Kelmscott was one of the earliest proclaimed locations in the Swan River Colony on 6th July 1830. It was named after Kelmscott in Oxfordshire, England, the birthplace of Archdeacon Thomas Hobbes Scott. Scott had been returning to England from New South Wales aboard HMS Success, when he was stranded at the Swan River settlement after the ship struck a reef off Fremantle in November 1829. With Christmas only three weeks away, he set to work to build a church with the help of the settlers and the soldiers of the 63rd Regiment. The church, built partly of wood, with rushes filling up the sides, and appropriately known as the ‘rush church’ came into being. It was in this church that Scott conducted baptisms for 28 children and the first marriage in Perth. Scott was relieved of his temporary assignment by John Burdett Wittenoom, Colonial Chaplain, who arrived in the Colony at the end of January 1830.
Land at Kelmscott
Ensign Dale’s exploration of the Canning River June 1829 was positive, if not enthusiastic: Having traversed the country from Cockburn Sound to the Darling Mountains, and followed, with little interruption, the course of the Canning River from near the source to the mouth, the general impression resulting from a minute observation as a hurried journey would permit, is, that with trifling exceptions, the soil above the salt water is of a quality suited for all the purposes of agriculture.
The unlikely entrepreneur Thomas Peel’s potential 250,000 acre grant was dependent upon him landing an initial 400 emigrants to the Colony by 1st November 1829. Lieutenant Governor Stirling, under considerable pressure to satisfy the demands of other colonists arriving, looked to the horizon, reckoned Peel was nowhere in sight, and quickly made another exploratory dash up the Canning River, and excised much of the land from Peel’s original grant (shown right in yellow). Peel arrived six weeks late – too late – as Stirling was busy giving it to newcomers and in January 1830, that included the first of the Kelmscott land. Two of the early grants were of 500 acres each to Charles H Wright and John Adams, both marked on the 1830 Plan mentioned below. Wright left for Van Diemen’s Land on Thistle in 1833; Adams left in 1831 (Eagle) but returned to acquire 8000 acres in the Canning district in 1858 [Carden:7].
Meanwhile, John Atkinson had arrived in the Colony on Medina on 6th July 1830 with his wife, three children and Samuel Derval, a servant. With ‘credentials’ as an architect, surveyor, engineer and former soldier, he was appointed to survey Kelmscott. The date of Atkinson’s arrival and Kelmscott’s proclamation as a town was not a happy coincidence!
The first plan (one could hardly call it a survey) extant for Kelmscott was Atkinson’s, drawn in late 1830. It was deficient in many respects and since most of his work was drawn in pencil, very difficult to interpret. Clearly Atkinson’s work had failed to impress, leading to this comment (left) later written on the Plan Itself. Ultimately there were squabbles about payment for the work which Atkinson failed to complete nor produce in a timely fashion.
One of the bizarre features of the Atkinson Plan gives us the names of his family members: Sarah (wife) Sarah Emma and Eliza (daughters) and John Frederick (son). These Canning River ‘streams’ were named on the Plan, together with streams named for two early settlers marked as ‘Wright’s Stream’ (Charles H Wright), ‘Adam’s Stream’ (John Adams) and the Government Resident ‘Ellis’s Stream’. Each stream name was written in ink. Another feature, boldly misspelt in ink, was ‘Govenor Sterlings Mount’. There is no record of Governor Sterlings Mount (or variations of spelling) in Landgate’s Geographic Names database. Pale town lots were drawn in pencil, the occupier’s names barely legible [Cons 3868 Item 222 & 225].
Town lots 1 to 72 marked on the Plan followed the course of the river (or Atkinson’s version of the river), those with names are difficult to read. Four lots numbered 9-12 are marked T Middleton; three lots 14-16 M A Bolger; lot 22 T T Ellis; lot 24 Ed Molony [sic] and G Massell, lot 25 P Corrigan and P Hefferman [sic] all soldiers; lot 26 Barracks with two structures thereon and the last lot to bear a name; then all the way to lot 72 none of the lots are marked with names.
