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Willem de Vlamingh's ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia, coloured engraving (1726), derived from an earlier drawing (now lost) from the de Vlamingh expeditions of 1696–97



The first detailed map of the Swan River, drawn by François-Antoine Boniface Heirisson in 1801





The river was named Swarte Swaene-Revier  by Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh in 1697, after the famous black swans of the area. Vlamingh sailed with a small party up the river to around Heirisson Island.

A French expedition under Nicholas Baudin also sailed up the river in 1801.

Governor Stirling's intention was that the name "Swan River" refer only to the watercourse upstream of the Heirisson Islands. All of the rest, including Perth Water, he considered estuarine and which he referred to as "Melville Water". The Government notice dated 27 July 1829 stated "... the first stone will be laid of a new town to be called 'Perth', near the entrance to the estuary of the Swan River."

Almost immediately after the Town of Perth was established, a systematic effort was underway to reshape the river. This was done for many reasons:
to alleviate flooding in winter periods;
improve access for boats by having deeper channels and jetties;
removal of marshy land which created a mosquito menace;
enlargement of dry land for agriculture and building.

Perth streets were often sandy bogs which caused Governor James Stirling in 1837 to report to the Secretary of State for Colonies:


At the present time it can scarcely be said that any roads exist, although certain lines of communication have been improved by clearing them of timber and by bridging streams and by establishing ferries in the broader parts of the Swan River ...

Parts of the river required dredging with the material dumped onto the mud flats to raise the adjoining land. An exceptionally wet winter in 1862 saw major flooding throughout the area – the effect of which was exacerbated by the extent of the reclaimed lands. The first bucket dredge in Western Australia was the Black Swan, used between 1872 and 1911 for dredging channels in the river, as well as reclamation.




Swan River in 1918, showing the then as-yet largely undeveloped Mill Point area









Swan River Colony



The Swan River Colony, also known as the Swan River Settlement,  or just Swan River, was a British colony established in 1829 on the Swan River, in Western Australia. This initial settlement place on the Swan River was soon named Perth, and it became the capital city of Western Australia.

The name was a pars pro toto for Western Australia. In 1832 the colony was renamed the Colony of Western Australia, when the colony's founding lieutenant-governor, Captain James Stirling, belatedly received his commission. However, the name "Swan River Colony" remained in informal use for many years afterwards.


European exploration

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.

On 28 April 1656, Vergulde Draeck en route to Batavia (now Jakarta) was shipwrecked 107 km (66 mi) 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.

In 1658, three Dutch Republic ships, also partially searching for Vergulde Draeck visited the area. Waekende Boey under Captain S. Volckertszoon, Elburg under Captain J. Peereboom and 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 Vergulde Draeck (but still no survivors). They gave an unfavourable opinion of the area partly due to the dangerous reefs.




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, Geelvink, Nyptangh and Wezeltje, he arrived at and named Rottnest on 29 December 1696, and on 10 January 1697 visited and named the Swan River. His ships could not 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.

In 1801, the French ships Géographe captained by Nicolas Baudin and Naturaliste captained by Emmanuel Hamelin visited the area from the south. While Géographe continued northwards, 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, Géographe with another ship Casuarina passed by Rottnest on their way eventually back to France, but did not stop longer than a day or two.

The next visit to the area was the first Australian-born maritime explorer, Phillip Parker King in 1822 on 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.


Background to the settlement






Map of the Swan River Settlement and the surrounding country (1831)

The founding father of 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, 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" settlement – unlike penal colonies at New South Wales, Port Arthur and Norfolk Island – 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 the 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 settlement 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).


Events of the settlement

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

Parmelia arrived on 31 May carrying Stirling and his party and HMS Sulphur arrived on 8 June carrying members of the 63rd Regiment and families. Three merchant ships arrived shortly after: Calista on 5 August, St Leonard on 6 August and Marquis of Anglesea on 23 August.



A series of accidents followed the arrivals which probably nearly caused the abandonment of the expedition. Challenger and Sulphur both struck rocks while entering Cockburn Sound and were fortunate to escape with only minor damage. 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 Parmelia finally arrived in early August. In early September a major disaster occurred: Marquis of Anglesea was driven ashore during a gale and wrecked beyond repair. The ship did not break up, as had been expected, but instead survived to become Western Australia's first prison hulk.


