Swan River Colony

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The Swan River Colony was a British settlement established in 1829 on the Swan River, in Western Australia. The name was a pars pro toto for Western Australia. In 1832, the colony was officially renamed Western Australia, when the colony's founding Lieutenant-Governor, Captain James Stirling, belatedly received his commission. However, the name "Swan River Colony" was used informally for many years afterwards.

European exploration[edit]

Willem de Vlamingh's ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia, coloured engraving (1796), derived from an earlier drawing (now lost) from the de Vlamingh expeditions of 1696–97.

The first recorded Europeans to sight land where the city of 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[edit]

Admiral Sir James Stirling
Map of Swan River Settlement and Surrounding Country (1831)

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.

Their initial exploration began on 8 March in a cutter and gig with parties continuing on foot from 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 colony at New South Wales, Port Arthur and Norfolk Island) settlement 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 settlent 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 settlement before 1 November 1829 with 400 settlers. Peel arrived after this date with only 300 settlers, but was still granted 250,000 acres (1,000 km²).

The events of the settlement[edit]

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

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Appleyard & Manford, 1979
  2. ^ "Shipwrecks Audio Transcript : Gilt Dragins & Elephant Tusks". ABC online. 2003. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  3. ^ Kate Pratt. "The Baudin Expedition of 1800-1804". Terra Australis 2001 WA Association Inc. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  4. ^ "The Captains: Nicholas Baudin". abc.net.au. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  5. ^ Marx, Karl. "Chapter 33: The Modern Theory of Colonisation". Das Kapital. 

References[edit]

  • 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 0-9588487-1-8
  • 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