Memories of Perth in the 1890’s by Henry Lyall Hall

Memories of Perth in the ‘Nineties
Mr. Lyall Hall Looks Back Over The Years
When Yellow-Suited Miners Thronged the Block
Contrast Between Old Perth and The City of the 1930s

A REVEALING contrast between the Perth of today and the comparatively primitive city of the ‘nineties, is drawn in the following interview with Mr. Lyall Hall, of Bagot-road, Subiaco.

Mr. Hall was born at Avoca, Victoria, on July 22, 1861, and therefore celebrates his seventy-second birthday today. He came to Perth in 1894 and has been a land agent and investor here since that time. He was for four years a member of the Legislative Assembly under the late Lord (then Sir John) Forrest, and represented North Perth for a similar period in the Perth City Council.

Mr. Lyall Hall’s father was a journalist by profession and was formerly on the staff of the “Manchester Guardian.” He arrived in Victoria in 1852, soon after the discovery of gold in that State, and was for some years shire secretary of Avoca. He went back to journalism however, and was for some years sub-editor of the Melbourne “Daily Telegraph.” 

Like many others. Mr. Lyall Hall was hit severely by the Melbourne land boom, and he arrived in the West in 1894, with very little of this world’s goods.

“At that time.” he recalled, “it was extremely difficult to obtain accommodation and I and others were glad to get sleeping room in the passage of a Hay-street boarding-house.”

Camped at Hyde Park

Mr. Hall’s intention had been to make for the goldfields, where hectic rushes were the order and he brought over a tent and accessories; but meeting a man from Essendon, who was camped at the “third swamp” (now Hyde Park), he pitched his tent there for several weeks and eventually decided to remain in Perth. At that time what is now Hyde Park, a smiling, verdant retreat, was simply a swamp, covered with rushes. At one end were two or three aboriginal camps, and around the swamp ran a track, on which racing youths used to exercise their ponies.

Later, when Mr. Hall became a member of the Perth City Council — he represented North Perth from 1897 to 1901 — he naturally took an interest in the third swamp reserve, and induced Mr. Hackett (later Sir Winthrop Hackett), who was chairman of the Acclimatisation Society, to take steps to preserve the beautiful Christmas trees then growing profusely around the swamp.

When Mr. Hall entered Parliament he was able to obtain from the Premier (Sir John Forrest) some £3000 for the beautification of the swamp reserve. Hyde Park today is one of the choicest beauty spots of Perth.

Throngs of Miners

Mr. Hall recalled the stirring days of 1895-97, when the mines were granted three months’ exemption on account of the summer heat, and the miners came to the city, some going on to the Eastern States and many remaining in Perth.

“It was a sight,” he said, “to see the throngs of men, all dressed in their Coolgardie (yellow) suits, ‘doing the block’ in Hay-street to Barrack-street. At that time there was practically no shops west of William-street or east of Barrack-street, except Hope’s drapery shop (now the Bon Marche). Hymus, a chemist, and one or two others. Hay-street was macadamised in the centre of the roadway only, there being sand on either side. The block was crowded at night with the miners in their yellow suits, and the hotels did a roaring trade, especially the Shamrock — where the palatial Savoy now stands — kept by the popular “mine host,” Gerloff, himself a mining enthusiast.

Old Terrace Cottages

In St. George’s-terrace, where so many noble buildings have been erected, there were a number of very old cottages, nearly all having grape vines growing over them, and many a bunch of grapes I enjoyed where now are imposing business houses.

“The old Freemasons’ Hotel (now the Palace), where one had to mount a number of steps to enter, and the old offices of the ‘West Australian,’ also accessible only by means of a high flight of steps, are other features I call to mind.”

Mr. Hall said that the sudden access of population resulting from the gold rushes naturally created difficulties in the way of sanitation, and as a member of the health committee of the City Council, of which Mr. T. G. A. Molloy was the energetic chairman, he helped to improve matters.

Handfuls of Houses

Hay-street, was then constructed no further than George-street, beyond that being heavy sand, and there were only some half-dozen houses in West Perth; the man who built a couple in Colin-street (a Mr. Sowden) being reckoned a madman to do so!

