Fremantle Stuff > people > John Butler

John Butler

John Butler was the proprietor of the Bush Inn aka Halfway House, which was licensed to trade from April 1830. It was close to the Perth-Fremantle track, and apparently in the area bounded by the present Forrest, McNeil and View Streets and the river - near enough to it to be a stopping-off for river traffic as well as for travellers on the track. (The inn was not near the site of the present Albion Hotel in Cottesloe.) Butler's name for his property was Prospect Place. He arrived with his wife and children and brother Archibald on the Skerne, January 1830, and was granted the 250 acres of Swan Location 84 at Freshwater Bay (now Peppermint Grove), including Butler's Hump aka Keane Point.
Having arrived 17 January 1830, he wrote to Peter Broun, the Colonial Secretary, to apply for the land to which he was entitled by virtue of what he had brought - which was judged to be 16000 acres (6500 hectares). He got what is now Peppermint Grove, but was not allowed by Surveyor-General Roe to have what is now Claremont.

Bolton & Gregory 1999

John Butler was the man who was given the whole of Peppermint Grove and fretted obsessively throughout his career in Western Australia because he could not have Claremont. [That's the whole first paragraph of Bolton & Gregory's book.] ...
[He] came on his own brig, the Skerne, and their goods and possessions made up virtually the entire ship’s cargo. Bolton: 1. [The whole of the first chapter is concerned with Butler, and is an excellent read.]

Pascoe 1973

The 250 acres comprising Swan Location 84, which later made up the Shire of Peppermint Grove, were awarded to John Butler in 1832, although he seems to have been living there from 1830. Butler had arrived at the Swan River Colony on 17 January 1830 from Liverpool on the ship Skerne, a vessel of 121 tons. The passengers included his wife, three children and his bachelor brother Archibald. Accompanying them were two married couples with three children and a single man, hopeful of becoming farm hands. Two of the adults boarded ship at the Cape. The general cargo was all consigned to John Butler and included farm implements, furniture, books, livestock and a large quantity of spirits.

The Butlers were entitled to a large area of land because of the value of this property they had brought with them. John was granted 972 acres across the river from Perth, which he called Eagle’s Nest Farm, and an extensive area in the Avon Valley. However, he was eager to obtain land between Fremantle and Perth, no doubt to start the inn for which he had brought out so much spirits. He tried hard to get land at the head of Freshwater Bay, the tract later to be called Claremont, but was consistently refused. This no doubt started John Butler’s many tilts at authority. There are differing accounts with regard to his grant of Swan Location 84 and whether it was included in his original entitlement. He seems to have been living there in 1830 and to have built a substantial stone house. He was granted a licence for an inn during April 1830, ahead of several other applicants. There is a letter dated 1830 from the Police Magistrate at Fremantle to the Chief Secretary recommending that Butler be granted such a licence for an inn on the road between Perth and Fremantle.

The 250-acre grant at Freshwater Bay awarded to John Butler is mentioned in a letter from the Survey Office to the Colonial Secretary, dated 23 July 1833, which states in part:

'the 250 acres of land... having been awarded to John Butler in the month of July last were assigned to him in the vicinity of Freshwater Bay by letter from this office dated 20 August 1832. All 1600 [or 1800] acres allotted having already been selected and allotted by him in conjunction with his brother Archibald [,] His Excellency granted the additional 250 acres to him at Freshwater Bay in consideration of his improvements and house of accommodation there. [signed] J S Roe'

This letter indicates that the grant was not made until July 1832. The application for title deeds is dated 3 December 1834, and the grant itself 10 January 1835. Only a week later Butler offered the land and the inn for sale, suggesting that until late 1834 he did not formalize the taking up of his granted land, presumably in the hope of keeping alive the possibility of securing the Claremont land he really wanted.

Swan Location 84 was described as ‘Lands on Freshwater Bay in the Perth shire’. The foreshore at Peppermint Grove was apparently already well known, because the description reads in part:

'the North Boundary being a due west line... from the shore of Freshwater Bay and passing through the middle of the entrance to a remarkable cave at the water’s edge, known by the name of James’ Chair... to the westernmost of two roads between Perth and Fremantle' [Stirling Highway].

