In 1829 Thomas Peel (who was first
cousin of Sir Robert Peel – the founder of the London Police Force and later
a Prime Minister of England.) arrived aboard the ship Gilmore with a group
of settlers to start a settlement just south of Woodman Point.
This was just part of what could only be described as a venture of
Peel arranged a grant of land of 100,000 hectares providing that he arrived
by November 1st 1829. And so he and 400 settlers set off in three ships
(Gilmore, Hooghly and Rockingham.) toward Australia.
The voyage was beset by problems and in the end Peel arrived 6 weeks late.
Governor Stirling informed Peel that the grant was now void and Peel
threatened to return to England with his 400 settlers.
Stirling, realising that the new colony was in desperate need of new
colonists, sought a compromise and in the meantime the new arrivals were
dumped on the coast near the current site of Woodman Point.
The second ship, Hooghly arrived in February 1830 and many people lost their
possessions in a fire set by Aborigines in the scrub soon after they
Finally in May, the Rockingham arrived (without the funds that Levey was
supposed to have sent) in the middle of the first storm of the season. She
was driven aground in Mangles Bay.
R.H. Shardlow wrote about the incident in his book 'The Ship Rockingham'.
'Peel, impatient and dissatisfied with the proceedings, ignored the bad
weather and made his way out to the ship to 'assist'. He was later accused
of having interfered with the handling of the ship...For reasons unknown he
ordered all the single men to be sent to Garden Island in four of the ship¹s
boats. However, they were unable to row against the gale and were blown
ashore on the mainland and swamped in the surf. Fortunately there were no
'The ship fared no better. While easing out the cable in order to bring her
closer inshore to facilitate unloading, the pitching seas put such a strain
on the capstan that it broke. '
'The ship drifted out of control and ran aground, broadside
on...Miraculously all managed to make the shore without loss of life.
Fearing the ship would break up the stores were hurriedly brought off and
the cattle were swum ashore only to wander off into the scrub. '
'There was little shelter in Clarence. Most of the people tried to huddle in
a small, wooden house washed up from the ship. Others had to sleep in
barrels, boxes and under sacks or pieces of canvas.'
Having survived the shipwreck the settlers now had to face a wet cold winter
with poor shelter and little provisions. 28 (other sources say 37) died from
various causes before most moved away to either the Swan River settlement or
The settlers had ‘signed on’ with Peel and he held sway over them. It was
not until Governor Stirling stepped in that the settlers were freed to do as
they chose. Stirling wrote to Peel:
‘Had the Magistrates given a contrary order and compelled your people to
remain in your service they would have acted illegally, for such an order
would have been equivalent to Sentence of Death by Starvation.’
Rockingham gets its name from the 423 ton tea clipper that was wrecked in
Mangles Bay in 1830. (The Aboriginal name for the area is Mooriburdup.)
Attempts to repair the ship after the initial grounding were not successful.
A town site was declared as early as 1847 and by 1870 the small town of
Rockingham began to grow and for a short time enjoyed the status of the most
important port on the coast, but by 1908 the port had closed and the town
relapsed into a sleepy backwater.
Garden Island, just off the coast was the site
selected for the Swan River Colony settlers to stay while a site inland was
surveyed. Originally called Bauche Island by French explorers, Stirling renamed it Garden
Island as the colonists established vegetable plots to feed themselves, as
they waited two months before moving to the mainland.
Used as a submarine training base in World War II. Garden Island is now home
to H.M.A.S. Stirling – Australia’s prime submarine facility. Unfortunately
this means that a beautiful recreation area with great historical
significance is no longer open to the public.
A short 45 minute drive from Perth, Rockingham (or
swinging pig as it is sometimes called by the locals) offers safe swimming
beaches, boating, fishing and sight seeing. The large shopping complex at
Rockingham City offers a variety of goods.
The area is somewhat spoiled by the industrial strip along the coast to the
north. What would have been one of the world’s most picturesque bays, the
Cockburn (not surprisingly pronounced Coh-burn) Sound area is now cluttered
with heavy industry.
The sound was named after Vice Admiral Sir George Cockburn.
This is one of
the many small islands located just off the coast near Rockingham. It is a
popular day trip with ferries running on the hour from 9am to 3pm.
Penguins here are usually hidden away under rock ledges or in burrows but
the discovery centre on the island will show you more than you will probably
see by looking along the beaches.
to January the penguins molt and cannot enter the water to feed until they
grow new plumage.