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The 'first fleet' was hardly an inspiring sight as it sailed, one at a time, into the waters of Cockburn Sound and Gage Roads off what would become the port of Fremantle.
The first ship to arrive was the HMS Challenger captained by Charles Fremantle. He was sent on ahead of the ships carrying passengers to ensure that no-one else (especially those French!) was about to land and colonise the west coast. The Challenger carried a detachment of marines but did not carry any permanent settlers. (HMS Challenger was not the first choice to arrive off W.A. and stand guard. Originally HMS Tweed was ordered to proceed to Swan River but this was later changed. If Tweed had been the ship to arrive first, the port town of Fremantle would have probably been named Churchill after the Captain of HMS Tweed.)
Like HMS Success, Challenger was a 6th rated warship with 28 guns. She was launched on November 14th 1826 and was finally lost at sea off Chile in May 1835.
First sight of the W.A. coastline was made off Cape Leschenault on April 24th 1829 and the following day the ship anchored off Rottnest Island. On April 27th the ship sailed in to Cockburn Sound and a party of men and officers first stepped ashore on Garden Island on April 28th. On May 2nd Captain Fremantle finally set foot on the mainland and a proclamation was read claiming the whole west coast of New Holland for the British crown.
The next ship to arrive was the Parmelia (Captain J. H. Luscombe) on the 31st of May, carrying Governor Stirling and the first intrepid settlers. This ship almost came to grief when she was stranded on a shoal overnight until she was re-floated the following day. It was not an auspicious beginning.
During the grounding of the Parmelia, a number of women and children were off loaded. Some were taken aboard HMS Challenger and others were landed on Carnac Island where they spent 5 wet, cold and miserable days with little food and practically no shelter.
Following the Parmelia was the HMS Sulphur (Commander William Townsend Dance) on June 8th (some sources quote the arrival as Arriving on June 6th). This ship carried mainly troops from the 63rd Regiment for the protection of the settlers. HMS Sulphur was originally a 'bomb' - a ship carrying mortars used to coastal bombardment, but she was converted to a sloop and carried an armament of 6 x 24 pounder and 2 x 6 pounder guns. (She was originally launched on January 26th 1826.)
The Sulphur carried 57 (1) crew and 69 troops with 22 wives and 12 children. Sulphur was placed at the disposal of the colony and was to provide very useful service in all sorts of ways for the next 3 years.
With just three ships, the initial settlement of Western Australia was a very small affair compared to the settlement of the east coast when between January 18th-20th 1788 no less than 11 ships sailed into Botany Bay.
On June 9th, Stirling re-named Bauche Island calling it Garden Island. On June 16th a party landed at Arthur's Head and on the 18th, Lt. Governor Stirling read a proclamation declaring the founding of the new colony.
The ships that followed came in 'dribs and drabs' over the next few months and included:
Calista, St. Leonard, Marquis of Anglesea (that was wrecked on the beach after a storm), Thomson, Amity, Georgia, Lotus, Tranby, Warrior, Protector, Britania, Wanstead, Hooghly, Atwick, Governor Phillip, Euphemia, Aurelia, Orelia, Cumberland, Caroline, Admirad Gifford, Lion (or Lyon), Dragon, Gilmour (sometimes spelled Gilmore) carrying Thomas Peel and his settlers, Norfolk, Nancy, Leda and Skerne.
The letters sent back to England by the first immigrants were initially full of hope. They spoke of the beauty of the site of Perth and of how the climate seemed to improve their health. Some of the first letters contained some reservations about the time of year they had arrived (the start of winter):
'During the winter months, I think this coast is liable to much rain, with strong winds from the NNW, which may do well enough when the inhabitants are either in the interior, or under good houses - but not under canvas on the sea coast!'
The most pessimistic of the early letters sent back to England seemed to come from merchants who arrived with cargoes for sale in the first few months and found either no money available for their purchase or the settlers already well provisioned with 12 to 18 months stores set aside.
As more people arrived it became obvious that the authorities were swamped. Land could not be surveyed and allocated quickly enough, too few experienced builders and farm hands were available and many people simply gave up and went to the eastern states. Those that chose to stay were in for a tough time for many years to come.
Although the Challenger arrived in late April and the Parmelia arrived at the end of May, June 1st has always been regarded as Foundation Day for Western Australia. (Perth was founded on August 12th.)
The barque Parmelia was constructed in Quebec Canada in 1825 and was hired to transport the first settlers to Swan River Colony. She was later destroyed by fire while sitting in a dockyard in England.
(1) One of the crew was a 'widows man'. This was a fictitious crewman whose pay was put into a fund for seaman\'s widows.
Note: We have found conflicting dates for the arrival of the first two ships with April 25th being quoted for the Challenger and June 1st for Parmelia but we believe the information given above to be the correct version.
Passengers on the Parmelia:
The following were some of the passengers aboard the Parmelia.
Captain STIRLING, Lt. Governor
Sulphur - Ship's company.
William T DANCE, Commander
Members of the 63rd Regiment.
Captain Frederick Chidley IRWIN
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