Atkinson and his family left for Van Diemen’s Land in January 1831 on Eagle. On the same voyage were John Adams and his family and a Mrs Boalger [sic] and family – presumably T T Ellis’s sister and her family.
Twenty-four out of 72 Kelmscott town lots were listed in 1839 [Ogle:Appendix xlii] owned by only a dozen people. Very few were occupying the lots – some, like T T Ellis, listed with four lots, was deceased! Others were living in Perth or another colony. The land was difficult to work, the Canning River unnavigable most of the year, and isolation made labour difficult to acquire. The Government resumed most of the land in 1844 for non-performance of assignment conditions.
At this point I will try to give a picture of the military strength in the Kelmscott/Canning district. Records relating to this district began in 1830 and continued to 1843. War Office Monthly Returns (WO17) for distribution of troops did not begin until September 1837, but these returns, the Colonial Secretary’s Office records and the War Office (WO12) musters and pay lists prior to 1837, all indicate an average of five or six ‘other rank’ soldiers on post each month – albeit not always the same soldiers, of course. Prior to 1837 the number of troops was described as being posted to ‘Kelmscott’ but thereafter ‘Canning’. But it was the same district and the same barracks location as far as we know.
On one of my earlier research sprees, I inadvertently discovered more than one mention of a ‘Yeomanry Guard’ or ‘Yeomanry Cavalry’ being raised in the early days of the Swan River Colony. I was drawn to the words of Lieutenant Governor James Stirling’s Proclamation of 18th June 1829: And whereas the Safety of the Territory from Invasion and from the Attack of hostile Native Tribes may require the Establishment of a Militia Force which on emergency may be depended on to assist His Majesty’s Regular Troops in the Defence of the Lives and Property of the Inhabitants etc. Thus, the formation of such a ‘militia-type’ unit as the Yeomanry Cavalry was legally possible, I had never heard that it had happened, although more than one proposal would be forthcoming – the first by T T Ellis, a settler and Government Resident.
Theophilus T Ellis was a former captain in the 14th Regiment of Light Dragoons, a veteran of the Napoleonic and Peninsula Wars; in other words, a cavalryman through and through. He arrived in the Colony on James in May 1830 with his sister and her family, and was appointed Government Resident at Kelmscott in September of that year. In December 1831 Ellis wrote to the Colonial Secretary offering the names of ten men (including himself and a number of other retired military men) who were willing to serve in a unit of the Yeomanry Cavalry in the Kelmscott/Canning district [CSO 36-19-21]. One of the ten, a former soldier Peter Pegus, tried again to raise a troop in May 1833 and was similarly disappointed.
Ellis was appointed Superintendent of Native Tribes in 1833. On 15th July 1834, with the rank of Superintendent, Ellis became the lead officer in the Mounted Police Corps raised by Governor Stirling, making him the first police officer in Western Australia – and the first to die in its service at the ill-fated incident at Pinjarra on 28th October 1834. Ellis died on 12th November after falling from his horse resulting in concussion and prolonged coma.
The ‘Three Rs’
Both settlers and the natives understood, and practiced, the concept of Revenge, Reprisal and Retaliation. Cultural differences and misunderstandings of the rule of law brought about some sad consequences. For example, in the Canning District, the theft of poultry would be avenged by the beating of an elderly aboriginal at the hands of T T Ellis – albeit a punishment without trial. The reprisal [in October 1830] would be the spearing of a white settler John Randal Phillips – punishment for disrespecting and harming an elder – in the event, they got the wrong man; Phillips had previously treated the natives with kindness, Ellis not so much.
Captain Frederick C Irwin wrote a despatch to Major General Lord Fitzroy Somerset (later Lord Raglan) on 8th January 1831 explaining, On a report of this occurrence reaching Perth, I detached on the 7th Novr at the requisition of the Lieutenant Governor an officer and seven rank and file to patrol in conjunction with the settlers both banks of the Canning. Irwin went on to write, For the protection of this district, the detachment stated in the margin has been posted at Kelmscott, where the River issues from the Hills, and where a Town has been marked out, a Barrack is now erecting there for the Detachment.
