Fremantle

This page includes my grandfather's postcards from Fremantle - a port city in Western Australia, located at the mouth of the Swan River in the metropolitan area of Perth, the state capital. Fremantle was the first port of call for P&O liners after Colombo. Fremantle is at the bottom left on the image below with Perth at the top centre.

Fremantle
Fremantle and Perth aerial view as seen on Google Earth [1] Click image for enlarged view

Brief History of Fremantle

The British started settling in the area in 1829 as there was concern that the French were taking an interest in it. The British government sent HMS Challenger under the command of Captain James Fremantle and HMS Sulphur carrying troops. Settlers, chosen for their skills, arrived on the accompanying barque Parmelia. The Swan River Colony, named after the river at Fremantle that goes inland to Perth, was established with people who migrated by choice - unlike settlements in many other parts of Australia. By 1832 the colony had grown to about 1,500 people but they struggled as the soil was poor and there was no infrastructure.

In 1842 things changed when transportation to the colony started. Over the following eight years 234 juvenile offenders were transported to the colony - although they seem to have become apprenticed to those already there and 'absorbed' into the community rather than being imprisoned. In 1850 the colony was reclassified as a 'penal settlement' and in that year the first of 43 voyages transporting adult convicts brought a batch of 75. By the time transportation ended in 1868, over 9,000 more convicts - all male - would arrive at Fremantle.


Fremantle Harbour serves as the port for Perth and was the first area settled by the Swan River colonists. It is named after Captain Charles Fremantle, an English naval officer who claimed the west coast of 'New Holland' as British territory. The settlement struggled in its first decades and, in 1850, with the advent of penal transportation to the colony, Fremantle became Australia's primary destination for convicts. The convict-built Fremantle Prison operated long after transportation ended in 1868, and is now a World Heritage Site.

There was a large increase in the population of Western Australia as a result of the discovery of gold at a number of sites in the 1880s. The most significant were at Coolgardie (300 miles east of Perth) in 1892, and nearby Kalgoorlie in 1893. Gold mining is still a significant industry in Western Australia. In 1897, Irish-born engineer C. Y. O'Connor deepened Fremantle Harbour and removed the limestone bar and sand shoals across the entrance to the Swan River, thus rendering Fremantle a serviceable port for commercial shipping. This occurred at the height of the gold rush and transformed Fremantle into a capital of trade and gateway for thousands of gold miners

Fremantle Postcards

Fremantle Harbour

The unused postcard below is from a series published by P. Falk & Co. Ltd. and shows a liner being towed into the mouth of the Swan River. There is insufficient detail to identify the ship.

Fremantle Harbour
Fremantle Harbour entrance - date unknown.

The Anglican Church

The unused postcard below is from a series published by P. Falk & Co. Ltd. and shows the second church built in Fremantle; the first opened in 1843 and was nearby. The replacement shown here opened in 1882 and is dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. The architect was William Smith of London and it was built in the Early English and Gothic style. The bell turret was added in 1906. The building was originally roofed with she-oak shingles but these were replaced by Welsh slate before WW1. The image is not clear enough to show which roofing material was in place when the photograph on which it is based was taken.

Anglican Church
St John's Anglican Church, Fremantle. Date unknown but after 1906.

The Fire Station

The unused postcard below is from a series published by P. Falk & Co. Ltd. and shows the fire station in Phillimore Street. This attractive-looking building was the second fire station built for the local fire brigade and was designed by architectural firm Cavanagh and Cavanagh and constructed by J. Lake. The fire station was designed to house four horse-drawn vehicles, including the district's ambulance which was also operated by the fire brigade. It opened in 1909 and was in use until the 1970s when a new fire station was built. The old fire station building is now listed on the Register of the National Estate.

Fire Station
Fire Station, Fremantle. Date unknown but after 1909.

The Post Office

The unused postcard below is from a series published by P. Falk & Co. Ltd. and shows the post office in Market Street. This building, designed by Hillson Beasley of the Public Works Department, was planned in 1906 and opened in 1907. Like the Fire Station, the building is now listed on the Register of the National Estate.

PostOffice
Post Office, Fremantle. Date unknown but after 1907.

Market Street

The unused postcard below is from a series published by P. Falk & Co. Ltd. and shows a view along Market Street. The building on the corner is The National Hotel; it was originally a store but became a branch of the National Bank of Australia in the 1880s. It was converted into a hotel in 1886 but the first owner was hanged for murder a year later. After changing hands several times, it was acquired by Michael and Danial Mulcahy who had come to Australia to prospect for gold and made a fortune. It took its current form in 1902 after major extension and reconstruction.

A complex telegraph/telephone infrastructure was in place in Fremantle by the time these postcards were printed. In fact the first telegraph from Perth to Fremantle was installed in 1869 with assistance of free convict labour used to install the poles. The chief electrician for the project was a former convict named James C. Fleming (1834-1885) who had worked on telegraph systems in Britain. Telephone services became available for commercial purposes in Fremantle around 1878.

Market Street
Market Street, Fremantle with the National Hotel on the left. Date unknown but after 1902.
Market Street
The National Hotel in 2021 as seen on Google Earth [1]

Signal Station and Tramway Power House

The unused postcard below is from a series published by P. Falk & Co. Ltd. and shows the Signal Station and the old Tramway Power House. The old Signal Station shown, which was replaced with another further up the Swan River in 1929, was at Arthur Head, just inland from the South Mole. A great deal of quarrying has since taken place and the rockface with the building on it is no longer there.

Signal Station
Signal Station and Tramway Power House. Date unknown but after 1905.

The power station was built to supply both the tram system and lighting to the neighbourhood of Fremantle. The tram system operated between 1905 and 1952 - ultimately with six lines. The location can be seen on the image below which is looking back along the mole towards it. More photos and a lot of information about the power station and its construction can be found on this link: [4].

Power Station
The power station in 1913 [4]

The purpose of the Signal Station was to notify arrivals and departures of shipping. It also served to provide a signal to indicate the correct time to enable ships to synchronise their chronometers by dropping a ball - usually at 1 pm. The process was that the ball would be raised half-way about 5 minutes before time, then raised the whole way when there was 2-3 minutes to go and dropped on the hour. The operators would get the correct time from a telegraph message and also use the telegraph to send messages about shipping etc.

Signal Station
The Signal Station in 1910. SLWA Image B5985889_2 [3]

West Australian Blacks Camp

The unused postcard below is captioned 'West Australian Blacks' Camp'. The people featured are wearing a mixture of Western and traditional clothing and assembled in front of a shelter. A dog looks round at the cameraman; both dog and people seem to have an expression saying 'What the Hell are you staring at?'.

West Australian Blacks Camp
West Australian Blacks Camp. Date unknown.

Click on the link below to go to the page on Adelaide - the next port of call in Australia.