Captain Fitzgerald was a Captain in the Royal Navy, the son of a country gentleman of the old Irish school. Before his appointment as Governor of WA he had been Governor of the Gambia Settlements in West Africa.
The new Governor was reputedly a "typical sailor, bluff, kind-hearted, and generous". However, there were those in the colony that were worried he may not have the necessary ability to run the settlement.
At the time, the colony was under severe pressure of being abandoned as a desolate land. Governor Fitzgerald wrote of his concerns and suggestions for relief to the Secretary of State.
Meanwhile at home, the settlers battled to keep the colony afloat. Finally, with Fitzgerald's support, it was decided to make WA a penal settlement. At the time there were varying opinions as to the wisdom of the measure, but it did bring benefits for the time being.
Fitzgerald took the action due to the "desperate condition of the country in 1848-9" and "certain stern remedies were needed to save the infant settlement from ruin". The Governor, assisted by Captain Henderson, the Comptroller of Convicts, used the system to develop the country by opening communication throughout the colony and encouraging settlement of the interior.
Fitzgerald, though, was not well liked. His nautical career had fostered an autocratic style and he did not suffer criticism kindly. However, his administration advanced political matters and saw the setting up of institutions for the welfare and education of people.
He laid the foundation stone for a Mechanics' Institute in Fremantle in 1851 and in the same year proclaimed the Imperial Act to set up the Legislative Council. The following year he laid the foundation stone of the Swan River Mechanics' Institute.
Governor Fitzgerald was a keen explorer. It is recorded that he was speared, but not fatally, in 1848 at Northampton by an Aboriginal person while leader of an expedition.
He died in 1887 in his 96th year.
Reviewed 2012 - 2013