We know from Irwin’s despatches that four privates were sent to Kelmscott on 7th November 1830. We also know from Atkinson’s 1830 Plan that those four soldiers were occupying town lots 24 and 25 – presumably in tents, and that the Barracks with structures marked were on lot 26. These same four men were engaged in the building of the Barracks and once built, occupied them: Privates Corrigan and Hefron with families [Carter:18]. I am unable to ascertain whether these soldiers built a house for T T Ellis – as a Government Resident one would expect a dwelling. The cost of building the Barracks was £25 10s. [Carden:14].
Two stand-out incidents occurred during the 63rd’s time in Kelmscott. In June 1832, the unarmed William Gaze was working on his property when about 20 hostile aborigines appeared – among them Yagan – who speared Gaze, resulting in his death. This was the incident which ‘outlawed’ Yagan who evaded capture for several months. When apprehended and charged, he was confined on Carnac Island for a short time until he again escaped. The next incident in November 1832 was the spearing of Margaret Dobbins whose husband Corporal James Dobbins, was at the time on duty at Kelmscot Barracks [WO12-9264-222]. Mrs Dobbins, recovered from her injury, but the incident hardened the attitude of even the most charitable of the settlers as she is thought to have been the first white woman to be attacked by the natives. They became more fearful and the cycle of reprisals continued as the fight for scarce resources by both sides escalated.
The 21st Regiment detachment relieved the 63rd in the Colony in September 1833. These Redcoats experienced the worst of the racial conflict that was seen all over the Colony, and of course included the incidents in the Murray River area where T T Ellis died in 1834. At this time there were 130 troops of this regiment in the Colony (a further 21 would arrive later). Of this complement only about a dozen were based in Perth HQ – all others were scattered around the many outposts of the Colony.
A number of fires were reported in Kelmscott in 1838 – all allegedly started by natives: A very good house just up by the Adams’s at the Creek; a good house just up by James Day; a good house and barn just up by the Middleton’s at Kelmscott; a house and out-buildings of Captain Ellice’s [sic]; a house and out-buildings of Mr. Wright’s; a small house of Captain Bannister’s; a small house of Serjeant Barron’s [Perth Gazette July 1838].
The Barracks was burnt down in June 1838 and I have not found a reference to it being rebuilt – but I am sure it was, otherwise where would the soldiers be acommodated for the next five years? The 21st Regiment troops on detachment at the Kelmscott/Canning military post at the time of the fire were: Corporal Julius Delmage and Privates Thomas Ames, Michael Connor, Thomas Fitzpatrick and Frank Mullone. Within four months, Ames would be court martialled for striking an officer and sentenced to seven year’s transportation to VDL.
By all accounts 1838 was a very troublesome year for theft of stock and house robberies, as well as fires mentioned above. It is probably not surprising that the Monthly Return for the distribution of 21st Regiment troops in October 1838, shows that 12 men were in Canning. However, I suspect they were a patrolling force, not one that was on duty at the Barracks. The Musters & Pay Lists show only six men in Kelmscott: Corporal Julius Delmage, Privates John Clifford, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Patrick Hill, Thomas Rutherford and James Somerville [WO12-3807, folios 219 to 223].
If 1838 was a bad year, 1839 was worse. On 16th July 1839 the 12-year old John Burtenshaw aka Cox, an employee of John Randal Phillips (then Canning Government Resident), was killed by a native or natives who were not immediately apprehended. A ‘posse’ of Justices of the Peace from Upper Swan (G F Moore), Mahogany Creek (Yule), York (Bland), Canning (J R Phillips) and Murray River (Singleton) each with ‘parties’ so that the country could be intersected from various points. Whether or not the ‘parties’ led by the JPs were comprised of soldiers is not clear. However, Lieutenant Thomas B. Mortimer who had been in the Colony only two years, was commanding a ‘party’ from Kelmscott (presumably 21st Regiment soldiers from a repaired Barracks).
