SETTLEMENT

 

Perth 1872

 

 

 

 

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Although the western coast of Australia was discovered and mapped before most of the eastern states, settlement came last to this state. This primarily because of the awful things explorers had to say about it and the apparent lack of fresh water.

The Dutch, travelling to Java, used a northern route for some time before discovering that the journey could be faster by using a more southerly route and utilising the 'roaring forties' to head east before turning north towards Indonesia.

Due to the haphazard method of determining longitude at the time, it was inevitable that some of these ships would sail too far east and literally 'bump' into Australia.

Tasman had discovered the south coast of Tasmania in 1642 but on his second voyage (1644) he spent most of his time exploring and mapping the north west coast. He is largely overshadowed in history books by William Dampier who is often seen as the first European to 'discover' the north west.

Tasman was accorded no respect by the Dutch authorities for his discovery as there seemed to be little of value mentioned in his reports. They commented that Tasman showed a lack of vigilance and courage. They could not accept that such a large tract of land had nothing of value for their trading empire. As more reports came in confirming Tasman's initial information, the Dutch lost interest in Australia to concentrate on more profitable enterprises elsewhere.

An area that seems to be ignored by many books written about Australian history are the reasons behind the colonisation of this country.

Early explorers often had little good to say about the land and its native inhabitants so why would hundreds and then thousands of Britons up stakes, leave their homes and families and move to the other side of the world to what was seen as an inhospitable and harsh land' After all travelling to Australia in the early 1800s would be the equivalent of someone flying to the moon today!

Part of the reason stems from the Napoleonic wars that ended not long after the founding of British Australia. Britain had won the war but had almost bankrupted itself in the process.

Unemployment and starvation in Britain, especially in the rural areas was the catalyst for many people to make a complete change in their lives. A series of riots known as the Swing Riots spread from Kent to 18 other counties with unrest lasting up to 6 months.

James Stirling's propaganda about a land of 'milk and honey' helped convince people that life in Australia had to be better than what they were experiencing at home.

'The early years of the nineteenth century were terrible years for most of the inhabitants of Europe, including England. England's economy was crippled from the expense of wars in Europe, and by poor management of natural resources by the landed gentry. The cost of basic living, for those in the lower socio-economic groups, left most in poor health, living in poverty, with little hope for themselves or their children. This hopeless cycle has been referred to, by some historians, as the "iron Ring of Poverty."'

'Poor nourishment, together with the pittance that men were paid for a long day of work, left ordinary people unmotivated towards any real endeavour to pull themselves out of the mire. Many, including the children, turned to crime to provide for themselves and those they loved. Many ended their lives on the gallows, in bondage as convicts in prison hulks, or banished to one of the British Colonies.'

(From 'William and Elizabeth Criddle - Alternatives at Swan River' by Roy Criddle.)

At the beginning of the 1800s Britain had around 250 offences on the statue books for which the punishment was execution! Age was no barrier and children as young as 11 were sentenced to death for simple theft.

When settlement of the west was proposed by the British, the offer of land in Western Australia meant that many working class people had the chance to own their own land and to prosper in ways that they could never have dreamed of in Britain.

The British Government had (in the past) provided assistance to settlers wishing to emigrate to various colonies but this time money was so short that no assisted passages were offered. Instead land grants were offered based on the value of goods and servants brought to the new colony.

Servants were mostly indentured to their Masters for periods ranging from 5 to 7 years. In many cases they had to work for 12 months with no wages to pay back the cost of their passage.

If servants broke their contracts they were faced with fines, whipping or imprisonment and if Masters broke the contract they were supposed to pay the servants between 300-500 pounds in restitution but this was quickly over turned and servants could be dismissed with no recompense.

So for those with the courage, or for those with nothing else to lose, who made the move to Western Australia, there was the hope of a better life. Some failed and returned home, some paid with their lives, but many went on to live happy productive lives in this new strange land.

The Swan River Colony was planned as some sort of utopia for the landed gentry. They would supply the capital, bring out the workers and then sit back and have a good time in the sun while the 'underlings' did all the hard work. The scheme was set up so that land was granted based on the value of property brought to the colony - servants were regarded as part of that property - and so many people were brought out with no regard to their skills. 'Bums on seats' meant more land for the rich. This quickly turned out to be a huge mistake and development was retarded for a long time because of this lack of foresight.

Land grants needed surveying and not enough surveyors were available to undertake the task quickly. Settlers therefore languished near the coast in temporary accommodation and could not get on with the task of clearing land and building proper housing until their grants had been surveyed.

 

Population figures at December 31 for the colony's first 20 years.

