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Fremantle's first voice: The Herald (1867-1886)

Bob Reece

Reece, Bob 2010, 'Fremantle's first voice: The Herald (1867-1886)', Fremantle Studies, 6: 43-65.

It was not until Saturday 2 February 1867 that the town of Fremantle had its own weekly newspaper to voice local concerns and interests and reinforce an emerging sense of community. Hand-written news-sheets, The Fremantle Journal and General Advertiser, The Western Australia Gazette, The Western Australian and Perth Gazette and The Western Australian Chronicle and Perth Gazette, had been produced briefly in 1830 and early 1831 by the local merchants James Gardner and W K Shenton. The Fremantle Observer; The Perth Gazette and Western Australian journal, published by Shenton and Charles McFaull, ran for about a year after the landing of the first Ruthven press by Fremantle businessman John Weavell in early 1831. 2 Finally, The Western Australian and The Western Australian Colonial News were printed and published by William Temple Graham at Fremantle as weeklies from December 1831 and May 1833 for brief periods. 3 However, what was to be the colony’s most successful early newspaper, Macfaull’s The Perth Gazette, first appeared in Perth on 5 January of that year, by which time the capital had eclipsed the port settlement in importance. William Nairn Clark’s Swan River Guardian, printed on the same Ruthven press, appeared in Perth in late 1836 and The Inquirer in August 1840. 4 Between July 1833 and 1867, Fremantle was without a regular newspaper except for John Robert Sholl’s The Commercial News and Shipping Gazette which appeared between February and June 1855 before being merged with Perth’s Inquirer.

The only means by which local news could be disseminated during the 1840s, 1850s and early 1860s was through the person of Tommy Hopkins, Fremantle’s unofficial town crier. According to the town’s first historian, J K Hitchcock, who had lived there since his arrival as a thirteen year old boy from Guildford in 1868:

Every lunch hour and evening his stentorian voice and sonorous bell could be heard announcing an auction sale, meeting, or other fixture, his fee being 2s 6d a time  At election times, the candidate who could command a monopoly of Tommy’s services was on the right track to victory. 5

Tommy was also in his element as Fremantle’s Master of Ceremonies on sports days at The Green, the grassed recreational area reclaimed by the townspeople from river marsh at the end of Cliff Street, when ‘climbing the greasy pole, catching the greasy pig, and other forms of pristine entertainment were always features of the programme’. 6


Front page of the first issue of The Herald, 2 February 1867. (City of Fremantle, Local History Collection)

How it was that The Herald began life at its offices near the south- western corner of Cliff Street and High Street in early 1867 (possibly occupied earlier by Sholl’s newspaper), is largely a matter of speculation. Its two ex-convict founders, James Pearce and William Beresford, left no personal records. However, the veteran businessman, newspaperman and leading Catholic layman, J T Reilly, who knew them well wrote in his 1905 reminiscences that Pearce had been the moving force: Having taken a prominent part in literary, musical and dramatic undertakings, both in Perth and Fremantle’ in the early 1860s; ‘mixing  with business and progressive men of the day’, he was ‘induced to purchase a complete printing plant, and ultimately to start the newspaper’. 7 Reilly described The Herald as ‘admirably, as well as judiciously written, and ... the leading newspaper in Western Australia’. 8

However, the bitter opposition it aroused from government and conservative settlers meant that ‘the struggle to keep the Herald afloat was a terrible one’. 9 Despite this, Reilly said, Pearce was able to see the fulfilment of most of the measures he had advocated. ‘The story of the Herald, Reilly concluded, ‘is the history of the colony from embryonic life to full development, and hence Mr. James Pearce’s journalistic efforts to advance Western Australia deserve a conspicuous place in her history’. 10 So far, Pearce has been denied that place. Indeed, The Herald itself has been largely overlooked in Western Australian historical writing. 11


Fremantle's other convict-owned and edited newspaper was George Barrow’s The Era 1868 1869. It was produced by the old-fashioned lithographic process. (City of Fremantle, Local History Collection)

The Herald appeared just a year before the end of convict transportation when a new era for ex-convicts was in sight. Indeed, another ex-convict- owned and edited Fremantle newspaper which ran as a penny weekly during the latter half of 1868 and early 1869 was actually called The Era and took a similar line to The Herald on most issues. 12 Proclaiming its intentions with the motto ‘Right is Might’, it also signalled its editor's erudition with a quotation from the Roman poet, Horace. The opening of the first traffic bridge over the Swan River on 2 October 1867 and the imminent prospect of telegraphic communication with Perth were events which marked the end of Fremantle’s relative isolation from the capital and enabled it to have a voice in colonial affairs. However, its then population of no more than 3500 people could hardly support a newspaper and The Herald from the outset had a much wider readership in mind.

What do we know of the background of those two enterprising and able men who established what was to be the second and most successful ex-convict owned and edited newspaper in the history of the Australian colonies? 13 A good deal has been written by Geoffrey Bolton about the Hon William de la Poer Beresford (to give him his full aristocratic name), the eccentric former vicar of Inniscara, County Cork, who had been sentenced to fifteen years for forgery at the York assizes in 1855, transported in the Edwin Fox in 1858 and given a ticket-of-leave a year after his arrival, spending a year or so as a tutor in the York district. Born in 1799, Beresford was a mature sixty-eight years when he co-founded The Herald, an age when most sensible men would have been seriously considering retirement from active life. Beresford had left a wife and children in Ireland but there is no record of any subsequent communication with them.

