PERTH:  What a Stirling Idea.

In 1827 the British sent over Captain James Stirling to survey the Swan River region.  Could this be third time lucky for Perth, or would we be hammered by yet a another bad review?


PERTH REPORT CARD (Class of 1697 to 1827)





Dutch (de Vlamingh) 1697 Arid, barren and wild.  Forget it.
French (Baudin) 1801 Isolated and unsuitable as a port.  No thanks.
British (Stirling) 1827 FANTASTIC!  When do we start?

Stirling was definitely an optimist and a man of vision.  However, the British Government suggested he should see an optometrist to correct his vision.  Stirling thought the anchorage was second to none, and the land rich and fertile.  He managed to wear the parliament down after two years of debate.  It was probably for other reasons that the tide turned his way. 

REASON ONE: There was still the concern that the French might establish a colony in the region. 

REASON TWO: The British were seriously looking to build some new penal colonies, to ease the increasing convict crowding problem.

The Great Man.
Captain James Stirling


Stirling finally set sail from England on the 13th February 1829, with a contingent of free settlers and a military attachment.  The expedition comprised of three ships. These being the Parmelia, and the military escorts, Challenger and Sulphur.  The Parmelia dropped anchor off the coast on the 31st May 1829, after a 112 day journey. The Sulphur tracked the Parmelia for most of the voyage, however lost contact in the last two weeks, and arrived later on the 8th June 1829.  The Challenger did it's own thing and beat them all there, arriving on April 25th. These guys had to then wait for the others to turn up.  To kill the boredom, the Challenger's Captain, Charles Fremantle, decided to run up the Union Jack, and take formal possession of the region on May 2nd.

Not So Happy Landings:  To be honest the landing of the first settlers was not that well executed.  Stirling was a well meaning kind of guy, though from a historical perspective he blew it.  Once the Sulphur had arrived on June 8th,  everything was finally ready to land the settlers. They had been waiting onboard the Parmelia.   Stirling promptly took over as the landing pilot of the Parmelia, for he had previously chartered the region, and the moment was going to be his.   Everything was going just peachy, until Stirling delivered the Parmelia directly onto a reef.   Most of the women were quickly transferred to the Challenger, and the remaining settlers to nearby Carnac Island.  It was there they spent a lousy four days, with only one mug and knife between them.   After 18 hours, and through the good fortune of a high tide, the damaged Parmelia floated off the reef.  The settlers were later offloaded  onto Garden  Island  where  they  established  a  makeshift  camp,  and  lived  a  

Take me to City Beach! Garden and Carnac Islands from City Beach.

basic existence for  the next three months. Captain Fremantle     was disgusted by the shoddy seamanship, and frustrated by the exile on Garden Island.

Finally in a sudden moment of inspiration, Stirling rounded up all the settlers.  They were then literally dumped on Bathers Beach, near the mouth of the Swan River.   It was a wet miserable day, and in the rush they had to leave their tents behind on Garden Island.  With no cover, except for a couple of light umbrellas, they stood soaking in the pouring rain.  They wandered around their unloaded furniture like zombies.  The unfortunate ladies were also weighed down by their impractical, and now waterlogged skirts.  This was not a particularly great start for the first settlers!
Bathers Beach.

Bathers Beach.

They quickly recovered.  The next really big moment occurred on the 12th August 1829, when Mrs Helen Dance drove an axe into a tree to found the colony of Perth.  To find out more about this grand moment, and how Perth got it's name, read our article, "What's In A Name?".  Stirling decided on a location 16km from the mouth of the Swan River, overlooked by the picturesque Mount Eliza.  After the foundation party had finished, and everybody had woken up the next day, the reality again hit home.  They were terribly isolated and the fertile plain promised by Stirling was beach sand.  Things started to quickly slide down hill.  Stirling stressed that the location still did look good, and that Mount Eliza offered a strategic edge over the French should they decide to invade.  The settlers didn't buy it. 

How The First Settlers First Viewed The Perth Townsite.

On sailing up the Swan River this is how the first settlers viewed the future townsite of Perth. They wondered why Stirling got so excited over isolated bushland. 

Settler Vision.

How Captain James Stirling First Viewed The Perth Townsite.

Captain James Stirling was a man of vision.  He saw beyond the bushland, and viewed an entirely different townsite.  He could not work out why no one else shared his vision of the future of Perth. 

Stirling Vision.


PERTH ALERT:  While the exact location of the original Foundation Day ceremony is lost to time, it is still possible to track down a piece of the actual tree.  Wood from the famous tree was later crafted into a sewing box, which was gifted to Stirling's wife, Ellen.   The sewing box vanished, until Queen Mary discovered it while visiting an antique shop in London, during 1932. Understanding the significance of the find, Mary donated it to the Australian Government.  It can be found today on display, in the Museum of Western Australia.

The box is made of sheoak timber and is inscribed:  "This box was made from the tree which was cut down at Swan River in 1829 by His Excellency Sir James Stirling for the purpose of laying the foundation of the Capital of Western Australia".  Why Mrs Dance's name was omitted is a mystery, but Life On Perth reckon the axe work was shared around that day.

Foundation Box

Mrs Dance Gets The Axe:  A painting by George Pitt-Morison.


The Foundation Tree: Then & Now.

To succeed Perth needed an infrastructure.  There were just not enough people around to get all the jobs done.  The British Government solved the problem by sending almost ten thousand convicts to Perth between 1850 and 1868.  The convicts really kicked things along.  So did the two thousand Irish girls who came over to help balance the gender ratio.  Productivity went through the roof, as buildings, roads, and bridges popped up everywhere.  Perth was proclaimed a City by Queen Victoria in 1856.  Could things possibly get any better than this?


Copyright 2010