In October, 1829, William Kernot Shenton, engineer, born in Winchester (England), 26 years of age, and unmarried, arrived in the Colony by the ship Lotus. He brought to the State a sawmill complete, and this, together with his miscellaneous property, was valued at £852. He received permission to select 11,360 acres of land. His principal grants were in the Leschenault area and on the Helena River at Guildford. He also obtained town lots at Fremantle.
Shenton came to the Colony under engagement to Colonel Latour, who planned an ambitious emigration scheme on 100,000 acres of land in the Leschenault area. The scheme came to nothing, and within a year the establishment had been broken up and Shenton was independent. One of his first public undertakings was to lead an expedition, including Stephen Henty (later of Portland fame), Henry Campbell, and W. Bryant, in January, 1831, to explore the Collie River, travelling by boat from Fremantle to Port Leschenault, into which the river flows.
About the same time Shenton was busy with two other ventures—one a newspaper and the other a flour mill. The newspaper, under the title of The Western Australian Chronicle and Perth Gazette, was first published in manuscript at Fremantle on February 19, 1831.
It was later transferred to C. Macfaull, and developed into The Perth Gazette of 1833 and The West Australian of to-day. At present it is not our concern.
The mill was first established as a horse-driven mill, but the date on which it came into being is a little indefinite. If the reference in one of Shenton’s letters, dated July 7, 1831, to “the comparatively small sum he [the Governor] so kindly advanced me about 12 months since,” may be taken as an exact statement, it becomes apparent that about July, 1830, the Government advanced to Shenton a small sum which he spent on “building, fencing, etc.” at Fremantle, presumably on Lot 231 or 232.
On the adjoining Lots 229 and 230 stood a shed belonging to Colonel Latour. The whole of this site is occupied to-day by the Fremantle Gas and Coke Co.’s premises in Elder Place. In these days it stood handy to the river bank, just inside the bar, and was conveniently situated on the line of traffic for overseas
goods, which, having been landed from the sea-going vessels at “South Bay,” were carted across the neck of land to the vicinity of Shenton’s place to be placed on board river boats for carriage to Perth.
On February 28, 1831, Shenton wrote informing the Governor that, after consultation with the owners of horses, he found that the expenses were so great that he could not undertake to grind and dress the Government wheat at less than 3/6 per bushel, which with wear and tear would leave him but 11/- per day profit.
Apparently the mill was just about ready to start with horses, for it was as a miller of imported grain on the Government account that Shenton based his prospects at that time, and there was little other grist to be had. Shenton, though having provided for horses, was dissatisfied with them, and, in the same letter, proposed a new plan to the Government. This was to convert the building to a windmill, with which he estimated he could grind at 2/- per bushel. For this purpose he asked for an advance, not exceeding £150, from the Government, giving his property as security and promising to allow two-thirds of the amount of whatever grinding he performed for the Government to be deducted from his bills until the debt was liquidated. No document has yet been found recording the Government’s compliance with this plan.
The mill came into operation with horse power, for E[dmund]. Stirling, recording the production of the first printed issue of Shenton’s newspaper (which came out on April 25, 1831), stated that while the printing was going on at one end of the shed, the first wheat grown in the Colony (the crop of W. L. Brockman) was being ground in a horse-driven mill at the other end. That it was eventually converted to wind power is indicated by the reference in Moore’s letter of July, 1832, quoted above, to a successful experiment with wind power—the reference could only be to Shenton’s mill—and to the fact that in a sketch of Fremantle in 1832 by W. Bickley, which now hangs in the Perth Public Library, Shenton’s mill is shown with sails.
The Fremantle mill was not profitable. The arrival of a shipment of flour was likely to upset all arrangements, and in July, 1831, Shenton wrote to the Government asking that the money due to him for grinding
Government wheat should be paid out to him rather than be applied, as the Government apparently threatened, towards the repayment of the advances they had made.
