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History



In short 

The Gardens' name celebrates Western Australia's first surveyor-general, John Septimus Roe.
Roe arrived in Western Australia on 1 June 1829 aboard the Parmelia. 
His first task in the new colony was to take preliminary surveys of the harbour, river and surrounding land. 
From these surveys he recommended that the area currently known as Perth be the site for the capital and Fremantle the port.

The nearby Bay South ward " Matilda Bay " in Crawley is named after his wife.  Matilda Bay occupies a unique and significant place in the history of Perth, and Western Australia. Matilda Bay itself, and takes its name from the magnificent bay named after Matilda Roe, wife of John Septimus Roe, the first Surveyor of Western Australia.









John Septimus Roe

Remembering the man who mapped out Perth

John Septimus Roe (8 May 1797 – 28 May 1878) was the first Surveyor-General of Western Australia. He was a renowned explorer, and a Member of Western Australia's legislative and executive councils for nearly 40 years.



As the first surveyor general to the fledgling Swan river colony, John Septimus Roe's designs for the streets and parklands of Perth are still shaping the city.

His former home on the corner of Adelaide Terrace and Victoria Avenue is long gone, replaced by an office tower named John Septimus Roe Square, but his memory is preserved in a statue that looks down the terrace he laid out.

"He was very significant to the creation of Perth," Richard Offen from Heritage Perth said.

"He was the surveyor general when Captain James Stirling founded the Swan River colony and it was his job to lay out the towns of Perth, Fremantle and Guildford."

Roe was born on May 8, 1797 at Newbury, Berkshire, England and as his middle name reflects, he was the seventh son of the vicar of Newbury, Reverend James Roe.

"As a youngster, he wanted to become a teacher, but as the seventh son there was a lack of money for his education," Mr Offen said.

"His father eventually managed to pull a few strings and got him a place at Christ's Hospital, a school in central London, where he became a brilliant pupil of the mathematical school.

The John Septimus Roe statue on Adelaide Terrace.

"While he was at school, Roe formed the habit of writing lengthy letters and keeping a diary and his thoughts and he continued to do this throughout his life.

"We have a lot of the letters in the state library. Some of them are really quite amusing and are very long indeed."

At the age of 15, Roe joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman, where he soon distinguished himself by drawing a detailed chart of Brest Harbour in France.

In 1817, Roe passed examinations in mathematics and navigation and was posted as master's mate to the surveying service in New South Wales.

"He was given the job of completing the surveys that Matthew Flinders had started but not completed and he was a bit scathing of what Flinders had achieved," Mr Offen said.

"In his diary he wrote that Flinders 'had left in much, and indeed almost total geographical uncertainty, the whole of the western, north-western and northern coasts of Australia'."

Roe later served in the India Station and became ill and while recuperating in England was offered the position of surveyor general in Western Australia.

"To enable him to accept the post, the Admiralty gave him two years leave, which was eventually extended to 40 years leave," Mr Offen said.

"Just weeks before he sailed for Western Australia, Roe married Matilda Bennett and it was after her that Matilda Bay was later named."

Ms Roe was also considered responsible for a quirk in the city's grid layout - the kink in the road where St George's Terrace becomes Adelaide Terrace.

"Matilda had a great passion for gardening so their property extended a little more into the street than others, and the road had to be diverted to keep the garden intact," Mr Offen said.

"From the time he arrived in June 1829 until his death in 1878, Roe was extremely influential in the development of Perth and the whole of Western Australia.

"He made surveys of the sea approaches to the Swan River, surveyed the sites of Fremantle, Guildford and Perth and it is said that he did that 'with one sickly assistant'."

One of the Roe's most enduring achievements was setting aside the land at Mount Eliza for public use; it was gazetted as King's Park in 1870.

"Roe retired in August 1870 and one of the last entries in his diary says: 'I have not been an idle man in my generation'," Mr Offen said.

Today, Roe's legacy remains in the streets he laid out in Perth.

Both Roe Highway and Roe Street are named for him as is the town of Roebourne in the Pilbara.







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