Fremantle Stuff > Arthur Head. See also: David Hutchison's Walk 2: Arthur Head, Bathers Bay, the box factory, courthouses, Dago Bay, fort, fort quarters, J Shed, jetties, the kerosene store, lighthouses, the mortuary, the pilots cottages, the powerhouse, the Residency, the Round House, the Whalers Tunnel, the whaling complex.

Arthur Head

Arthur Head was so named by James Stirling in 1827 in honour of George Arthur, Governor of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).
Historian Kate Caldwell suggested (in 1933) that, "One conjecture is that Arthur Head was probably named after Arthur Trimmer, a friend and fellow traveller with Sir Jas. Stirling." - but that claim seems to be supported no longer.
The nearby bay was called Manjaree by the first people, and that name apparently also applied to the promontory, the 'head'.


Reproduction of an early map showing the Arthur Head area before reduction by quarrying. Kate Caldwell, writing in 1933, says that "The Governor granted himself five acres on the head [presumably as shown on the map above], but the Home Authorities promptly cancelled the grant and returned the land to the Crown."


There has recently been some controversy as to whether the name 'Arthur Head' applies to the entire rocky promontory, on a remnant of which the Round House stands, or only to the northern tip of this promontory. Dawkins, for example, seems uncertain. Although he says confidently that the promontory 'flattened out towards the north where a low point ('Arthur's Head') formed the south head of the mouth of the river, (Dawkins 1990, p. 171), he also refers to Arthur Head as a 'coastal limestone headland which was stripped bare, quarried, built on, excavated and reworked, Its surface of rock and sand levelled and paved, or topdressed and grassed' (Dawkins 1990, p. 173).'This obviously refers to the whole promontory. Certainly Stirling appears to have referred to the whole promontory when he named it after the Governor of Van Diemen's Land, since he described it as being '20 m to 25 m high, and like an island, because it was connected with the Main Land by a Sandy Isthmus bearing a Bay on each side' (Appleyard & Manford 1979, p. 46). The bays on each side of the sandy isthmus appear to be North Bay in the river and South Bay, rather than Bather's Bay, in the Indian Ocean, as early illustrations (such as Jane Currie's 1832 panoramic view) show a continuous mound from the northern point of the promontory to the vicinity of Anglesea Point in the south.
Nearly seventy years later C. Y. O'Connor also used the name in this way when, in his annual report on work, on the inner harbour, he referred to the 'levelling down of Arthur's Head over most is extent, to from additional space for railway sidings, goods sheds, etc.' In this [1991] study the athors have applied the name to the entire promontory. (Hutchison et al., 1991, Victoria Quay and its Architecture its History and Assessment of Cultural Significance, City of Fremantle.)

This is as close as you can now get to an idea of the substance of the original Arthur's Head. That's the Maritime Museum to the left and the very end of the south wharf (Victoria Quay) to the right. The remaining limestone outcrop is what remains of what Stirling would have seen when he named it. It's hundreds of metres away from the Round House. However, the point of the Head would have been even further out to sea.


Bas-relief in the pavement outside the Town Hall, showing the original size of Arthur Head in 1829 and the small area that remains today.


Modern map (1990, cropped - tap/click for fullsize) indicating the position of former structures


mews boathouse

Photo reproduced in Hitchcock's 1929 History, page 148. His caption describes the scene as 'old lighthouse and shipyard, about 1865'. The building on the left is, as the sign says, Thomas Mews' premises. The right-hand building, demolished in the 1890s, is the ruin of the Fremantle Whaling Company (est. 1837) building. Hitchcock's 'old lighthouse' is ambiguous - as that is actually the second lighthouse, completed in 1879, so his date is misleading. The remains of the 1851 lighthouse can be seen just to the left of the newer one.

Library note on this photo: The bluff of Arthur Head; Creator: Non Pareil Photographic; Date of work: c1891; Reference number: 1614; T W Mews Boat shed at the base of the cliff. Craft for pearling, fishing, commercial trade and pleasure had been produced here since 1830. The boat in the foreground was salvaged from the wrecked 362 ton Raven, lost March 1891 on Dyers Island, Rottnest. On the right are the abandoned premises of the Fremantle Whaling Company. Behind is the lantern of the Light House. Record number: 74126. Bookmark link.

arthur head

Arthur Head, 1860s. The first courthouse, top left, was renovated and expanded after 1851 and was the harbourmaster's house from 1869. The building in the middle with the flagstaff behind is the Round House, with the first lighthouse to the right rear. The second courthouse (1851) is top right. The Whalers Tunnel beneath Arthur Head was completed in 1838, paid for by Daniel Scott and under the supervision of Henry Reveley, who also designed the Round House. Photograph by Stephen Stout, c. 1864, Battye 88278P.


