Fremantle Stuff > People > Francis Fraser Armstrong

Francis Fraser Armstrong

ff armstrongBorn in 1813 in Edinburgh, he died in East Perth 22 May 1897. He arrived on board the Gilmore 15 December 1829 with his father Adam and five siblings. They settled on the banks of the Swan River, calling the place Dalkeith, after Adam Armstrong's place of origin near Edinburgh. Francis Armstrong worked first for merchant George Leake.

A strong Wesleyan, he was always sympathetic to the situation of the Noongars, and learnt their language. Governor Stirling appointed him Government Interpreter, and the next governor, Hutt, supported his work. He was appointed, two governors later, by Irwin, as Storekeeper and Moral Agent on Rottnest Island, 1847-48, during Henry Vincent's first tenure as superintendent (1838-49), and there may have been friction between the two men. Armstrong and his family did not stay long, tho there are a cottage and a bay named for him.

He was one of the leaders in the Methodist communist, but married an Anglican, Mary Ann, the second daughter of boatbuilder Thomas Mews. They had at least fourteen children, probably fifteen, according to Thompson; the newspaper article below refers only to the nine who survived.


The rapidly-decreasing band of old Colonists has suffered further diminution by the death of Mr. Francis Fraser Armstrong, which his friends will regret to learn took place at his residence in Mackie street on Saturday morning. The deceased gentleman might indeed be accounted one of the earliest of Western Australian settlers, he having arrived in the colony in November, 1829, by the ship Gilmour. Mr. Armstrong's father, aunt, and several of his uncles had been attracted to the Swan River Settlement, as it was then called, and left their homes in Edinburgh, of which city the deceased was a native, to try their fortunes in the new land. Mr. F. Armstrong was then a lad 17 years of age. He had not long been in the colony before he entered the employment of Mr. Fletcher Moore, and kept a small store in what is now Bazaar Terrace, facing the pavilion on the recreation ground. Later on he was employed by the late Mr. George Shenton, father of the present President of the Legislative Council, and managed his store in St. George's-terrace, for many years. After this, Mr. Armstrong entered into business for himself as a grain and produce and commission agent, and in this business, which he carried on conjointly with several other ventures, he acquired a comfortable competence, and some years ago was able to retire. In 1834 he received the appointment of native interpreter to the Courts of Justice. Mr, Armstrong had from the time he arrived in the colony, interested himself very much in the aboriginal natives, and was placed in charge of the first native and half-cast mission for boys, his wife taking control of a similar institution for girls. There were probably few men in Western Australia who had a better knowledge of the different southern and south-western districts than he, which caused his services as a linguist in interpreting between the Court and the natives to be very valuable He also had an intimate acquaintance with the manner of life and the customs and practices of the native tribes, and copies of a pamphlet written by him dealing with the language and life of the natives were in existence a few years ago, if they are not now, giving an interesting account of his observations of the natives in the early stages of the colony's history. Another public position held by Mr. Armstrong for very many years was that of City Rate Collector in the earlier days of the municipality, and to this he brought, as indeed he did to everything he under took, the most unwearied and capable energies. Of late years Mr. Armstrong led a very retired life. Always modest and unassuming, he shrank from anything like publicity, and there are probably few living at the present time who could tell a tithe of the good quietly and unostentatiously performed by Francis Fraser Armstrong. He was one of the foremost men in Wesley Church until increasing years compelled him to give place to the younger spirits. With other equally devoted earnest Methodists, his name is associated in the founding of the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School in this colony. He also laboured in the same quiet way in the cause of temperance and other social reforms, and, in a word, in his own, modest manner displayed very many the best qualities worthy of a good of citizen. Mr. Armstrong married, in 1836, Mary, the second daughter of the late Mr. T. W. Mews, and who pre-deceased her husband in 1886. By her he had four sons and five daughters, all of whom are living, and his descendants also numbered sixty-five grand-children and eighteen great-grand-children. The eldest of his children are Mr. F. G. Armstrong and Mr. A. W. Armstrong, Mrs. J. R. Stirling and Mrs. H. Pearce. An interesting fact connected with the deceased gentleman is, that he was an immediate decendant of Nathaniel Gow, the composer of the well-known song "Caller Herrin," and who himself was the son of a well-known Scottish violinist. Niel Gow. For some time past, Mr. Armstrong had been in indifferent health. His increasing years told on him, and recently he was attacked with influenza. Last Easter he took to his bed, from which he never rose again, and on Wednesday last his medical attendant pronounced his case hopeless. He breathed his last at the good old age of eighty-four years.