In 1834 Swan Location 84 is described as ‘the farm and pasture lands at Freshwater Bay’. In the grant of 1835 Butler is referred to as an Innkeeper of Freshwater Bay. The inn itself is variously titled The Bush Inn and Half Way House, but Butler himself named it Prospect Place. The inn was sited on the east side of the Perth to Fremantle track, which followed the ridge along which View Street would later run, between what would later be Irvine and Leake Streets. The inn flourished and must have been a boon to the travellers on the sandy track between Fremantle and Perth. It must have also been a boon to Butler himself, for it seems he was able to invest in other businesses: he is recorded as having invested in Mayo’s Perth Hotel, for example, one of the less reputable hotels of the 1830s in the main township. In addition the surrounding farm was being developed. 10

Although these business activities must have kept John Butler busy he also found time for endless litigation over applications for land and for quarrels with officials and notables in the colony. In spite of his quarrelsome attitude toward his white compatriots, however, he maintained generally friendly relations with the Aborigines who clustered around the Bush Inn at times. The Aborigines were a constant worry to the Butler family, interfering with the stock and on one occasion setting fire to the scrub near the inn. John Butler made several requests to the authorities for the protection of soldiers, but was generally refused. But he also made requests for rations to dispense to the Aborigines, possibly understanding that his presence deprived them of traditional methods of gaining food, yet again his requests were refused.

In January 1835 he finally decided to quit Freshwater Bay, and placed an advertisement in the 17 January issue of the Perth Gazette:

'TO BE LET
The Bush Inn at Freshwater Bay and 300 acres of good sheep pasture land, with two Lime Kilns, good Stone Quarry, and excellent fishing. Six acres of land on the property are in tillage—and vegetables may be grown during the dry season on part of the land which abounds in Freshwater springs.
Also
Cattle and sheep will be taken on ley at the ‘Eagle’s Nest Farm’ on the Flats near Perth, where there is the richest pasturage.
Apply to the Proprietor, Mr John Butler, or to W.N. Clark, Solicitor.'

Prospect Place and the Bush Inn were leased soon after to Thomas Bailey, who had been farming at Matilda Bay. The Butlers themselves moved to Eagle’s Nest Farm, but did not remain there long. In October John left for New South Wales, leaving his wife to sell their remaining possessions. She and the children followed him in September 1836 (his brother Archibald had left the Swan River Colony in 1833).

Thomas Bailey continued to run the Bush Inn. Custom was steady until 1838, when the Perth to Fremantle route was altered to the alignment of what would later be the Stirling Highway, leaving the Bush Inn isolated and unable to cater for travellers on the new road. A good description of the old route is offered in the diary of a naval officer who rode up from Fremantle to Perth on 30 December 1837:

'... you ride over high sandhills along the seashore in a northerly direction about two miles. You then enter a thickly wooded country with gentle hill and dale. The trees are nearly all white and red gum and mahogany [jarrah]. The blackboy trees give a very strange appearance. They look like burnt trees, about 6 feet high with leaves like thin rushes in large quantities. In the centre there is a long spiral stem about eight feet high. The roads are only formed by constant passage and are dreadfully sandy. About four miles from the ferry is the Half-Way House, a very large good house kept by a Mr Bailey. The house is rigged out in native mahogany and looks very well indeed. In dismounting tore my plain trousers... carried away the strap button... repaired damage and started again. The road from this is through a very thickly wooded country. The roads are very pretty, being formed by the trees being cut away, so you are pretty well shaded...' [Journal of Benjamin Francis Helpman, Battye.]

In the following year Bailey made over the lease to Robert Powis, a tailor, who allowed the inn licence to lapse within a year but remained at Prospect Place with his family and continued his tailoring. ...

After migrating to New South Wales John Butler had taken up a sheep run in the Illawarra district, but when he died in 1841 the family was living in Macquarie Place in Sydney; following his death his widow advertised genteel apartments to let and took in boarders. In the eleven years since he had arrived at Swan River Colony John Butler seems to have lost most of the considerable assets he had brought with him. Besides his widow, he predeceased a daughter and two sons, William Burton Butler and John Burton Butler.

References and Links

Bolton, Geoffrey & Jenny Gregory 1999, Claremont: A History, UWAP.

James, Ruth Marchant 1977, Heritage of Pines: A History of Cottesloe, Town of Cottesloe Council, © Ruth Marchant James.

Pascoe, Robert 1983, Peppermint Grove: Western Australia's Capital Suburb, OUP.

Tuckfield, Trevor 1971, 'Early colonial inns and taverns', Part 1, Early Days: Journal and proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, 7, 3: 65-82; Part 2, 7, 7: 98-106.


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