A History of Fremantle, between 1850 and 1860, with particular reference to convicts.
Chapter 5. “An Awakened and Changed Fremantle”.
This is the story of how Fremantle changed from a dot on a sailor's map, into an actual port of call, how Fremantle changed from a town which seemed doomed to stay in the stagnant state in which she had existed throughout the 1830's and 40's, into a lively prosperous little community. As Fremantle changed into a port of some importance, it was found that to protect the morals of the ex-convict, it was better to keep him away from Fremantle and the sailors of the world. Fremantle was not without her personalities during this period, such as Dan Scott and the pirate “Bully” Hayes. Convicts had a considerable influence upon the town of Fremantle. These effects were many, and varied, but on the whole they were good effects.
During the 1850's one man stands out as being a very influential in the Fremantle community. He was Captain Daniel Scott, who was Chairman of the Fremantle Town Trust from 1850-3, 1854 and 1856-9. Thus he controlled to a degree, Fremantle during the years which concerns this topic. Captain Scott came to Fremantle in 1829 in the ship “Calista” following behind the “Parmelia” which brought out Stirling and the first group of settlers. He took up land when it was first distributed in the Fremantle district, and in the early 30's he became harbour-master of the port of Fremantle. He retained this position for over 20 years.
Fremantle did not take advantage when the legislation allowed it to form a town trust when this measure became law in 1839. It was not until 1848 that a public meeting was held and Captain Daniel Scott was appointed Chairman or the Fremantle Town Trust. Captain Scott was Chairman in 1850 when the first convicts arrived. It was Captain Scott's Esplanade Hotel which was hired by the Governor at a rent of £250 per annum. Scott continued as the chairman from 1850 to 1853, then again in 1854 and finally from 1856-9. During this period Scott and his fellow trust members worked hard on the proposals to improve Fremantle. Streets were constructed to allow for a free flow of traffic. Fremantle, however, in those early years did not look like a well compact town. It still had the appearance of a rather detached number of shops. Mrs. Miller points this out in the book “Australian Personage”.
During Scott's last period as Chairman, Governor Kennedy and the Captain were not on the best of terms, in some instances. The first “incident” concerned prisoners in North Fremantle and their cattle which they grazed on the Crown land without paying rent. Kennedy said they should be allowed to do so. Later in 1856 Kennedy dismissed Scott as Justice of the Peace. Scott resigned from the Town Trust but the Trust would not accept his resignation, which was the faith they had in him. Later things were smoothed out, but as to whether Kennedy re-instated Scott as a Justice of the Peace was not quite clear. Scott died on the 20th February, 1865, and was mourned by many. With Fremantle having such a cosmopolitan population at times, the need to make the town as presentable as possible to outside visitors was obvious. Captain Scott's policy of paving the footpaths and having the streets leveled did help to make Fremantle a fairly presentable little township. About this time (1855) the Fremantle Boys' School was built and the Roman Catholic Church, which has recently been dismantled, was completed.
One might be tempted to think that Fremantle was a dull sort of town during his period., but Fremantle did have its events which were comparable to modern times. Such an “event” occurred in 1857 when the modern pirate “Bully” Hayes arrived. Hayes did not attempt to steal and plunder in the way we are tempted to think about pirates. He was a tall, rather good-looking young man who rather charmed the ladies and officials. He charmed one lady, Miss Scott, daughter of Captain Scott, to a degree, that she became engaged to him. He took the Scott family to Adelaide but when he arrived back in Fremantle his fame had caught up with him, and he was received in a somewhat more reserved manner. His charm was such, however, that he managed to extract money from several Perth business men before he made his departure.
As had been previously pointed out, Fremantle was the centre which was to feel the first “blast” of the system, be it good or bad. As it did result a “wave of prosperity” gradually moved out from Fremantle over the state. When the system started, many reports showed that many were afraid of its consequences. After 1950, these reports in the “Inquirer” and “Perth Gazette” no longer appeared in any great frequency. So men gained confidence in the system early, and tried to reap the results. The convicts helped not only to provide more people in a “slave-like” working force, but many free workers came out. This helped to provide a greater overall working force. Because the population had increased, then a greater market for food had been created. Farmers slowly realized that to produce more food would be a good thing. Markets for business sprung up in many centres, including a very important market at Fremantle. When wheat could be exported, Fremantle was the avenue through which this and all other commodities flowed. During the ten years from 1849, before the system began, to 1859, when the system was in full operation, the number of acres cultivated in the colony increased by 368%. This gives an indication as to the influence the convicts had on the colony. The Fremantle market of the times was not an outstandingly active one, but it was firm and steady. Mrs. Miller in her book “Australian Personage” points this out.
