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The Swan River Colony was a British settlement established at the Swan River on the west coast of Australia at the time of the founding of Perth in 1829. This colony expanded and became what is now Western Australia. Fremantle was the seaport and Perth the political centre of the Swan River Colony. Perth remains the seat of government for Western Australia to the present day. Strictly speaking, the Swan River Colony existed only from 1829 until 1832, and encompassed only the lands around and to the south of the Swan River. When the colony's lieutenant-governor, Captain (later Admiral Sir) James Stirling, belatedly received his commission in early 1832, the colony was renamed "Western Australia", and its lands were extended to include the entire western third of Australia. However, the name "Swan River Colony" continued to be used informally for many years.

Contents

European exploration

The first recorded Europeans to sight land where Perth is now located were Dutch sailors. Most likely the first visitor to the Swan River area was Frederick de Houtman on 19 July 1619, travelling on the ships Dordrecht and Amsterdam. His records indicate he first reached the Western Australian coast at latitude 32°20' which would equate to Rottnest or just south of there. He did not land because of heavy surf, and so proceeded northwards without much investigation.[1 ]

On 28 April 1656, the Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon) en route to Batavia (now Jakarta) was shipwrecked 107 km north of the Swan River near Ledge Point. Of the 193 on board, only 75 made it to shore. A small boat that survived the wreckage then sailed to Batavia for help, but a subsequent search party found none of the survivors. The wreck was rediscovered in 1963.[2]

In 1658, three ships, also partially searching for the Vergulde Draeck visited the area. The Waekende Boey under Captain S. Volckertszoon, the Elburg under Captain J. Peereboom and the Emeloort under Captain A. Joncke sighted Rottnest but did not proceed any closer to the mainland because of the many reefs. They then travelled north and subsequently found the wreck of the Vergulde Draeck (but still no survivors). They gave an unfavourable opinion of the area partly due to the dangerous reefs.[1 ]

The first detailed map of the Swan River, drawn by the French in 1801

The Dutch captain Willem de Vlamingh was the next European in the area. Commanding three ships, the Geelvink, Nyptangh and the Wezeltje, he arrived at and named Rottnest on 29 December 1696, and on 10 January 1697 discovered and named the Swan River. His ships couldn't sail up the river because of a sand bar at its mouth, so he sent out a sloop which even then required some dragging over the sand bar. They sailed until reaching mud flats probably near Heirisson Island. They saw some Aborigines but were not able to meet any close up. Vlamingh was also not impressed with the area, and this was probably the reason for a lack of Dutch exploration from then on.[1 ]

In 1801, the French ships Geographe captained by Nicolas Baudin and Naturaliste captained by Emmanuel Hamelin visited the area from the south. While the Geographe continued northwards, the Naturaliste remained for a few weeks. A small expedition dragged longboats over the sand bar and explored the Swan River. They also gave unfavourable descriptions regarding any potential settlement due to many mud flats upstream and the sand bar (the sand bar wasn't removed until the 1890s when C. Y. O'Connor built Fremantle harbour).

Later in March 1803, the Geographe with another ship Casuarina passed by Rottnest on their way eventually back to France, but did not stop longer than a day or two.[3][4]

The next visit to the area was the first Australian-born maritime explorer, Phillip Parker King in 1822 on the Bathurst. King was also the son of former Governor Philip Gidley King of New South Wales. However, King also was not impressed with the area.[1 ]

Background to the settlement

The founding father of modern Western Australia was Captain James Stirling who, in 1827, explored the Swan River area in HMS Success which first anchored off Rottnest, and later in Cockburn Sound. He was accompanied by Charles Fraser, the New South Wales botanist.

Admiral Sir James Stirling

Their initial exploration began on the 8 March in a cutter and gig with parties continuing on foot from the 13 March. In late March, HMS Success moved to Sydney, arriving there on 15 April. Stirling arrived back in England in July 1828, promoting in glowing terms the agricultural potential of the area. His lobbying was for the establishment of a "free" (unlike the now well established penal settlements at New South Wales, Port Arthur and Norfolk Island) colony in the Swan River area with himself as its governor. As a result of these reports, and a rumour in London that the French were about to establish a penal colony in the western part of Australia, possibly at Shark Bay, the Colonial Office assented to the proposal in mid-October 1828.