Pearce’s background was relatively humble. An unmarried bricklayer’s labourer sentenced to seven years for larceny at the Gloucester assizes in March 1849 as a previous offender, he arrived on the Minden in October 1851, receiving his ticket-of -leave on his arrival and working as clerk to the Government Resident at Guildford. Awarded his conditional pardon in August 1853, he then worked for six years as a private tutor to the Taylor family at Yangedine in the York-Beverley district. 14 A self-educated man with a passion for literature, he was credited with bringing together the Mechanics’ Institute and Working Man’s Association in Fremantle (which had been riven by the question of ex-convict membership) and uniting them in the Fremantle Literary Institute, of which he was secretary for four years. 15 Keenly interested in the theatre, he was a member of the Fremantle Amateur Dramatic Corps in which the Francisco brothers were prominent. An Anglican, he married Emily O’Grady in 1870, an Irish Protestant from Limerick whose father worked in the Commissariat Store and whose brothers were master mariners in Fremantle. 16


Fremantle Amateur Dramatic Troupe, Odd Fellows’ Hall, c. 1870. James Pearce was an enthusiastic founder member of the group and is no doubt pictured somewhere in this photograph. (JK Ewers, Western Gateway: 100 years of local government in Fremantle, Western Australia, Fremantle City Council, 1948, opp. p44)

More concerned with the printing and business side of the newspaper, Pearce sold books, stationery and sheet music from the Cliff Street office of The Herald whose location, marked by an enormous pine tree, was not far from the bell near the Round House which rang the 10 pm curfew for the town’s ticket-of-leave men. In all probability, Pearce purchased the printing press which had been used by Robert Sholl some years earlier and which he (Pearce) initially used to print advertising circulars for Lionel Samson & Co whose offices were located next door to The Herald. 17 Indeed, it seems likely that Lionel Samson’s commercial interest led him to provide financial assistance to Pearce in his new enterprise.

A third important figure associated with The Herald from 1874 until its demise was James (Elphinstone) Roe, the former vicar of Macclesfield, Cheshire, who had been convicted of forging a cheque for £6000 in relation to his late uncle’s will. Sentenced in 1861 to ten years’ transportation, he arrived on the York in December 1862 and spent from 1864 to 1866 at York as a schoolmaster and from 1867 to 1872 at Greenough, first as a schoolmaster and then as a farmer. Here, he was assisted by his wife Susannah who came out with their nine surviving children (aged between three and twenty-one) to join him in late 1864 after he received his ticket-of-leave. During his time at York, he is said to have been a tutor to the well-known Burges family. 18 He employed six ticket-of-leave men on his farm at York and thirteen later at Greenough, where he finally lost his post as schoolmaster in 1871 after falling out with the secretary of the local education committee over his tolerant attitude towards Catholics. He was subsequently forced to move to Perth.


James Roe, assistant editor of The Herald from 1874. Roe was a strong advocate of government aid to denominational schools and of representative government. Like Beresford, he had been a clergyman of the Church of England. (Western Australian Catholic Oxford Movement Genealogical Society)

Having earlier written several letters to The Herald on the issue of education, Roe joined the newspaper as assistant editor in 1874. He also became a frequent contributor to The Western Australian Catholic Record when it was established by Bishop Matthew Gibney in Perth in the same year. Influenced by the Anglo-Catholic Movement when he studied there, he was much more favourably disposed towards the Catholic Church than was Perth’s Anglican Establishment and its loyal mouthpiece, The Inquirer. 19

All three men had probably met in the York district where they were schoolmasters or tutors in the 1860s. Roe and Beresford both styled themselves ‘gentleman’, while Pearce did not. Another upper class figure associated with The Herald was Archibald H L Cole, a forger and son of an Anglican cleric, who worked as an accountant and schoolmaster at Bunbury until he joined The Herald in 1873 for a year as a reporter. Stephen Stout, an ex-convict who had been a schoolmaster at Australind and subsequently set up the first photographic studio in Fremantle in 1864, contributed articles to The Herald before establishing his own newspaper, The Victoria Express, in Geraldton in 1878.20 Arthur Lovekin, an English professional journalist who had worked on the Melbourne Age and Adelaide Register, joined The Herald as senior reporter in 1886 on the eve of its demise. He was subsequently to have a distinguished career as a journalist and MP in Western Australia. 21

The Herald was printed by yet another convict expiree, William Weekes, about whom little is known beyond the details of his conviction, ticket-of- leave and employment from 1870 as a printer and bookbinder. Assisting him at various times were at least half a dozen ticket-of-leave men employed by Pearce, including Horace Coe, an unmarried soldier who had come out with the Fenians on the Hougoumont in 1868 for picking pockets. There is very little in the way of comment from contemporaries, or reminiscences by the protagonists themselves, to suggest what life was like at 7716 Herald ’s Cliff Street offices and how the little team regarded their work and each other. All we have is an English visitor’s description of them at ease in a Fremantle billiard hall one evening in October 1870: ‘the hawk-eyed Editor with part of his editorial staff chewing his cud for the morrow’s leader’. 22

Beresford, JT Reilly wrote,

was a ripe scholar, and had a fund of acquired information which greatly assisted him as editor... As a writer on general topics he could not be excelled. He was perfectly acquainted with European and colonial politics, and was quite familiar with almost every detail of ancient and modern history. His experience of the world and society generally had been varied as it was unique, and his intercourse with men of all sorts and conditions, rendered him a charming conversationalist as well as an inimitable storyteller. Being so thoroughly equipped for newspaper writing especially, it is not surprising that his contributions to the press were always admired for their aptness as well as for their ability. 23


The Herald offices, next to William F Samson's House, Cliff St. Set back from the street, the two-storey building’s location was marked by a large pine tree. (City of Fremantle, Local History Collection, 1435)