Beaufort-street was only constructed as far as Brisbane-street in 1897, and there were a few houses, mostly wood and iron, in what was known us Highgate Hill. At that time there was no water available beyond Brisbane-street, and Mr. Hall got the Water Supply Department to put down spear pumps at several street corners; and it was a sight, as well as a god-send, to see the women at the pumps getting their buckets of water. There was then a paper called “Table Talk,” and it came out with a cleverly executed sketch of Mr. Hall as “a modern Moses; he struck the rock, and the water flowed.”

The City Council meetings in those days were held on Friday nights, and, after the adjournment, generally about 11.30, most of the councillors used to repair to a coffee stall at the corner of Murray and Barrack streets and have a hot pie or potatoes and saveloy. The councillors who used to patronise the coffee stall were Frank Wilson (later Premier), W. J. George (Commissioner of Railways), Walter James, Tim Quinlan, Charlie Patterson, Oldham, M.L.A., T. G. Molloy. and Lyall Hall. Councillor Molloy would always have a hot pie, but could never be induced to devour it until the clock struck 12, and Friday was over!

Entry to Parliament

Being an active member of the City Council, Mr. Hall was induced by his friends to stand for the Perth seat in Parliament in opposition to the sitting member, Mr. George Randell. After a good deal of canvassing had been done, Mr. Randell was induced to withdraw from the contest in favor of the Hon. S. H. Parker (later Sir Henry Parker, Chief Justice), who was then the President elect of the Upper House, and who had been persuaded by Mr. Geo. Leake, Mr. Illingworth and other members of the Opposition, to go into the Lower House to lead the Opposition against Sir John Forrest.

Mr. Hall, who was supporting the Forrest regime, told Sir John that he had no hope of beating Mr. Parker, who was looked upon as being the strongest man in Western Australia next to Sir John Forrest, and offered to resign in favor of any old West Australian Sir John could get to contest the seat. Messrs. Harper (of the “West Australian”), Loton, and Hardwick (of Swan Brewery fame) were approached, but would not venture, and eventually Mr. Hall nominated for the seat and beat Mr. Parker by about 8 votes. Mr. Hall retained the seat until Mr. Frank Wilson was elected.

Mr. Hall, however, stated that he would never have won the seat had not a number of the old West Australians, who would not vote for a “tothersider,” refrained from voting, because of Mr. Parker’s opposition to Sir John Forrest.

Popular Sir John

In those days there was no payment of members, and even members serving on a Royal Commission received nothing for their services. There were some great orators in Parliament in those days, notably F. C. B. Vosper, C. J. Moran, Hector Rason, Walter James, George Leake, and George Throssell. Sir John Forrest’s speeches were always labored, but his great knowledge of Western Australia, his forcefulness and honesty of purpose, and his gentlemanly behavior to every one, friend or foe, endeared him to every member, as also to the Parliamentary staff; and he was well supported by his good wife. Lady Forrest, who had no other thought but for “Jack.”

“In 1895,” recalled Mr. Hall, “the only suburb was South Perth. Subiaco was unknown except for a railway siding and one house in Roberts-road built by a Mr. Jones, and which is still in a good state of preservation; and between Fremantle and Perth there was practically only vacant land, the outstanding landmark being the old Half Way Inn kept by one Bullen, and which has been replaced by the substantial Hotel Cottesloe.

“Dr. Jamieson, brother of the Jamieson of South African raid fame, and who afterwards joined his brother in South Africa, owned a large tract of country between Perth and Fremantle, which was subsequently sold on his account.”

Mr. Hall states that he feels very little older than he did 25 years ago, and hopes to see Perth vie in importance with the cities of the Eastern States.

Fresh-faced, hearty and alert, he certainly looks many years younger than his confessed age. “The Daily News” wishes Mr. Hall many happy returns of his birthday.

Source: Memories of Perth in the ‘Nineties (1933, July 22). The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), p. 20 (HOME EDITION).

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