Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society
[Read before the Society, June 30, 1933.]
Hasluck, Paul 1933, 'Glimpses of early Perth and Fremantle, 1829-1839', Early Days: Volume 2, Part 13: 36-49.
Travellers’ impressions and their descriptions of places seen are not always the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Even so exact a thing as a camera can give surprising interpretations of familiar objects according to the angle from which it makes its record. One man comes to Western Australia and finds it the most desolate place on earth; another finds it the threshold of Paradise, or something equally alarming. When we read their accounts a hundred years later we cannot say offhand that either is absolutely wrong; while, if we are to obtain something like a true representation of the past we shall have to give, at the very least, respectful attention to each man’s word.
In the following paper several descriptions of Perth and Fremantle during the first ten years of their existence have been brought together. I have not tried to collect every word that was ever written about both places but to select representative views, both good and bad, so that, out of the contrasts, some better idea of the physical surroundings of the early settlers may be gained.
Too often, both in the past and present, the propagandist statements of emigration promoters or interested detractors of the Colony have been used one way or the other to give conclusions on the State’s early days. In the following compilation only firsthand observation has been admitted. As far as I can judge all of the accounts were honestly given, and, by means of them we may be able to get back to the point of view of the early settlers and early visitors, looking on things with their eyes, receiving impressions as they actually received them.
The value in seeing things again as they were seen by the firstcomers is that we may be able to appreciate the work they did and the difficulties which they overcame, and the conditions under which they struggled. We shall be able to understand their position more
clearly. The past will be in front of us not perhaps as it really is in relation to the vast structure of the centuries before and after it; but as it seemed to those who lived and laboured in each troubled moment of it.
At the outset, we can imagine the virgin country before ever the foot of a white man trod it—the uncut forest, the river, the swamps, the sandhills and the beach. We can pass rapidly over the circumstances of the foundation in June, 1829; the pitching of the first tents and the building of the first small fortification at Fremantle; the temporary establishment on Garden Island; the landing of the explorers; the striking of the first axe-stroke to found Perth; the transference of the first settlers to the mainland from the island, and the commencement of settlement. Let us now look at the scene through various eyes at various times during the first decade, and watch the port and the capital of the Colony grow.
One of the earliest descriptions by an outsider is that of Lieutenant Breton, R.N., who passed through on his way to New South Wales in October, 1829. “Fremantle at the time of my arrival,” he writes, “was a mere encampment, every person being either in a tent or temporary hut: its site is a level spot, consisting entirely of sand, and the ‘bush,’ or forest, extends to within a very short distance of it. Water was easily procured by digging holes a few feet in depth but it was not particularly good. . . . The only spring near the place was a mile distant, and it fell into the river only a few yards from its source. ... If the site alone be considered, a worse spot for a town could hardlv have been selected. Situated as it is upon a bed of sand and exposed to a glare that is almost unsupportable, it holds out but little inducement for any person to fix his residence there, unless compelled by circumstances.
“It was not a little curious to observe the incipient town during the first few months after its commencement. Tents and huts in every variety; goods of all descriptions scattered about in disorder; the emigrants employed, some in cooking their provisions, and others in sauntering about, or landing their effects; many looking very miserable and a few equally happy; different
kinds of animals, just landed, and showing evidently how much they must have suffered during so long a voyage; such was the scene I witnessed on landing at the spot on which the future principal seaport of Western Australia was to stand.”
Like many other travellers from England at that time Lieutenant Breton, while praising the beautiful scenery along the river’s banks, describes the land which he first saw between Perth and Fremantle as “almost worthless” from an agricultural point of view and refers to the scenery further inland as “triste and displeasing.”
* “Excursions in New South Wales, Western Australia and Van Diemen’s Land,” by Lieut. Breton, R.N. (London, 1833.)
In the same month—October, 1829—Dr. T. B. Wilson, R.N., arrived at Fremantle.* He also describes the encampment at the river mouth—“several tents pitched in a low sandy neck of land”—and adds that he understood that this was the site of Fremantle. About a mile higher up he noticed “several straggling huts,” apparently belonging to sawyers and boat builders, while on the right bank—that is on the North Fremantle side, and possibly at what is now known as Cypress Hill— he saw a tent belonging to Captain Curry, R.N., the harbour master.
* “Narrative of Voyage Round the World," by T. B. Wilson, M.D., Surgeon, R.N. (London, 1835.)
In a later description, he states that there were a few wooden houses at Fremantle, which had been brought out in frame from England, but most of the inhabitants lived in tents. “The greater part of the settlers yet remain here,” he says, “not one having gone to his farm. It is a very bad place, owing to the idleness, roguery and thieving of those people brought out as servants, and also of some others of a higher designation. It is so bad that the Governor designated it a ‘sink of iniquity’ and stated that he took no measures to make it better on purpose to force people to go to their farms.”
Unpleasant though it may be to those who would take a wholly romantic view of the foundation of the Colony, this poor opinion of the state of society in the port during the first few years is one that is common to several contemporary writers and one which we need to recognise and weigh as evidence for what it is worth.
Like most visitors, in those days and these, Dr. Wilson was enthusiastic over the scenery on the trip by
boat up the river. On arrival at the site of Perth he landed at a jetty of considerable length built out over the shallow water. In the future city, he was able to discover that there was intended to be a street called St. George's Terrace, but he found it, in the springtime of 1829, adorned only “with lofty trees and a variety of lovely flowers.” “Perth, the embryo capital,” he wrote, “has, as yet, only the appearance of a straggling tented field. . . . The Governor has got a commodious wooden house nearly finished and the Government officers are commencing to follow his example.”
Incidentally it was the opinion of Dr. Wilson and of his companion Captain Collet Barker, that Point Heathcote would have been a much preferable site for the town and in a footnote he adds that he learned that it had been originally proposed as the best place.
A few months later a very similar description was given by Mrs. Mary Ann Friend in her diary (printed in “W.A.H.S. Journal,” Vol. I., Part X.). On January 30, 1830, she wrote: “I was much disappointed with the appearance of Swan River, the entrance is so extremely narrow, the country low and sandy. ... January 31. About noon went ashore with my husband, was very much disappointed with the appearance of the roadstead, which is very narrow at the entrance—I should imagine not a quarter of a mile wide. It is very true that the country is ‘beautifully undulating and thinly wooded’ but, alas, the soil is nothing but sand. The town of Fremantle strongly resembles a Country Fair and has a pretty appearance, the pretty white tents looking much like booths—at present there are not above five or six houses. . . . Took my first walk out with Matthew, found the soil extremely sandy but covered with verdure. The trees were quite bleached and leaning in one direction, giving evident proof of constant heavy winds from one quarter. ... We did not find one garden in the place. All had failed. We saw one potato patch which appeared tolerably flourishing. It was made soil and about six feet by two. ... I must say there appears a great want of energy on the part of the settlers. It is true they are waiting for the season to sow their seeds, but I do not see why the intermediate time should be spent in doing nothing, which is the case with many—they might at all events be erecting
their houses and preparing for winter. Melancholy appears to pervade all classes and great dread is felt lest there should be a scarcity of provisions.”
When Mrs. Friend first went to Perth by boat, a week later, she commented on the beauty of the river and the picturesque situation of the town. This is what she saw: “The town is situated on an eminence and has a beautiful bay in front. They have already raised a jetty for the convenience of landing. Many of the soldiers have reed houses; the others have tents. There is an excellent house nearly finished which will be opened as an hotel and called the Stirling Arms. ... The Church is composed of reeds and wood and, considering the short time in hich it was erected, it does them credit ... It is large and spacious and has a vestry at one end.” Mrs. Friend also describes the house of Captain Irwin as a comfortable English home. For the rest, the community in February, 1830, seems to have been still domiciled principally in tents and the reed huts. The amenities of the place included coffee tents, where refreshment and lodging could be obtained. Much money was changing hands. Apoarently there was a certain amount of jollity being obtained by the “soldiers and lower orders” in the settlement and their noise as they sat up late, singing and drinking, disturbed the fair visitor to the town. Mosquitos were a pest and the “flies and the fleas were beyond description annoying.” But culture was not lacking in the more genteel parts of the settlement. In Captain Irwin’s place they “tasted all the comforts of an English home” and, later on, it is recorded that a literary society had been established in Perth.
It is time to turn to a more optimistic view. Just as Mrs. Friend was about to leave the Colony, in March, 1830, the ship Warrior, bearing several notable families of settlers, arrived from England. This is what one of them, James Turner (head of one of the largest establishments brought into the Colony) saw :* “The appearance of the country from the ship was really magnificent ; it seemed to be one complete map of verdure, but thickly wooded with trees of the most beautiful foliage. On the 13th we landed at Fremantle. (The Town is situated on the beach. Before you enter the River you
•The Turner Papers in W.A.H.S. records, reprinted in “W.A.H.S. Journal,” Vol. I., Part VIII., p. 42.
have to cross the bar, which at times is dangerous. When we landed the town was composed of a good number of miserable looking tents, most of which were grog shops. However, to tell the truth, these said shops were very good things, as I got some bread and cheese and porter in one of them half an hour after I landed.)” With regard to the trip up the river he says: “We were quite astonished at the splendid scenery on both sides of the river, although the soil is nothing but white sand. The foliage of the trees was exquisite, and together with the many beautiful turnings in the river, one might fancy themselves in fairyland. I can say nothing in favour of the land until we get about 20 miles from Fremantle; at present we must be content with such magnificent scenery, which I could not describe to you, unless I had the pen of an Italian painter.”
But even here, you find that all that encourages the optimistic settler is the beautiful scenery—and, perhaps, in a less degree, the cheese and porter.
Finally, to complete the sad tale, we have the description written by George Fletcher Moore.* Even that devoted friend of the Colony had to admit that, in the first two years or so, the new arrival in the Colony did not see a very pretty sight. He himself arrived at Fremantle at the end of October, 1830, and, although his journal of that date gives no description of the place, he describes it as it was in 1830, in a letter written to friends in Dublin, dated December, 1832. The purpose of this passage of the letter was to counteract an unfavourable report made by a certain Captain S.; and Moore seeks that end by pointing out that though the port was bad when Captain S. visited it, the prospect had improved considerably. What was Fremantle then? he asks. And it seems safe to assume, after a calculation of the time taken for an exchange of letters, that he is referring to a period about the end of 1830. Then, he says, it was “a bare, barren-looking district of sandy coast; the shrubs cut down for firewood, the herbage trodden bare, a few wooden houses, many ragged-looking tents and contrivances for habitations—one hotel, a poor public house into which everyone crowded—our Colony, a few cheerless dissatisfied people with gloomy
* “Diary ... of an Early Settler in Western Australia,".by George Fletcher Moore, p. 150. (London, 1884.)
looks, plodding their way through the sand from hut to hut to drink grog, and grumble out their discontents to each other; a stranger (a sailor in particular) could not admire the settlement.” Then, for contrast, he describes it at the end of 1832, two years later. But we shall leave that description for its proper place.
Hitherto the rough and temporary contrivances after the first landing have been described. Time allowed improvement to be made. Towards the end of 1832 descriptions begin to take a more favourable turn, at least as far as Fremantle is concerned. Captain Fremantle,* who revisited it in September, 1832, found “several houses built mostly occupied by persons keeping stores,” and G. F. Moore, in the contrast referred to above, spoke of it in December, 1833, as “a town laid out in regular streets of stone houses with low walls, and in some places palisades in front; two or three large, well-kept inns or hotels, in which you can get clean beds and good private rooms. The soil there is loam resting upon a stratum of easily worked limestone and possessing a fertility almost exceeding belief, with abundant water near the surface.”
On the other hand, a West Australian settler, in a letter dated January, 1833, reprinted in Cross’s Journals of Explorations,#said: “Fremantle, the great emporium of our trade is the vilest place on earth—nothing, in fact, but a huge mass of white sand.” And a visitor from Van Dieman’s Land in the same month said: “Fremantle is certainly a bed of sand, but in most parts of the townsite upon the several allotments is found a vein of sandstone about two feet from the surface, in sufficient quantity to build a cottage on each and to wall the land. I was astounded, as doubtless all who have visited that settlement have been, that the same bed of sand will produce vegetables, such as cabbages, carrots, turnips, onions, potatoes and peas than which nothing can be finer. There is scarcely an allotment in Fremantle fenced in and inhabited that has not a well and excellent fresh water.”
There seems to have been, allowing for all points of
* "Diary and Letters of Admiral Sir C. H. Fremantle, relating to the foundation of the Colony of Western Australia," (London, 1928.)
# Journals of several expeditions made in Western Australia, 1829-32. Edited by J. Cross. (London, 1833.)
view, quite a transformation from the few miserable tents and discontented inhabitants to a substantial town of limestone cottages, each fenced and with its garden, and a number of stores. The main commercial business of the whole Colony was then being carried on at Fremantle.
Luckily, at this period, we have the help of a pictorial representation of the settlement in the form of the water colour sketch by Richard Morrell and a copy of a lithograph made from it, which may be seen in the Public Library, Perth. The view was published in London in September, 1832, so probably represents a period early in that year; The view is taken from the hill slope on the land side of the town, with Arthur’s Head in the centre of the view. The Round House, completed in January, 1831, had become the dominating feature of the scene. To the south of it stood the signal flag staff. To the north, the river, still in its untouched state, with natural banks of sand and stone, flowed over its bar. On the low land behind Arthur’s Head, in a position where the greater part of it must have been invisible from the sea, clustered the two score or so houses of Fremantle, all of a plain rectangular form, like chalk boxes, with a single gable roof. The bush has receded far up Cantonment Hill. Apparently that early search for firewood has not left a tree standing in the bare patch of settlement.
Perth at this period does not seem to have kept pace with the material progress of the port. Captain Fremantle makes the contrast in September, 1832, “I was much disappointed at the appearance of the capital as it does not appear to have made much progress, very few houses having been built, and many of those scarcely worthy of the name, being mostly of wood and very small,” he writes. “The only good one of brick was built by Captain Irwin and is now let to the Government for a store; two or three boat builders were established and they build good boats.” That house of Captain Irwin’s is described by Moore as “a large brick one, with two storeys and a tiled floor.”
Captain Fremantle, perhaps with a special interest in the town that bears his name, concludes: “Perth has not kept pace with Fremantle, as the latter has many pretty tolerable houses and several are in progress, and
in spite of its sandy and unpromising appearance at landing, I have no doubt if the Colony continues of its being in time a place of consequence."
The first struggles had now passed and the Colony was taking shape and form. Progress, though slow, was definite. The colonists could take a pride in their achievement. The pride of a colonist and the wish to present the scene as favourably as possible probably has to be taken into account in the very pleasant descriptions of Perth and Fremantle given by Captain Irwin in his book, published in London in July, 1835, and presumably referring to the state of things towards the end of 1834.* “On approaching Fremantle from the sea,” he writes, “the site of the town is indicated by a handsome octagonal building of white cut stone, erected near the edge of a precipice which overhangs the mouth of the river. On landing the stranger has the pleasure of entering a small but neat town, with wide streets, some of which have been macadamized. The streets are laid out at right angles with each other and the houses are constructed either of white stone or of wood that is painted over. . . . Fremantle contains several hotels, where travellers may partake of excellent accommodation and a good table. The principal one is equal in appearance and comfort to a good English country inn. Invalids from India, accustomed to every luxury, have been thoroughly satisfied with their entertainment there, and have written to their friends in India to that effect. The shops and stores are provided with almost everything the settlers are likely to require."
Another description at the same time by a writer who is uniformly favourable to the Colony says:# “The town of Fremantle is getting on at a rapid pace; I dare say above 200 good stone houses are already built, besides lathed and weather boarded houses; but"—and here comes the inevitable comment—“it is all sand.”
Regarding Perth at the end of 1834 Irwin writes: “Passing through a narrow strait at the foot of Mount Eliza, a richly wooded hill on his left" (the traveller)
* “The State and Position of Western Australia" by Captain Frederick Chidley Irwin. Chapter iy. (London, 1835.)
# A Narrative Account of the Colony of Western Australia, collected from Personal Visits to Swan River, Port Augusta, and King George's Sound during a Five Years' Residence. . . By a Resident. (Madras, 1834.)
“discovers the town of Perth, beautifully situated on one of its declivities and extending along the shores of a somewhat circular bay. . . . The town of Perth is much more scattered than that of Fremantle, and is partially concealed by some fine trees which have been left standing. The main street extends about a mile along a ridge which runs parallel with the water’s edge. Most of the houses are of wood but some good ones of brick have been erected. . . . The appearance of the town of Perth is considerably enhanced by the officers’ barracks, and those of the private soldiers; the other public buildings are the jail, and an extensive commisariat store. In this town there are several comfortable inns. . . . Perth contains several good shops and merchants’ stores. . . . The church is the only one in the Colony. It is a temporary building, erected a few months after the establishment of the town in 1829.”
Those were the descriptions of a champion of the Colony who had worked for it from its foundation. Contrast it with the scene that met the eyes of a young military officer who came there on service and with a thirst to see the country. Lieutenant Bunbury, arriving in the first half of 1836, wrote as follows:* “At the entrance to the Swan is the town of Fremantle where there are some good houses which were built in the first days of the Colony but are now rapidly going into decay; many of them are half buried in the loose white sand which drifts with every breeze and smothers the fences and even walls in the town. . . . From Fremantle to Perth and again as high as Guildford, 8 miles higher up the Swan, the country is all a most wretched sand covered with stunted prickly scrub and small timber.. .. Perth itself is a most dismal place, duller than anything you imagine. . . .” Lest Bunbury’s impression should be discounted altogether, it should be remembered that he showed himself capable of finding some good things in other parts of the Colony.
To some extent his unfavourable first impression was also shared by another disinterested visitor—Captain J. Lort Stokes, the explorer and navigator, who first came
* Early Days in Western Australia, Being the Letters and Journals of Lieut. H. W. Bunbury. (London, 1930.)
to Fremantle in the Beagle in November, 1837.* But Captain Stokes had more appreciation for the natural beauties. “There is nothing very particularly inviting in the first appearance of Western Australia,” he wrote; “dull green-looking downs, backed by a slightly undulating range of hills rising to nearly 2000 feet high are the chief natural features of the prospect. Fremantle, of which it was wittily said by the quarter-master of one of His Majesty’s ships who visited the place, ‘You might run it through an hour glass in a day,’ is but a collection of low white houses scattered over the scarce whiter sand. The only conspicuous landmark visible in approaching the anchorage is the Jail: rather a singular pharos for a settlement in Australia which boasts its uncontaminated state. This building I afterwards induced the Governor to have whitewashed, and it now forms an excellent mark to point out the river, as well as the town. . . . That arid appearance which first meets the settler on his arrival and to which allusion has already been made cannot but prove disheartening to him: particularly if as is generally the case, his own sanguine expectations of a second paradise have been heightened by the interested descriptions of land jobbers and emigration agents. However, when he ascends the river towards the capital, this feeling of despondency will gradually wear away; its various windings bring to his eager and anxious eye, many a bright patch of parklike woodland; while the river, expanding as he proceeds, till the beautiful estuary of Melville water opens out before him, becomes really a magnificent feature in the landscape; and the boats, passing and re-passing upon its smooth and glassy bosom, give the animation of industry and suggest all the cheerful anticipations of ultimate success to the resolute adventurer. From about the centre of this lake-like piece of water the eye first rests upon the capital of Western Australia, a large straggling village, partly concealed by the abrupt termination of a woody ridge, and standing upon a picturesque slope on the right bank of the river, thirteen miles from its mouth. The distant range of the Darling mountains supplies a splendid background to the picture and the refreshing sea breeze which curls the surface of Melville Water every afternoon
* “Discoveries in Australia . . by J. Lort Stokes, Commander K.N. Vol. L, Chapter iii. (London, 1846.)
adds to the health no less than the comfort of the inhabitants.”