Mendik (Mendic) was captured and received at the Fremantle Gaol (Round House) on 10th September 1841. At the Quarter Sessions on 1st October he was found guilty and the death penalty imposed. He was the only man to be hanged at Canning. The 51st Regiment would have been involved in the escort of the prisoner from Fremantle to Canning, as by the time of the trial, the 21st had left the Colony, to be relieved in mid-1840 by 51st troops.
Nearly five years after his death, Captain Theophilus T Ellis came back to haunt me when I discovered a government notice relating to a public auction of the 2746 acres he had selected in the Avon district in January 1831. As an afterthought his four town lots in Kelmscott 19 to 22 inclusive (mentioned here previously) were also for sale. These were purchased in 1839 by Robert Stewart [Carter:27], along with a further three town lots – 23, 24, 25 – previously owned by Edward Barron. Barron, a former 63rd Regiment Colour Sergeant, upon discharge from the Army, managed with his wife Jane some of Perth’s earliest hotels. Stewart’s properties, of course, were adjacent to the Barracks on lot 26, per the Atkinson Plan. Thus, when Thomas Suxspeach became the last man on post in March 1843, Robert Stewart was his neighbour.
Eleven years after the closure of the Barracks, Robert Stewart gave up the good fight of making a living as a sheep and cattle farmer in Kelmscott and put his properties up for sale. Although Stewart’s agent writes in glowing terms of the town lots, they did not sell immediately. Perhaps a derelict Barracks’ lot next door was a detractor!
From a list of over 70 officers and men who died while serving in Western Australia over a period of 42 years, only one died in Kelmscott (and none in Canning). Private #441 William Williams (21st) died on 3rd July 1835, cause of death not recorded in the Army’s records.
In summary, the official military presence at the Barracks in the Kelmscott/Canning district was from November 1830, with a detachment of 63rd Regiment troops, followed in October 1833 by 21st Regiment troops, and finally in July 1840, 51st Regiment troops, the last of which left the Kelmscott/Canning Post in March 1843. The withdrawal of the detachment from the Canning Station was recorded in General Orders on 3rd March 1843, signed by Major & Commandant F C Irwin [WO17-288-17].
The Lost Barracks
This is not the end of the Kelmscott Barracks story; but as you will see, there really is no end to it! To continue …
Henry Martin arrived on Simon Taylor in 1842 with his wife, three sons and five daughters. He worked at various labouring jobs before leasing a property in the Canning district. In 1857, Martin purchased Robert Stewart’s Kelmscott town lots 19 to 25 – per Atkinson’s 1830 Plan.
In 1859 F T Gregory re-survyed the town lots [Cons 3850 Item 19(c)]. As neither the Atkinson Plan nor the revised Gregory Plan show these lots’ dimensions, I cannot begin to comment on how this new survey impacted on the existing lots. Nonetheless, it was in 1859 that Martin purchased lots 18 and 26 from the government. Lot 18 was not assigned to anyone in 1830 (Atkinson) nor in 1839 (Ogle’s Appendix) and of course Lot 26 was nominated the original siting of the Barracks and thus Government property..
Martin now had a straight run of Canning River frontage lots 18 to 26. In January 1861 he was charged with stealing cattle and sentenced to 15 years penal servitude. As Colonial Prisoner #5582 he received his ticket of leave on 13 Aug 1863. He joined his youngest son in Toodyay and died in 1871, aged 69 years, the year he received his pardon. Meanwhile his second son, Henry Junior (initially implicated in the cattle theft) took over the Kelmscott family home in 1861 with his new bride.
In 1930 a ‘cairn’ was built to commemorate the centenary of the ‘first house’ built in Kelmscott. The researchers of that event deemed it to be the Barracks erected by the 63rd Regiment. It was named Martin’s Cairn but given the dates on the Cairn, it seems to relate to Henry Martin Junior. Click here for further information.
In 2009, the Kelmscott Historical Society engaged Dr. Shane Burke to undertake an archaelogical assessment of what may have been the site of the Kelmscott Barracks. In his Report, Dr. