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Recollections of Perth

Horace Stirling, 'Recollections of Perth', Western Mail, Friday 25 December 1925, p. 31.

My first impressions of Perth date from the year 1858 - the day I found a shilling in the pocket of my first breeches. At that time the Terrace was being macadamised by convicts near our home, which stood upon the site that is now occupied by Saint George's House; the road between Fremantle and Perth's stately thoroughfare having been formed as far as Barrack-street, along both sides, of which numerous coteries of natives, seated around their fires, were daily in evidence. They usually grouped themselves in lots of four and replenished their fires from the wood heaps of the settlers, who not only encouraged the original owners of the soil to make use of their premises, but provided them with provisions and clothing and purchased from them clothes-props, flag poles, opossum skins, wild duck and swamp hens.

The outstanding personalities of Perth during the 60's were Bishop Hale and King Cole, the chairman of the Town Trust, who prevailed upon the Government to add a chain to the width of the Terrace. Cole owned the United Service Tavern and the imported horses Stringer and Wonder, the top-notchers of the Turf. Bishop Hale used to leave Bishopscourt at half-past ten every Sunday morning for the Cathedral, at which hour the boys who resided in Terrace houses would assemble to salute Perth's grand old man, who would be followed to St George's by large family groups, headed by the juvenile members, with their parents bringing up the rear. His lordship possessed a delightful mellow voice, and his reading of the Commandments and the Lessons became a cherished memory.

Perth's first four-roomed dwelling was built by my grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. George Read and their family. It stood upon the block now occupied by the residence of Mr. Ernest Lee-Steere, in Mount-street. A photograph of the little building appears upon this page. The fig tree (in front of the house) and the olive tree (shown at the back) were brought by the Read family from the Cape of Good Hope on board the ship Rockingham, which anchored at Fremantle in October, 1830. The ribs of the old Indian tea-clipper, which came to grief by striking the Parmelia bank, in Cockburn Sound, are visible to-day near the northern arm of Careening Bay. The walls of the little dwelling were built of clay, carried by the members of the Read family in boxes from the base of Mount Eliza; the shingles were cut from sheoak trees that grew upon the summit of what is now King's Park.

From the same ridge of clay Charles Macfaull and other pioneers made the bricks and assisted in laying those that built Perth's second house which stands today at the junction of Victoria Avenue (formerly Lord-street) near the intersection of St. George's-Terrace and Adelaide-Terrace. In that building, a picture of which appears at the top of this page. The Perth Gazette, parent of The Western Mail and The West Australian, was printed by Charles Macfaull in 1833; he was likewise Perth's first Postmaster, and, with the assistance of his printing staff, of which my father was a member, delivered the letters and papers from a building that stood upon the Terrace site now occupied by the Young Women's Christian Association. Perth's first Post Office, which was Perth's third home, is also illustrated.

Up to 1833 Governor Stirling and Captain Roe (the Surveyor-General), as well as other officials, resided in tents. The Governor selected a site upon which be subsequently built, out of his private purse, the first Government House, close to the present lodge of the domain. Captain and Mrs. Roe's camp stood in Adelaide-terrace, near where the home of the Roe family was later erected. That home continues to be tenanted.

Charles Macfaull's printing office and the home of the Read family were the Alpha and Omega of early Perth; and as the earliest settlers were largely composed of members of the Church of England, Captain Roe offered the Anglicans the site now occupied by the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. His offer, however, was refused, some of the Anglicans contending that it had been made in order that Captain Roe would have the church close to his residence. It was ultimately decided to endow the Anglicans with a site almost in the centre of what was then occupied Perth. Consequently, where Saint George's Cathedral now stands was considered by the conflicting parties a fair compromise.

Until the Fremantle bridge was completed, during the middle 60's, a daily mail between the City and Port was carried on horseback by Constable Joseph Campbell, who left Perth at eight in the morning and returned at five in the afternoon, via Mount Eliza. The passenger business between those centres was conveyed by the steamer Lady Stirling, which left William-street jetty at eight in the morning and returned at six in the evening, the fare being a half-crown each way for adults and a shilling for juveniles.

Between Perth and Guildford a couple of red-painted large gigs plied for hire. Cargo was conveyed to and fro by what were known as Solomon Cook's "puffing billies." which were flat-bottomed boats that were propelled toy a fan-like contraption at the stern; an ingenious invention by Mr. Cook, who owned a blacksmith's establishment in Murray-street, where Guilfoyle's hotel now stands.

