Governors of Western Australia
Naval captain James Stirling was the driving force behind the colonisation of Western Australia. His energy persuaded the otherwise reluctant British Government to support foundation of a settlement at the Swan River in 1829. Born in 1791, Stirling went to sea as a young boy of 12 and was quickly promoted through officer ranks. After the War of 1812 and some subsequent service in the Carribean, he was put on half-pay and forced to cool his heels ashore, like many other naval officers at the time. Finally, in 1825, Stirling was given command of the newly-launched HMS Success and sent to New South Wales, where he gained the task of exploring the west coast of the continent. In 1827, Stirling sailed to the South West and spent more than two weeks in the country around the Swan River.
After the voyage, the ambitious Stirling - related by marriage to a director of the East India Company - set out to convince the British Government of the merits of settling the west coast. In London, he spoke to leading figures in the colonial service and argued that a British presence would help deter French interest in the area. Despite doubts over the cost of the scheme, the government finally agreed and a small band of settlers embarked under Stirling's leadership. The advance party, led by Captain Fremantle in the warship Challenger, landed in May 1829 and Stirling arrived a month later in the Parmelia.
Stirling ruled as lieutenant-governor at first, till appointed a full governor in 1831. With a grant of 100,000 acres from the Crown, his own fortunes were inextricably entwined with those of his settlers. He toured the colony and supervised the expansion of settlement inland and to the south west, which had the effect of dispossessing Aboriginal people from their lands. At one stage, he personally led a bloody raid against a Nyungar group near Pinjarra, which left 15-30 people dead. In 1832, with the colony struggling to survive, Stirling went to London to plead the case for aid, without success. On return to Perth in 1834, the once-popular governor suffered increasing criticism for his imperious and autocratic administration. Also, his continued enthusiasm now seemed to aggravate as many people as it had once inspired. Frustrated by the apparent lack of progress, he resigned his post and sailed from Fremantle in 1839, never to return. He resumed his naval career and after long and distinguished service, was made an admiral. Stirling retired to Guildford, in Surrey, England, where he died in 1865.
John Hutt was appointed governor of Western Australia after involvement in the colonisation plans for South Australia. Hutt may have won the WA post as consolation for having failed to secure the governorship of SA, for which he had applied. At any rate, he brought with him experience as a civil servant in India and a general knowledge of colonisation inspired by his interest in the Wakefield principles applied in SA. By nature "reserved and bookish", Hutt was a meticulous bachelor who stuck to the letter of the law in administration of land regulations which required settlers to improve and develop their holdings, or else loose title to the land.
In the early years of Hutt's administration the fledgeling colonial economy showed healthy signs, with whale oil and wool the most lucrative, locally-produced goods. But by the middle of the 1840s hopes for continued growth were dashed by the effects of an economic depression. This stagnation and Hutt's natural reserve failed to endear him to the broader public by the end of his term in 1846, though he was acknowledged as a careful and adroit manager.
Andrew Clarke was governor for just 13 months, his term cut short by his death in 1847. A protestant Irishman born in Donegal, Clarke enjoyed a rapid rise in the army, was given temporary command of troops in Van Dieman's Land when just 18, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He later spent a successful stint as Governor of St. Lucia, in the West Indies, before he was transferred to Western Australia in 1846. The brevity of his service in Perth meant that he had little real effect on the fortunes of the colony.
Charles Fitzgerald was, like Stirling, a naval captain who moved into colonial service. A former governor of Gambia, Fitzgerald was an able administrator whose appointment to the governorship of Western Australia was his last posting before retirement. When he arrived in the colony to take up his appointment in 1848, Fitzgerald found moves underway for constitutional reform to give more power to prominent settlers. He wrote to the Secretary of State Earl Grey that . . . "I am of opinion if such organic changes take place that your Lordship will be transferring the Government of the Colony from the hands of the Governor into those of a party long resident in this settlement . . . ". In any event, the proposed changes never happened.
Criticised for a pompous and overbearing manner, Fitzgerald nevertheless managed to oversee the arrival of convicts in the colony in 1850 with a minimum of fuss. He regarded the convict system as a virtual necessity in a colony whose economic performance was so lacklustre. In the end, the decision to commence transportation was made in London with little reference to officials, the governor included, in Perth. By 1855, when Fitzgerald's term came to an end, the colony was emerging from years of relative lethargy under the impetus of the convict system.