The decline of Fremantle from the quick progress noticed in 1835 was also observed by James Backhouse, the Quaker, who visited the Colony at the end of 1837.* At Fremantle he found most of the houses unfinished and those that were completed, he said, were going to decay. “Fremantle,” he continues, “resembles some of the little coast villages on the limestone of the county of Durham, but it is even whiter than they, and it is greatly inconvenienced by the drifting sand. . . . The population is about 200.” He also notices that the Government School at Fremantle has been left vacant; and notices the newly-cut tunnel through Arthur’s Head.
Of Perth he writes: “The town of Perth consists of several streets in most of which there are but few houses. Some of these, as well as the fences about the gardens appear to be going to decay. The streets are of sand, mixed with charcoal, from the repeated burning of the scrub, which formerly covered the ground on which the town stands. The principal street has a raised causeway, slightly paved, by which the toil of wading through the grimy sand may be avoided. Many beautiful native shrubs grow in the borders of the gardens,-most of which are in a neglected state. A few, on the slope to the head of Melville Water” (he probabty means Cockatoo Gardens) “have the advantage of being moistened by filtration, from some lagoons, at the back of the town; these are well cultivated and produce fine crops of grapes and melons. . . . The houses in Perth are placed at short distances one from another, each having a portion of ground surrounding it, which occasions the town, though of small population to occupy a considerable space; most of the fences are of sawn timber, but few of them are complete. Mosquitoes are numerous in the evening and very troublesome. ... At Perth we became lodgers in the homely dwelling of the widow of a Colonial Surgeon, in whose house several other persons were also inmates. The bedrooms were without plaster on the walls, or glass in the windows, and fleas were very numerous. Circumstances like these are not uncommon in newly-settled countries in
* “Extracts from the Letters of James Backhouse," Fifth Part. Page 27 et seq. (London, 1839.)
warm climates. But we had learned to put up with inconveniences of this kind and gratefully acknowledged the endeavours of our landlady to do her best to accommodate her guests.” Backhouse also describes the Court House (the present Arbitration Court building), which was then newly erected. He speaks of it as a “neat building, conveniently fitted up and used as a place of worship by the Episcopalian congregation. The windows have white calico, in place of glass, and are fitted with Venetian shutters outside.” He also mentions that “the Wesleyans have a neat little chapel in Perth.”
Regarding the population. Backhouse speaks highly of several of the fine Christian families he met; but he was also decidedly of the opinion, and apparently, if he reports them correctly, most of the leading citizens were of the opinion, that there was far too much drinking in the community.
Finally there is one item in the scene that you must bear in mind if after having re-created the Perth of those days you would people the streets from your fancy. Aborigines swarmed about the place—“a fine race and far from defective in intelligence .... and remarkable docile,” is Backhouse’s observation. They had not yet taken to European clothing or European vices. Some were clad with a small kangaroo skin rug over the shoulders “but not infrequently the men walk about Perth and Fremantle in a state of nudity, and custom appears so to reconcile this practice that little pains is taken to discourage it.”
Next in chronological order are the drawings of Perth and Fremantle by C. Wittenoom printed in Ogle’s “Western Australia,” which was published in London in 1839. These certainly show two well-established towns and the well-known view of Perth from King’s Park gives a pleasing impression of a number of scattered cottages nestling among the trees on their respective allotments, while the Court House (present-day Arbitration Court), the Commisariat (a large bare building on the site of the present Supreme Court) and the Barracks (on the site of the present Treasury Buildings) stand out boldly towards the eastern end of the settled area. The natural contours of the river bank have been untouched and several little gullies running down to the river give diversity to the scene.
A view at closer quarters shows a cleared but unmade street that seems extraordinarily wide for the demands made on it, bordered by narrow footwalks, while behind the uniform fences of palings, set back from the roadway among the natural trees of the original forest, stand the humble cottages of Perth residents. For the purposes of the picture two of the more elegant residents, in frocked coats, tight trousers and tall hats lounge negligently in the foreground. A man of a different order, with his bonneted and shawled wife and children, seems to be waiting for a coach. The middle distance has the sole vehicle—a dray drawn by three horses tandem.