With the convicts came capital. This was particularly evident at Fremantle. Here money was spent almost immediately on the arrival of the convicts in the form of an active community using money for repairs and for food, and extensions to Captain Scott's Hotel. A sign of an active community is money flowing. For a long time money did not flow too readily in Fremantle. But now the Imperial Government had decided to spend some money, many of the colonists began to venture out. The British Government expressed its intentions not to spend too much money, but when it came to the point of spending £27,000 on the Establishment, Fremantle could not help but profit. These profits showed the improvements made to Fremantle.
There were, however, two faults with the system. Because the system did not allow for any female convicts to be sent out, the number of males became far more than the numbers of females. This difference must have been in the order of seven or eight thousand by the end of the system, for over nine and a half thousand convicts came out. The disparate numbers between each sex could have had serious repercussions as in New South Wales, but Western Australia did not feel these effects to a very marked degree. There was but one serious crime from which Fremantle did suffer. The crime was that of drunkedness. It was a crime which had started with Fremantle's “sly grog” shops in the early days, and continued to the end of the period. The governors recognized the danger of the crime and tried to prevent it. Ticket-of-leave men who were found drunk were to lose their ticket-of-leave, and anyone who was due for a ticket-of-leave and found drunk would not receive one. Any man known to be a drunkard would not receive a ticket-of-leave. These two features were bad features of the system, but they were not a heavy nor lasting price to pay. As the population of the colony grew the disproportion of the sexes became less marked. Drunkenness was not a direct feature of the system. It was a vice which had been in Fremantle before the system, but the danger lay in that the convicts were men who could easily fall into a trap. They must be prevented from doing so. They were prevented by the threat of losing their ticket-of-leave, for the ticket was something of value.
Not only did the convicts bring some degree of wealth to Fremantle, byt they also brought a considerable increase in the population. By 1854 the population of Fremantle had exceeded the one thousand mark. With a large population, and more importance as an international port, comes a good deal of smuggled liquor and a lowering of the moral standards. As the idea behind the convict system was to reform the convict, it was not a good thing to have ticket-of-leave men working in such an area. Rules, therefore, were made that ticket-of-leave men had to go to the country districts for a period. Governor Fitzgerald was at no time disappointed about the outcome of the system. He sent home reports which showed that the system was of great benefit to the colony. This can be illustrated by two quotations written by Fitzgerald to the Duke of Newcastle.
“I am happy to state that notwithstanding the large number of convicts who have been introduced into the colony its social conditions would stand coparison with any other part of Her Majesty's dominions; crimes of a serious character, as I have already shown, are of a rare occurrence. The success which attends the management of the convicts may be ascribed to the following difficulties.
1.Amount of freedom give to ticket-of-leave men.
2.Firmness with which the law deals with crime.”
Here Fitzgerald illustrates how the convicts have been treated and the social results of the system. The following quotations shows how it has prospered as a result of the system.
“Whatever might have been the consequences to the other colonies being made penal settlements, the only consequence to this colony had been its advancement from a lamentable state of stagnation and despair to one of rapidly increasing prosperity.”
In an attempt to sum up the conditions in Fremantle, at the end of the period, a passage is taken from a book by the wife of a clergyman passing through Fremantle.
“The remainder of the town is clustered around the base of a hill and bears somewhat of the untidy look inseparable from the half completed streets and unpaved footpaths. There is no continuous row of shops, but all the minor shops, and the open fish and fruit stalls are scattered about and do not make nearly as good a show as if collected into a regular compact street. This gives the town a bear and deserted appearance as if no business were being transacted, which is not really the case, although the trade is certainly not a very lively one.”