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Early Days of Fremantle:

The Jubilee of Municipal Government - Glimpses of the Past

J.K. Hitchcock

Hitchcock, J.K. 1921f, 'Early Days of Fremantle: The Jubilee of Municipal Government - Glimpses of the Past', Fremantle Times, Friday 11 March 1921: 2.

As March 10 of the present year marked the jubilee of municipal goveinmont in Fremantle, it may be an opportune time to cast our mind's eye over the 92 years of the town's existence and briefly review some of the more outstanding incidents connected with its history. As everyone knows, the town derives its name from Captain Charles H. Fremantle, of H.M.S. Challenger, who arrived on May 2, 1829, and toole possession in the name of King George IV., by hoisting the British flag on Arthur's Head. The first of June is always observed as Foundation Day, although it was upon the second of that month that Captain James Stirling, with his commission as Lieutenant- Governor, arrived in the Parmelia with Surveyor-General Roe and the first contingent of immigrants. The first landing was made on Garden Island, and it was not until June 18, 1829, that the proclamation annexing Western Australia to the British Empire was promulgated from Rous Head (the starting point of the North Mole).

The first arrivals were destined to suffer many hardships amid heartbreaking surroundings; for we are told that "when Fremantle was first occupied the land was separated from Arthur's Head by a chain of pools, and the all-pervading sandiness of the long stretch of low-lying coast reduced the bravest of the pioneer band. They arrived in the very depth of winter, few or no tents had been provided for their accommodation, and no sort of cover had been prepared on shore. The weather, even for winter, being unusually severe, the unfortunate women and children were exposed to the most harassing privations, and had frequently to sleep under umbrellas as the only covering from the deluge of driving rain that swept up from the Indian Ocean. Champagne cases, pianos, and even carriages were later utilised in improvising temporary dwellings. Only with the greatest difficult^ could these unfortunate people, unused as they were to rough colonial life, light fires for cooking purposes.". (Lucifer matches' had not then been invented.) These first settlers, however, appear to have faced the situation with courage and determination, for in January, 1833, we .find a visitor from Yan Dieman's Land thus recording his impressions of the infant town.: "Fremantle's appearance is certaiuly a bed of sand, but in most parts of the townsite, upon the several allotments is found a vein of sandstone, about 2 feet from the surface, in sufficient quantity to build a cottage on each, and to wall the land. - I was astounded, as doubtless -all those who have visited that settlemenfhave been, that the same bed of sand will produce vegetables, such as cabbages, carrots, turnips, onions, potatoes and peas—than which nothing can be finer. There is scarcely an allotment in Fremautle fenced in and inhabited that has not a well and excellent fresh water." Mr. George Fletcher Moore, in his diary (1834), gives a less flattering description of the town, which - Le says was "a bare, barren-looking district; the shrubs cut- for firewood, the herbage trod^ew bare, a few wooden houses among ragged-looking tents and contrivances for habitation—our one poor hotel, a poor public house, into which everyone crowded.; our colonists; a few cheerless, dissatisfied people, with gloomy looks, plodding their way through the sand from hut to hut, to drink grog and grumble out their discontent to other." Mr. Moore must have been in a cynical mood when he wrote in this strain, for the subsequeat progress of the town proved that the pioneers who laid its foundations were anything but the drunken lot of grumblers he made them out to be. The "writer's father arrived by the "Simon Taylor" in 1842, and by" that time the town wq6 well laid out, and contained two hotels, Government buildings, and three or four stores. The land- ;n.g place was at the western end of the tunnel which had been pierced through Arthur's Head to connect High-street with the then existing jetty. From that date until after the advent of the first batch of convicts in 1850. the town does not appear to have made very rapid progress if we may judge by the opinion of one who landed in 1851* and j who describes it as follows: "Fremantle ! in the year 1851 was a small insignifi- j cant place, scarce worthy of the name j cf town. There were a few houses scat- i tered here and there, but the only building of**any size was the premises kuoxvn by the name of the "Convict Establishment,' on the south beach, which had formerly been a store occupied by Captain Scott (this building extended from Collie to Essex-street, and part of it still stands). High-street had a few decent-looking houses, as well as one or two