A year later the mill was still at Fremantle. This brings us to the time when farmers on the Swan were anticipating that 1832 crop of 6,000 bushels and wondering how they would get it ground. Right in the centre of the agricultural area and not miles away at Fremantle was the place for a mill. On July 17, 1832, Shenton, writing to the Colonial Secretary from Guildford, stated that “The great desire of the inhabitants of Guildford and neighborhood to have a mill in that town” had induced him to propose the removal of the mill from Fremantle to Guildford, and the re-erection of it there, to be worked by horses. The expense of the transfer was estimated at £50, but Shenton requested that the Government should supply him with three horses from the Cape, bringing the total advance required to £150, for which, with interest, he would give ample security. The Governor had already suggested Perth as the mill site. Apparently fuller estimates were called for. On September 5, 1832, Shenton wrote that the expense of the removal of the mill from Fremantle to Guildford, and the re-erecting of it there with the necessary buildings, would be £90 for a mill to go by horses, and to grind and dress corn at 3/6 per bushel; or £425 for a mill to go by water with the price of grinding reduced to 2/- a bushel. The site he proposed in this letter was on the river bank at Guildford on the reserved land between the holdings of Captain Meares and Mr. Williams. This seemed to be the most convenient place for river transport. About the same time an undated letter from Shenton proposed a scheme to re-erect the mill on the bank of the Helena, where it would be driven by water power. This, he estimated, could be done with a loan of £300, for which he would give an undertaking to grind wheat at 2/- a bushel, and to fetch and return corn in Guildford at 3d. per bushel, and within four miles of the town for 6d. per bushel. One special plea that Shenton made was that one half of the £300 would be “distributed among the poor of Guildford who are men without employ, and four of these,” he says, “have undertaken to complete the canal at sixpence per cubic yard.” The proposed site for this mill was Shenton’s own allotment, running through what is now known as South Guildford, a little west of the Helena Bridge.
All was in vain. On September 28, 1832, Mr. Shenton was informed that “it was not the intention of the local Government to make any further advances at present to promote the erection of mills by private individuals.”
By some means, however, Shenton established, in 1833, a new mill at Point Belches, South Perth, near the site of the old mill that stands to-day. Proudly heading the letter, “Winchester Mills, Point Belches, W. K. Shenton and Co.” (note the company) wrote to the Government Storekeeper, on August 23, 1833, as follows :—
Sir,—Our Flour Mill being now in a working state, and understanding there is a considerable .quantity of wheat in the Government Store, we shall should it meet the approval of His Honor the Lieut.-Governor, be willing to undertake the conversion of it into Meal or Flour—the former at the rate of two shillings per bushel—if the latter at 2/6 per bushel of 601bs. weight. The quantity (depending chiefly on the power of the wind) we can manufacture weekly, we cannot state precisely—but till the additional pair of stones we purpose applying are in operation probably not more than 30 bushels weekly—We are. Sir, Your obedient Servants,
(Sgd.) W. K. SHENTON and CO.
Some of the details of this transference from Fremantle to Perth are still a little uncertain, but light was shed on it from an unexpected source. For once we can feel pleased at the prolixity of lawyers. A legal notice, printed in The Perth Gazette as late as June, 1845, shows that Perth suburban lot P. of 4.5 acres (the land on which the mill stood) was demised to Shenton on or about April 27, 1833, by the Government, for 10 years (that is conveyed to him in fee from the Crown for that term), with a stipulation for renewal and a proviso entitling him, his heirs and assigns, to a perpetual grant in fee subject to certain conditions. The commencement of the building must have been some time after the end of April, 1833. The Perth Gazette, of June 8, 1833, stated that a windmill at Point Belches was in course of construction, and a subsequent notice stated that it was working on August 10. The Fremantle mill had not been dismantled and was intact on November, 1833, when Shenton proposed to remove its larger stones to the South Perth Mill.
The sketch submitted by W.K. Shenton to the Government in 1833 illustrating the proposed method of working his windmill at Point Belches.
The new mill was a windmill and the principle of its working is illustrated in a drawing supplied by Shenton to the Government.
Lockyer and Son were the millwrights. From certain references to it, it is conjectured that the mill was a wooden structure. Its construction so far from the town was obviously because the site was one where it would catch the wind from almost every direction, blowing across the open spaces of the river. Water carriage may possibly have also been considered.*
* The recollection of the late Mr. William Rewell, handed down by Mr. H. J. Pether, of South Perth, was that the first mill was built of timber, that it stood about 200 yards south of the present building and that it was burned down not long after its erection.