In December 1828 a Secretary of State for Colonies despatch reserved land for crown, as well as for the clergy, and for education, and specified that water frontage was to be rationed. “The most cursory exploration had preceded the British decision to found a colony at the Swan River; the most makeshift arrangements were to govern its initial establishment and the granting of land; and the most sketchy surveys were to be made before the grants were actually occupied. A set of regulations were worked out for distributing land to settlers on the basis of land grants. Negotiations for a privately run settlement were also started with a consortium of four gentlemen headed by Potter McQueen, a member of Parliament who had already acquired a large tract of land in New South Wales. The consortium withdrew after the Colonial Office refused to give it preference over independent settlers in selecting land, but one member, Thomas Peel, accepted the terms and proceeded alone. Peel was allocated 500,000 acres (2,000 km²), conditional on his arrival at the colony before November 1, 1829 with 400 settlers. Peel arrived after this date with only 300 settlers, but was still granted 250,000 acres (1000 km²).

The events of the settlement

Map of Swan River Settlement and Surrounding Country (1831)
Swan River Colony
ship arrivals in 1829
April 25 HMS Challenger
(Fremantle)
May 31 Parmelia
(Stirling)
June 6 HMS Sulphur
August 5 Calista
August 6 Saint Leonard
August 23 Marquis of Anglesea
September 19 Thompson
September 21 Amity
October 5 Georgiana
October 9 Ephemina
October 12 Orelia
October 12 Cumberland
October 12 Caroline
October 17 Governor Phillip
October 19 Atwick
October 23 Lotus
October 31 Admiral Gifford
November 11 Lion (Lyon)
November 14 Dragon
November 28 HMS Success
December 15 Gilmore
(Peel)
Source: [1]

The first ship to reach the Swan River was HMS Challenger. After anchoring off Garden Island on 25 April 1829, its Captain Charles Fremantle declared the Swan River Colony for Britain on 2 May 1829.

The Parmelia arrived on 31 May carrying Stirling and his party and HMS Sulphur arrived on 8 June. Three merchant ships arrived shortly after: the Calista on 5 August, the St Leonard on 6 August and the Marquis of Anglesey on 23 August.

A series of accidents followed the arrivals which probably nearly caused the abandonment of the expedition. The Challenger and Sulphur both struck rocks while entering Cockburn Sound and were fortunate to escape with only minor damage. The Parmelia however, under Stirling's "over confident pilotage", also ran aground, lost her rudder and damaged her keel, which necessitated extensive repairs. With winter now set in, the settlers were obliged to land on Garden Island. Bad weather and the required repairs meant that Stirling did not manage to reach the mainland until 18 June, and the remaining settlers on the Parmelia finally arrived in early August. In early September a major disaster occurred: the Marquis of Anglesea was driven ashore during a gale and wrecked beyond repair.

The first reports of the new colony arrived back in England in late January 1830. They described the poor conditions and the land as being totally unfit for agriculture. They went on to say that the settlers were in a state of near starvation and (incorrectly) said that the colony had been abandoned. As a result of these reports, many people cancelled their migration plans or diverted to Cape Town or New South Wales.

Nevertheless a few settlers arrived and additional stores were despatched. By 1832 the settler population of the colony had reached about 1,500 (Aboriginal people were not counted but in the south west have been estimated to number 15,000), but the difficulty of clearing land to grow crops were so great that by 1850 the population had only increased to 5,886. This population had settled mainly around the southwestern coastline at Bunbury, Augusta and Albany.

Karl Marx used the Swan River Colony to illustrate a point about a shortcoming of capitalism in Das Kapital.[5]

See also

Notes

References

  • Appleyard, R. T. and Manford, Toby (1979). The Beginning: European Discovery and Early Settlement of Swan River Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press. ISBN 0-85564-146-0.
  • Fornasiero, Jean; Monteath, Peter and West-Sooby, John. Encountering Terra Australis: the Australian voyages of Nicholas Baudin and Matthew Flinders, Kent Town, South Australia,Wakefield Press,2004. ISBN 1-86254-625-8
  • Marchant, Leslie R. France Australe : the French search for the Southland and subsequent explorations and plans to found a penal colony and strategic base in south western Australia 1503-1826 Perth : Scott Four Colour Print, c1998. ISBN 0958848718
  • Marchant, Leslie R. French Napoleonic Placenames of the South West Coast, Greenwood, WA. R.I.C. Publications, 2004. ISBN 1-74126-094-9
  • Toft, Klaus The Navigators - Flinders vs Baudin, Sydney, Duffy and Snellgrove, 2002. ISBN 1-876631-60-0
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