History of Perth

History of Perth

The city of Perth in Western Australia was named by Captain James Stirling in 1829 after Perth, Scotland, in honor of the birthplace and parliamentary seat in the British House of Commons of Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.

Aboriginal History

The first inhabitants of Australia arrived from the north approximately 40,000 to 60,000 years ago and eventually spread across the whole landmass. These Indigenous Australians were well established in the area around Perth by the time European ships started accidentally arriving en-route to Batavia (now Jakarta) in the early 17th century.

Before the establishment of the Swan River Colony, the indigenous Noongar people occupied the southwest corner of Western Australia, hunting and gathering. The lakes on the coastal plain were particularly important to the Aboriginal people, providing them with both spiritual and physical sustenance.

The area in which Perth now stands was called Boorloo. Boorloo formed part of Mooro, the tribal lands of Yellagonga, whose group was one of several based around the Swan River, known collectively as the Whadjug. The Whadjug was a part of the greater group of 13 or so dialect groupings which formed the south west socio-linguistic block still known today as Noongar (The People), or sometimes by the name Bibbulmun.

After settlement in 1829, the European settlers gave the name Third Swamp to one of a chain of wetland lakes stretching from Herdsman Lake to Claisebrook Cove. Nearly seventy years later, in 1897, fifteen hectares of Third Swamp would be gazetted as a public park and two years later renamed Hyde Park. Hyde Park is now one of Perths most popular parks.

From 1831, hostile encounters between European settlers and Noongars - both large-scale land users with conflicting land value systems - increased considerably. This phase of violence culminated in events such as the execution of Whadjug tribal chief Midgegooroo, the murder of his son Yagan and the massacre of the Pindjarep people.

By 1843, when Yellagonga died, his tribe had begun to disintegrate and had been dispossessed of their land around the main settlement area of the Swan River Colony. They retreated to the swamps and lakes north of the settlement area including Third Swamp, formerly known by them as Boodjamooling.

Third Swamp continued to be a main campsite for the remaining Noongar people in the Perth region and was also used by travellers, itinerants and homeless people. By the goldrush days in the 1890s they were joined by many miners en route to the goldfields. As Perth expanded with the gold rush the Noongar people moved to Lake Gnangara where they were isolated from the European community until changes in the laws that recognised Aboriginal people during 1960s. The camp remained occupied until the early 1980s when it was converted to a school for Aboriginal children.

Early European Exploration

The first Europeans to sight the land where Perth is now located were the Dutch.

Most likely the first visitor to the Swan River area was Frederick de Houtman on 19 July 1619, travelling on the ships Dordrecht and Amsterdam. His records indicate he first reached the Western Australian coast at latitude 32°20 which would equate to Rottnest or just south of there. He did not land because of heavy surf, and so proceeded northwards without much investigation.

On 28 April 1656, the Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon) en route to Batavia (now Jakarta) was shipwrecked only 107 km north of the Swan River near Ledge Point. Of the 193 on board, only 75 made it to shore. A small boat that survived the wreckage then sailed to Batavia for help, but a subsequent search party found none of the survivors. The wreck was rediscovered in 1963.

In 1658, three ships, also partially searching for the Vergulde Draeck visited the area. The Waekende Boey under Captain S. Volckertszoon, the Elburg under Captain J. Peereboom and the Emeloort under Captain A. Joncke sighted Rottnest but did not proceed any closer to the mainland because of the many reefs. They then travelled north and subsequently found the wreck of the Vergulde Draeck (but still no survivors). They gave an unfavourable opinion of the area partly due to the dangerous reefs.

The Dutch captain Willem de Vlamingh was the next European in the area. Commanding three ships, the Geelvink, Nyptangh and the Wezeltje, he arrived at and named Rottnest on 29 December 1696, and on 10 January 1697 discovered and named the Swan River. His ships couldnt sail up the river because of a limestone bar and sandy shoals at the mouth of the river, so he sent out a sloop which even then required some dragging over the bar. On 5 January they climbed to high ground (Mount Eliza). They continued sailing until reaching mud flats, probably close to the present-day Heirisson Island. Vlamingh was also not impressed with the area.

In 1801, the French ships Geographe captained by Nicolas Baudin and Naturaliste captained by Baron Hamelin visited the area from the south. While the Geographe continued northwards, the Naturaliste remained for a few weeks. A small expedition dragged longboats over the bar at the mouth, and explored the Swan River. On 18 June, Midshipman François-Antoine Boniface Heirisson climbed Mount Eliza to gain a view of the surrounding countryside. The expedition gave unfavourable descriptions regarding any potential settlement due to the bar at the mouth and many mud flats upstream.