This mill proved inadequate, and The Perth Gazette of October 19, 1835, records that Governor Stirling, at the request of Mr. W. K. Shenton, had laid a foundation stone of a windmill at Point Belches to replace the original one. This new mill is the picturesque building standing to-day, on the walls of which the date 1835 may still be seen. Shenton himself designed this mill, but the builders were again Lockyer and Son. Its success seems to have varied and adjustments were made, but on April 22, 1837, The Perth Gazette expressed itself as follows:—
We were much gratified, in visiting the windmill at the Point opposite Mount Eliza, to find that the construction of the building assumed a business-like appearance, surpassing anything we had seen in the Colony. The warehouse appeared to be well stocked with wheat, and the Mill was in full operation, grinding on the average about 25 bushels per day, with one pair of stones; another pair will soon be added, when this Mill will have sufficient power to grind all the wheat produced in the Colony. Mr. Shenton erected the Mill, but it has been brought to its present state of perfection by Mr. Steel, whose practical experience has much improved the original design.
This brought from Shenton the next week a correction. The original design had been adhered to strictly. He said: “Mr. Steel’s experience and knowledge, as a miller, has enabled him to bring the machinery to its present efficient state. It is one thing to build a mill— another to work it.”
The following week, an independent observer, one Olinthus Gregory, of the Pineapple, wrote his judgment. He thought that the design was of little importance—in fact was marked only by the ingenuity with which the pieces of machinery that the projector possessed had been used, even if unsuited for the work—while the success was due to the practical experience of the millwright, Paul Lockyer, by whom, he believed, the work was entirely constructed. But whether you give credit
to Shenton, Steel, or Lockyer, or to all three, it was a notable piece of work. You will remember that sawmill that Shenton brought with him One rather suspects that its parts found their way at least to the big enterprise of Shenton and Co. at Point Belches.
There is one exciting incident in the history of the mill to be told before it passes out of the picture—the attack made by natives on the first building in 1834. W. K. Shenton was not present. The mill was in charge of one, George Shenton, obviously his cousin of that name, who was afterwards well known in Perth. Let us hear the story in George Shenton’s own words, as told in his deposition, dated April 30, 1834.
Colony of Western Australia, to wit.
Examination taken before the undersigned Justice of the Peace in and for the said Colony at Perth in the said Colony the thirtieth day of April, 1834, relative to a robbery committed by certain natives in a Mill situate at Point Belches in the said Colony.
George Shenton, of Point Belches, near Perth, in the said Colony, gentleman, being sworn, saith on Thursday last, the twenty-fourth instant, about nine o’clock in the forenoon, a party of natives at least thirty in number came up to the Mill, at Point Belches in which I reside. I was then entirely by myself, no other person being on the same side of the river within some miles, to my knowledge. I was in the Mill when I saw them coming, and as I recognised them to be Murray River natives (they themselves having told me so a day or two before) I shut the door of the Mill. They came up and wanted me to go and call Captain Ellis, for the purpose of taking them across the river in his boat, but as I suspected they merely wanted to get me out of the Mill and then to rob it, I did not move. By promising two of them some flour if the others went away, I persuaded them all to leave the door except two, but I found shortly after that they did not go away further than one hundred yards from the Mill, when they concealed themselves behind the bushes. I gave the two who remain some flour, one of them went away to get some water. I then went out of the Mill and shook hands with the one who remained. He wanted me very much to sit down with him, this I declined, and had just turned round to get into the Mill again when I saw several other natives with their heads just above the grass, as if in ambush. I immediately jumped into the Mill; the man with whom I had shaken hands tried to catch hold of me, and jumped up to the Mill door after me; but I jambed his fingers between the door and door frame, and he let go. The two, to whom I had given flour, sat down at a fire close to the Mill, making dampers, and continued, for the space of half an hour, trying to persuade me to leave the Mill, and go and sit down with them. At length the others, who had been concealed, to the number of about thirty, came up to the door, and began to be very riotous, making attempts to get in at various parts of the Mill, and in one place pulled off part of the weather boarding. I kept them at bay by closing the door, for full half hour, and then promised them, if they went away I would give them all some. I began to give each of them a small portion through a narrow framed window, hut while my attention was engaged at the window, they forcibly broke open the door, by breaking the hasp, and a strong piece of cord by which the door had been secured. Several entered the Mill together, and immediately one of them seized the only gun in the Mill (which was unloaded, there being no ammunition in the Mill and handed it one to the other; while the rest of those who had entered surrounded me, and pushed me out among the main body
outside. Some of them cried out "gidgul" (meaning to spear me) and others said “No, no" but laid hold of me and made me lie down on the ground where they kept me until they had carried away every article of flour and pollard, and were beginning to take the wheat when I cried out that the white men were coming (but there was not in reality any boat or assistance in sight) to frighten them, and they then desisted. They carried away eight bags, two baskets, several pots and pans, and in short, every vessel about the Mill which could hold flour. The whole quantity of flour carried by them amounts to nine hundred and eighty pounds weight. Every one of them carried off as much flour as he appeared able to carry. I am quite confident that I could recognise without the least hesitation, several of those most active in the robbery; in particular the two who so long tried to persuade me to leave the Mill, and also the individual who first entered the Mill by force and seized the gun, and also, I believe, was the person who called out to spear me.
