The first settlement in Western Australia [21 January 1943]

[Editor: Published in The Albany Advertiser, 21 January 1943.]

The First Settlement in Western Australia

A possessory lien on New Holland.

Established 21st January, 1827.

(By Robert Stephens).

To-day, exactly 116 years ago, a rather important ceremony took place within the boundaries of what is now the Albany Municipality by which a Possessory Lien was established by the British Crown to almost one million square miles of New Holland, or to be more exact, the whole of that portion of Australia which now comprises the modern State of Western Australia. It would be a reliable guess that very few people in Western Australia, or even in Albany, will today remember this Anniversary.

Whatever excuse there might be for the former there is little for Albany residents, as a marble tablet on the front of the Town Hall has announced to all since the 21st January, 1927, that:—

“This tablet was erected by the citizens of Albany to commemorate the Centenary of the founding of the First British Settlement in Western Australia by Major Edmund Lockyer, H.M. 57th Regiment, who hoisted the British Flag at Residency Point, Albany, Western Australia, on 21st January, 1827.”

This morning the first peep of dawn across Princess Royal Harbour revealed upon Residency Point (to anyone there to see) a tall slab of granite quarried from the slopes of Mount Melville, bearing the inscription:—

“To Major Edmund Lockyer, of the 57th Regiment, who landed here from the brig ‘Amity’ on the 26th December, 1826, to form the First British Settlement on the Western side of Australia.”

The brig “Amity” had arrived because the far-sighted vision of the Third Earl of Bathurst sought the possession of the whole of the Australian continent for the British Crown. This British statesman was Secretary for War and the Colonies from 1812 until 1827. Some day an Australian will record in full his work for the advancement of the best interests of Australia during his period as administrator at the Colonial Office.

Before giving the details of the ceremony it might be of some little interest to briefly review events between the arrival of the “Amity” and the formal act of taking possession of half a Continent.

At 5.30 p.m. on Monday, 25th December, 1826, the Colonial brig “Amity” (148 tons) Sailing Master Lieutenant Coulson Festing, R.N., anchored in Princess Royal Harbour within half-a-mile of the Point, then named Point Frederick, but now known as Residency Point. With the casting of the anchor terminated a stormy passage from Sydney begun some seven weeks earlier on the 8th November — and commenced the first settlement in New Holland west of 129 degrees East Longitude.

The first Commandant, Major Edmund Lockyer, H.M. 57th Regiment (the Diehards), and a small detachment of the 39th Regiment (the Dorsetshire Regiment), accompanied by a party of convicts, had been commissioned by Governor Darling of New South Wales, under instructions of the Earl of Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, to form a settlement at King George’s Sound as a token to the world that the whole of the Western Half of New Holland was claimed by the British Crown by right of occupation.

The personnel comprising this new outpost of the Empire was a mixed one of some 52 souls. In addition to the Commandant, it included Captain Wakefield, who was to succeed him, a Sergeant and eighteen rank and file of the 39th Regiment; Mr. Isaac Scott Nind (Assistant Surgeon), and Mr. E. Lockyer (a son of the Commandant, Assistant Storekeeper). In addition there were twenty-four male convicts to act as artisans and labourers. The females of the species comprised the wives of three soldiers and their four children.

Commencing at 4 a.m. on Boxing Day, 1826 and in the three days following the Commandant, accompanied by Lieutenant Festing, R.N., made a careful examination of the country lying within a triangle formed by Mount Melville, Mount Clarence (both of which were named by Major Lockyer) and the entrance to Oyster Harbour. As a result of this examination it was decided that it was impossible to fix on a more suitable site for the settlement than the piece of rising ground northward from the point off which the “Amity” lay at anchor. In his report to Headquarters in Sydney, Major Lockyer identified the spot selected as an area of about five hundred yards square near the Western Hill (Mount Melville). Those who would seek this spot to-day would find it between the rear of the Albany Road Board Office, the Depot of the Shell Company, and the southern portion of the Parade-street Children’s Recreation Reserve.

Of the site he had selected, the Commandant reported that it “was immediately opposite where the ‘Amity’ lay at anchor on the north shore in a pretty situation, having the advantage of good water and fuel, being close to the shores of the harbour and no impediment to communication with the interior; at this place is the Settlement, which in honour of His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, I named Frederick’s Town, and on a projecting Point below on the Beach a flag staff is placed with a platform with two eighteen pounders mounted which is easily seen by a ship crossing the Sound and opening Princess Royal Harbour.”

The Frederick Duke of York and Albany whom Lockyer sought to honour was the Commander in Chief of the British Army, and the honour was, unknown to Lockyer, a posthumous one, as the Duke had died in London on the 5th January — that is a few days after the site to be named in his honour had been fixed.

