Swan River Colony

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The Swan River Colony was a British colony established in 1829 on the Swan River, in Western Australia.

Swan River (Western Australia) river in Western Australia

The Swan River is a river in the south west of Western Australia. Its Aboriginal Noongar name is the Derbarl Yerrigan. The river runs through the metropolitan area of Perth, Western Australia's capital and largest city.

Western Australia state in Australia

Western Australia is a state occupying the entire western third of Australia. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, and the Southern Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east and South Australia to the south-east. Western Australia is Australia's largest state, with a total land area of 2,529,875 square kilometres, and the second-largest country subdivision in the world, surpassed only by Russia's Sakha Republic. The state has about 2.6 million inhabitants – around 11 percent of the national total – of whom the vast majority live in the south-west corner, 79 per cent of the population living in the Perth area, leaving the remainder of the state sparsely populated.


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.

Pars pro toto, Latin for "a part (taken) for the whole", is a figure of speech where the name of a portion of an object, place, or concept represents its entirety. It is distinct from a merism, which is a reference to a whole by an enumeration of parts; metonymy, where an object, place, or concept is called by something or some place associated with the object, place, or concept; or synecdoche, which can refer both to this and its inverse: the whole representing a part.

Governor of Western Australia vice-regal representative of the Australian monarch in Western Australia

The Governor of Western Australia is the representative in Western Australia of the Queen of Australia, Elizabeth II. As with the other governors of the Australian states, the Governor of Western Australia performs important constitutional, ceremonial and community functions, including:

European exploration

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. Vlamingh ships at the Swan River, Keulen 1796.jpg
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]

Dutch people or the Dutch are a Germanic ethnic group native to the Netherlands. They share a common culture and speak the Dutch language. Dutch people and their descendants are found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Aruba, Suriname, Guyana, Curaçao, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United States. The Low Countries were situated around the border of France and the Holy Roman Empire, forming a part of their respective peripheries, and the various territories of which they consisted had become virtually autonomous by the 13th century. Under the Habsburgs, the Netherlands were organised into a single administrative unit, and in the 16th and 17th centuries the Northern Netherlands gained independence from Spain as the Dutch Republic. The high degree of urbanization characteristic of Dutch society was attained at a relatively early date. During the Republic the first series of large-scale Dutch migrations outside of Europe took place.

Frederick de Houtman Dutch explorer

Frederick de Houtman, or Frederik de Houtman, was a Dutch explorer who sailed along the Western coast of Australia en route to Batavia, known today as Jakarta in Indonesia. He made observations of the southern stars and possibly contributed to the creation of 12 new southern constellations.

Latitude The angle between zenith at a point and the plane of the equator

In geography, latitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the north–south position of a point on the Earth's surface. Latitude is an angle which ranges from 0° at the Equator to 90° at the poles. Lines of constant latitude, or parallels, run east–west as circles parallel to the equator. Latitude is used together with longitude to specify the precise location of features on the surface of the Earth. On its own, the term latitude should be taken to be the geodetic latitude as defined below. Briefly, geodetic latitude at a point is the angle formed by the vector perpendicular to the ellipsoidal surface from that point, and the equatorial plane. Also defined are six auxiliary latitudes which are used in special applications.

On 28 April 1656, Vergulde Draeck 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]

The Vergulde Draeck was a 41.8-metre (137 ft), 260-tonne (290-ton) ship constructed in 1653 by the Dutch East India Company.

Jakarta Special Capital Region in Indonesia

Jakarta, officially the Special Capital Region of Jakarta, is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. Located on the northwest coast of the world's most populous island Java, it is the centre of economics, culture and politics of Indonesia, with a population of 10,075,310 as of 2014. Jakarta metropolitan area has an area of 6,392 square kilometers, which is known as Jabodetabek. It is the world's second largest urban agglomeration with a population of 30,214,303 as of 2010. Jakarta is predicted to reach 35.6 million people by 2030 to become the world's biggest megacity. Jakarta's business opportunities, as well as its potential to offer a higher standard of living, attract migrants from across the Indonesian archipelago, combining many communities and cultures.

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. [1]

Dutch Republic Republic in Europe existing from 1581 to 1795

The Dutch Republic or United Provinces was a republic that existed from the formal creation of a confederacy in 1581 by several Dutch provinces until the Batavian Revolution in 1795. It was the predecessor state of the modern Netherlands and the first nation state of the Dutch people.

The first detailed map of the Swan River, drawn by the French in 1801 Battye freycinet swanriver lg.jpg
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 discovered 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. [1]

Willem de Vlamingh Dutch explorer

Willem Hesselsz de Vlamingh was a Dutch sea captain who explored the central west coast of Australia in the late 17th century. The mission proved fruitless, but Vlamingh charted parts of the continent's western coast.

Sloop sail boat with a single mast and a fore-and-aft rig

A sloop is a sailing boat with a single mast and a fore-and-aft rig. A sloop has only one head-sail; if a vessel has two or more head-sails, the term cutter is used, and its mast may be set further aft than on a sloop.

Heirisson Island artificial island in Swan River, Western Australia

Heirisson Island is an island in the Swan River in Western Australia at the eastern end of Perth Water, between the suburbs of East Perth and Victoria Park. It occupies an area of 285600 m2, and is connected to the two foreshores by The Causeway. The next upstream island is Kuljak Island, then Ron Courtney Island, with no islands in the Swan River downstream between Heirisson Island and the Indian Ocean other than the artificial islet in Elizabeth Quay.

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. [3] [4]

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. [1]

Background to the settlement

Admiral Sir James Stirling Jamesstirling.jpg
Admiral Sir James Stirling
Map of Swan River Settlement and Surrounding Country (1831) A Plan of Swan River Settlement and Surrounding Country.jpg
Map of Swan River Settlement and 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, 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 colonies 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 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

Swan River Colony
ship arrivals in 1829 [5]
25 April HMS Challenger
31 May Parmelia
6 June HMS Sulphur
5 AugustCalista
6 AugustSaint Leonard
23 AugustMarquis of Anglesea
19 SeptemberThompson
21 SeptemberAmity
5 OctoberGeorgiana
9 OctoberEphemina
12 OctoberOrelia
12 OctoberCumberland
12 OctoberCaroline
17 OctoberGovernor Phillip
19 OctoberAtwick
23 October Lotus
John Summerson
31 October Admiral Gifford
11 NovemberLion (Lyon)
14 NovemberDragon
28 November HMS Success
15 December Gilmore

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. (She did not break up, as had been expected, but instead survived to become Western Australia's first prison hulk. [6] )

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 or New South Wales.

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 but in the south west have been estimated to number 15,000), but the difficulty of clearing land to grow crops was 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 . [7]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Appleyard & Manford, 1979
  2. "Shipwrecks Audio Transcript : Gilt Dragins & Elephant Tusks". ABC online. 2003. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  3. Kate Pratt. "The Baudin Expedition of 1800–1804". Terra Australis 2001 WA Association Inc. Archived from the original on 16 January 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  4. "The Captains: Nicholas Baudin". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 4 January 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  5. "WA 1829 Passenger Ship Arrivals". Western Australian Genealogical Society. 4 December 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
  6. Goulding (2007), p.14.
  7. Marx, Karl. "Chapter 33: The Modern Theory of Colonisation"  . Das Kapital.

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