Later in March 1803, the Geographe with another ship Casuarina passed by Rottnest on their way eventually back to France, but did not stop longer than a day or two.

The next visit to the area was the first Australian-born maritime explorer, Phillip Parker King in 1822 on the Bathurst. King was also the son of former Governor Philip Gidley King of New South Wales. Howe'ver, King also was not impressed with the area.

So, of all the early European visitors to the Perth area, none had a favourable opinion.

Swan River Colony

The first explorer to have a favourable opinion of the Swan River was Captain James Stirling who, in March 1827, explored the area in HMS Success which first anchored off Rottnest, and later in Cockburn Sound. Stirling was accompanied by the botanist Charles Fraser, whose report on the quality of the soil was instrumental in the decision to establish the Swan River Colony. With Frederick Garling, Stirling and Fraser climbed Mount Eliza, and had explored the Swan River upstream as far as the Ellen Brook junction.

Stirling arrived back in England in July 1828, promoting in glowing terms the agricultural potential of the area. His lobbying was for the establishment of a free settlement, unlike the other penal settlements at New South Wales, Port Arthur and Norfolk Island. As a result of these reports, and a rumour the French were about to establish a penal colony in the western part of Australia, the Colonial Office assented to the proposal in mid-October 1828.

The first ship to reach the Swan River was the HMS Challenger, captained by Charles Fremantle, arriving on 25 April 1829. After anchoring off Garden Island, Captain Fremantle declared the Swan River Colony for Britain on 2 May 1829. Perth was founded on 12 June 1829 by Captain James Stirling as the political centre of the free-settler Swan River Colony. Stirling administered the Swan River settlement from June 1829 until August 1832.

The Parmelia under Captain Stirling arrived on 1 June 1829, and the official foundation of the colony took place on 12 August, with the chopping down of a tree by the wife of Captain William Dance of the Sulphur, Mrs Helen Dance. This event took place on an area of land allotted for military barracks, and is commemorated at this site by a plaque set in the footpath of Barrack Street.

The two separate townsites of the colony developed slowly, to eventually become Perth and the port city of Fremantle.

Early Years

The fertile locations around Perth did not extend very far from the Swan and Canning Rivers, and this land was quickly settled. The most fertile locations were upstream from Perth, and so the suburb of Guildford was also settled in 1829.

The Round House, the oldest surviving building in Perth, was completed in 1831. The purpose of this building was as a prison, with eight cells and a jailers residence. In the same year a 280-metre canal was constructed by seven men, who worked for 107 days, to create Burswood Island.

Relations between the Europeans and Aborigines were not always amicable, and sometimes resulted in intercultural skirmishes. On 11 July 1833 a senior warrior named Yagan, of the local Aboriginal tribe near the Swan River, was murdered after a bounty was issued for his capture following the murder of a couple of settlers.

In December 1836, the Court House was completed, and the first Court of General Quarter Sessions was held in the building on 2 February 1837. The building was officially opened with a church service conducted by the Reverend John Burdett Wittenoom on Good Friday, 24 March 1837. The Court House continued to double as a place of worship until St Georges Church was built in 1842.

In 1837 the colonys first brewery, Swan Brewery, was established at the corner of Spring Street and Mounts Bay Road, near the base of Mount Eliza in Perth.

The first church service to be held in a church took place on 10 January 1841 at the All Saints Church in the Swan Valley, north-east of Perth.

By 1843, the first causeway across the Swan River, although little more than a primitive timber bridge, had been completed. This river crossing connected what is now the suburbs of City of Perth and Victoria Park. It was probably Perths first and only toll road.

Since much of the remaining land around the Swan River turned out to be quite sandy and unsuitable for agriculture, the first reports of the colony were not as glowing as Stirling had been to led to expect. These reports, along with the difficulty of clearing land to grow crops, was a factor in the slow growth of Perth during the first two decades. Agriculture developed away from Perth in places like the Avon Valley, and along the southwest coastline.

By 1850 the population of the colony of Western Australia had increased to 5,886, while the population around Perth was still only about 1400. Perth continued to be seen as the administrative centre for the whole colony.


