The story of Australia — XLI
The settlement of Western Australia
It was rather a curious fact that when Sir Ralph Darling became Governor of New South Wales in 1825 it was doubtful if Britain could rightly claim the whole of the continent of Australia. Part of the eastern coast was occupied by convicts and settlers, and naturally this was claimed to be British territory, but the remainder, consisting of over two-thirds of the continent, had not, as yet, been annexed by any nation.
At this time it was seriously thought that France was looking for a suitable place for settlement in Australia. There had been continued French activity in Australian waters, particularly on the western side, and when it was rumoured that they intended to occupy that region the Colonial Office of England took alarm, and suggested to Governor Darling the advisability of establishing small settlements along the west coast as soon as possible.
King George’s Sound
The Governor took action at once, and, after some discussion, selected King George’s Sound as one of the three sites. Major Edmond Lockyer was placed in command of the expedition, and early in November, 1826, he sailed in the Amity with a detachment of soldiers and a number of convicts to establish the settlement. The party arrived on Christmas Day, and on the following day he began his work of forming a settlement.
He succeeded in establishing friendly relations with the aborigines, founded a village on the site afterwards known as Albany, and formally annexed the territory on January 21, 1827. At the end of four months Lockyer handed over the command to Captain Joseph Wakefield, and returned to Sydney.
While Lockyer was away another French ship visited Port Jackson, and this event strengthened Darling’s belief that the time had come to make a more definite occupation of the western coast. He therefore instructed Captain James Stirling to make a thorough examination of the Swan River, which had already been surveyed by the French in 1801. His report was so favourable that he sent him to England to lay the position before the Colonial Office.
The British authorities were not inclined to spend any money on establishing a new colony, and his mission would have proved a failure had not a syndicate approached the Government with a scheme for colonisation.
The syndicate offered to settle 10,000 persons at Swan River; food and all necessaries would be found for them. One thousand head of horned stock was to be sent out, and arrangements would be made for communication between Sydney and the Swan River. The whole scheme would be completed in four years. The estimated cost would be about £300,000, and in return for this expenditure they asked for land at a valuation of 1/6 an acre — 4,000,000 acres in all. The Colonial Office declined to grant them 4,000,000 acres, but offered 1,000,000. This was not satisfactory to the syndicate, and it disbanded.
One of the members of the syndicate, however, was determined to accept the Government’s offer. This was Thomas Peel, a near relation of Sir Robert Peel, the statesman. He was in the end granted a special reserve of 250,000 acres if he landed at least 400 settlers before November 1, 1829, and a further 760,000 acres in proportion to any further capital he might invest.
While these arrangements were being made Captain Fremantle was dispatched in H.M.S. Challenger to the Swan River. He reached Cockburn Sound on April 27, 1829, and on May 2 took formal possession in the name of the Crown, remaining to guard the flag until the first band of colonists should arrive.
Site of Fremantle
Meanwhile, Captain Stirling had been appointed to the chief command of the expedition, and on February 6, 1829, with the officials and about 300 settlers he set sail for the Swan River. Western Australia was reached on June 1, 1829, but the weather conditions were so unfavourable that Captain Stirling and the little band had to land on the wilderness of Garden Island. Here the colonists remained several months — sheltering themselves in fragile tents or in brushwood huts from the rough blasts and rains that beat in from the winter storms of the Indian Ocean.
Exploring parties set out from time to time to examine the adjoining mainland, but they found it to be merely a sandy region, covered with dense and scrubby thickets.
As soon as the winter declined Captain Stirling determined to select sites for a port and a capital, and to allot land to the settlers. The site of the port was easily settled, as it had to be at the mouth of the river. He called it Fremantle, in honour of the captain of the Challenger.
The only place suitable for a town was several miles up the Swan River, where the river expands into broad but shallow lagoons. Stirling named the chosen site Perth, after the old capital of Scotland, and in honour of Sir George Murray, at that time Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, who was born in Perthshire.
The town was founded on August 12, 1829, the birthday of King George IV. During September officials and setters moved from Garden Island to the mainland, and by the end of the year the infant city had become a straggling village with a population of about 300.
The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 7 April 1935, p. 31
Also published in:
The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 29 November 1931, p. 22
[Editor: Corrected: “Sterling determined” to “Stirling determined”.]