Trade was done by the early pioneers largely upon barter lines. The storekeepers wore George Shenton. R. M. Habgood, J. G. C. Carr, Joseph Farmaner, Walter Padbury, and Henry Saw, who allowed their accounts to extend over twelve months. and had then to be asked by their customers to furnish particulars of their indebtedness. Everything was peaceful and everybody had employment during the State's pioneering days. The Governor was all powerful and held the keys of the Treasury and the Prison. Generally selected by the Home authorities because he had shown administrative ability elsewhere, he was invariably the right man in the right place. In the Legislature of the 70's we had several outstanding orators, among whom were Frederick Palgrave Barlee, William Marmion. Maitland Brown and Henry Parker - men who would have held their own in the House of Commons. Government House was presided over by Sir William Robinson, one of the best public speakers in the Commonwealth.

Up to the 60's the Western Australian Bank had a monopoly of the State's financial business. The National, under the management of John Francis Law, became its first competitor. The Union joined the ranks of our banking institutions, under John Thomas Denny's management, during the middle seventies. As an illustration of the primitiveness of our commerce in those days, I may mention that my father, when returning from one of his trips to London in 1858 by the schooner Swiftsure, brought with him a piano, a perambulator and a few chests of tea, which were consigned to him by a merchant named Baldwin, of Spitalfields. The Western Australian Bank had then upon its directorate all Perth's principal importers. They, like the members of unions of a later day, were a closed company. Before my father could get possession of his goods, although he required no assistance from the Bank, he was refused possession of the bill of lading and invoice until he gave an undertaking to manager Lochee and his directors that he would cease importing for trade purposes!

From time immemorial Perth has been noted for its oddities and its climate. To city folk of a generation ago "Doey'" Okley and "General" Bonner were familiar figures. "Doey" was Perth's chief baker. He cooked our Sunday dinners, while church was in, at threepence a dish. His bakery stood upon a hill adjoining the right-of-way that now leads from the Terrace to the Pavilion Picture Theatre. "Doey's" grievances were many and varied, his chief grouch being against importers, whom he called impostors and parasites for overcharging him for flour. His long orations, at the top of his fog-horn voice, would be punctuated by his rushing into the Freemasons' Hotel bar (now the Palace) every few minutes for a pot of Burton on-Trent.

Among all Perth oddities, however, "General" Bonner stood pre-eminent. The "General" was a tailor by trade and a soldier by profession; very agile, middle-aged, and in stature as straight as a gun-barrel. Like his fellow tradesman in the famous farce, "The Private Secretary," he was determined to soar, his chief loves being the Army and the Navy. Our convict system aided the "General's" ambitions. During the 50's and 60's the Imperial Government despatched to Fremantle a large number of soldiers on board men-of-war and convict ships. Upon their arrival "General" Bonner was the first man seen at the Port. Immaculately attired in a captain's uniform and wearing spotlessly white gloves, he would pay official visits to the various guards as soon as they were quartered at the barracks in Perth and Fremantle; whereupon the sentry would stand to order and shout "Guard turn-out!" After receiving and answering the salute, the "General" would order the sergeant to dismiss the guard, with the authority and tone of a Field Marshal. When a man-of-war without any soldiers on board arrived at Fremantle, "General" Bonner would deck himself as an Admiral, with cocked hat and epaulettes, and on visiting days he would travel from Perth in the river steamer Lady Stirling to receive the honours due to his high rank. At the time of the Galatea's visit, with the Duke of Edinburgh on board, the "General," attired as a full-blown Admiral was accorded a salute of fourteen guns. He went through the ordeal, much to the delight of his fellow passengers, without turning a hair.

From my earliest recollection Perth was a self-contained, united community. During the 50's we had our two weekly, up-to-date newspapers - The Perth Gazette and W.A. Times, owned by the Shentons; and The Inquirer, owned by the Stirlings. The prominent writers on the Press of those days were Edward Wilson Landor, a brother of the poet Walter Savage, William Beresford, James Roe and George Walpole Leake. We had also two public libraries - the Swan River Mechanics' Institute (which was founded by Captain Roe, R.N., and Henry Pether, who was one of The Inquirer's apprentices) and the library of the Working Men's Association, in Murray-street; and although we did not have the privilege of golfing or of hunting with hounds in packs that, like those of the W.A Hunt Club, descended from the Duchess of Newcastle's prize hounds, of Crystal Palace fame, we used to have our week-end paper chases to Trigg's Island and Wanneroo, where some who hunted in pairs away from the pack would lose themselves and turn up during the following day! As a further means of recreation, we always had our beautiful river and Mount Eliza, with its enchanting walk to Governor Kennedy's fountain, under the willows.

Obtained from Trove.


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