Year

Civillian

Military

Total

Arrivals

Departures

Births

Deaths

1829

683

105

788

769

0

19

0

1830

1753

106

1859

1127

2

22

6

1831

1867

144

2011

214

66

46

42

1832

1780

146

1926

15

141

57

16

1833

1771

183

1954

293

295

52

22

1834

1826

187

2013

143

125

54

13

1835

1879

193

2072

97

69

50

19

1836

1900

200

2100

50

58

45

9

1837

1833

195

2028

10

112

50

20

1838

1886

201

2087

42

1

45

27

1839

2151

205

2356

239

2

50

18

1840

2344

206

2550

383

210

37

16

1841

2813

214

3027

421

2

85

27

1842

3466

219

3685

675

101

126

42

1843

3843

251

4094

286

11

182

48

1844

4098

243

4341

410

289

183

57

1845

4103

244

4347

0

131

188

51

1846

4250

257

4507

92

64

184

52

1847

4509

187

4696

363

307

194

61

1848

4764

162

4926

166

57

181

60

 

After the establishment of the Swan River Colony, York and Albany, there was little in the way of expansion for quite some time.

First there were some explorations mounted and then sandalwood cutters moved off into the interior.

Pastoral leases were taken up and then slowly settlers moved in to various areas following sources of water as closely as possible.

Farms followed and small settlements were established with perhaps a hall or small building that served as a post office and local store.

As farms developed there was a greater demand for easier ways to get produce to market and so the railways were built.

It was the sidings of the railway that were the first places to develop into permanent towns and almost all towns in the wheat belt owe their existence to the railway. The smaller settlements that were away from the sidings gradually faded away as people gravitated to areas by the rail lines.

In other parts of the state the need for safe anchorages saw towns develop along the coast and with the various discoveries of gold, new towns sprang up on the goldfields in the Kimberley, the Murchison and around Kalgoorlie.

The whole enterprise could so easily have failed. The unfamiliarity with the climate and the nature of Australia led to early crop failures. If there had been any kind of real organised resistance from the Aboriginal peoples, then the first small group of settlers could easily have been pushed back into the sea.

Poor soils, bushfires, floods, droughts, flies, fleas, caterpillars, dingoes, poison plants and general ignorance about local conditions all took a toll on the first settlers. By 1830 the new colony was close to collapse and many of the original arrivals had either returned to England or had gone to another colony.

The following poem sums up some of the early hardships:

 

Ambitions Fire

Beside the Swan, beneath a time worn gum,
A squatter sat dejected, pale and glum,
Speared were his pigs, and poisoned were his flock,
Far in the bush had strayed his other stock,
His wheat, his pride, was blighted by the smut,
A native fire had burnt his mud-built hut;
He thought on times by Thames' silvery stream,
And drew from memories page a pleasing dream.
'Twas evening and the pelican began to leave
The sedge, and screamed the dark black swan;
The bittern too (who as historians say
Frightened from hence our Gallic foes away)
Bemoaned her requiem to the departed day.
The pale moon rose and lighted up the scene,
The squatter mused on what he might have been,
Ambition's fire, wrecked on barren sand.

 

But in the end a combination of luck, hard work, stubbornness and pure determination led to the successful founding of a new colony, and eventually to a prosperous and successful state.

One of many early problems associated with the settlement of this state was the huge imbalance between the numbers of men and women. In more settled areas there were only 44 single women to every 100 single men. In rural areas the figures were around 15 single women to every 100 single men.

At the same time, in England, the imbalance was exactly opposite with many women unable to find husbands and destined to live out their lives as spinsters.

The solution was seemingly simple; select single women in England and send them to Western Australia to act as servants for the middle and upper classes and to correct the male / female imbalance that existed.

This did not turn out to be quite as simple as it sounds. The women who were to come to W.A. needed somewhere to stay once they arrived and then places needed to be found for them in employment until they found suitable husbands.

Finding a suitable husband in itself could be a problem as many of the ticket-of-leave men had left wives behind in England and were more than happy to enter into a bigamous marriage with the newly arrived immigrant women.

With the failure of the potato crop in Ireland in the 1840s there was a ready supply of single women available who were more than willing to come out and start a new life in Australia. There was some initial resistance to this idea on religious grounds (the majority of settlers at that time were protestant and the Irish girls were all catholic) but once the Irish women began arriving the attitudes swiftly changed as they were found to be both respectable and willing to work hard.

A report on the issue after the landing of both Irish and English female immigrants from the ship Emma Eugina stated:

'With respect to the Irish girls, I have not a complaint to make as they have without exception, behaved themselves respectably and soberly, and if the English girls by the Emma Eugina are a sample of the class who alone will emigrate to the colony from England, I fervently trust his Excellency will move the authorities at Home to confine the immigration of single women to respectable, hard working Irish girls.'

Many of the girls coming from Ireland were already used to hardship and rural life and were more than happy to work and live in the bush. Their English counterparts were more fastidious and demanded better conditions and wages than were generally available.

Gradually the famine in Ireland abated and the influx of Irish settlers fell from 75% to around 38% by 1858.

Many girls who came to W.A. and found employment as servants were soon married and no longer available to their employers. This led one of the gentry to complain:

'Ladies are then reduced to cooking for men servants and using their pretty delicate hands to scrub heavy pots and kettles.'

In other words the 'gentry' had to get off its collective backside and do some of its own dirty work for a change.

By the time the assisted passage scheme ended records show that at least 9088 people had been helped to emigrate and that 2320 single women had arrived.

 

Related topics

First Explorers and settlers | Pioneer Recipes

 

 

 

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