Roe, he added,

was a gentleman of considerable ability, having received the benefit of a classical education in England. Mr. Roe had a facile pen, and contributed numerous leaders and sketches to the Fremantle Herald. In the political affairs of the colony, Mr. Roe took a very deep interest, and, in order to promote the responsible Government movement, published an admirably written pamphlet on the question, pointing out the advantages which the popular form of government would confer on the people and country... Mr. Roe always maintained his personal dignity and self-respect, and while generously regarding the conscientious views of everyone, still he moved in a mental and moral sphere purely of his own selection. 24

The one glimpse we have of The Herald 3 operation is from Beresford’s own description in his highly popular column which appeared under the nom deplume of ‘A Sandalwood Cutter’. He was at pains to emphasise that, unlike his Perth counterparts, he did not fill his newspaper with material clipped from British and colonial newspapers:

I hardly knows what to say about The Herald. Most likely it won't be put in if I runs it down, but I’m goin’ to tell the truth. It’s a rum kind of paper, but they’re very obligin’ people, and put in generally what you send and don’t put in pieces and leave out pieces, to avoid mentionin’ any one’s names. The editor’s a different man altogether to the others. They’re fat and jolly, and looks as tho’ editin’ was a easy kind of life, where there’s plenty to eat and drink and little to do; but he’s thin as a herrin’ and seems a deal more tired and worn out than a man cleanin’ wood [sandalwood] all day.

‘Why don't you have a pair of scissors Sir?’, says a man to him while I was there, with his hands full of paper covered all over with writin’.

‘No’, says the editor, ‘the other papers is full of ‘em and I wont do it. It ain’t fair; people don’t buy the paper to read advertisements and extracts out of other papers, but to read something concerning themselves and the country they’ve made their homes in’ and the man went away. Lord he looked tired too. Gettin’ out a newspaper aint no easy work thinks I, if you use the pen instead of the shears. 25

Beresford also offered some comments on his competitors:

'The Inquirer aint a bad paper any way- they’ve taken a lot of trouble to make it better since the Herald started, they’ve made it bigger and put more advertisements in and keeps em in much longer than they ought. 'That dont matter much only it has led to one or two mistakes ...The Editor’s a nice kind of man and aint at all too proud to ask for favors. I hears hes always goin’ about lookin’ for articles and information but if he cant get articles why what can he do but take the scissors and some old papers and set to cuttin’, and that saves a good deal of trouble. If the paper's dull you cant blame him, aint he done his best, isnt his fingers sore a clippin’ and a snippin’, and what the use a grumblin’? Taint no use blaming a stout old gentleman whose hairs is getting white with worry. 26

On the other hand, The Gazette aint up to the Inquirer in size, but its quite equal in its copyin’s and beats it hollow in the thickness of the paper, and that’s what make it sell - its so useful for parcels. I don’t know which is the thickest the paper or the Editors head. 27

In its first issue The Herald struck a progressive and optimistic stance, indicating that it would not be preoccupied with parochial issues: Its chief object will be the extension of our commercial relations at home and abroad. the development of our natural and industrial resources, and the diffusion of as much practical, instructive and amusing information as it limits will permit. 28

Its motto boldly proclaimed: Give every man thine ear, but few thy Voice; take each man’: Censure, but reserve thy judgement. This was hardly appropriate for what was from the outset a decidedly radical and outspoken newspaper and it is not surprising that it was blithely ignored by its editors. Nevertheless, as we shall see, there was at least one occasion when The Herald displayed more political caution than its conservative but hotter-headed Perth competitors.

Beresford, who was no doubt responsible for much of the feature material for the newspaper during its first decade, produced his most popular writing as ‘Chips From A Sandalwood Cutter’, which probably reflected something of the time he had spent at York. Imitating the English novelist William 'Thackeray’s idiomatic depictions of ‘downstairs’ (servant) conversation, Beresford adopted the persona of a semi-educated immigrant English country labourer who had ‘knocked about’ the colony for many years and was happy to share his homespun wisdom with anyone who cared to listen. In this unassuming guise, he took a robust anti-Establishment stance and lost no opportunity to fire shots at the social pretensions and political conservatism of patrician Perth. Some of his columns were devoted to more homely subjects such as ‘Our Boys’ and ‘Our Girls’ or were light-hearted spoofs such ‘The Opera’ and ‘Mrs. Wagglestone’s Opinions’. Others, such as ‘Our Governor’, ‘Our (quarter Sessions’ and ‘A Word to Masters’, carried pointed political criticisms wrapped in the knockabout and disarming language of a semi-literate itinerant. His pièce de résistance was a series of three articles recounting the visit to Western Australia by HRH Prince Alfred in February 1869. In one of these he reported an imaginary conversation over a private lunch with the young prince on board HMS Galatea:

‘And how did you like the Colony Sir’, I says - I didn’t say Royal Highness, it’s such a mouthful and I was afraid it’d choke me if I tried it.

‘Oh much better than I thought I should. In England they [sic] ain’t any idea it’s such [a] place. I don’t think I ever was more deceived. - I thought when I come ashore - there would be nothing but convicts with ugly faces ready to rob you of a sixpence, and pleecemen thick as bees lookin’ after ‘em, and yet I couldn’t tell the ones who’d been prisoners and the ones who hadn’t’... 29

‘Yours is a queer colony’, the Prince had told him earlier, ‘but they’re queerer people that govern it. Narrow minded and selfish. You won’t do any good until you get a change of rulers’. 30

Another column in an idiomatic style probably penned by Beresford was ‘The Costermonger.’ Roe, on the other hand, was probably responsible for the more conventionally literary ‘Jottings of an Old Umbrella’ and the more serious ‘Pedagogue’.

