West Australia 1829-1890

King George's Sound. In 1825, when Sir Ralph Darling was appointed

Governor of New South Wales, his commission was supposed to extend over

all that part of Australia which lies between the 139th meridian and the

eastern coast. Not that the whole of this country, or even the twentieth

part of it, was occupied by settlers--the region was merely claimed as

British territory. But the remainder of Australia, comprising about

> two-thirds of the continent, had not, as yet, been annexed by any

European nation; and when, in 1826, a rumour prevailed that the French

were about to occupy that region, the Sydney people were alarmed lest so

great a territory should thus be lost for ever to the British Empire;

they, therefore, in that year, sent a detachment of soldiers to take

formal possession of the country and to found a settlement at King

George's Sound. From this early effort, however, no practical result

ensued; and, during the few years of its existence, the place continued

to be nothing more than a small military station.

Swan River. But, in 1827, an English captain, named Stirling, after

having sailed along the western coast, gave a most favourable account of

a large river he had seen on his voyage. He was not the first discoverer

of this river, which, as early as 1697, had been visited by a Dutch

navigator, named Vlaming, who was sailing in quest of a man-of-war

supposed to have been wrecked on these shores. Vlaming had seen this

stream, and, astonished by the wonderful sight of thousands of jet black

swans on its surface, had given to it the name of Swan River. But it had

remained unthought of till Captain Stirling, by his report, awakened a

warm and hopeful interest in this district.

Shortly afterwards the British Government resolved to found a colony on

the banks of this river, and Captain Fremantle arrived as the pioneer of

the intended settlement. When he landed on the shore, he found that a

nearer view of the country was far from realising the expectations

formed by those who had viewed it merely from the open sea. He began to

have forebodings, but it was now too late--the ships, containing eight

hundred of the first settlers, were already close at hand; and, in the

course of a week or two, after narrowly escaping shipwreck on the reefs

along the shore, they landed Captain Stirling, the first Governor, with

his little band, on the wilderness of Garden Island. Here, in this

temporary abode, the colonists remained for several months--sheltering

themselves in fragile tents, or in brushwood huts, from the rough blasts

and the 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, however fair it seemed from a distance, they found it to

be merely a sandy region, covered with dense and scrubby thickets. The

only port was at a place called Fremantle, where there was but little

shelter from the storms of the open ocean; and the only place suitable

for a town was several miles up the Swan River, where the waters expand

into broad but shallow lagoons. Here the colonists determined to build

their city, to which they gave the name of Perth. But the site was not

favourable to enterprise; an impassable bar stretched across the mouth

of the river, which was, therefore, inaccessible to vessels. The goods

of the colonists had to be landed on an exposed beach at Fremantle, and

then carried overland through miles of sand and scrub.

In 1830 about a thousand new immigrants arrived; and towards the end of

this year the colonists succeeded in settling down in their new homes at


Land Grants. Most of these immigrants were attracted to Western

Australia by the prospect of obtaining large estates; they knew how

valuable land was in the well-settled countries of Europe, and, when

they heard of square miles in Australia to be had for a few pounds, they

were captivated by the notion of so easily becoming great landed

proprietors. But the value of land depends upon surrounding

circumstances, and ten acres in England may be worth more than a whole

wilderness in West Australia. At that time foolish notions were in every

quarter prevalent as to what could be done by means of land. The British

Government thought it possible to make the colony self-supporting by

paying for everything with grants which cost it nothing, but which would

be readily accepted by others as payment. Thus the Governor, instead of

his yearly salary, was to receive a hundred thousand acres, and all the

officials were to be paid in the same manner. The land was distributed

in great quantities to people who had no intention of using it, but who

expected that, by the progress of colonisation, it would increase

enormously in value, and might then be sold for splendid prices.

To induce immigrants to bring with them useful property, the Government

offered a bonus of twenty acres for every three pounds worth of goods

imported; and the colonists--quite unconscious of the future that lay

before them--carried out great numbers of costly, though often

unsuitable, articles, by means of which the desired grants were

obtained. It was found difficult to convey this property to the town,

and much of it was left to rot on the shore, where carriages, pianos,

and articles of rich furniture lay half-buried in sand and exposed to

the alternations of sun and rain.

Splendid horses and cattle of the finest breed had been brought out, but

they wandered useless in the bush. For, till the country was surveyed,

nothing could be done in the way of agriculture; and, even after the

surveys were completed, owing to a regulation that those whose grants

exceeded a square mile should be allowed the first choice, all the

sections nearest to the town were obtained by officials and wealthy

speculators, who had no intention of using them. Many of these persons

held a district almost as large as an English county, and, therefore,

the lands remaining for selection by farmers and small purchasers were

generally far in the interior. The sections were pointed out on the

maps, but the places themselves had never been trodden by a white man's

foot, and were held by tribes of hostile savages. Some, indeed, tried to

settle upon these distant regions, but they were lonely and isolated,

and many of them perished, either from disease and hunger, or by the

spears of the natives. Yet there were very few who made any attempt at

agriculture, and the costly ploughs and implements that had been

imported lay rusting on the beach. The horses and cattle died off, the

sheep that had been introduced at great expense were almost all killed

through feeding on a poisonous plant, which grew in patches over the

country; and the men themselves were forced to loiter at Perth,

consuming their provisions and chafing at their ruinous inaction.