Of the site he had selected, in an entry in his Journal, Lockyer recorded: “Found plenty of fresh water though very high coloured from its running through peaty soil like a bog; as it lay on a slope facing the anchorage, it might easily be drained and the water brought to as many reservoirs as might be required, and the ground would become excellent for gardens; and the site between the two hills forming nearly an amphiteatre would be an extremely eligible situation for a town, though most of the ground in the neighbourhood is a loose sandy soil with a mixture of vegetable mould; with the exception of the gardens it would not answer any other purpose of farming or agriculture.”

By the 12th January all the stores, livestock and gear had been landed from the “Amity” and placed under the temporary shelters erected for the purpose. At dawn on Sunday, 21st January, just prior to the departure of Lieutenant Festing, R.N., in the “Amity” on her return journey to Sydney, the British flag was hoisted on the Staff, and later in the day the two carronades boomed out over Princess Royal Harbour in a Royal Salute with an accompanying Feu de Joie from muzzle loaders of the troops and the whole of Australia West of 129 degrees East Longitude was formally claimed as the property of King George IV.

The ceremony as recorded by Lockyer in his Journal appears in the following matter of fact record under the date of Sunday, 21st January, 1827: “This day at sunrise the colours were displayed on the Flag Staff; at twelve o’clock a Royal Salute was fired from the Battery and a Feu de Joier by the Troops, and an extra allowance of flour with raisins and suet was ordered on the occasion to be issued to the troops and convicts; a number of the natives having come to the Settlement in the morning the seine was hauled on purpose to give them a feast; about three hundred weight was taken of capable fish. The day proved fine and the whole went off well.”

The 39th Regiment was raised in Ireland 1702, and today it is still in the front line, in this World War. During 1935 it was stationed at Sialkot, India. Of all the notable achievements during the two hundred and forty years of the romantic history inscribed upon its colours it is doubtful if any were more honourable or of more practical importance than the achievement of the eighteen rank and file of the Regiment who in their white faced scarlet uniforms fired the Feu de Joie and then faithfully held the lonely outpost at King George’s Sound for two-and-a-half years. And held it alone until the establishment of the Swan River Settlement during June, 1829, with the consequent arrival of the 63rd (the Manchester) Regiment, by which it was ultimately relieved when the control of the outpost was transferred from New South Wales to the Swan River Settlement.

The notification of the transfer was published in the form of a Government Notice and read: “It having been notified to the Lieutenant-Governor that His Majesty’s Government has been pleased to direct the troops and convicts heretofore stationed at King George’s Sound to be withdrawn, and that settlement to be henceforth considered part of this colony, notice of the same to all whom it may concern is hereby given. With the view of affording to settlers actually resident in this settlement opportunity to exchange any grant they may at present hold in it for a similar extent of land in the Southern districts annexed to this colony as aforesaid, the Lieutenant-Governor has directed the Surveyor-General to receive until the last day of this month, and not after, all applications for permission to effect such changes, and the Surveyor-General has been further directed to afford to persons desirous of making application for that purpose full information as to the form of such application, and also as to the term upon which permissions will be granted.” It was signed by the Lieutenant Governor James Stirling, and it was dated at Perth on the 7th March, 1831.

Following upon this Proclamation, within a few weeks Surgeon Alexander Collie arrived, to take up his duties as the first Governor Resident, and to plan the beginning of the modern town of Albany. To plan and to build upon the foundations laid during the New South Wales regime. Those who would seek information concerning this regime from the ordinary Australian history books will find that where it is referred to at all it is in the vaguest possible manner, as — “the exact spot where the British flag was hoisted is not known — very meagre information concerning the little settlement is available — very little progress was made during the four years of its existence — no practical result ensued.”

These statement are all quite wrong, as a wealth of official and other reliable records of eyewitnesses chronicle the substantial achievements of the three Commandants who followed each other after Major Lockyer had returned to Sydney, which he did early in April 1827, aboard the H.M.S. “Success.” These Commandants were all officers of the 39th Regiment and were respectively, Captain J. Wakefield, Lieut. G. Sleeman and Captain Collet Barker.

When the full history of the work accomplished during four years at the lonely outpost at King George’s Sound is written it will tell of the friendly relations established with the native tribe upon whose tribal domain the settlement was established; of the explorations of the French River (the Kalgan of today), and as far afield as the Porongorups and Wilson’s Inlet; and of very many other things which will justify the Dorsetshire Regiment in inscribing “King George’s Sound” upon its colours as by no means the least of its achievements, and in feeling proud that so much was accomplished by so few.

The Albany Advertiser (Albany, WA), 21 January 1943, p. 3

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