It was Beresford’s ‘Chips From A Sandalwood Cutter’ column which explains how in the first few weeks of its existence The Herald fell for one of the oldest literary hoaxes in the history of journalism - the acrostic poem, the first letters of whose lines spell out a cheeky or obscene message. (The editor of the Sydney Bulletin, Donald Home, fell for this trick twice in 1960, thanks to the poets Gwen Harwood and Thomas Shapcott, and literary history contains many more examples.) In its fifth issue on 2 March 1867 The Herald published some verses which had been sent in by someone called ‘Martin Lindsay’ in order to embarrass his poetically- inclined daughter who had purportedly composed them and to discourage her from further productions. It also published an accompanying letter from Lindsay, which, imitating the style favoured by ‘A Sandalwood Cutter’, and highly complimentary to him, ought properly to have aroused Beresford’s suspicions. Furthermore, the ‘varses’ were of a high-flown sophistication scarcely likely from an up-country colonial lass. As ‘Willy’, the newspaper’s ‘resident poet’, it was no doubt Beresford’s error not to appreciate this and see through ‘Martin Lindsay’, who wrote:

Mister Editer,

I dusn’t often com to Perth, but ger’nally tries to com to the Races, and that is how I ain't seen your paper before. I likes this ere Sandalwood riten becos its true. I be one of them hard-fisted chaps you rite about, and com her with only a shillin in my pocket, but by hard work and the misses’ help, we are now purty well of, and appy, only missis woud have our darter sent to a Simminary to be edercated, and now she has come home purtends to faint when she’s got to work, just like you rote about the gals, and wants to have a Pianner, which I warn't goin to let her have, only shes getting wurse, and took to makin verses. I sends you a specimen of em and wants you redikule em if the tha deserves it, mite make her stop, which if she does she shall have a Pianner which is the best of the 2. I hopes you puts the verses in and oblige.

Yours obntly,


Excuse this riten but I dusnt like any body to no who rote the verses or I would a-got it rote by somebody which I does when I’m at home. ML 31

In a published note accompanying the letter and the poem, Beresford played along with what he clearly thought was a harmless jape. He implored Miss Lindsay to cease writing ‘varses’ and accept her father's offer of the ‘pianner’, otherwise she would ‘surely become an old maid, or something worse’. He concluded: ‘We shall be glad to hear from ML as often as his pressing duties will permit. We regret that the “edercation” his “darter” received at the “Simminary” totally unfits her for the wash-tub and dish rag duties of her future life’.

When the joke at their expense was pointed out to them by DB Francisco, prominent merchant, owner of the ‘Crown and Thistle’ hotel in High Street and local postmaster, who was evidently a keen Saturday morning reader, The Herald's embarrassed editors made frantic efforts to buy up every copy printed in order to avoid embarrassment. This they did with some success as no privately owned copy of the issue seems to have survived. (If it did it would surely now be a collector’s item.) However, they could not re-possess the copy already sent as a matter of course to the Colonial Secretary’s office, which was preserved down the years until its eventual deposit with the JS Battye Library of Western Australian History. It is from this copy that I can now reveal the text, not from any prurient impulse or desire to shock, but to illustrate that beneath its cloak of mid-Victorian respectability, Fremantle society experienced the normal impulses of human life. You will see, if you look at it carefully, that the first letters of each line when read in sequence spell out a warm, if somewhat robust, tribute to the female sex, or at least to the female sexual organ:

Potty From My Darter

I love, oh how I love to hear
Love’s tender accents greet mine ear;
On peerless fancies I arise,
Veiled in a thousand mystic sighs.

E’er as my thoughts at midnight road,
A hallowed glory seems to come;
Placid and grand to make my breast
Lucient with gems from pleasure’s crest

Unfolding in each gentle glance,
Mutual splendour to entrance;
Pure and sweet I see in all
A transport boundless to enthrall.

Nor can I shun so fair a sight
Dazzled with beauty infinite;
Rich with perfection do I view,
O’erlade with smiles of charming hue.

Such as a seraph might possess,
Yes, with its thrilling loveliness,
Charming and sweet love fills my heart,
Up in the sky, or in life’s chart.

No greater joy I ask than this,
To soothe my soul with pleasure’s kiss.
Yes, yes, no greater boon I crave
On mortal sod than love to have.

Unaltered through life’s sad career,
Bound with a purity sincere,
Ever to truth and linked to peace,
Till this lone vital spark shall cease.

Eventually The Herald was able to trace the source of the wicked hoax. Threatening to expose the name of the evil genius responsible, it explained that he had given the verses to his accomplice’s innocent wife to copy, and that the handwriting was similar to that of another letter received from her. Having claimed at first that the embarrassment had almost forced it to close down, The Herald now excoriated the author and his accomplice for their infamy (without actually naming and shaming them) and expressed its appreciation for the enormous wave of public sympathy the incident had brought the fledgling paper and, irony of ironies, probably ensured its survival.

Needless to say, The Herald was subsequently rather more careful about publishing what it called ‘poetical effusions’ from its readers, telling a correspondent called ‘Clio’ three months later that it could not publish her poems ‘unless accompanied with a guarantee that they contain no hidden meaning’. 32 Most of the poetry subsequently published was drawn from British sources; the few pieces identified as of colonial origin being mostly colourless efforts bearing no references to any particular place or person. An original colonial poetic gem, however, is a satirical piece in the style of Lord Byron most likely penned by Beresford himself on the occasion of the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in February 1869. 33 Short stories, such as ‘Zillah: A Tale of The Great Deluge’ which appeared in the first issue of the paper, were published in serial form, sometimes as special supplements. Other titles were ‘Sophie’s Confessions’, ‘Convents and Coquetry’ and ‘Adolphe de Crevecoeur: A Tale of the Crusades’. Historical romances were as popular with people in Fremantle then as they are today.