Though the Swan River Colony was founded as a "free settlement", the initial settlers had many difficulties which compelled them to seek help from the British, in an offer to accept convicts. Western Australia therefore became a penal colony in 1850. Between then and 1868, over 9000 convicts were transported to Western Australia on 43 convict ship voyages.

During this period, the convicts were involved in the construction of a significant amount of infrastructure as well as some well known buildings like Fremantle Prison in 1855, Government House in 1864 and the Perth Town Hall in 1870.

Later 19th century

From 1850 to 1868, Western Australia was a fully-fledged penal colony, and during that time over 9,000 convicts were transported to the colony on 43 convict ship voyages.

The Swan River Mechanics Institute was established in 1851, on the corner of Pier and Hay Streets. It was the colonys first cultural centre, housing an extensive library, as well as natural history collections including botanical, zoological and mineral specimens.

In 1856, Perth was officially proclaimed a city by Queen Victoria. The Perth Gaol was completed in Northbridge the same year. The first execution of a prisoner had taken place in 1855 in a yard on the south side of the site. After complaints, the sides of the gallows were enclosed to hide the executions from public gaze.

In 1858, a secondary school for boys was built by convicts in Hay Street. Originally called Perth Church of England Collegiate School, the building still stands today and is now known as The Cloisters.

On 17 March 1859, the foundation stone was laid for a new official residence for the Governor of Western Australia, between St Georges Terrace and the Swan River. Building commenced in 1859, and Governor John Hampton took up residence in 1863, before completion of the building in 1864. Government House, as it stands today, was completed in the 1890s with the addition of a ballroom.

On 9 January 1868, transportation of convicts from Britain ended with the arrival of 279 convicts at Fremantle, on the Hougoumont.

The telegraph line from Adelaide to Perth was completed in 1877, considerably improving intracontinental communication.

On 10 May 1880, the foundation stone for the Perth railway station was laid. On 1 March 1881, the first suburban railway line opened, running from Fremantle through Perth and on to Guildford.

The first weekly newspaper, the Western Mail, commenced publishing in 1885. It was printed by James Gibbney at offices in St Georges Terrace.

In 1888, the Perth Gaol and its gallows ceased operating, and prisoners were transferred to Fremantle Prison. The prison had been built by convict labour in the 1850s, and transferred to the colonial government in 1886 for use as a gaol for locally sentenced prisoners.

The 1890s were probably the most significant decade in Perth since its foundation in 1829. Due to the gold rushes in Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie from 1892-93, the population of Perth tripled from just 8,447 in 1891 to 27,553 in 1901 (according to the 1891 and 1901 censuses). During this boom period, railway lines were built to service the main agricultural regions and the logging industry.

In 1893, electricity generation was made available to the city of Perth, and a railway line from Perth to Armadale opened on 2 May.

In 1894, Edith Cowan helped to found the Karrakatta Club, based on contemporary models of education clubs in the USA. The club became involved in the campaign for womens suffrage, successfully gaining the right for women to vote and run for office in 1899. Cowan subsequently became the first woman elected to an Australian parliament, in 1920.

In 1897, Fremantle Harbour was officially opened. The harbour provided access to the Swan River for larger vessels, made possible after blasting the rocky bar across the Swan River mouth, and dredging under the guidance of the colonys Engineer-in-Chief, Charles Yelverton OConnor.

The Perth Zoo opened on 17 October 1898, under the directorship of Ernest Albert Le Souef, with an exhibit that included two lions, a tiger, an orangutan, two monkeys and four ostriches.

On 28 September 1899, the first electric tram services commenced, operated by Perth Electric Tramways Ltd, with services from East Perth along Hay Street to Milligan Street. The Perth Mint, on Hay Street in East Perth, opened the same year.

Early 20th century

In 1902, Claremont Teachers College, in the suburb of Claremont, became the first post-secondary educational institute in Western Australia.

In 1903, a pipeline from Mundaring Weir to Kalgoorlie opened. This was a major achievement for its time by the states first Engineer-in-Chief C. Y. OConnor, who committed suicide before the project was complete.

On 24 April 1907, a fire caused damage to the William Sandover & Co. building in Hay Street.

In 1911, The University of Western Australia became Perths first university, but it was not until 1913 that tuition begun. The original campus was located in Irwin Street, between Hay Street and St Georges Terrace.

In July 1926, there was major flooding of the Swan River. This caused the Fremantle Railway Bridge to collapse just after a train had passed over it. The Upper Swan Bridge, at Upper Swan, was also damaged by the flood.

On 12 August 1929, Perth commemorated 100 years of British settlement.

