Our guest speaker for last week was Jim Cameron who completed a PhD in 1975.  The content of his doctorate reflected on his experience as an immigrant and he was intrigued by the various methods migrants used to come to terms with the Western Australian environment which was very unfamiliar to them.  He focused on how the first group of immigrants (1829 onwards) developed their agricultural systems.
In his opening remarks he commented on Western Australian history by saying "Australian history is NOT Western Australian history".  He made the following points to support this statement -
  • Captain Cook did not discover Australia in 1770 ... that honour belongs to Dirk Hartog 1616.
  • Western Australians chose to become a convict colony.
  • Western Australia was not claimed by Britain for the fear of the French ... that honour (?) rests solely with James Stirling who explored the area and lobbied for its occupation with him as governor.  His desire was to improve family fortune.
Jim took us through the timeline of events from 1828 using requests to the Colonial Office to reconstruct his storyline to demonstrate how Western Australia nearly wasn't.  
  1. Colonial Office under urging from Stirling agrees to annex the western third of the Australian continent and occupy the Swan River area.
  2. Details of how the area was to be occupied were worked out over the next two months in discussions between Stirling, the Colonial Office, and entrepreneurs like Thomas Peel and his associates. The land regulations were announced on 28 December 1828 and precipitated SWAN RIVER MANIA.
  3. Swan River Mania was driven by economic conditions in Britain and descriptions of and publicity for the proposed colony. The Colonial Office was inundated by requests for information and this was supplied from official reports derived from Stirling's 1827 report. People could also get information from newspapers and periodicals as well as shipowners and speculators.  The information was at 'best flamboyant and at worst totally illusory'. 
  4. The official party reached Swan River on 30 Mayand Stirling sailed confidently into Cockburn Sound and ran the Parmelia onto the sandbank which runs across the sound.  The official party set up camp on Garden Island.
  5. The unexpected arrival of the Calista on 5 August 1829 with 47 immigrants on board and St Leonard with stock from the Cape on board generated a rapid and disorganised transfer of key officials to Fremantle by 10 August.  Stirling examined the site of the capital on the 11 August and Mrs Dance chopped down the tree on the following day.  The Marquis of Anglesea with 73 more settlers arived less than a fortnight later.
  6. Disaster strikes! Seven ships at anchor in Gage Roads were struck by a severe winter storm on 3 September 1829.  The Marquis of Anglesea was driven onshore and totally wrecked.  Chaos prevailed.  When the Amity, Calista, and St Leonard prepared to leave the colony in mid-September no grants had been allocated, no plans of available land had been drawn.  Most people were living in tents, their provisions heaped around them, scurvy was iminent, dysentery was common, and sand fleas were a particular nuisance.
  7. Adverse reports reach Sydney via Hobart by the beginning of December.
  8. Reports reached London on 24 January 1830 - probably by letters carried by the St Leonard or Captain Steward, Master of the Marquis of Anglesea.  On the afternoon of 25 January, Londoners were informed through the pages of the Courier and the Globe that colony was a 'mere puff' and doomed to failure.  Swan River Mania was clearly at an end and the colony was near so.
  9. Migration all but dried up.  Just over 300 people arrived in 1830 and in 1832 the population was somewhere around about 2300 people. This had risen to 4800 in 1848 when a request for assistance through the introduction of convicts was made. The colony had yet to discover a worthwhile staple to drive the economy until the gold rush beginning in the 1880's.
A very interesting and informative presentation.