Swan River Colony

From Academic Kids

See also: History of Western Australia
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Admiral Sir James Stirling

The founding father of modern Western Australia was 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 Frazer, the New South Wales botanist.

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, the 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.

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.

Swan River Colony
ship arrivals in 1829
April 25 HMS Challenger
May 31 Parmelia
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
Source: [1] (

The first ship to reach the Swan River was the HMS Challenger. After anchoring off Garden Island on April 25 1929, its Captain Charles Fremantle declared the Swan River Colony for Britain on 2 May 1829.

The Parmelia arrived on June 1, HMS Sulphur on June 8. Three merchant ships arrived shorty after: the Calista on August 5, the St Leonard on August 6 and the Marquis of Anglesey on August 23.

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 Stirlings "over confident pilotage", also ran aground, lost her rudder and damaged her keel, which neccesitated extensive repairs. With winter now set in, the settlers were obliged to land on Garden Island. Bad weather and the required repairs to Parmelia meant that the settlers did not manage to move to the mainland until early August. In early September a major disaster occurred: the Marquis of Anglesey 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 population of the colony had reached about 1,500, 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.

Due to the slow growth, which in turn was felt to be due to the lack of manpower in establishing critical infrastructure, the colony finally agreed to receiving convict labour and on 1 June 1850 the first boatload of convicts arrived. Interestingly, Western Australia was becoming a convict state at a time when the eastern states, largely due to goldrushes, were abandoning convict labour. Between 1850 and 1868, when transportation stopped, a total of 9,718 convicts arrived. Their effect on the colony's economy was considerable and by 1869 the population had increased to 22,915.

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