hotels of fair proportions, but what is now the centre of the town had only a few stringy-bark cottages dotted here and there, and which were mostly occupied by warders and members of the corps of sappers and miners. Fremantle was ecertainly a dismal spot in the fifties. North and south, as far as the eye extended, there was nothing but miserable sand, covered by stunted bushes." The institution of the convict system, however, inspired the struggling settlers with fresh courage, and gave a great impetus to Fremantle. Owing to the expenditure of Imperial money in connection with public works and the military forces the town grew steadily in importance until in 1871 it was considered that the time was ripe for the inauguration of municipal government. Accordingly, on February 27, of that year, a meeting of citizens was held in the Oddfellows' Ha.ll, in William-street, for the purpose of electing a chairman and council. Prior to that time the civic affairs of the town were administered by a Town Trust, but now a Town Council, with more extended powers, was created and the following were elected to represent the three wards into which the town was divided:—Chairman, Mr. W. S. Pearse; West Ward, Crs. Geo. Pearse, G. A. Davies, Herbert Dixon: North Ward, Crs. W. E. Marmion. John Chester, D. B. Francisco; South Ward, Crs. W. Jose, W. Hayes, Lucius A. Manning; Clerk, Mr. George , Thompson. On March 10. 1871 ,the newly constituted body held their first meeting at Mr. John Thomas' "Albert" Hotel (since nlrailt- and now named the "Commero cial") and appointed Mr. John Henderson as supervisor land rate collector at a remuneration of 6 per cent. on all moneys collected. liie municipal estimate showed an anticipated revenue of .£600, which was allotted to improving tiie streets and extending the sea-wall in Fitzgerald-terrace. Up to that period the rates levied upon property-owners were merely nominal, as convict labour was available and provided free ior street and road making. In 1874 Mr. George Bland Humble was appointed Town Clerk and held the position for 30 years, part of the time concurrently with the head-mastership of the Government Boys' School. In 1882 the proposal to float a loan for the erection of a town hall was vetoed by the ratepayers, but later the project was revived with the result that the town hall was erected and opened as one of the most important features of the Queen's jubilee in 1887, the total cost being .£15,000, of which the Government contributed =£2,000. It was also in 1882, I think, that a svndicate obtained permission from the Council to light the town by gas, resulting in a monopoly which was not broken down until the inauguration of the electric lighting- svs tem in 1906. In 1883 Fremautle was raised to the dignity of a corporation presided over by a mayor, Mr. B. C. Wood being the first to occupy that exalted position. I recall the names of the following gentle men who have since filled the civic chair: D. K. Congdon. E. Solomon, G- A. Davies, E. W. Davies, W. F. Samson L. Alexander, McHenrv Clark, Robt. Laurie, M. Samson. E.~ H. Fothergill, W. A. Murphv. J. F. McLaren, W. E. Wray, W. Montgomery, and F. E. Gibson. (This list may not be complete, or m the order of election, as I am speak mg only from memory). Several of these wore the robes for more than one term,, notably Mr. Solomon, who was elected no less thnn eight times, between 1889 aud 1900. Space forbids a more extended reference to matters municipal, but the following brief resume of some of the most noteworthy events in connection with the history of Fremantle since its foundation may not be without interest at this time:— 1829.—September 5: First town allot ments taken up in Fremantle by W Lamb, J. Hobbs, L. Samson, and T. Bannister. The nexti^ale was to John Bateman, a month or so later. Between June 2 and December 31 18 vessels arrived in Fremantle. 1830.—Severe storms in May and June. The immigrant ship Rockingham wrecked near Rockingham. One life lost, December: A native was shot and killed while robbing Mr. Butler's garden at Melville. A few days later the (blacks killed Mr. Butler's servant, a man named Entwistle. Thjrty-one vessels arrived during the year. 1831;—Tlie townsite of Kingston declared at Rottnest, and allotments sold to R. M. Lyon, G. Northcott and D Scott. The first newspaper, the "Fre^ mantle Observer," established. Its first issues were in manuscript and sold at 3s. 6d. a copy, but afterwards a. small printing press was imported from Van Dieman's Land. It was printed in a hut at? Hamilton Hill by Chas. McFaull. rile only duel fought in Western Australia took place on the beach at North Fremantle between Mr. Clark, a Scotch lawyer, and Mr. Johnstone, a merchant, the latter being fatally" wounded. A monthly service of. boats established between Fremautle and Guildford. There used to be a canal through the spit at Point Walter where traces may still be seen near the water's edge of the wa.yside public house which was kept bv a Mrs. Donnelly. (That canal ought to be re-opened.) Twenty-seven vessels from overseas arrived during the year. 1832.