Thus, at the end of the first ten years, we can leave the two villages on the Swan. They had a population of roughly 500 apiece, but one was the seat of Government and the other was the principal port of a Colony. One was formed by a number of cottages prettily scattered among trees on a pleasant river bank; the other was a group of stores and houses near an open roadstead, where sailing vessels were unloaded by hand. There is little need in conclusion to prompt the comparison with the changes that ninety years have brought.
[End of Hasluck's paper]
DESCRIPTION OF PERTH
Contained in a Letter Written by Archibald Sands, Esq., to his Son in Melbourne, in 1859.
Perth, Western Australia,
My Dear John George,— October, 1859.
I hope you duly received the letter I wrote to you from King George’s Sound and that it gave you some amusement. I again take up my pen to address you and as I have given to James an account of my journey across the country, I shall try to give you a description of this city, the Metropolis and Seat of Government of this Colony of Western Australia, and its neighbouring town of Fremantle, 12 miles distant, at the mouth of the River Swan, which are the only places I have as yet seen and, many others, I believe, are only villages. The City of Perth is very pleasantly situated on a bend of the river where it widens considerably and consists of three or four streets running east and west, three-fourths of a mile long, crossed by six or eight running from the river northwards, the whole, with the exception of the main street, very sparsely built upon. The Government House and offices connected occupy about a sixth of the space in the whole
city, and these buildings have not the slightest pretensions to architectural appearance or embellishment, and are very different indeed to those of Melbourne in that respect. There is, however, a new house for the Governor In progress which promises to be of a more ornamental character. There are a good number of Merchants’ stores In the place, most of whom do retail business as well as wholesale, but none but three of them have the appearance of places of business, and these are only an approximation to Melbourne shops, the others are just the ordinary dwelling houses with a garden in front, and many of them do their business in what may be called the offices, as if business were only a secondary consideration with them, and yet some of them do a large trade for the place, but without any show or the least attempt to attract customers. The population of Perth I would guess at about 3,000. Fremantle has about 800 inhabitants besides convicts, and the whole colony only contains about 14,000, military and convicts included. This will enable you to judge how quiet the place must be. The arrival of the mail cart attracts more notice, and excites fully as much interest as that of the mail steamer does in Melbourne. The flag is hoisted and everyone. is anxious to know what passengers have arrived, so that I and the lady who came on the cart excited some attention. Mrs. Uglow, however, being a regular visitor and well known, the attention centred on me and everyone was anxious to know what I was after, and I had the question put to me direct several times in the course of the first afternoon.
After I got washed and dressed I called at the Bank and found there by chance the gentleman from Fremantle whom I wished to see on business, and as he was just going off to the steamer I walked to the jetty with him along the street. Mr. McGibbon is a partner with the firm of Yelverton and Co., who deal in timber, and having been seen with him, I hear the people now saying as I pass along the street, "That is the gentleman who has come to buy the mahogany.” So much attention does a stranger excite in this quiet place.
Only the main street, and that, too, on one side, has a footpath. There is also a portion of the roadway laid with broken limestone for road metal; the other streets everywhere is deep sand, taking you to the ankle at every step (just as Brighton is) and making walking about very fatiguing..
(Here the page is torn)
This gentleman is a Mr. Shenton, a merchant, and tells me he landed here with the first expedition in 1829. He has been very successful and is now a very rich man. He is very public spirited and does a great deal of good. I believe he is a Methodist in religion, and has been instrumental in the erection of a very handsome chapel and also a school house, both of them the best buildings in the place. The latter was only opened by a public tea meeting two nights before my arrival, else I would have been present. I see a small Congregational Chapel also and, of course, there is an English Church, and . . .
REMINISCENCES OF HANNAH PROPERJOHN
[Collected by the Women’s Research Group.]
[Read before the Society, July 28, 1933.]
