What's In A Name?

Most world atlases have two listings under Perth.  Make your choice (3157 Lat S) (11552 Long E) and then discover the disturbing truth behind our name.

When Mrs Helen Dance drove an axe into a tree to mark the foundation of the Swan River Colony on the 12th of August 1829, she needed a name to kick things off.  Captain James Stirling had a personal favourite of "Hesperia", which means "land looking west".  It was derived from a Greek myth involving nymphs who guarded the garden of golden apples.  However back in England the name didn't stack up.  It was considered a bit to soft for a rough and tumble colony on the other side of the world.

It was Sir George Murray, the "Secretary of State for the Colonies and War" in 1829, who suggested the name of Perth.  He was born in Perthshire Scotland, and represented the district in the House of Commons.  The name of Perth had a strong personal connection for Murray, and if approved would be a great conversation starter for him at parties.

Mrs Dance gets the axe.  The Foundation of Perth: A painting by George Pitt-Morison.

PERTH ALERT:  Mrs Dance was a last minute choice to axe the tree.  Stirling would have preferred his own wife had the gig, though she had just given birth to a baby boy.  The wife of the second in command, Mr John Roe, was pregnant.  The next in line was Mrs Dance, the wife of the Commander of HMS Sulphur.  Truth be told, she only made one swing at the tree, with the local soldiers finishing off the job.   They originally wanted to have a stone monument mark the event, but with no quarries available, had to go with the tree thing.

Despite a frantic search, the guy on the extreme right never did find his camera.


Before departing for the Swan River Colony, Murray issued Stirling with some direct instructions about establishing the townsite.

Advice Number 1: Set up the townsite on Cockburn Sound.

Advice Number 2: Failing advice Number 1, set up the townsite at the confluence of the Swan and Canning Rivers.

Advice Number 3: Failing advice Number 1 and 2, could you at least name the place Perth.  Please James, old buddy.

Stirling scouted Murray's suggested sites and found them both unsuitable.  He chose a different location just east of the base of Mt Eliza.  Rather than ignore advice Number 3, Stirling gave up his "Hesperia" idea, in favour of Murray's "Perth".  So there it was; Stirling 2 : Murray 1.  In the end everyone was a winner.

The Perth Town Hall.

The "Near This Spot" footpath plaque.

So where exactly was that tree?  We can't really tell for sure, because they never officially marked the spot.  What we do know, is that it was somewhere near the site of the Perth Town Hall,  on the corner of Hay and Barrack streets.   There is a special plaque in the footpath.  According to the inscription, the plaque is not on the actual spot.   So if you happen to be walking near the Town Hall, and not standing on the plaque, chances are you might be on the spot.  Read our article on the Foundation of Perth to discover where you can see the tree today.  

The Perth Town Hall.


PERTH ALERT:  There are least nine Perth's on this Earth.  The concept startled us a bit at first, but after awhile we settled down to the truth.  If you must know, the other serious contender is on the bank of the River Tay in Scotland.  Sure it might have heaps of history dating back to the 12th century, but after all those years only 43 000 people decided to stay.  It must have been all those civil wars.  If we get a little hot under the collar, we just head down to the beach to cool off.  Check out our FAQ Page to find out where all the other Perth's are located.

Copyright 2007 LifeOnPerth.com