Immediately that the natives let go of me, and were making off into the bush I ran down to the water's edge, and called across to Captain Ellis, who very soon came over, and shortly after him, the Reverend Mr. Wittenoom and Mr. Armstrong, who at my request went back to the Perth side, and brought back two of the Swan River natives, who examined the footsteps in the Mill among the flour spilled on the floor, and they immediately gave the names of several of the Murray River men, whose footsteps they pointed out Mr. Wittenoom, who was then present, took down the names so given. A party of military under Captain Beete of the 21st soon arrived and accompanied by Captain Ellis pursued the track of the Murray River men for some hours, without coming up with them.
(Sgd.) GEORGE SHENTON.
Sworn before me at Perth aforesaid, the first day of May, 1834. W. H. Mackie.
The above-named George Shenton (being shown, in the presence of the undersigned Justice of the Peace, four natives brought up from the Murray River as prisoners by Captain Ellis, Superintendent of natives' tribes, on suspicion of being concerned in the breaking and robbery above deposed to) on his oath saith that the prisoner called Calyoot, now pointed out by deponent, is the man who first entered the aforesaid Mill, when the same was forcibly broken up, as aforesaid, and who first seized this deponent, pushed him out of the Mill, and who called out to his associates to spear this deponent. And two others of the prisoners, also pointed out by the deponent, were present at the breaking and robbery aforesaid, and were aiding and abetting therein.
(Sgd.) GEORGE SHENTON.
Sworn before me at Perth aforesaid, the first day of May, 1834. W. H. Mackie.
The leader, Calyoot, was captured and held in the guard house, but released after a short imprisonment. This same native, Calyoot, was one of those who, two months later, were responsible for the murder of Nesbit and the wounding of Barron at the Murray River.
It is interesting, in reading the account given by Shenton to the Government of his losses in the raid, to notice that all the wheat received, except six bags, was imported grain, most of which was being ground on the Government’s account.
The mill seems to have engaged Shenton’s almost undivided attention, although at the end of 1837 he
made another exploring expedition overland to the Collie River in company with Richard Dale. After seven years’ operations at South Perth he did not seem to have made much profit by milling, and in July, 1840, he mortgaged the mill and land to Edward Hamersley. Early in 1841 he went to the new settlement at Australind as a land and stock agent and became Government auctioneer there. On November 24 of that year he was married at Perth, by the Colonial Chaplain, the Rev. J.B. Wittenoom to Miss Jessica Cameron, in the presence of George E. Cameron, H. Leake, and J. Browne (No. 57, vol. 1834-1865 Church Office records, Perth). He took his girl-wife with him to the south. A little over half-a-year later—in June, 1842—after a visit to Perth, he embarked on the schooner Devonshire to return to Australind. The schooner and all hands were lost at sea.
A page from the diary of the Rev. J. B. Wollaston tells the sad story:—“11th June, 1842—The schooner Devonshire trading between this and the Swan . . . has been due some time . . . News has arrived that she has been lost, and the body of the mate, some boxes and a hat found in Mangles Bay . . . The crew consisted of the master, mate, one man, and a boy—there was also one passenger, Mr. Shenton, of Bunbury, who possessed and has located the 100-acre section of Picton next above mine. These were all lost, and it is supposed the vessel went down in a squall, for no part of her has been found.
. . . Poor Mrs. Shenton has only recently been married (she was a Miss Cameron, of respectable family) and come down here to settle with her husband. I have called twice on her, but saw her brother only, who is staying with her. He holds a Government place in the Commissariat. When fears began to be entertained for the safety of the Schooner, she, poor woman (her servant told me) ascended the hills and walked for miles along the Beach before breakfast, in vain hope of descrying the wished-for sail. But it never came. She returned immediately with her brother to Perth.”