There was nothing in the early issues of The Herald to indicate that it would devote itself primarily to Fremantle affairs; indeed, it projected itself as a worthy rival of the Perth newspapers in the dissemination of overseas and inter-colonial as well as Western Australian news. Considerable space was given to British and foreign news as well as to events in Eastern and of course Western Australia. It seems likely that in the division of editorial labour, Beresford took responsibility for the former and Roe for the latter. There was a good coverage of Irish politics, with editorials reflecting Beresford’s scepticism about Home Rule. Regional Western Australia was covered by more or less regular letters from correspondents at Geraldton, Cossack, Derby, York, The Vasse (Busselton), Pinjarra and other places.

There was no shortage of ordinary contributors; indeed, there was a column entitled ‘Notice to Correspondents’ providing brief and witty responses as a form of acknowledgement. Preference was given to letters raising more weighty political and economic issues, notably those from a correspondent styling himself ‘Tribune’ who, among other things, criticised the monopoly of shipping of colonial exports back to Britain which incurred extortionate costs. The Herald editorialised in support of letters advocating better treatment of the Aborigines, 34 criticised the assignment of Aboriginal prisoners to settlers 35 as something Little better than slavery and deplored the way in which the justice system was weighted against Aboriginal offenders. 36 In May 1875 it opposed the despatch of an expedition to punish Aborigines allegedly responsible for the murder of a settler in the Geraldton district. 37 On the other hand, it questioned the reliability of Aboriginal evidence adduced in the courts. 38

Dependent as it mostly was on advertising revenue and subscriptions from Fremantle’s business community, 172:2 Herald duly reported local events such as meetings of the Fremantle Town Trust (after February 1871 Fremantle Municipal Council), Roads Board, Volunteer Fire Brigade, Mechanics’ Institute, Working Man’s Association and other worthy organisations. Concerts and amateur dramatics at the Odd Fellows’ Hall in William Street (for many years Fremantle’s only sizeable gathering place) and musical soirées at the Boys’ School were reported in detail. At the same time, the social pretensions and mediocre standards of some of these performances were mocked by Beresford in his other persona of ‘A Sandalwood Cutter’. 39

More colourful news appeared in the ‘Local Intelligence’ column. Convict escapees, ticket-of-leave re-offenders and Aborigines (usually up before the magistrate on charges of drunkenness or vagrancy, or both) inevitably provided much of its copy. Outrageous goings-on at the ‘Pearlers Arms’ (later the Terminus Hotel) by some of the more dissolute tenants of the notorious Fiddler’s Cottages were recounted with evident glee. On a more serious note, The Herald deplored the appalling infant mortality rate in Fremantle where two deaths were registered for every three births. 40

The Herald was quick to take up the editorial cudgels on behalf of convicts who were badly treated in the prison or in the road gangs, particularly during the harsh regime of Governor Hampton. Thus it printed in detail the Supreme Court hearing in October 1867 of a charge of intent to murder brought against prisoner Joseph Price who had attacked a warder after being ill-treated by him. 41 In a long editorial, it stated that it had ‘long felt that the system [of punishment] revived by Governor Hampton had reached the culminating point of a terrible and forbidding climax’. 42 Price’s treatment it described as ‘cruel, indecent and as barbarous as anything inflicted by the Abyssinian ruffian 'Theodore', 43 an arcane reference which would have escaped most readers. It subsequently published a series of highly critical articles entitled ‘Our Convicts and Our Convict System’.

The Herald also criticised the harsh and punitive way in which ticket- of-leave men were treated by some magistrates, and the extraordinary fact that they were unable to speak in their own defence in cases when their ticket-of-leave was liable to be withdrawn. In August 1870 it campaigned vigorously for the release of a ticket-of-leave man called Young who had been arrested and imprisoned on the basis of a letter from Attorney- General G G Stone. 44 On the other hand, it recounted with unconcealed admiration the exploits of Bernard Stein, an enterprising escapee popularly known as ‘Velvet Ned’, Who managed to make his way overland to Eucla and then by ship to South Australia, only to be arrested and returned by the authorities there. 45 It reported in detail the Houdini-like exploits of Joseph Bolytho Jones, the canny Welsh sheep-stealer-turned-escape-artist, better known as ‘Moondyne Joe’. 46

It also published a letter from a Bunbury correspondent who deplored the lack of provision for the social needs of-ticket-of-leave men and expirees:

Under existing circumstances when a man becomes relieved from the restraint of prison discipline he finds himself left entirely to his own resources, he may perchance obtain immediate employment and so far, well, but what provision is made for the man in his spare hours? The Mechanics Institute (a misnomer) is too aristocratic an affair for our poor working man to approach. There is positively nothing else but the Public House, and there accordingly he goes, spending his money, ruining his health and preparing the way for future pauperism... 47

Here was an epitaph for many of Fremantle’s own ex-convicts.