Among the early Colonists at Australind was the family of Mr. Charles Properjohn, who left England in the sailing ship Parkfield in 1841 and arrived in Western Australia on St. Patrick’s Day, 1842. Mr. Charles Properjohn had married Miss Elizabeth Slennet. Their daughter Hannah was born in 1839 and the little girl was with them on the Parkfield when it arrived in Geographe Bay. It is on her recollections, as related to her children in later years, that this paper is based.
After arrival the family rowed with their belongings up the estuary and the Collie River to their new home on the banks of the river. Mr. Properjohn erected shelters of wattles, bush shrubs which were strong and pliable, and his family slept and lived under these shelters at first. There were many hardships, as the soil was poor and sandy and later the family removed to Bunbury to be nearer the sea. The four children of the Properjohn circle were Hannah, Rebecca, Mary Ann, Thomas (who died at the age of 25 of typhoid) and a stepson Charles. Their first cottage in Bunbury was wattle and daub, with rush thatched roof. There was no school nor any teacher in those distant times, and one of the sodliers at the Barracks offered to teach them.
But if the children suffered some disadvantages there were many other pleasures to make their childhood happy. At Bunbury. for a period, their home was close to the beach and near a high sand hill, where the flagstaff and lighthouse were afterwards built. The hill protected their home from the storms and from the north and west winds that swept across from the “Giant’s Causeway.” There was one round white sand hill which Hannah and her sister Rebecca called the White Hill, and they used to play on it, sliding down its steep slopes into the valley. It was a great deal better than the sand pile in a modern kindergarten.
At other times, these children would visit the reef of black rocks, which jutted out into the sea and made a safe natural shelter for ships at anchor. When the reef was bare at low tide they would gather from the pools star fish, anenomes, periwinkles, crabs, cuttle fish backs, and shells. Regaining the beach they could go home by the “Giant’s Causeway,” above the channel of which the waves dashed and surged, splashing high in the air. Another pretty walk described by Hannah to her children was that across the Bunbury “plain” covered with wild flowers. There they would pass a tomb built of yellow English bricks on one of the low sand hills. There was also a fresh water spring, where they went to make a hole and dipped up the water to drink with their hands.
When she grew older Hannah cither walked or rode around the swamps at week-ends, sometimes as far as Picton, where she stayed with Mrs. William Forrest. When playing with the children, the sons James and William Forrest would be the leaders.
These brothers would say John could drag the bags of corn for them. They considered him a dull, slow boy and not as quick and bright as the others.
Hannah could not often go visiting, as her help was needed by her mother. Those were the years when a mother had to make candles, soap and bread in her home, cooking with camp ovens, and using heavy tubs made from beer barrels for laundry work. Besides candles for lighting, whale oil lamps were used when such oil was procurable, as for instance when a whale was obligingly washed ashore by the elements.
In later years Mr. John Bateman, of Fremantle, came to Bunbury and started whaling with a party of men who were stationed near the White Hill. They dug a well there. Mrs. R. Gale (nee Spencer) states, “My father, who became Hannah’s husband, joined them to go to Castle Rock at Cape Naturaliste where they chased the whales in boats to harpoon them.”
When she was sixteen, Hannah married Mr. William Spencer, the Clerk of Courts in the Magistrate’s Office at Bunbury. As the marriage was performed by the Magistrate and not by a Clergyman she always felt that it was not as sacred a ceremony as she could have desired, but the clergy were few and distant in 1855. A copy of the marriage entry is in the possession of the Clerk of Courts at Bunbury to-day (1932) and contains the following information: “William Spencer and Hannah Properjohn, married 22nd March, 1855. (Clerk to Magistrate.)
“Witnesses: Elizabeth Properjohn, C. Properjohn.
“Father of William Spencer—Gentleman. Father of Hannah Properjohn—Tradesman.”
Mr. William Spencer was born at Bath, England, in 1824. He was son of Mr. T. Spencer, of Bond-street, and a grandson of Admiral Mark Robinson of H.M.S. Worcester, who fought in the Battle of the Nile, and under whom Lord Nelson served from Southampton to Gibraltar in 1777.
Garry Gillard | New: 27 August, 2020 | Now: 3 September, 2020