The first reports of the new colony arrived back in England in late January 1830. They described the poor conditions and the starving state of the colonists, deemed the land totally unfit for agriculture, and reported (incorrectly) that the settlers had abandoned the colony. As a result of these reports, many people cancelled their migration plans or diverted to Cape Town in South Africa, or to the more well-established New South Wales colony.

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








Notable features


A number of features of the river, particularly around the city, have reshaped its profile since European settlement in 1829:




1909 map showing Heirisson Islands and alignment of the Burswood Island canal

Claise Brook – named Clause's Brook on early maps, after Frederick Clause. This was a fresh water creek which emptied the network of natural lakes north of the city. Before an effective sewerage system was built, it became an open sewer which dumped waste directly into the river for many years during the 1800s and early 1900s. The area surrounding has been mainly industrial for most of the period of European settlement and it has a long history of neglect. Since the late 1980s, the East Perth redevelopment has dramatically tidied up the area and works include a landscaped inlet off the river large enough for boats. The area is now largely residential and the brook exists in name only with the lakes having been either removed or managed by man-made drainage systems.

Point Fraser – early maps showed this as a major promontory on the northern side of the river west of the Causeway. It disappeared between 1921 and 1935 when land fill was added on both sides, straightening the irregular foreshore and forming the rectangular 'The Esplanade'.

The Esplanade – the northern riverbank originally ran close to the base of the escarpment generally a single block width south of St Georges Terrace. Houses built on the southern side of St Georges Terrace included market gardens which ran to the waters edge.

Heirisson Islands – a series of mudflats that were slightly more upstream from today's single man-made island which has deep channels on each side.
Burswood – early in the settlement the Perth flats restricted the passage of all but flat bottom boats travelling between Perth and Guildford. It was decided that a canal be built to bypass these creating Burswood Island. In 1831 it took seven men 107 days to do the work. Once completed, it measured about 280 metres (920 ft) in length by an average top width of nearly 9 metres (30 ft) which tapered to 4 metres (13 ft) at the bottom; the depth varied between nearly one metre and six metres. Further improvements were made in 1834. The area on the south side of the river upstream from the causeway was filled throughout the 1900s, reclaiming an area five-times the area of the Mitchell Interchange/Narrows Bridge works.

Point Belches – later known as Mill Point, South Perth. Originally existed as a sandy promontory surrounding a deep semi-circular bay. This was later named Millers Pool and was eventually filled in and widened to become the present-day South Perth peninsula to which the Narrows Bridge and Kwinana Freeway adjoin.
Point Lewis (also known as 'One-Tree Point' after a solitary tree that stood on the site for many years) – the northern side of the Narrows Bridge site, and now beneath the interchange.

Mounts Bay – a modest reclamation was done between 1921 and 1935. In the 1950s works involving the Narrows Bridge started and in 1957 the bay was dramatically reduced in size with works related to the Mitchell Interchange and the northern approaches to the Narrows. An elderly Bessie Rischbieth famously protested against the project by standing in the shallows in front of the bulldozers for a whole day in 1957. She succeeded in halting progress – for that one day.

Bazaar Terrace/Bazaar Street – in the early days of the settlement this waterfront road between William Street and Mill Street was an important commercial focus with port facilities including several jetties adjoining. It is now approximately where Mounts Bay Road is today and set well back from the foreshore. It had a prominent limestone wall and promenade built using material quarried from Mount Eliza.

River mouth at Fremantle – the harbour was built in the 1890s and the limestone reef blocking the river was removed at the same time, after 70 years of demands. The dredging of the area to build the Harbour effectively changed the river dynamics from a winter flushing flow to a tidal flushing estuary. It was also at this time that the Helena River was dammed as part of C. Y. O'Connor's ambitious and successful plan to provide water to the Kalgoorlie Goldfields.




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Event date / locationEvent typeTitle / summaryVenue / hostPublication link
2020.07.18 East Vic Park Food and Drink Just like being in Bangkok Bangkok Street Thai Grill House fbk page wabiz - pcis n vid 
2020.07.21 Kings Park Icons of the trail awesome views of city and Swan river MT Eliza Lookout fbk page wa trails pics 
2020.06.18 Claisebrook cove East Perth Trail: Public art 3km walk or ride 25 Icons Loop CC Art trail fbk grp wa tourism 
2020.06.06 South Perth bike hire trails on the swan river sunset walk / ride Spinway bike hire station @ Peninsula fbk page central 
2020.05.26 Point Walter Trail - reclusive beach river, trails, picnic, fishing views Jenalup Beach fbk grp wa tourism 
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