The Herald welcomed the termination of convict transportation in principle, but believed (rightly, as it turned out) that too little advance notice had been given by the British authorities and that without compensation it would leave the colony economically vulnerable. 48 It was a clear indication of how closely The Herald ’s ex-convict owner-editors had become identified with the broader economic interests of their place of exile. Again, in December 1867, The Herald shared the public anxiety aroused in the colony by the anticipated arrival of the Irish Fenian prisoners on board the last convict transport, the Hougoumont, which it described as ‘freighted with criminals of more than ordinary guilt’. 49 At the same time, it proclaimed, the colony’s inhabitants could ‘congratulate themselves that the leper spot of convictism which has so long made this colony a bye word among communities is about to pass away’. 50

Pearce himself was most anxious that the memory of his own convict background should also ‘pass away’ so that he would be fully accepted by society. However, The Inquirer in late 1879 published a letter from ‘R.S.V.P.’ which dwelt on his ‘leper spot’ and described The Herald as a convict-owned and supported newspaper. ‘R.S.V.P.’ accused Pearce of being the author of articles in the Singapore Straits Times criticising the Western Australian administration and the characters of Governor Sir Harry Ord and Sir Luke Leake. Pearce successfully sued the Stirling brothers for libel, Chief Justice Archibald Burt (in what was to be his last case before he died) clearly indicating in his summing up to the jury that he had a good case. 51

Although The Herald’s editorial team included two former clerics of the Church of England and the son of a cleric, it took a liberal position on religious issues - a stance that was very different from the shrill sectarian tone of The Inquirer (and subsequently The West Australian) which acted as the self-appointed spokesman of the powerful Anglican Establishment. In an open letter to the colony’s first Roman Catholic Governor, Frederick Weld, on his arrival in September 1869, Beresford cheekily urged him to become a Freemason, as otherwise ‘it will be impossible to get on’. 52

In 1870, Re Herald was to take Weld’s side in his public row with Chief Justice Burt, but (unlike Arthur Shenton of the Perth Gazette and Edmund and John Stirling of The Inquirer) by clever footwork avoided imprisonment for contempt of court by Burt. 53 No doubt influenced by James Roe’s letters on the subject penned from Greenough, The Herald strongly supported Weld's Elementary Education Act of late 1871 which provided government support for Catholic and other denominational schools. However, it criticised him so robustly in other respects that he declined to supply copies of the newspaper to the Colonial Office when requested to do so and had to be officially reprimanded. 54 He had not appreciated ‘A Sandalwood Cutter’s’ cruel characterisation of him as ‘Poor dear cigar-lovin, claret-sippin, long-letter-writing Weld’. 55

In March 1876, The Herald exposed Fremantle’s Resident Magistrate, JG Slade, and his associate, Major JW Finnerty JP, for accusing a local Catholic priest, Fr Carreras, of ‘tampering’ with a witness in the case of a forged £3 order on Mrs. Higham’s Market Street store. It reported that ‘Mr Slade concurred with Major Finnerty that the witness had been tutored, and he supposed that she had had absolution in this world and the next, and that she could come and state what she liked’. 56 Not surprisingly, the case gave great offence to the Catholic population and was the subject of a crowded public meeting called to protest against the impugning of a Catholic’s sworn oath. Warmly complimenting The Herald on its ‘manliness’ in bringing the issue to public attention, Terence Farrelly, one of the colony’s most respected Catholic laymen, stated with typical Irish hyperbole:

Had they more Major Finnertys and Mr Slades in the colony - and he thanked God they had not - the position of the lowest pariah in India would be preferable to the position of a Roman Catholic in Western Australia. Mr Slade and Mr Finnerty would believe the asseveration of a Chinaman who had broken a saucer over his head, but they would not believe a Catholic who had sworn on the word of God. They would give credence to the untutored savage from the bush, affirmed to speak the truth through an interpreter, but no tutored Catholic could be believed, for had he not a license [sic] to tell what falsehood he might deem expedient? 57

On issues of economic significance for the town, such as South Bay’s port facilities and the need for a railway connection with Perth, The Herald campaigned vigorously. The drowning of the Harbour Master and his boat crew of seven men while attempting to assist the storm-stricken Ivy and the Strathmore in Gage’s Roads on 23 June 1867 was used to highlight the inadequacy of South Bay. 58 Reflecting the interests of local merchants, lightermen and labourers, The Herald was strongly opposed to any scheme to remove the river’s limestone bar by blasting, or to dig a canal from the coast to Rocky Bay, in the belief that this would damage Fremantle’s economic interests as a trans-shipment port. Instead, it favoured prominent local merchant Wallace Bickley’s plan for a protected dock for deep-sea vessels at South Bay. In what were to be its final issues in June and July 1886, The Herald protested against English engineer Sir John Coode’s expensive scheme of building offshore harbours protected by offshore breakwaters. 59

On social issues, it deplored the government's resumption of ‘The Green’ for the new railway station at the bottom of Cliff Street, but strongly supported the building of the Town Hall. 60 It remarked disapprovingly on the knots of idlers who congregated at the corner of High Street and South Terrace 61 and on the ‘Billingsgate’ language directed by labourers engaged in building the Town Hall towards passers-by. 62

The Herald's main preoccupation was with more democratic political representation, reform of the colony’s land laws to promote closer settlement and a proper system of immigration. It has to be said that it was the only voice of opposition to colonial autocracy, lending Fremantle the reputation of being progressive, or ‘agin the government’, according to the reader’s point of view. There is no doubt that The Herald ’s Fremantle readers were more politically conscious than their Perth counterparts and that the newspaper played a vital part, perhaps the vital part, in bringing about democratic reform in Western Australia.