Among those who came out in the Parmelia with Stirling in June, 1829, was Henry Willey Reveley, an engineer, aged 40 years, who had been engaged at Cape
Town as Civil Engineer for Western Australia at a salary of £200 per annum. With him was his wife, Amelia. It seems to have been chance that brought Reveley to the Colony. He had been a close friend of the poet Shelley—in fact, he had saved him from drowning in the Arno in 1821 when they were in Italy together—and Shelley's letters reveal an interest in and encouragement of the young engineer’s professional career. After Shelley died in 1822 Reveley went wandering and eventually obtained employment at the Cape. He was there in 1829 when the first settlers for the Swan River, on board the Parmelia, passed through.
In the letters of Captain J. S. Roe, the Surveyor-General, it is recorded that when the Parmelia was off Plymouth in February, 1829, “an engineer to superintend public works” was missing from the complement of officials. On May 16, Reveley was added to the muster roll as Acting Civil Engineer and in June he was at the Swan River with the others, having landed with property valued at £200, including a milch cow, four fowls, instruments and stores. The position is obvious. There was Reveley at the Cape when a colonising expedition, which lacked an engineer, came in. He gathered together all his belongings, made a few appropriate purchases—such as the cow and fowls—and joined the party sailing for a strange land.
Of his various works and his more numerous schemes at the Swan River there is no time to tell. We are concerned for the present with his mill—the first built in Perth.
The inception of this undertaking is recounted in a document filed in the Colonial Secretary’s Records for June, 1835, in the handwriting of Reveley but bearing no signature. It reads:—
Ever since the first commencement of this Settlement up to the present time, the want of a sufficiently powerful corn mill to convert the imported or raised in the Colony in such quantities as are required for the consumption, has been severely felt. It is unnecessary to mention the temporary steel and horsemills, as they are very inefficient, and the cost of grinding at them of course very high.
Up to the year 1832 no attempt had been made by any private person towards the erection of a substantial water mill for grinding corn, there being no natural running streams or falls of water in the settled parts of the Colony of sufficient power to drive even a small mill during the summer months. About this time Mr. Reveley came forward and offered to erect a water mill in the centre of this Town, the capital of the Settlement, having as he judged discovered a method of procuring an artificial stream of
water from the subsoil of Perth which would run as well during the summer as the winter months, owing to peculiar circumstances which have been verified, of that subsoil being constantly charged with an inexhaustable supply of water situated about 35 feet above the usual river level. This water so held up cannot escape by reason of the natural clay bank which lines the river side.
About the beginning of the year 1832 Mr. Reveley laid before His Excellency the Governor a sketch and estimate for a water mill he wished to put up, provided he could be furnished with the means of a loan from Government to the amount of £1000. Nothing, however, was done at that time, but in September the same year Capt. Irwin, then Lieutenant-Governor, consented with the advice of Council to grant Mr. Reveley a loan of half of the above amount, namely, £500 if he thought he could construct a mill, form the Reservoir and get the stream of water for that sum, to which, after having altered and reduced his plans accordingly, Mr. Reveley agreed to.
Anyone who has watched the excavations for new buildings on the south side of St. George’s Terrace during recent years will have seen the steady oozing of water from the clay banks, even in the middle of summer, and old residents can recall the time when springs broke out and trickled in little rivulets down the slopes. This was the supply that Reveley proposed to use. The land he had consisted of Locations L 15 and 16, fronting St. George’s Terrace, on the site of the present Perth Technical College. Location L 15 had been part of the original assignment to him on October 8, 1829, and it was there that he had been living in a dwelling house near the river end of the block. In August, 1832, he purchased the adjoining lot, No. 16. It is interesting to notice that the price for a terrace frontage of 99 feet with a depth of six chains was £50.
The scheme was to dig a huge mill pond across the two allotments, fed by a drain dug into the hillside. From this pond the water would be led down a race to the mill, which would be placed near the bottom of Location 16. A drain would lead the spent water into Bazaar-street from where it would find its way to the muddy river flats. A plan reproduced in this journal, copied from Reveley’s drawing, illustrates the scheme.
A plan of Reveley's mill on locations L. 15 and L. 16, Perth, stretching from St. George's Terrace (at the top of the plan) to Bazaar-terrace. From the original plan in the Department of Lands and Surveys, Perth. The site is now occupied by the Perth Technical College.