Arthur Kennedy replaced Fitzgerald in 1855 and was quick to distance himself from his predecessor by implementing a range of belt-tightening economic measures. He was, according to one account, "an administrator of varied experience, whose personal assets included social charm and a distinguished appearance". His budget cuts made him popular in the Colonial Office in London, but won him no friends among the colonists. He faced strident opposition from non-official nominees on the Legislative Council, and was stung by the condemnation of two members, Lionel Samson and Marshall Waller Clifton, who resigned their seats.
Kennedy was probably the most experienced servant of Empire appointed to the governorship in the early years of the colony. He had served in the army till 1848 before moving through a range of civil posts, acting as a country inspector of the Board of Works in Ireland, and as governor of Gambia and then Sierra Leone. Kennedy's six and a half-year term in WA did his career no harm - he won the respect of superiors and was subsequently promoted three times.
John Hampton arrived in Western Australia in 1862, with the reputation of being a stern disciplinarian, after service as comptroller-general of convicts in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). He had fallen out with the Legislative Council in VDL over a claim that he had gained personally from the exploitation of convict labour. In Perth, Hampton's administration was dogged by similar allegations of personal and familial self-interest, and he was criticised for installing his son, G. E. Hampton, in the lucrative post of comptroller-general of convicts.
Yet Hampton won approval for his use of convict 0labour on public works, and many of the enduring monuments of the colonial era, such as the Perth Town Hall and Government House, were built during his years in office. He also oversaw a more punitive regime in the colony, dispensing justice to his transported charges with the birch and lash. In 1867, a London newspaper printed a letter from the Howard Association condemning the convict system in WA after a signed memorial detailing the brutality of punishment had reached London.
Through the 1860s, Hampton dealt with growing agitation for constitutional reform among the colonists. An increase in the number of unofficial members - nominated from the ranks of the colonial elite - to sit on the Legislative Council was approved in 1867. Hampton agreed to informal elections for the existing and new unofficial seats on the council, and within years this was formalised in constitutional changes which created a more representative chamber.
Frederick Weld was governor through the early years of the partly-elected Legislative Council. Weld, a scion of one of England's distinguished Catholic families, had emigrated to New Zealand when he was just 20 years old, in 1843. He later won office as premier of that colony and was highly regarded as a colonial politician before ill-health drove him back to England.
He was appointed to the post in WA in 1869 and quickly established himself as a hard-working administrator . . . "A tall, slim, energetic man, Weld travelled thousands of miles on horseback and got to know the colony as few of his predecessors had done". He oversaw the change to a representative Legislative Council and also supported early moves for full self-government. In 1874, a draft constitution was presented to the Council, but the British Government rejected the move as premature.
Harry Ord came to Western Australia after six years in Singapore as governor of the Straits Settlements. Ord had spent 22 years with the Royal Engineers, serving in the West Indies and the Gold Coast, before entering the ranks of colonial administration. His time in Perth was unremarkable and excited little criticism.
Frederick Broome was born in Canada and migrated to New Zealand at the tender age of 16 to begin a career as a pastoralist. He had mixed fortunes as a farmer, and turned his hand to literary pursuits, writing poetry and working as a journalist for The Times in London. In 1883, he was appointed governor of Western Australia, having earlier served as colonial secretary in Natal and Mauritius.
A spirited man with a reputation for playing favourites, Broome travelled a rocky road during his six years in office. Clashes with senior officials peppered his administration, and he was forced by the Secretary of State to reinstate the Chief Justice A. C. Onslow, whom he had summarily suspended. He also suffered the brunt of colonial criticism directed at the cautious and constraining policies of the British Government, yet was personally supportive of the calls for self-government. Broome actually drafted the Constitution Bill which was finally passed by the Legislative Council, after much debate, in 1889.
William Robinson served three times as governor of Western Australia - in 1875-77, 1880-1883, and 1890-1895. Robinson was a professional colonial administrator and served at crucial times in the colony's political development. A keen singer and composer of operettas, Robinson was a popular governor despite his clear adherence to the instructions of Colonial Office superiors. During his first stint in the colony, he was charged with dampening enthusiasm for a change to responsible self-government, while his third term in office coincided with the British Government's eventual approval of political reform.
Robinson served in a variety of colonial posts before his arrival in WA. At 28 he had been appointed President of Monserrat, an island in the West Indies so small that he was "carried ashore on the coxswain's back, there being no jetty". He then distinguished himself as an administrator of "remarkable ability and tact" when promoted to Prince Edward Island. His supervision of the change to self-government in WA was noteworthy for his delicate handling of local sensitivies and concerns, though he was involved in a protracted tussle with Premier John Forrest over the repeal of Section 70 of the Constitution Act 1889.