Taking the lead in this crusade was James Roe, who published an influential pamphlet on representative government and was a prominent signatory of an 1877 petition protesting against the continued disenfranchisement of ex-convicts. The Herald campaigned vigorously from the outset for an elected Legislative Council and hailed the first tentative step - voting for the nomination of non-official members on 18 November 1867 - as ‘a red letter day’. ‘There is more independent spirit manifested in Fremantle at all times than at Perth’, it remarked. 63 Nevertheless, it was bitterly disappointed with the outcome of the first direct elections held in the town in October 1870 when merchants Edward Newman and William Moore were returned as the two local members, proclaiming:

Fremantle l hate and detest
With its tunnel, its prison and hill.
One pratin’ member's a pest,
The other well dubbed silent Will. 64

By 1885, The Herald was greeting the proposal for federating the Australian colonies using the novel argument that their continued connection with the mother country was ‘a source of danger’ for them and ‘a source of weakness’ for Britain itself. 65


James Pearce also sold newspapers, books and sheet music from The Herald offices. Pictured is a January 1884 invoice to the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce for newspapers supplied. (City of Fremantle, Local History Collection)

The last column by ‘A Sandalwood Cutter’ appeared in late 1879 when Beresford was about to withdraw from The Herald and not long before he died, ‘an enfeebled, battered old man’, at the Fremantle Invalid Depot (now the Fremantle Arts Centre) on 19 May 1880. 66 In all probability, he was buried nearby at the Skinner Street cemetery. According to JT Reilly, Beresford became something of a misanthrope in his later years, cursing his family, spurning his friends and preferring to live in poverty rather than seek their assistance. 67 James Roe subsequently took over as editor (but not part-owner) and Pearce continued to manage the printing and commercial side. One of the last gestures to representative government was the publication in 1885 at Pearce’s instigation of the Herald Almanac and Directory for that year and an accompanying electoral map prepared by Pearce showing all the voting divisions in the colony. 68

The Herald came to an abrupt end on 3 July 1886 with a brief announcement in that day’s issue by Pearce as Manager of the Herald Newspaper and Printing Co. that its publication would cease forthwith and that subscribers would instead be sent copies of The Inquirer, whose owners, the Stirling brothers, also ran the Daily News. This can hardly have been an easy decision, given the Stirlings’ strong pro-government conservative stance and the long history of enmity between The Herald and The Inquirer.

Six weeks earlier, Pearce had announced the floating of a new company, to be known as the Herald Newspaper and Fremantle Printing Company, Limited, with capital of £15,000 and a list of provisional directors including such respectable citizens as JRB Keate and Alexander Forrest. 69The new company was pledged to purchase and carry on the businesses of The Herald and The Morning Herald newspapers, operating the former as a weekly Fremantle-based newspaper and the latter as a Perth daily. The printing business which Pearce had established at new purpose-built premises in Murray Street Perth in 1883 was to have been part of the operation. Although there is no proof, it seems likely that the float did not attract sufficient support and that Pearce consequently found himself in financial difficulties.

In June, by which time he had transferred operations from Fremantle to Perth, The Herald had been taken to court by the Loan and Discount Co for a late re-payment of a loan, although the amount owing was a paltry 20 shillings. 70 Pearce left for Melbourne in December 1888 to try his luck there but reportedly returned penniless in 1892 and was rescued by being appointed Inspector of Weights and Measures for Perth City Council. He died in March 1916 and is buried together with his wife Emily at Karrakatta cemetery. 71 Interestingly, their only child, Viotti, had married the well-known Western Australian explorer and writer Charles Price Conigrave (1882-1961) 72, no mean social achievement for the daughter of a self-educated convict.

The Herald was succeeded by John Robert Topliss’s The Weekly Times from August 1887 and his daily, The Evening Times, which took the latter’s place from January 1888 and a few months later tactfully styled itself The Evening Times and Fremantle Advertiser. Roe went on to work for The Inquirer, his old bête noir, but spent his last years in poverty growing vegetables to support himself. He died in May 1897 at the age of seventy- nine years, JT Reilly recording that ‘there were few found to pay the poor compliment of following his mortal remains to their last resting place’. 73

There was never any possibility of replicating the extraordinarily talented and dedicated ex-convict team which had come together to run The Herald If there was to be an epitaph to The Herald (there were no obituaries for Beresford, Roe or Pearce published in the Perth press), it would highlight the irony of how a handful of ex-convict forgers helped to shape not only Fremantle’s emerging identity, but Western Australia’s democratic system of government. The convict system, which had been used for so many years by the British and colonial authorities to justify the withholding of representative and responsible government, produced the very men who most effectively upheld that ideal and fought for its introduction.

Fremantle Studies Day, 2007


Edited version of a talk given at Fremantle Prison in October 2007 as part of Fremantle Studies Day. I wish to express my gratitude for the generous assistance provided by David Hutchison, Gillian O’Mara and the staff of the Fremantle City Library Local History Collection.

2 This printing press had a long history, having been taken to Tasmania by Colonel David Collins in 1801 and used to print the early Hobart newspapers. It is also interesting to note that The Fremantle Observer was printed in a shed (known as Shenton’s mill) where the colony’s first wheat was ground into flour and where the first Aborigine to be killed by the settlers was shot dead stealing it (Yagan’s brother, Heegan); the same press was also the cause of Western Australia's only duel. It is now part of the collection of the Western Australian Museum.

3 This account of early Fremantle newspapers is based on PEC de Mouncey, ‘A Reference to the Early Newspapers of Western Australia’, journal of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, v1, pt10, 1931, pp 58-60.

4 JS Battye, The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, v1, 1912, p 578; A C Frost, ‘Early West Australian Newspapers’, Early Days, v9, pt1, 1983, pp 77-9. Frost had managed The West Australian's office in Fremantle for many years.

5 JK Hitchcock, ‘Early Days of Fremantle’, The Fremantle Times, 9/5/1919.

6 ibid.

7 JT Reilly, Reminiscences of Fifty Years Residence in Western Australia, Sands & McDougall, Perth, 1903, p 261.

8 ibid.

9 ibid., pp 261-2.

10 ibid., p 262.

11 A notable exception is Patricia M Brown, The Merchant Princes of Fremantle: The Rise and Decline of a Colonial Elite 1870-1900, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, 1996, pp 8-9.

