The coast in
this area had been visited by both Dutch and French explorers, but the first
British expedition, led by
Captain Phillip Parker King - did not arrive
until 1822. The next arrivals were somewhat unexpected as they were
shipwrecked on the coast in 1839.
Lt. Grey and 12 others made the long
journey back to Perth on foot. The journey was extremely arduous and one
party member died before the party reached safety.
The town site was surveyed in 1842 by
John Septimus Roe, and the area was
settled in 1849. (Some sources quote the survey was done in 1849.)
The first recorded name for the area was Champion Bay (named after a ship
- Commander Dring's colonial schooner) and was then changed
to Geraldton in honour of the colony's governor
Sir Charles Fitzgerald
For a long time there were persistent reports that the town was first called
Gerald Town but where this originated we don't know. Champion Bay remains as
the name of the bay and commemorates the schooner Champion that worked as a
supply ship that anchored in the bay in 1839. The schooner was eventually
sold for scrap in 1852.
Lead and copper were discovered in the area and a port was built to
facilitate exports. In 1879 a rail link to
Northampton (where the mine was
located) was completed. By 1894 the rail link went all the way to Midland
(just east of Perth).
Shipping goods out of Geraldton could be hazardous because of the number of
uncharted reefs in the area. In 1863 the 780 ton African came to grief when
she struck a reef 12 miles out and began taking on water. The ship returned
to port but ran aground near the jetty. The ship was carrying over 500 tons
of copper and 200 bales of wool. The wool was destroyed and only about 20%
of the copper salvaged and this dealt a great blow to the local economy.
The wreck lay in the harbour for some time before it was auctioned off and
eventually was broken up and parts used to construct three schooners
including the Lass of Geraldton and the Mary Ann. Each was to finally
founder at sea, when the Geraldton Lass sank part owner Shenton was on board
and he was drowned in the accident.
The Mayhill was another ship that came to grief in strong winds. The Captain
had been looking for two red lights that marked the safe entrance to the bay
but he was unaware that the red lights had been replaced by white lights.
The ship ran up onto a reef and although the crew (and the ship's pet pig)
were taken off safely, only 500 tons of the ships 3000 tons of railway
line cargo were salvaged.
Other ships wrecked included the Arab (1921), the Stanford (1936) and the Fu
Long (1976), an arrested illegal fishing boat that was auctioned off and
refitted in Fremantle only to feature in the ABC TV series Patrol Boat as an
illegal fishing boat again.
Reefs were not the only hazards faced by shipping. Severe storms including
cyclones could sweep the west coast and in 1872 when a cyclone reached as
far south as Geraldton, shipping was not the only thing in danger. During
the storm, a sea surge hit the town and there was as much a five feet of
water covering the streets closest to the sea.
After entering Geraldton's port an idea was put forward by one captain
(whose ship had been damaged in a storm) that Norfolk Island pines be
planted in all major ports so that in the event of a ship ' like his ' being
damaged, materials would be available to complete repairs. This idea may
have literally 'taken root' because many port towns do have pine trees
planted along the foreshore. The only problem was that by the time the trees
had grown up the old wooden sailing ships had been supplanted by more modern
steel ships and the trees were no longer needed.
Work on a bigger and much safer harbour did not begin until the late 1920s
and the work on the harbour was to continue until 1965. In 1931 it became
the first reinforced concrete wharf in W.A. (In the same year the one
millionth bag of wheat was exported from the port and was photographed to
mark the occasion.) At this stage it was decided to continue to expand the
port and eventually berths four and five were constructed with berth five
being officially opened in 1979.
Geraldton was proclaimed a city by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988. The town is
said to average 8 hours of sunshine a day ' although every time I have been
there it has rained. One wag even suggests that it is West Australia's most
popular winter resort - he must work for the local Visitor Centre! Geraldton
suffers similar weather to Perth and in winter it is necessary to go north
of Minilya to get better weather.
The country north of Geraldton becomes hilly and small ridges continue for
many miles. The scenery here is striking, and in spring is a photographer's
Also north of Geraldton is a campsite called
There is a small
fee charged to stay there and there is a time limit of 30 days in any one
Off the coast of Geraldton are the Abrolhos Islands which were the scene of
a tragic shipwreck in 1629. The Batavia struck Morning Reef. Captain
Pelsaert took the ships boat and 47 survivors along the coast and then up to
Meanwhile Jeronimus Cornelisz and his henchmen back on the island terrorised
the remaining survivors and murdered 125 of them.
When Pelsaert returned to discover the massacre he had all but two of the
mutineers executed. The two who were not executed (Loos and Pelgrom) may
have wished that they had been when they were marooned on the mainland and
left to fend for themselves. Nothing was ever heard of them again. (See
first settlers for more information.)
Drummond Cove just north of Geraldton was once known as Smuggler's Cove. It
was a place where bootleg booze was landed and carted away for sale to avoid
If Geraldton is famous for one thing it would have to be for the production
of the best tasting tomatoes in Australia. The growing of tomatoes in the
area dates all the way back to 1868 and many local varieties have been
developed over the years. Few people pass through Geraldton without stopping
to get a bag or two of the local tomatoes.
Much of the coast north and south of Geraldton produces possibly the most
valuable single species of seafood in the whole of Australia; the
Western rock lobster.
It is estimated that this single species accounts for fully one fifth of
revenue earned from all of Australia's seafood species. The 'lobster' is
actually a crayfish but the new name was given to avoid confusion in the
American market with crawfish.
Lobsters have been known to migrate as far as 300
kilometres and have lived in captivity for almost 30 years. The legal size
for taking lobsters is 76mm (carapace length) and these are around 3-4 years
old. How this remains sustainable when it is known that females only become
sexually mature at around 6 years old remains to be explained.
World's longest boat chase (')
When the West African registered fishing boat South Tomi
was spotted fishing illegally in Australian waters, the Australian
authorities gave chase. After 14 days and 6100 kilometres, the South Tomi
was finally caught just 600 kilometres off the coast of Cape Town South
The vessel had a large catch of Patagonian Toothfish
which the Government seized and sold at auction for around $1.4 million
The captain and crew were sent back to their own
countries at the owner's expense and a fine of $136,000 was issued after the
captain pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal fishing.
The owners of the vessel did not challenge the seizure of
the vessel or its catch and eventually in 2003 the vessel was sold with the
idea of turning it into a dive wreck off the coast of Geraldton.
After the internal fittings were removed and the ship
made safe for divers to enter it was towed about 6 kilometres off the coast
and sunk. This was the second illegal fishing boat to be used in this way.
The Patagonian Toothfish, Dissostichus eleginoides,
grows to lengths of two and a half metres and can weigh in at 200 kilograms.
It is strongly flavoured and although not caught for sale in Australia much
of the catch ends up in Japan.