Remembering the Past Australia

1856 - When Western Australia Had 12,000 people

Remembering the Past Australia

1856, When Western Australia Had 12,000 people

First published in The Daily News, Perth, Saturday 28 February 1931

Memories of Governor Kennedy's Period


Reception of the new Governor (Kennedy) of Western Australia. The Daily News (Perth) 28 February 1931.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA in the middle of last century [1800s – ed.] was featured in the “Illustrated London News” of May 24, 1856, and we are indebted to Mr S. K. Justin, of 65 Alma-road, Clifton, Bristol, England, for sending us the letterpress and a print of two old reproductions which appeared in that journal 75 years ago. The letterpress stated: —

Every portion of the Australian continent possesses more or less of interest to the people of Great Britain. Few families of the middle class can be found in England of which one or more members have not emigrated to Australia, and among the working class emigration has been going on, not of individuals, but of whole families: so great has been the attraction of the fields of gold in the eastern and southern districts of New Holland. Of those flourishing colonies, almost daily accounts are looked for and received in the mother country. There is, however, one part of Australia of which, beyond its own limits, comparatively little is known, namely, the settlement on the western coast.

Colonised in 1829, on a large scale, and puffed beyond all reason, Western Australia, a few years after its settlement, was looked upon as a bubble that had burst; and, as it sunk in public estimation in England, so did the difficulties of the early settlers increase, until convicts were sent thither to assist the colonists, both by carrying out useful public works, and by the expenditure in the colony necessary for their maintenance. The country is now on the point of yielding corn enough for the wants of its own people — a point of prosperity, from whatever cause, not hitherto attained; and this, too, strange to say, in a land where the earth yields her increase with the greatest rapidity and ease.

With such advantages, it is matter of regret that Western Australia has not become a corn-growing country, exporting her surplus grain to the sister colonies, and in return receiving a share of their golden harvest. Nor is it cereals alone which flourish in this district. It might also become a wine country — the vine grows most luxuriantly and produces grapes of the largest size in bunches often of five and six pounds weight. The olive is another tree the growth of which in Western Australia is remarkable, comparing it with that in the south of Europe. In the former the tree bears fruit in about seven years: while in the latter, it has become a proverb that a man plants the olive, not for himself, but for his grandchildren. The fig-tree nourishes equally well with the vine. The sugar cane also has been introduced and might be largely cultivated, and with great advantage.

Western Australia also abounds in the best of timber— the jarrah, or native mahogany — for a quantity of which a contract has recently been taken to supply sleepers for the Adelaide railway, a purpose for which it is remarkably adapted, as experience has proved that it may continue for years under water, or embedded in the earth, without exhibiting the smallest sign of decay. The white ant so destructive of softer woods, will not touch it; it also resists the attacks of the teredo havalis; and is therefore invaluable for shipbuilding. Although not equalling in beauty the finest Honduras mahogany, it far surpasses much of that used for furniture in England. In minerals, if Western Australia be not so fruitful as its neighbours, there is nevertheless plenty of ironstone and lead; the latter being at present worked by a local company. Coal, also, has been discovered in one part of the colony but has not yet been worked. The coasts of Western Australia abound with whales, and the fishery is being carried on and is gradually increasing in extent. After many years of difficulty and depression, both agriculturists and traders are thriving. Men with capital emigrating to the colony, concurrently with labouring men, would be amply repaid for their outlay. The population of Western Australia numbers about 12,080 not including the aborigines.

The principal towns are Freemantle, the chief port of the colony at the mouth of the River Swan, with a population of about 3000; and Perth, the seat of Government, situated twelve miles up that river, and containing also about 3000 inhabitants. In climate it is the most favoured of the Australian colonies, being less subject to the hot winds which prevail during the summer in Victoria and South Australia. Its salubrity is attested, by the health of its inhabitants and the absence of epidemic disorders. In addition to its many natural advantages, Western Australia has recently received an accession of strength and vigour in the person of Governor Kennedy, so well known by his activity and humanity in exposing the maladministration of the Poor-law in the Kilrush Union during the famine in Ireland, and whose able and energetic administration of the Government of Sierra Leone has been highly appreciated.

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