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Fremantle Stuff > bridges > ferries.
See also the page for the Cantonment capstan base.


The first cross-river was established in 1930 by Robert Thomson. He ran it until 1832, at which time he went to Rottnest where he attempted farming. The ferry probably crossed from Ferry Point (aka Willis Point), on the sandbank in the river, to Lionel Lukin's property Lilburn, up from Water Street, at the river end of which there was a small jetty (or thereabouts if the jetty had not yet been built). For a view of Willis's Point, see this painting by Charles Russell.)

A ferry was operated by John Weavell from late 1832 to 1835 from Preston Point to Rocky Bay (Cooper & McDonald: 27-8).


A Mr Pearce continued to operate a Fremantle ferry illegally and was taken to court by Weavell and Thomson.  The court granted Pearce the right to operate the Fremantle ferry for foot travellers only until the lease expired. (See the documents reproduced at the bottom of this page.)

It was decided in July 1835 to close both that Fremantle ferry and the one at Preston Point and and open a new one below the Cantonment.

ferry 1847

Its location  is shown on this 1847 map. The cartographer at that time called it the 'old' Ferry.

This Cantonment Ferry is the one which the Melville history (Cooper & McDonald) identifies as being directly west of Cantonment Hill and operated by John Duffield 1835-1839.

There is a complaint in the local paper in January 1836 after the Ferry Point ferry had closed about the poor service of the Cantonment ferry, to which Duffield replies in a letter to the paper.  His interest in replying is presumably because it is he who is running the service. See the correspondence below, in the References section.

Tenders continued to be called for the operation of this ferry and in July 1838, a six month tender was called.  It appears to have been unsuccessful because in August 1838 the Fremantle Town Trust decided to take over the management of the Ferry.

Cooper & McDonald excerpt

In the absence of bridges and with Perth being located on the opposite side of the river from Fremantle, cross-river ferries were set up at key points. These broad-beamed, flat-bottomed craft were rowed across the river along thick rope hawsers strung from bank to bank to counteract the pull of the current. Alfred Waylen hoped to establish such a ferry at Point Walter, on the eastern side of the spit. In April 1830 he wrote to the Colonial Secretary, inquiring if it was

the intention of the Government to form a road from Fremantle to Point Walter—to be connected with the road on the opposite side at Freshwater Bay by a ferry, in the event of which I beg leave to state my wish to be allowed the exclusive right of carrying passengers, goods, etc.

The official response was that a decision had yet to be made about ferries. but that his application would be considered in due course. Indeed no ferry terminus was ever located at Point Walter, where the river was broad and the crossing difficult. It was also remote from Fremantle. Instead, road travellers from Perth would follow the northern bank of the river until they were almost opposite their destination.

The first cross-river ferry was located in Fremantle and operated by the former Kent farmer Robert Thompson [Thomson]. By the end of 1832, however, Thompson had left the mainland to take up residence on his Rottnest Island grant. Meanwhile, John Weavell was attempting to start a ferry at Preston Point, although the authorities were reluctant to issue a licence while another service was supposedly in operation further downstream. It was only through his persistence, his preparedness to spend large sums of money on facilities and the convenient departure of Thompson [Thomson], that the service finally passed into his hands. He immediately constructed jetties at Preston Point and at the head of Rocky Bay, clearing a line of road to John Butler’s grant in present-day Claremont. He also took pains to warn potential rivals of his exclusive rights to operate a ferry along the whole stretch of the Swan between the Narrows and Fremantle. Weavell’s early enthusiasm waned, however, for the service was poorly patronised, difficult to operate and expensive to maintain. In March 1835 he gave up and left the colony for Van Diemen’s Land.

The ferry service then passed to John Duffield, who was convinced that Weavell had erred in locating the ferry at Preston Point. Determined to find the most appropriate crossing place, Duffield carefully examined the river downstream from Melville Water. Unimpressed with the claims of Point Walter, he decided to return the service to its original site. His jetty on the Fremantle side was erected due west of Cantonment Hill. From there the ferry ran northwest to its terminus on the North Fremantle bank, immediately above Lukin’s property and some 1,200 metres from the river mouth. Although the stream was narrow there, the crossing proved far from satisfactory.