Arthur Head c1870. The large building right of centre is the Government Quarters aka The Residency, which was built in 1856 (Dowson has 1851) for the Water Police and demolished in 1967. To the left is the second courthouse, left of whichmay be seen the steps going up to the Round House. To the left again is the harbourmaster's house. On the right is the first lighthouse. The photo (WAHS R2775) is beautifully reproduced in John Dowson's Old Fremantle, pages 26 and 27. His caption on page 26 has a brief but complete history of the occupancy of the Residency. The photo is also available from the Fremantle History Centre, photo no. 1801, and the Library text is as follows.

The Residency first appears on a plan dated 1856, built for the Water Police. It was demolished in 1967. The lighthouse was erected in 1850 by convict labour. About 1876 the tower was cut down and the stump covered with a conical roof. The flagstaff was originally at Anglesea Point and was moved to Arthur Head before 1837. The house in the left background with the verandahs was the Harbour Master's house. Between it and the Residency is the second court house. Reproduced from "Twentieth Century Impression of W. A.", 1901. Taken before 1876.

view from arthur head

Looking east from Arthur Head. At the left is the Residency (1856), demolished 1967, with the Cliff Street Railway Station (1887) behind. Behind again and to the centre is Manning's Folly (1858-1928). Just to the right of centre are W D Moore's home (1884) in Cliff Street and Daniel Scott's home. Also in Cliff Street is W F Samson's home (1881-1950s). Between it and the Round House (at the left) is the Police Quarters. Fremantle Library c. 1888 photo no. 3108A. Click/tap for larger size.

The building on Arthur Head to the left of the Round House with the external staircase is the Second Courthouse. The one in the extreme foreground, at the bottom of the photo, is the Lightkeeper's Quarters. The photo would have been taken from the second lighthouse.

Alfred Pickering's photograph looking east from the lighthouse on Arthur Head. Click/tap for more detail, including the original His Lordship's Larder (later replaced by His Majesty's Hotel) in Phillimore Street. Photo courtesy SLWA # 3881B/102, from Facebook. The Library's note gives the date as c. 1899.

The Round House in the 1890s, with the harbour master's house (formerly the first courthouse, 1835) on the left and the second courthouse (1851) on the right. Source: Wikipedia.

Photo 568 courtesy of Fremantle Library: Looking East from the power house c. 1905; The Signal Station of the Fremantle Harbour Trust is to the left of the centre. There is a black ball at the top of the mast, signifying that a vessel was sighted off Rottnest. In the right foreground are the Department of Agriculture's Fruit Inspection sheds and in the centre are some old stone sheds (built c. 1870) at the foot of the cliff.

This is my photograph of a photograph reproduced on an information plaque standing on the Arthur Head green. I have searched the Library's archive for '1609' without result (1608 and 1610 are both available).
See the note on the photo above this one for information about the sheds. The building on the left is the South Mole powerhouse, more or less on Point Marquis. The building top right is the Harbour Trust's Signal Station, presumably with the signalman on the verandah. Another photo, held by SLWA, taken on the same occasion, identifies the building as such. Thanks to Pam Harris for the information in the previous sentence.

Photo 1470 courtesy of Fremantle Library: Panoramic view of Fremantle from the top of the old Power House Chimney, Izzy Orloff c. 1927; Looking East from Arthur Head. In the foreground is the battery at Arthur Head, built about 1905/1906 and demolished in 1966. The signal mast or flagstaff was removed in 1929. Towards the centre line of the picture are the Pilot's and Harbour Master's cottages and the Round House.

The western portion of Arthur Head in the foreground has been quarried away since the photo was taken.

arthur head

Fremantle Library photo no. 4702. Houses on Arthur Head in the 1910s. The house on the extreme left was occupied by the Windsor family and on the right side by the Nicholas family. The steps of the Roundhouse are to the left.


Bathers Bay RWAHS UN731. This photo is available from Fremantle Library as photo no. 2034A by S.M. Stout, 'c. 1890' [sic: Stout died in 1886]: The second lighthouse (1876/1878-1905) built on Arthur Head is to the right. Below is the T.W. Mews shipyard in Bathers Bay, established between 1840 and 1860. Next to the right is the abandoned building of the Fremantle Whaling Company, demolished in the 1890s.