As early as 18 months before Reveley had made an experimental excavation to test the flow of water and he had every expectation of success. He proposed to grind at a charge of 2/- per bushel. On September 12, 1832, he reported on the flow of water and the prospects as follows:—
The running-stream procured on my allotment by a former excavation, made about eighteen months since, has constantly delivered from that period 850 gallons per hour. The present experimental excavation amounting to about one-eighth of the intended
reservoir, gives an increase of 950 gallons, or at the rate of 1800 gallons per hour. In 24 hours the produce will be 43,000 gallons, a quantity capable of driving one pair of stones at the rate of 2 1/2 bushels per hour, for 4 hours each day—or 10 bushels per day, or about 3000 bushels per annum.
This result from 1/8 (one-eighth) of the entire reservoir would pay the daily expenses of the Mill, interest of money, etc.—and give a small profit besides. As the intended reservoir would be eight times larger than the present excavation, and the quantity of water would be still further increased in the same ratio.
The expense of constructing the Mill and Millhouse would be the same in either case.
Preliminary advances were made by the Government and on September 18, 1832, by instruction of the Executive Council, Capt. J. S. Roe (the Surveyor-General) and Mr. W. H. Mackie, accompanied by an engineer, Mr. H. C. Sutherland, inspected the excavation already made and examined the estimates made by Reveley. They reported: “There is a reasonable probability of a sufficiency of water on the two allotments ... to supply a corn-mill for such a portion of each day and with such power as to secure the success of the mill ... and to render it safe for the local Government to advance to that gentleman the requisite sum for the erection of such mill ... At a meeting of the Executive Council in the following week it was decided to continue the advances to a limit of £500 on the condition that Reveley made a report on the progress of the work every Saturday evening and that the premises were inspected by Government representatives every Monday. Reveley’s proposals for repaying the advances, as shown in a letter dated, October 2, 1832, were to devote £100 per annum from his salary and to use a portion of the proceeds of the mill so that “the entire period should not exceed three years, if possible.” In the statement of 1835 which has been referred to before, Reveley is at pains to point out that “the loan was not granted to Mr. Reveley with the slightest view of any private benefit to him but solely on account of the public convenience and the benefit the local Government might derive from it. This was expressly stated to Mr. Reveley before the council and he was moreover bound to grind for the public and the Government at a stated price.”
Consequent on the decision to make the advances Reveley obtained the fee simple of the two allotments, the improvements of which were assessed on November 17, 1832, at a total of £340.
The building of the mill took place from August,
1832, to the end of the year. On November 8 G. F. Moore recorded: “Mr. Reveley’s mill is in a state of forwardness; the waterwheel upright with horizontal shaft.” The millstones were cut in the same month from granite in the hills behind Moore's place, that is two or three miles north of the present Toodyay road over Red Hill. In later years Reveley claimed credit for having been the first to point out this “inexhaustible supply or quarry of mill stones in the hills about 30 miles from Perth, from whence he has obtained the pair he has used in the construction of his mill and which have proved as efficacious if not equally as good as the best used in England.”
On November 17, when his improvements were assessed for the purpose of granting the fee simple, it was stated that on Location 16, which he had only had for three months, buildings were worth £100 and drains £100. The engineer must have been working with energy and enthusiasm, using the Government money. On December 9 Moore describes the mill: “The water passes from the reservoir through the wooden trunk, about a foot square, 60 or 70 yards long, at the end of which is a copper tube 2 1/2 inches in diameter through which the water gushes.”
In February, 1833, the mill commenced grinding. Unfortunately the water stopped gushing with its old spring-time freedom. “This failure,” Reveley wrote later, ... “arises from the unexpected closeness of the sandy, sub-soil of Perth,which evidently requires a much greater extent of cutting for drainage than ... at first anticipated.” Moreover, the reservoir leaked. The engineer was not dismayed. He obtained two more loans—one to form a puddle bank to stop the leakage and one to complete the supply of water.
Obtaining loans, however, was not a simple process of asking. To get the second he had to be backed by “the opinion of two practical men,” and the “report of six respectable members of the Agricultural Society, all of which were highly favourable to the undertaking.” Can you catch a glimpse of those “six respectable members” trudging in the mud and stepping over the drains while they talked solemnly of the need for mills? The advances were made. The leak in the reservoir was stopped and the labourers started to dig longer drains
to feed the pond. Then the loans were stopped. The only apparent reason was that Reveley’s drain may have interfered with rights to the waters of Perth’s swamps that had been granted to Samuel Kingsford, a rival miller, who had started operations later in 1833. As a result of the incomplete state of the water supply works, Reveley’s mill could scarcely pay its own expenses.