During a nor’-wester it is nearly impossible to cross the river or, if you accomplish it, it is accompanied with some danger and a certainty of being well drenched by the spray which breaks over the boat. There exists, we believe, but one opinion—that the place selected for the ferry is inappropriate for that purpose.

In 1839, after the Collector of Revenue had repeatedly failed to find a lessee for the Fremantle ferry, it was once again returned to Preston Point, linked to Fremantle by a new road built by prisoners from the local gaol. Although the crossing was safer and more comfortable than that at Fremantle, the service was not cheap. Tolls ranged from ninepence per person and 1/6 per horse and rider, to 9/- for a heavy waggon and 10/- for a flock of 60 sheep. Cooper & McDonald: 27-29.

Nathaniel Ogle, in 1839, in The Colony of Western Australia: A Manual for Emigrants:
Passage boats regularly ply between Freemantle [sic] and Perth, performing the distance in about two hours. Should the journey by land be preferred, horses are easily procured: the traveller has to cross a horse-ferry at Preston Point, about a mile and a half higher than Freemantle; and from the opposite side a road runs to Perth, along a loose sandy track passing through an open forest.

October 2nd of that year [1867] saw the opening of the North Fremantle traffic bridge. That was built by convict labour, the stone for the approaches being quarried by the chain gang. Previously both passengers and vehicles were conveyed across the river by ferry boats worked by convicts. Hitchcock: 52

Special cross-harbour ferries were in use to take lumpers to work on the North Wharf, as seen below in this c. 1930 photo by George Davidson. That's the tug Wyola on the right.


Thanks to the Fremantle Library for this c. 1930s photo no. 2379, with this caption: 'These vessels conveyed the lumpers (waterside workers) to the various landings along North Wharf (Quay). The Ivanhoe and Victor II were Harbour Trust owned; the remainder privately chartered. The tug Wyola is visible on the right. In the background is the original slipway which was abandoned during WW2.'

A Flying Bridge

The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, Saturday, June 28, 1834
A ferry is not the most desirable method of crossing a rapid river; but of all the different kinds of ferrying, that by means of what is called a flying bridge is considerably the best and most convenient where it can be adopted, which is only where the river has a considerable current. An anchor is fixed at a certain distance up the stream, always greater than the breadth of the river, from which a cable of rope or chain passes to the platform of the ferry-boat, which is here supported on a couple of large barges. The cable is buoyed up by passing over such a number of boats as may be found necessary. If the rudder of the large platform be moved so as to turn the heads of the supporting barges about a point of the compass towards the stream, so as to let it act against the sides of their bows, they will of course sheer across, or oscillate like a pendulum, with a slow and uniform motion to the opposite side, the cable and its supporting bouts edging over in the direction of the platform. By having the height of the platform the same as those of the two piers or landing-places on the sides of the river, carriages of any size, carts or waggons, without unyoking the horses, may drive upon it and pass over without disturbing passengers or baggage within them—Ibid.

References, Links, Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Philip Pole and other descendants of John Hole Duffield for the detailed information at the top of this page, down to the first image. Also to Philip for drawing my attention to the piece about the 'flying bridge' above.

Cooper, W.S. [William] & G. [Gil] McDonald 1989, A City for All Seasons: The Story of Melville, City of Melville, map of ferry routes from that, and also details about Thomson and Weavell.

Dickson, Rod nd, They Kept This State Afloat: Shipbuilders, Boatbuilders and Shipwrights of WA 1829-1929, report, Maritime Archaeology Department, WA Maritime Musem, no. 89.

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

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

Ogle, Nathaniel 1839, The Colony of Western Australia: A Manual for Emigrants, James Fraser, London.