Quarrying from the western end of the Arthur headland. Source and date unknown, but it is after 1879, when the second lighthouse was first lit, and also after 1903, when the timeball was moved to the remains of the first lighthouse. More rock is still to be removed, as J Shed is currently where the lighthouse is in the photo - but at a level about six metres lower.

Compare Arthur Head in Stout's 1890 photo above with the 1986 aerial photo below: a great deal of stone has been removed from the western section, where J Shed now is.

arthur head

Arthur Head, 1986. Photographer unknown: image courtesy of Brad Pettitt. The area in the image has changed considerably. The mayor writes, 'Even though the area may look like a natural environment today the reality is that much of it is a 1980s reconstruction that sought to remove the industrial past in order to create a pleasant recreational space. It is very well done and should be largely retained but what we have now should not be seen as original or pristine.'


Detail (1980s) of steps to southern side of Arthur Head (the steps are visible from the air in the photo above). Source: Brad Pettitt's blog.

What is now thought of as Arthur Head, perhaps from the Fremantle Ports building, Roel Loopers, c. 2010


Bathers Beach from Arthur Head, 2015, showing the Kidogo Arthouse (the kerosene store - which would have stored fuel for the second lighthouse), a structure representing the mortuary, and part of a sculpture exhibition.

Agnieshka Kiera:
As the former City Heritage Architect, I was in charge of the planning and implementation of the long term Strategy Plan for Arthur Head A class Reserve, involving its the 1980s-2009 incremental implementation. Including the 1988 restoration and adaptation of J-shed to local artists studios. The implementation of the long term strategy for Arthur Head A class reserve designated (from memory) for the ‘historic buildings, community and environment' was the 25 years long process involving reconstruction of the 1870s foreshore, dunes and its vegetation; conservation of the whalers tunnel and cliffs; conservation of the Round House; restoration and adaptation of the Fort Arthur and Pilots cottages; upgrading of the headland including construction of the stone steps and walk around the Roundhouse, public toilets, walking paths and whalers jetty. In 2009 it culminated with the final upgrade of the Old Port, which I also managed, including restoration of the former Kerosene Store (now Kidogo), the boardwalks and beach steps and reconstruction of the former mortuary as the shade structure. As the result Arthur Head has been transformed from the former depot into one of the most significant for WA heritage sites and a very popular public reserve. This also fulfilled the City of Fremantle's obligation and commitment to the State Government undertaken when it transferred the area into the City of Fremantle in the 1980s for a peppercorn rate. In light of this the approval by the City granted to Sunset events for use of J-shed as a tavern is a breach of that commitment and a violation of the designation of the Arthur Head A-class Reserve. So what I would like to know is how could the City get away with such an obvious breach of the area's formal designation and its own strategy plan for the area? Agnieshka Kiera (Facebook)

The Arthur Head Collection

The Arthur Head Collection was a project coordinated by the City of Fremantle with funding from a grant available from the Federal Government to celebrate the Bicentennial year in 1988. Basically researchers were contracted to collect information about Arthur Head from 1829. The end result is a huge collection of materials in various formats including documents, reports, photographs, maps, bibliographies etc. to help research the site. It has a card index as well as a printouts from a database which was created electronically, unfortunately the database didn't survive. The information was collected from repositories around Australia and the UK.  In total it consists of a 4 drawer filing cabinet as well as around 200 maps and plans. Currently the collection is held with the Fremantle History Centre and it is being stored offsite whilst the Library is in temporary premises. Digital images of the photograph collection can be viewed at the History Centre. Pam Harris, Librarian, Fremantle History Centre. May 2018.

The Arthur Head Collection 1990 Report

The City Council in 1990 published a folder containing a summary of the research Pam Harris mentions above, consisting of a page about each of these buildings (etc.): the lighthouses, the courthouses, the fort, the fort quarters, the kerosene store, the pilots cottages, the powerhouse, the Round House, the Whalers Tunnel, and whaling complex, a front cover, and the full map (only part of which appears above).

A note on nomenclature

When Stirling first named Arthur Head, he would probably have written it with an apostrophe, as "Arthur's Head" (but not "Rous's Head" — however, there was an 1867 map on display in the Fremantle Library which shows an apostrophe - as "Rous' Head"). However, names of places and businesses with an apostrophe tend to drop the punctuation over time, and even the possessive S - as Boans, for example, and Myer. Personally, I think we should might as well make that move without delay and use the name Arthur Head (sic). Compare Kings Square; however, like Kings College etc., we seem to like the S, but can do without the apostrophe. GG