The end of 1834 and 1835 seem to have been depressing times for Reveley. He, the engineer, was obliged to act as the miller, himself, and be subjected to great annoyance. When he refused to grind, those who were disappointed, “even of the higher classes,’’ “acted and spoke,” he said, “in a manner to which I am quite unaccustomed.” The settlers would not keep the mill in work all the year round and when water was abundant in winter time it ran to waste. The farmers did not want to pay for grinding and receive back flour. They wanted to sell wheat for cash to the mill and let the miller take the risk with the flour. When he did refuse grist-grinding owing to pressure of work the disappointed ones complained to the Government and the Government threatened that, as this refusal vitiated the conditions on which advances were made for erecting the mill, immediate steps would be taken for the recovery of the debt. Reveley replied very firmly, almost sharply, and the Government modified its tone; and while “not disposed to insist upon the exact fulfilment of the conditions" ... recommended Reveley to offer all the accommodation in his power to the public.
In June, 1835, Reveley is complaining that with just the little extra loan that the Government withheld the mill could be perfected. The advances had been well secured by mortgage and Reveley had other lands which he was willing to offer as security. There was 800 bushels of wheat lying in the Government store in need of grinding.
The Government apparently did nothing and the first mill apparently ended without reaching the success of which its builder was confident. Early in 1837 we find The Perth Gazette recording that another mill was in preparation by Mr. Reveley “his former experiment on the Tuscan principle not having succeeded to the extent he anticipated.” Whether this second mill was a
success or not and the ultimate details of Reveley’s financial relation with the State are not known exactly enough at present to be dealt with in this paper. On November 30, 1838, Mr. and Mrs. Reveley left Fremantle on the Pioneer, an American whaler, bound for the Cape and New Bedford. His land, as has been stated, was mortgaged to the Government and he left owing them about £800. To cover this the land reverted to the Crown, which thus became possessed of the present fine site in the city which is now devoted to the Perth Technical College. Some old residents of Perth who went to school in the old Colonial School on that spot can remember how they used to chase each other around Reveley’s pond in play or catch gilgies on its banks fifty years ago.
The ingenious way in which Reveley attempted to obtain water power for a mill by drainage was the inspiration for the mill of Samuel Kingsford, built in the immediate neighbourhood in 1833, a few months after Reveley had commenced grinding. Instead of depending on the seepage and springs in the clay sub-soil, however, Kingsford proposed the more ambitious scheme of draining the swamps and lakes north of Perth. On March 23, 1833, Moore wrote in his diary: “Mr. Kingsford, an experienced miller, lately come out, after searching in vain for an eligible mill site with water power, now proposes to cut a deep trench and lay a pipe from some lagoons behind Perth into the town to afford him a supply of water. There are some of these lagoons eight miles in circumference, and at no great distance, which he thinks have a communication with each other through the sandy soil, or which may be made to communicate with unexpensive cuts. Mr. K. seems prejudiced against a windmill; nor does he think that Mr. Reveley’s horizontal one can succeed; and insists that more can be done by gravity than by impulse.”
Accordingly Kingsford approached the Government with his proposals and an application for grants of land. The Government was liberal. Lot 69 and Lot 20 1/2 were assigned to him. Lot 20 1/2 ran down the full length of the eastern side of Mill street and Lot 69 was on the waterfront opposite it. The mill and dwelling house
were erected on Lot 20 1/2 and Lot 69 was for warehouses, the mill course down to the river and a jetty. The layout of the buildings is shown in a plan of 1859 in the Lands Department Office. Kingsford was also given the perpetual right of converting to the use of the mill the water of Kingsford Lake, Irwin Lake, Lake Sutherland, and Lake Henderson and it was agreed that the use of the water of Monger’s Lake and the Great Lake (that is Herdsman Lake) should not be granted to any one else for five years, by which time Kingsford would have had an opportunity of testing whether he wanted more water for his mill. Of the four lakes over which he was given rights, Kingsford Lake occupied roughly the site of the present Perth Railway Station; Lake Irwin was on the present railway property just west of the Melbourne road crossing; Lake Sutherland was just beyond the present West Perth Railway Station and Lake Henderson was in the area bounded to-day by Newcastle-street, Fitzgerald-street, Palmerston-street, and Bulwer-street. Their position and the sites of the mills are shown in a map accompanying this paper.
