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Arrival of the First Settlers

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Settler's tent, Fremantle
Settler's tent at Fremantle 1830. Courtesy WA Museum.

In 1829, three ships, first the Challenger and then the Parmelia and the Sulphur, arrived with the first settlers and the British established the Swan River Colony. On 1 June 1829, the colonists had their first view of the mainland and Foundation Day has since been recognised on that date.

On arrival both the Parmelia and the Sulphur ran aground on a sandbank off the coast of Fremantle. The settlers were offloaded on to Carnac Island but then moved to Garden Island. For the first three months they were forced to live in makeshift huts of limestone, canvas and thatched bushes built on the lee side of Garden Island. The settlers faced an inhospitable environment.

On June 18, the official Proclamation was read on Garden Island in the presence of the Lieutenant-Governor James Stirling, officials and settlers. Stirling set out to select a site for a port and administrative centre.

Early explorations soon made him realise that his first impressions of fertile soils were incorrect. The soils in the coastal regions were sandy and lacking in nutrients. It soon became clear that the best soils for future agricultural activities lay on the more fertile plains about 32km from the sea. As a result, Stirling took the unusual action of founding two initial townsites; a port, Fremantle, at the mouth of the river, and a capital, Perth, midway between the port and the fertile lands in the foothills of the ranges.

Tree Chopping Ceremony
12 August 1829 Foundation of Perth. Mrs Dance strikes the first cut to mark the founding of Perth. (1929 oil on canvas by George Pitt Morrison (Art Gallery of Western Australia).

On August 12, the Foundation of Perth took place. As Mrs Stirling was unable to make the journey, Mrs Helen Dance, wife of the Captain of the Sulphur performed the Foundation ceremony by cutting down a sheoak tree. The ceremony took place near where the Perth Town Hall now stands.

175th TRIVIA

The foundation population of the colony was 1700. By 1850, 5886 Europeans were distributed in the south west of the colony. Between 1850 and 1868, the population had swelled to 17,000, 9700 of those convicts, who were all male.

175th TRIVIA

Governor Stirling chose the site for Perth because of its beauty and proximity to Kings Park and Mounts Bay. There was also abundant fresh water, timber and the potential of defending the site from the French with guns placed at Mt Eliza. [source: The West article - History Turns On City's Best Laid Plans, 25 July 2003]
Stirling also wanted St Georges Terrace to be lined with buildings only on one side so that the southern side was open to the river with unrestricted views. But Surveyor-General John Septimus Roe overturned the decision in order to access land on the riverside.


Settlement of Western Australia

Acknowledgement of Country

The Government of Western Australia acknowledges the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community. We pay our respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.