—The first vineyard established in the colony by Mr. McFaull at Hamilton Hill. The vines were obtained from the Cape. Thirteen vessels arrived this year. 1883.—A youth named Wm. Keating killed by natives at Bull's Creek. Two brothers named Velvick met the same fate near Preston Point. The first horse race in gfche colony held on the South Beach pn October 2. Twenty-one vessels arrived from overseas this year. 1835.—January 31: M. J. Bateman Bater appointed postmaster at Fremantle. . 1836.—May: First locally-built eeagolnfT craft launched at Fremantle. 1837.—Fremantle Whaling 1*71...l; Co. n _ began operations by capturing a whale ^off Carnac. Excavation of the tunnel under Arthur' s Head commenced. 1814.—The first execution of a white person in Western Australia took piace on April 6. The criminal was a vouth named Jo]in Gavin, who had been sent out from the Parkhuret Reformatory, and the crime -was the murder of Geo. Pollard, aged 18. at Dandalup. Gavin was hanged ou Arthur's Head about 10 yards north of the round-house gaol. Heavy weights were attached to his feet, and the carl on which he stood was then moved from under him After hanging for an hour the body was cut down and buried near the place of execution. 1845.—February 24: Heavy, north-west gale. December: First steam vessel, H.M.S. Driver, visited Fremantle. The novel sight caused the look-out man to mistake her for a ship on fire. 1846.—Three vessels built of jarrali at Fremautle the largest capable of carrying 300 tons 1847.—July and August: Heavy rains ud floods. 1849.—Unsuccessful efforts made to re move the bar at the mouth of the Swan. 1850.—June 1; The first convict ship, the "Scindian," arrived. 1851.—Erection of the prison commenced. Literary Institute founded. 1853.—Great exodus to Victorian gold diggius began. 1854.—Agitation for removel of seat of government from Perth to Fremautle. (It didn't succeed.) 1857.—February: Steamer Lady Stirling launched at Fremantle. 1862.— Great floods in Juue and July, resulting in much damage to property. 1807.—February 23: The schooner "Lass of Geraldtou," bound from Flemantle to Bunbury capsized in a squall. Seveu persons drowned including Mr. G. Shenton, senior. March 3: The "Emma" left Nicol Bay for Fremantle with 42 persons on board, and was never lieard of afterwards. March 19: The 'Brothers" from Nortli-West went down with six 1 persons on board. October 2: North Fremantle Bridge opened. 1868.—January 10: The last convict ship, the Hougoumont arrived, with the Fenians on board. June: Captain Harming, harbourmaster, and four of his crew were drowned by the capsizing of his boat. 1869.—February 3: The Duke of Edin burgh arrived in H.M.S. Galatea. Juue 21: Telegraph line between Perth and Fremantle opened. 1871.—March: Fremantle declared a municipality. i f 1872.—March 10: Heavy gale at Fremantle; much damage done to -buildings and shipping. June and July: Continuous rain for six weeks; heavy floods. 1873.—July 2: Fremaptle Chamber of Commerce instituted. The promoters were: Lionel Samson, W. D. Moore, R. Kiiig a.nd Son. A. Francisco, Pearse and Owston, M. Higham, John McCleery, R. \f. Habgood aud Co., John Batema*u D. K. Congdon,' W. Owston. John McGibbon, W. E. Muniion, E. Solomon, M. Samsou, B. C. Wood. W. Holm an «:nd li. M. Sutherland. September: Very heavy gale at Fiemantle. The s.s. Georgette commenced the first regular fcteam - service on the coast. First section of the Long Jetty completed. 1876.—April 18:' Si^ Fenian prisonrs escaped from Fremantle by the Amer can whaler Catalpa. May": Cutter Gem foundered off Rottnest; crew and passengers drowned. November 30: s.s. Georgette wrecked near Margaret River: seven lives lost. 1878.—Schooner Rosette foundered near Cossack: all on board lost. 1881.—March 1: The Fiemantle-Guildord railway opened. 1883.—March: The s.s. Maeedon wieck ed off Rottnest; no lives lost. Fremantle elected its first mayor. 1SS7.—The Fremantle Town Hall opened, Juue 22. 1888.—January 1: Telephone system inaugurated at Fremantle. 1891.—April: Census showed population of Fremantle and district to be 7,007. (It is now over 30,000). 1892.—November 16: Lady Robinson tipped the first load on the new Harbour works operations. 1895.—North Fremantle declared a separate municipality. 1897.—April: East Fremantle declared i municipality. May 4: The a.s. Sultan steamed into new harbour and discharged at wharf. 1S98—February 23: First mail earner entered the River. 1900.—Melville Road Board formed. The f?iver Harbour completed (but now badly needs extension.) 1901.—July: Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall. 1905.—Fremantle Tramways and Electric Lighting system instituted. 1920.—July: Visit of the Prince of Wales.

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