Fremantle Stuff > people > Thomas Peel (1793-1865)
Peel and ... others ... formed a consortium to found a colony at the Swan River in Western Australia by sending settlers there with stock and necessary materials. The consortium requested a grant from the British Colonial Office in London of 4,000,000 acres ... The government declined this and offered a grant of 1,000,000 acres ... on certain conditions.
Early in 1829, all the members of the consortium withdrew except Peel. Fresh conditions were made, the final arrangement being that if Peel landed 400 settlers before 1 November 1829, he would receive 250,000 acres ... If the conditions were fulfilled, Peel would receive further grants. Solomon Levey was a silent partner.
To deliver the 400 settlers Peel chartered three vessels, Gilmore, Hooghly, and Rockingham. Gilmore, the first to leave, sailed from St Katherine Docks in July 1829 with Thomas Peel and 182 settlers in all.
Gilmore arrived in Swan River Colony (later expanded and renamed Western Australia), on 15 December, about six weeks later than the government had stipulated. As he had not fulfilled the conditions, the land grant was no longer reserved for him. The land eventually granted to him, 250,000 acres ... of land to the south, extended from Cockburn Sound to the Murray River. He named the settlement Clarence, after the Duke of Clarence. Wikipedia.
It so happened that, at the time of Governor Darling’s despatch, urging a settlement at the Swan River, Mr Thomas Peel, a relative of Sir Robert Peel, the then Home Secretary, was anxious to invest capital in a colonial venture. A syndicate, of which he was a prominent member, forwarded a memorial to the government making the ambitious proposal that it should undertake to settle 10,000 persons in the Swan River Colony within four years, in return for a grant of 4,000,000 acres, one half of which would be subsequently made available to individual settlers after they had served a given period of probation.
Such a scheme involved obvious risks which the British government was unwilling to undertake. It therefore proposed to offer land to Mr Peel and any others interested in the venture at the rate of 40 acres for every £3 invested. These terms, and the reduction of the syndicate's grant to 1,000,000 acres to permit other settlers besides, disappointed Mr Peel’s colleagues who promptly withdrew their support. However, Peel’s own enthusiasm was unshaken and numerous others, when the terms of settlement were made known, began to make preparations for a new life in a new colony. (Ewers: 2-3)
[Archdeacon Scott] had no time for Thomas Peel, writing that he was ‘ignorant presumptuous & has no system whatsoever’. In a later letter, written to Richard Norman (brother of George), he explained that he had given Peel ‘all the advice my experience authorized me’ but ...
He is without system, arrangement or I firmly believe the slightest idea of an ultimate object – with great personal activity he has neither temper or knowledge for such a concern & the greatest order and confusion pillage and plunder are going on at his settlement – where too they are idle, lazy, drunken, profligate & insolent & yet not habitually so. Errington: 9.
Stirling was obliged to tell Peel that instructions from England, from Sir George Murray, dating from before Peel’s departure, together with the pressure from covetous settlers already arrived, had forced him to open up for selection the area of Peel’s choice upon the non-arrival of the Gilmore by 1 November. Stirling did not add that he had received a further order:
The Governor is not to put Mr Peel in the Council. If as is probable, his party shall arrive too late for fulfilment of the conditions on which he received his grant, he will have no claim at all: and even if he arrive in time, I cannot but think that the impetuosity and indiscretion, to use no harsher words, which he has betrayed in his communications with this department, will render him an unsafe member of a Body whose deliberations are likely to involve both general and individual interests of great and yearly increasing importance.
This communication shows that Peel had indeed trodden on some sensibilities in his impatience with Colonial Office dithering and changes of mind; and in this, perhaps, Stirling, who had also had experience of it, could sympathize with him. (Hasluck 1965: 71-2)
Excerpt from Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council: pp. 17, 19:
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.
Errington, Steve 2016, 'Thomas Hobbes Scott: Western Australia’s first clergyman', Early Days, no. 100: 87-100.
Ewers, John K. 1971, The Western Gateway: A History of Fremantle, Fremantle City Council, with UWAP, rev. ed. [1st ed. 1948].
Hasluck, Alexandra 1965, Thomas Peel of Swan River, OUP, Melbourne.
Hasluck, Alexandra 1967, 'Peel, Thomas (1793-1865)', ADB.
Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council: pp. 17, 19.
Richards, Ronald 1993, Murray and Mandurah: A Sequel History of the Old Murray District of Western Australia, Shire of Murray and City of Mandurah.
Smart W. C. 1956, Mandurah and Pinjarrah: History of Thomas Peel and the Peel Estate, 1829-1865, Paterson Brokensha, Perth. (Violent conflict between settlers and Aborigines in Western Australia 1838; Battle of Pinjarrah; Appendix has account of 'Customs of the Murray tribe'.)
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