Mr. Peel. There was one gentleman who had spent fifty thousand

pounds in bringing with him to the colony everything that could be

required for farming and sheep-breeding on a magnificent scale. He

brought with him three hundred labourers; but the land was by no means

so fertile as he had imagined, and he had scarcely commenced his farming

operations when he found that his only escape from ruin was to enter,

single-handed, on the self-dependent life of the ordinary settler.

Gloomy Prospects. Matters grew worse and worse, and those of the

disappointed colonists who had sufficient prudence to start before their

means were all exhausted either returned to Europe or sought the other

colonies, where several achieved success--notably the brothers Henty,

who settled at Launceston and established at Portland Bay the whaling

station already mentioned. The gloomy reports of those who reached

England prevented any further accession of immigrants, and in 1835 it

was rumoured, though erroneously, that the British Government intended

to abandon the place.

In the following year (1836) the colony of South Australia was founded;

and a great extent of territory previously marked as belonging to West

Australia was assigned to the new settlement. These two colonies, during

their early years, experienced trials and difficulties of the same kind;

but while South Australia, in a short time, emerged to a career of

brilliant prosperity through sturdy determination to make the land

productive, West Australia for forty years never enjoyed more than a

transitory gleam of success.

Introduction of Convicts. This little improvement consisted of a

message received from Earl Grey in 1848 asking the settlers if they were

willing to accept convicts in their midst. The other colonies had

refused them, but it was thought not unlikely that West Australia might

be glad to get them. Opinions were divided as to the reply which ought

to be given: while some were averse to the idea, others believed that

the money sent out by the British Government to maintain the convicts

and soldiers would originate a trade which might give to the colony new

life and fresh prospects. These arguments prevailed, and in 1849 the

first shipload of convicts arrived. From time to time new gangs were

received, and the place began to be much more populous than before. The

shopkeepers in Perth became rich, and the farmer squatters of the

surrounding districts found a ready market for their produce. Yet this

success was only partial; and there was nothing which might be said to

constitute general prosperity. In the little town of Fremantle, the few

and scattered houses had still a rural aspect, and the streets echoed to

the sound of no commercial bustle. In Perth the main street was still a

grassy walk, shaded by avenues of trees, and even in the business

quarter the houses stood each in the midst of its spacious garden.

Evils of Convictism. West Australia had now to suffer the

consequences of having become a penal settlement. Many of the convicts,

on being liberated, took up their abode in the colony; but their

dispositions were seldom either amiable or virtuous, and from the vices

of these men the whole population began to lose character in the eyes of

other countries. A large number of the prisoners were no sooner

liberated than they set off for the goldfields in the eastern colonies,

which thus began to share in the evils of convictism. These colonies

were not inclined to suffer long in this manner; and, to defend

themselves, they refused admission to any person who came from West

Australia, unless he could show that he had never been a convict. Thus

the colony at Swan River was branded, and held to be contaminated; no

free immigrants sought its shores, and many of its best inhabitants


This stigma continued to rest on West Australia until the year 1868,

when the transportation of criminals from Great Britain altogether

ceased, and the colony no longer received its periodical supply of

convicts. Since that time it has, in a great measure, retrieved its

character; it is now doing what it can to attract free immigrants, and

offers large tracts of pastoral land at low rentals, while the farming

classes are attracted by free selection at only ten shillings an acre,

with ten years in which to pay it. It has joined Perth to Albany by a

good railway, and several branch railways have been constructed, as well

as a large number of telegraph lines; and at Albany, the town on King

George's Sound, it has established a coaling depot for the mail steamers

on their way to Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney. But West Australia is

still what it was called twenty years ago, "the giant skeleton of a

colony," consisting of about forty thousand people, scattered over a

hundred thousand square miles of territory, behind which stretches a

vast region of unexplored wilderness. There is every indication,

however, that its progress in the near future will be rapid. Up to 1870

it formed what was called a Crown colony: the people had no voice in

their own government; their affairs were managed for them by the

officers of the English Government. At that date, however, when

transportation was abolished, the colony was promoted to the partial

management of its own affairs, and the people began periodically to

elect a Legislative Council. In 1890 it was still further promoted,

being raised to the full dignity of an independent colony, having, like

the other colonies of Australia, a Parliament of two Houses, with power

to make and unmake its own laws as it pleases. Perth is now rapidly

increasing, and the colony is on the eve of its palmy days.