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

The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, Saturday 7 September 1833, p, 141.
Before G. F. Moore, Esquire, Civil Commissioner.
J. Weavell v. Pearce.—This was an action brought to restrain the Defendant from working the Ferry at Fremantle, to the prejudice of the Plaintiff, who had rented it from Mr Thompson, the original proprietor.
The Commissioner put it to the plaintiff to shew his exclusive right, and to produce the instrument or form in which the right of ferry was conveyed to Mr. Thompson.
Mr. Weavell stated, that it was assigned by letter.
The Com.-Unless I can see some grant from the Government, what have I to act upon ? Letters will not do for me. There may be a material difference in granting such a privilege; for instance, it may extend to the whole of the river, or be confined to certain limits- I must see the grant. The public being concerned in the decision of this question, I must take care that their interests are not affected by it.
The letter Books containing copies of the correspondence from the Colonial Secretary's Office, with Mr. Thompson and Mr. Weavell upon the subject of the ferry, were produced, and handed up to the Commissioner ; after perusing them, the Commissioner observed, that there was strong grounds for presuming, the Government intended to perpetuate Mr. Thompson's right, subject to certain conditions ; one of which was, that Pearce should be allowed to retain the ferry for foot-passengers on the removal of the horseflat to Preston Point. The fact must not be lost sight of, that a permission to have a ferry at a particular point, is not a sufficient ground to enable the possessor to maintain an action, or forbid others from plying over certain limits.—It seems a very proper case for the Government now to execute a lease. I feel a reluctance to come to a decision upon the documents-laid before me ; I will, therefore, make some inquiries as to the spirit of the conveyance.
It was subsequently determined by the Commissioner that Pearce had the right of the ferry for foot-passengers at Lylburn, which he will retain during the remaining period of the lease.

Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 - 1847), Saturday 28 September 1833, page 153
Colonial Secretary's Office Perth, Sept. 25, 1833.
His Honor the Lieutenant Governor having some time back approved of Mr. Robert Thomson, the Lessee of Fremantle Ferry, removing the Ferry to Point Preston, and at the same grunted permission to William Pierce to cross at the usual rates Foot-passsengers at the Old station, during the remainder of the Lease—I am directed to notify the same for general Information, and to caution Individuals from interfering in any way with the rights thus invested in Mr. John Weavell, on the part of the said Robert Thomson, and William Pierce, on pain of being prosecuted as the Law may direct.
By His Honor's command, Peter Brown,
Colonial Secretary.

VOLUME IV.] Saturday, January 9, 1836. [NUMBER 158]
To the Editor of “ The Perth Gazette."
Sir,—I beg to call your attention to the state of the new Ferry at Fremantle. The boat is managed by three little boys, and is generally kept on the Perth side of the Swan ; so that when travellers arrive at the Ferry from Fremantle the boys must cross the water to fetch her, and the rope is generally so much entangled with sea weed, which accumulates in vast quantities in that part of the river, that I have known gentlemen detained a full hour before the horses could be ferried to the Perth side of the Swan.
Trusting that this evil will be corrected by the proper authorities,
I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,

To the Editor of “The Perth Gazette.”
Sir,—In reply to a letter in your last number, signed “A Traveller," respecting the Fremantle Ferry, I beg to say, that the Horse-Boat has not been worked across the River but twice by three little boys without the assistance of a man, and that was once with Mr. Stokes, and once with Mr. W. N. Clark—and the Traveller cannot prove to the contrary. I presume I am the best judge which side of the River the Boats should be kept for the accommodation of the public. As to the Boats being kept on the Perth side, as he has stated, if the said Traveller crosses the Ferry frequently, he must be well aware, on his coming down from Perth, he has always to Wait for the Boat to fetch him, which, I think, is a sufficient proof that the Traveller has not confined himself exactly to truth. For the accommodation of the said Traveller, and to do away with the evil of waiting for the Boat to fetch him, I would advise him to apply to the proper authorities for another Horse Boat, so that one may be kept on each side for him.
I am, Sir,
Yours most respectfully,
Fremantle, January 13.

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