In 1930, telephone services put Perth in connection with Adelaide, and subsequently with eastern Australia.

In 1932, The University of Western Australia campus was moved from Perth to its present-day site in Crawley.

Later 20th century

In 1958, the last of Perths trams were retired from service, unable to compete with buses and cars.

The Narrows Bridge opened in 1959, linking the north and south sides of the Swan River at The Narrows between Mill Point and Mount Eliza. At the time, it was the largest precast prestressed concrete bridge in the world.

The 1960s and 1970s saw continued growth in Perth, helped by discoveries of iron ore and natural gas throughout the state. The city skyline changed significantly during this period with the construction of Perths first skyscrapers.

On 20 February 1962, Perth became known worldwide as the "City of Light", as city residents lit their house lights and streetlights to celebrate American astronaut John Glenn on his orbit around the earth on Friendship 7. The city repeated its feat as Glenn passed overhead on the Space Shuttle in 1998.

In 1962, Perth city hosted the Commonwealth Games, then known as the British Empire and Commonwealth Games. Events were held from 22 November to 1 December at Perry Lakes Stadium in Floreat and Beatty Park in North Perth.

On 26 October 1964, serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke was the last criminal to be executed, by hanging, in Western Australia.

In 1969, the last of Perths trolleybuses were retired from service, making it the demise of Australias first and only trolleybus fleet.

In 1970, the first match of Test Cricket in Perth was played, from 11 to 16 December, against England.

On 17 September 1974 Murdoch University, Perths second university, was opened with an inauguration ceremony. Lectures commenced on 24 February 1975 with an enrolment of 510 students.

In 1979, the WAY 79 celebrations commemorated Perths sesquicentennial (i.e. 150 years) of European settlement. The city hosted the Miss Universe competition as part of the celebrations.

In 1979, the Fremantle railway line closed due to lack of passengers. It subsequently reopened after a change of government in 1983.

On 26 September 1983, Australia II won the Americas Cup Yacht Race, the first time a challenger had won it in 132 years. Although this event was held off Newport, Rhode Island, it was a significant day in Perths history. The Australia II challenge was financed by Perth businessman Alan Bond on behalf of the Royal Perth Yacht Club. Perth had four years to prepare for the defence, and in those years Fremantle especially underwent considerable economic and cultural development.

In 1985, the Burswood Casino, Perths only casino, opened for business. The resort opened in 1988.

In 1987, the city hosted, and lost, the defence of the Americas Cup.

In the 1980s, a political scandal, which came to be known as WA Inc, caused the loss of public money - an estimated minimum of $600 million - and the insolvency of several large corporations. Some major businesses based in Perth suffered financial difficulties, in part due to the 1987 stock market crash, and eventually entered bankruptcy. On 19 November 1990, Carmen Lawrence, the then Labor premier, announced her governments intention to hold a royal commission to "inquire into certain matters". After almost two years of enquiries and hearings, it was found that the state government had engaged in major business dealings with prominent businessmen, including Alan Bond, Laurie Connell and Warren Anderson. Former premier Brian Burke and his predecessor, the Liberal premier Ray OConnor ultimately served prison sentences as a result of convictions which arose from findings of the commission. Burkes successor, Peter Dowding, and public servant Len Brush were both found to have acted improperly.

In 1992, the Joondalup railway line opened to the northern suburbs, becoming the first suburban passenger railway line built in Perth since the Armadale line 103 years earlier in 1889. This railway line runs mostly along the centre of the Mitchell Freeway.

In 1995, the French Consulate in Perth was firebombed.

21st century

In the first decade of the 21st century Perths population grew by 346,000 people, or 25%. Driven by the West Australian mining boom and associated economic development Perth became Australias fastest growing capital. Like Melbourne most population growth was absorbed in the outer suburbs, primarily in the City of Wanneroo, and the southern coastal suburbs (Cockburn, Rockingham and Kwinana). Major infrastructure projects completed included the $1.6 billion New Metro Rail Project which effectively doubled the size of the Perth rail system, the Graham Farmer Freeway and Roe Highway.

-:- 25 March 2010: Storms cause hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hail damage and leave 150,000 homes without power.
-:- 2011: Perth hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the Queen visits.
-:- December 2011: Margaret River bushfire
-:- 2012: construction of Brookfield Place was completed. Formerly known as City Square tower the skyscraper is the tallest in Western Australia and the seventh tallest in Australia.

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