Camden Harbour (c) 2007  Dennis Ford
(Our thanks to Dennis Ford for the photos on this page.)


GPS 15 29 42 S 124 35 47 E



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A settlement was established at Camden Harbour (600 miles north east of Broome) on the coast south east of Augusts Island by a group of Victorians who had high hopes but no practical experience.


The Camden Harbour Association gave misleading information to potential settlers including telling them that the site was a mere 270 miles north of Perth. It was in fact, closer to 2000 miles north.


The first group arrived aboard the Stag, 12 days before Christmas in 1864. The harbour was most attractive but the ground was barren and fresh water was very scarce. Some sheep had died on the long journey by ship but many more were to die due to poor feed and water once they were on shore.


Soon after the Stag arrived the Calliance and Helvitia carrying 67 passengers and 2800 sheep sailed into the harbour. The Calliance had stuck a reef near Adele Island and had damaged her keel but did make it safely to Camden. The very day the ship arrived one of the settlers died from the effects of heat stress and was buried on Sheep Island. The settlement was not off to an auspicious start. Later the Calliance was caught in a wet season storm and wrecked close to the settlement.


Captain Brown of the Calliance described the arrival as follows: 'Air close, and sun very hot. Thermometer 89 deg. About 5pm Mr Hart, passenger, found insensible, having had a sun-stroke; at 7pm buried him on Sheep Island, the Rev Mr Tanner reading the burial service at 7am. Found from the report of the passengers previously arrived on the "Stag" and the "Helvitia", there was apparently very little food within a few miles for the sheep...'


Although the group came well equipped with supplies much of it was lost or damaged when goods were not moved off the shoreline quickly enough and high tides swept it away.


Drawing of the settlement at Camden Harbour


It was the worst time of year to try and establish a settlement and no preliminary expedition had been sent to determine the suitability of the site. The wet season had not yet arrived and there was almost no fresh water available.


Other ships arrived bringing more sheep until a total to 4500 had been unloaded. The sheep had discovered poisonous plants and were dying almost as fast as they arrived. The W.A. government appointed Robert Scholl to act as Resident Magistrate but by the time he arrived in February 1865, the settlement was a complete shambles.


The harsh conditions caused settlers to begin abandoning the settlement very quickly. Magistrate Scholl stayed on in the settlement until October 1865 when the settlement was finally abandoned. 9 settlers remained in graves on Sheep Island and a number of others had died of drowning at sea.


It was not just the harsh climate that helped drive out the settlers. Once the local Aboriginal people realised that the white settlers were not spirit beings, they became increasingly aggressive.


Scholl wrote 'If some of the natives are not shot and an example made there will be mischief done, they throw spears at people, steal boats, and if they could get the chance would be only too delighted to murder. Later after more confrontations he wrote, 'Enough gunpowder etc to blow all the niggers in Camden harbour to glory'. The settlement was abandoned before any more violence errupted.


Grave on Sheep Island - Camden Harbour (c) 2007  Dennis Ford


Organisation in the settlement seems to have been sadly lacking and the main problem was 'too many chiefs and too few Indians'. By the time the Government party arrived in 1865 it was already too late with the settlers interested in nothing more than getting away.


Expeditions did travel out from the settlement in an attempt to find better country but none were successful. On October 28th 1865 the last ship set sail from the harbour taking the last vestiges of civilisation with it.


After 11 months of torment (including the loss of most stock and the deaths of 9 settlers) the settlement at Camden Harbour was abandoned and the initial investment of around 20,000 pounds was all lost.


Futher reading : Trove Newspaper articles
Camden Harbour today.
Robert Sholl's Dispatches of 1865.






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