The passengers on the Rockingham came out under the auspices of the Colonisation Company promoted by Thomas Peel to form a settlement in the new dependency.
Ill-fortune attended the venture from the start. Outside the mouth of the Thames the ship parted her anchor and drifted onto the dreaded Goodwin Sands. At the rise of the tide the vessel was extricated from her perilous position without injury, but in the Channel a furious gale denuded her of every stitch of canvas. For a while the ship was in considerable danger, but she rode out the gale in safety and, in a dilapidated condition, managed to make Falmouth Harbour. There she was refitted, and after a fortnight's delay, proceeded on her voyage, which was uneventful. When she dropped anchor off Garden Island, the master was confronted with the problem of the navigation of the line of islands and uncharted reefs that intervened between the vessel and the shore. The captain was afraid to attempt any of the passages through the reef in the absence of any definite information concerning soundings, but ultimately a man-o-war's boat came from the mainland and a naval officer took the ship safely in, and the Rockingham, in May, dropped anchor off Clarence about 13 miles south of Fremantle.
As the vessel lay at anchor the elements rose in fury against her, and Peel chose that inopportune time to commence the work of disembarkation. He ordered all the single men to proceed to Garden Island, and they were placed in four of the ship's boats. The boats' crews tried to make the island, but the gale was blowing so hard in-shore that they were carried to the mainland beach. Most of the boats overturned in the surf, but the occupants reached land in safety. The ship fared no better than the boats, and was cast onto the beach broadside on. As she struck, the quarter boat, which was drifting by, was secured and by that means an attempt was made to land the married men and their families.
Whipped by the wind, the breakers dashed themselves upon the beach with terrific force and it was an anxious moment for all when the quarter boat overturned in the breakers and scattered its human freight in the surf. A rush was made by the single men on shore to assist the struggling men and women in the water, and all the voyagers were brought safely to shore. The beach offered no shelter to the castaways and no stores or provisions had been brought ashore.
A scanty supply of food was later obtained from the ship's stores, but those rations were soon exhausted and a period of semi-starvation followed. A wooden house, that had been thrown overboard from the ship during the storm, was secured and erected to accommodate some of the stranded migrants. The remainder had to find cover at night as best they could, and many slept in old casks or under other extemporised shelters. They remained at Clarence for about a year waiting patiently for Peel to fulfill his contract to place them on the land, but when winter came the weaker among those who had not moved away, died from exposure and the lack of the bare necessities of life.
Learning of the wretched plight of the Rockingham's passengers, Governor Stirling invited them to Perth, and most of the survivors accepted the invitation. With the tools they had brought for use in the new settlement they built boats to enable them to reach the capital to which, at that time, there was no road from Clarence. Having found their way to Perth, the survivors were absorbed in the population of the colony, and thus ended the abortive attempt to found an agricultural settlement under the auspices of Peel.
Deserted by his party, Peel lived for many years in solitary indigence on his huge but unproductive estate, and he died almost a pauper. His last resting place was in the little cemetery at Mandurah.
Among those who arrived by the Rockingham, which may be regarded as the Mayflower of Western Australia, were the heads of many families whose names and their descendants are well known to-day in all parts of the States, including, among others, the following: Edwards, Padbury, Mews, Glyde, Tuckey, Adams, Read, Stirling and Leeder.
Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council, 17, 19.
Garry Gillard | New: 20 July, 2017 | Now: 20 July, 2017