Perth in 1838, showing the sites of Shenton’s, Reveley s and Kingsford’s Mill and of the lakes from which Kingsford drew his water supply. Drawn by Mr. G. Pitt Morison from original plans in the Department of Lands and Surveys, Perth.
Kingsford was also given rights to use as much land as necessary to connect up these lakes, making of them a common reservoir. The location duties on Lot 69 were remitted and as an additional encouragement he was promised the fee simple of 2,560 acres on the completion of the mill and the drain to bring the waters of Kingsford Lake to the mill. The conditions were that the mill must be working within 12 months. It must not be idle for more than 12 months at a time, provided that at least one pair of stones were kept in a state of preparation for grinding. For seven years Kingsford had to grind for all parties at a sum not exceeding 2/- a bushel and dress at sixpence a bushel. The rights to the water were to be reveiwed in seven years by arbitrators.
The exact date on which the mill started is indefinite. Writing in October, 1833, Kingsford refers to the mill as already built and states that the cut to Lake Kingsford had been commenced. The occasion of his letter was to protest against a loan being granted to Reveley to drain the waters that had been granted to Kingsford. This may have been the reason why Reveley’s loan (referred to above) was stopped. Kingsford’s water was apparently brought from the lakes along open trenches
and Mr. J.H. Gregory, whose reminiscences were printed by the Northam Courier in 1911 recalls how as a school boy in the late thirties he clambered up and down their sides.*
* Note: Among those present at the reading of the paper were old residents who remembered the cut. Mr. John Watson said that it ran through what was later the "Bungalow” property and in places was 20 feet deep.
Kingsford’s mill seems to have had an untroubled history. It is referred to incidentally by Reveley in August, 1835, as being in operation. The Perth Gazette of April 22, 1837 referred to the “watermill at Perth, worked by Mr. Kingsford, but not very extensively.” On August 10, 1839, under the title of “Perth Mills” Kingsford was advertising that flour would be supplied to families in any quantity at 4d. per lb. The impression is that business was becoming brisker and he was doing retail business as well as the milling. In less than a year the newspapers published the account of his sudden death at the age of 57 years.
The triumvirate of Perth millers—Shenton, Reveley and Kingsford—had all passed out of the Colony’s life before the early forties. These pioneer millers had harnessed wind and water. Within a few years they would have had to adjust their notions or be out of date. In 1844 big advertisements told that at the Steam Saw and Flour Mills, Guildford, grinding was done at 1/- a bushel. Wheat was down to 5/-. Flour was literally “twopence ha’penny a pound.”
V.—MILLS OUTSIDE PERTH
Before leaving the subject, a passing reference may be made to mills outside of Perth. In a report prepared for the Agricultural Society on the Machinery and Manufactures of the Colony in 1838, W. K. Shenton recorded that there were “three corn mills propelled by water, two windmills and three horse mills situated at convenient distances for the settlers on the Swan and Canning Rivers and in Perth.” We have already mentioned two of the water mills—Reveley’s and Kingsford’s. The third was Cruse’s Mill at Ellen’s Brook, Upper Swan. This is outside the purview of our paper.
The two windmills mentioned were Shenton’s at Point Belches and Hardey’s at the [Maylands] Peninsula. Hardey’s
mill was standing in 1835. The millwright was James Lockyer, son of the Paul Lockyer, to whom Gregory gave chief credit for the success of Shenton’s Mill. In the letter to The Perth Gazette in which he enters the argument about the Perth mill, Gregory, who was a farmer at the Pineapple, a few chains north of the Peninsula Farm, states that Hardey’s mill was “certainly the cheapest mill which has been put up since the commencement of this settlement. Its cost but little exceeds £200 and it would be fully as effectual as the windmill of the disputed design if it were placed in as good a situation .... and observe that Mr. Hardey’s mill has a pair of native 2 feet 10 inches mill stones which the millwright declares are superior to any French burrs he ever put up. Now Mr. Hardey’s mill was put up by a common millwright without any plan or design whatever. It is simple, complete and strong and is provided with a pair of governor balls the action of which is so perfect as nearly to supersede the attendance of the miller.” A map of 1835 shows the situation of this mill on the east side of the Peninsula.
Garry Gillard | New: 24 July, 2020 | Now: 28 July, 2020