The funeral took place at half-past three o'clock yesterday afternoon, when the body of the deceased gentleman was interred in Wesley Cemetery, East Perth. The body was enclosed in a handsome coffin, and, covered with wreaths and crosses, was borne in the hearse to Wesley Church, William-street, where the first part of the Burial service was performed by the Rev. G. E. Rowe, assisted by the Rev. C. A. Jenkins. Mr. Rowe delivered an address, in which he bore testimony to the deceased gentleman's many virtues, and referred to the valuable and devoted services which had been rendered to the church by Mr. Armstrong, who, since the death of Mr. G. Lazenby some time ago, had been its eldest member. At the conclusion of the Service, which took place in the presence of a large congregation, the procession was again formed, and wended its way to the cemetery, where the coffin was lowered to the grave, the Rev. C. A. Jenkins officiating. The pall-bearers were Mr. John Arnold, Mr. H. G. Stirling, Mr. G. Randell, senr., Major T. Sherwood, Mr. H. Strickland, senr., and Mr. G. Glyde, sen. The chief mourners were Mr. F. G. Armstrong, Mr. A. W. Armstrong, and Mr. T. B. Armstrong (sons), Mr. H. Pearce, Mr. John Stirling, Mr. C. Spencer, and Mr. J. Aitcheson (sons-in-law), Mr. John Mews, Mr. James Mews, and Mr. T Mews (brothers-in-law), and a considerable number of the grandsons and nephews of Deceased. Wreaths and crosses were sent by Mr. F. Spencer, Auditor General, Sir George Shenton, President of the Legislative Council, Mr. and Mrs. C. Spencer, Mrs. J. O'connell, and a number of his grand-children and other relatives besides many of his friends. Several of the wreaths and crosses were tied with the tartan ribband of the Scottish clan to which Mr. Armstrong's family belongs. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs Bowra and O'Dea. West Australian, 24 May 1897, p. 2.

Among the passengers on the ship Gilmore, which arrived in 1829, was Captain Armstrong, a Waterloo veteran, whose wife was a daughter of Neil Gow, the celebrated Scottish violinist and composer. Whether the mantle of the famous musician has fallen upon any of his numerous descendants in Western Australia, has yet to be demonstrated, but certainly the military instinct that distinguished Armstrong who fought under Wellington, seems to have been transmitted to succeeding generations, for it is said that the names of no fewer than fifty of the clan are recorded upon various rolls of honour throughout the State. Hitchcock: 16.

Hitchcock notes that Adam Armstrong bought town lots 47 and 64, some time between 1929 and 1837.

References, Links, Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Alan Thompson for information about the Armstrongs, and for the photo of FF. Alan informs me that Hitchcock is wrong to give Adam Armstrong the rank of 'Captain'. And also that the photo of 'Adam Armstrong 1930' in his History is in fact a photo of a son of the same name. (personal communication)

Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council.

Thompson, Alan 2015, The Interpreter: The Legacy of Francis Fraser Armstrong, MA dissertation, Murdoch University.

Wikipedia entry for Francis Armstrong

'Death of Mr FF Armstrong', West Australian, 24 May 1897, p. 2.

Garry Gillard | New: 29 March, 2016 | Now: 18 November, 2018