12 Little is known about the history of this newspaper beyond the fact that it was owned, written, edited and printed single-handed by George Barrow at Lionel Samson’s offices on the corner of Cliff and High Streets and was produced by the old-fashioned lithographic process until Barrow obtained a letterpress machine in early 1869 and used it to print the paper for the first time on 1 March. A major innovation introduced by Barrow was weekly pictorial supplements, consisting of copperplate engravings of mostly Fremantle scenes printed in four or five colours. A stationer by trade, he had been sentenced to fifteen years for forgery and came out to Western Australia on the Merchantman in February 1863. The Era ceased abruptly on 3 May 1869 when Barrow announced that he was leaving the colony for Mauritius. However, his departure does not appear to have been the result of financial embarrassment and he undertook to reimburse all subscribers. Returning to Fremantle six months later after the revelation of his ex-convict status had cost him his relatively well-paid government job, Barrow established The Express, a daily newspaper which he printed and published from 3 January 1870 to 13 May 1870. It was then taken over by George Inkpen who printed and published it from 1 July 1870 to 28 January 1871. About Barrow, J K Hitchcock wrote: ‘Cf his subsequent career l know nothing, but if ability and energy account for anything, l have no doubt that he found scope for his activities elsewhere’. (‘Early Days of Fremantle', The Fremantle Times, 6/ 3/ 1 9 1 9).

13 The first was George Howe’s Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 1803-1808.

14 R Erickson, ed, The Brand on His Coat: Biographies of Some Western Australia Convicts, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, 1983, p 313.

15 ibid.

16 ibid. Michael O’Grady was captain of the SS Georgette when it famously challenged the Catalpa on 19 April 1876.

17 List of Goods to he Sold at the Government Stores, Fremantle on Monday the 21 August, and Following Days by Messrs. L. Samson £9’ Son, nd [c. 1865].

18 G O'Mara, Barges Saga, Cottesloe, WA, 2000.

19 Much of the information available on Roe is in family papers formerly in the possession of his great-grand-daughter, Mrs Hilary Bridget Thomas. Mrs Thomas used these in a short article about Roe in the Western Australian Genealogical Society's Convict Links (v7, n2, April 1993, np) revealing that he contributed a memoir of his experiences as a convict to The Cornhill Magazine.

20 Erickson, The Brand on His Coat, p 284.

21 Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, v5, 1974, pp 108-9.

22 P Hasluck, ‘Travels in Western Australia, 1870-74. Extracts from the Journal of Thomas Scott’, journal of the Western Australian Historical Society, v II, ptXV, 1934, p 27.

23 Reilly, Reminiscences, p 275.

24 ibid., p 276. A copy of Roe’s pamphlet cannot be located.

25 The Herald, 25/5/1867.

26 ibid.

27 ibid.

28 The Herald, 2/2/1867.

29 cited by J H M Honniball, ‘Our First Royal Visitor: Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh’, Early Days, v8, pt4, 1980, p 77.

30 ibid., p. 76.

31 The Herald, 2/3/1867.

32 The Herald, 25/5/1867.

33 The Herald', 6/3/1869.

34 The Herald', 5/10/1867.

35 The Herald, 5/1 1/1870.

36 The Herald, 17/4/1875.

37 The Herald, 29/5/1875.

38 The Herald, 16/10/1875.

39 The Herald, 30/8/1879.

40 The Herald, 24/6/1880.

41 The Herald', 5/ 10/ 1867.

42 The Herald, 12/10/1867.

43 The Herald, 12/ 10/ 1867.

44 The Herald, 13/8, 20/8, 17/9, 15/10, 22/10, 5/11, 12/11/1870.

45 The I-Jerald, 9/4/1875.

46 The Herald, 9/2/1867

47 The Herald, 1 1/6/1870.

48 The Herald, 20/4/1867

49 The Herald, 21/12/1867.

50 The Herald, 21/12/1867.

51 The Herald, 12/1 1/1879.

52 The Herald, 30/9/1869.

53 See J M Bennett, Sir Archibald Burt: first Chief justice of Western Australia 1 8 71 -1 8 79, Annandale, NSW, 2002.

54 Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, v7, 1979, pp 377-9.

55 The Herald, 4/2/1871.

56 The Herald, 18/3/1876.

57 Reilly, Reminiscences, pp 251-2.

58 The Herald, 27/7/1867.

59 Ironically, this was a similar scheme to the one recently mooted by the Fremantle Port Authority.

60 The Herald, 1 1/7/1885.

61 The Herald, 7/3/1885.

62 The Herald, 24/10/1885.

63 The Herald, 26/8/1871.

64 The Herald, 23/11/1867.

65 The Herald, 14/2/1885.

66 W B Kimberly, History of West Australia: A Narrative of her Past, with Biographies of her Leading Men, F W Niven, Melbourne, 1897, p 201. Death notices appeared in The Herald and The Inquirer but there were no obituaries.

67 Reilly, Reminiscences, p 276.

68 Map of Western Australia Shewing Electoral Districts 1885 Computed Expressly for The Herald Almanac, James Pearce lith, Perth, 1885. The JS Battye Library of Western Australian History holds a copy of the map but not of the almanac.

69 The Herald, 1 7/ 4/ 1 886.

70 The Herald, 20/6/1886.

71 The West Australian, 6/3/1916. The records of the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board list James Pearce, born c1830, died Perth 4 March 1916. Emily died on 17 June 1925 aged 74.

72 H G Gibbney & Ann G Smith, eds & comps, A Biographical Register 1788- 1 93 9, v1, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Canberra, 1987, pp 138-9.

73 Reilly, Reminiscences, p 276.

Garry Gillard | New: 12 April, 2018 | Now: 16 December, 2018