George Arthur

Sir George Arthur (1784-1854) was Governor of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in 1827 when Stirling visited in Success on his way to Rottnest and to explore the Swan River. He was well entertained in Hobart Town during January and February, and the two governors became friends, and corresponded for many years. So it was that the southern headland was named for the older man. Another visitor to Hobart at that time was Captain H.J. Rous, a former schoolfriend of Stirling. In 1829 he also had a headland named after him: the one at the northern entrance to the river. The Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Station at the time, Admiral Gage, had his name given to Gage Roads, the water between Rottnest and Fremantle. (Statham-Drew: 67-68)

Footnote on nomenclature

A note on the name. In one sense, Arthur Head no longer exists - if you take the name to refer specifically to the rocky point shown in the map at the top of the page. The term 'head' is applied to the land on one side of a river as it debouches into the sea. Rous Head might still be able to be identified, but you have to look much harder to find what is left of Arthur Head. If you stand on the boardwalk surrounding the Maritime Museum and look under the extreme western end of the south quay, you can see quite a lot of rock. I believe that is the remnant of Arthur Head.

Most of the available rock has been quarried out of the western end of the area, almost back to the gaol. However, the name remains, and now refers particularly to the elevated area where the Round House is, but also the area west of the entrance to the Whalers Tunnel, the area around J Shed, and the land on which some of the Challenger TAFE buildings now stand.

I suggest that the hill on which the Roundhouse stands be renamed something relevant, such as Arthur Hill. Jeremy Dawkins had a go at such a renaming in 1989, but reports that he was howled down, so I don't expect to be any more successful. But can we at least lose the unnecessary - and perhaps even incorrect - apostrophe?

References and Links

Arthur Head Project, The, Fremantle City Council, 1983.

'Arthur Head', article in Fremantle Society Newsletter, Fremantle, 12, 3, 1984.

City of Fremantle, 1983, Arthur Head Reserve Strategy Plan D.G.F5 and Development and Land Use Policy Manual D.G.F6

Dawkins, Jeremy 1990, 'Fremantle's heartland: understanding and designing a special place,' Continuum, 3, 1.

Donaldson & Warn, 2004, Old Port of Arthur Head Reserve; Conservation/Upgrade Plan, City of Fremantle.

Dowson, John 2003, Old Fremantle: Photographs 1850-1950, UWAP.

Dowson, John 2019, 'Vision for Arthur Head', Fremantle Society.

Gibbs, Martin. 1988, Report on an Ethnohistorical Investigation into the Aboriginal Heritage of the Fremantle Area, Nedlands, Centre for Prehistory, University of WA, for the Fremantle City Council

Logan, Godden MacKay 2005, Heritage and Interpretation Advice for Fremantle Whaling Station and Bathers Bay Landscape Precinct; City of Fremantle.

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

Hutchison, David, Jack Kent, Agnieshka Kiera, Russell Kingdom, Larraine Stevens, Tanya Suba, 1991, Victoria Quay and its Architecture its History and Assessment of Cultural Significance, City of Fremantle.

Hutchison, David, Fremantle Walks: Walk 2 - Arthur Head.

Hutchison, David 1999, 'Shedding light on sheds in transit', Fremantle Studies, 1: 66-76.

Kiera, Agnieshka 2020, Arthur Head case study for the Shared Heritage theme of ICOMOS GA2020.

MacDonald, E. 1984, Ethnographic Report on Arthur Head, Fremantle, Centre for Prehistory, University of WA, Nedlands, for the Fremantle City Council.

McIlroy, Jack 1986. Bathers Bay Whaling Station, Fremantle, Western Australia
Australian Journal of Historical Archaeology, Vol. 4, pp. 43-50.

Nayton, Gaye 2010, 'Old Port, Arthur Head', Fremantle Studies, 6: 105-110.

Pettitt, Brad, 'Arthur's Head's Changing Face', blog entry.

Philip Griffiths Architects, 2011, Arthur Head Reserve, Fremantle: Conservation Management Plan, City of Fremantle.

Sherriff, Jacqui 2001, 'Fremantle South Slipway: a vital World War II defence facility', Fremantle Studies, 2: 106-119.

Souter, Corioli & M. McCarthy nd, The Maritime Archaeological Resource at Arthur Head: A Report for the Arthur Head Conservation Plan, Dept Maritime Archaeology, WA Maritime Museum, report no. 145.

Statham-Drew, Pamela 2003, James Stirling: Admiral and Founding Governor of Western Australia, UWAP.

Notes in Fremantle, the newsletter of the Fremantle Society: Vol 10 No 2 1982, and Vol 12 No 3 1984 (pages 1 and 3).

Wikipedia page

Garry Gillard | New: 21 June, 2015 | Now: 13 November, 2022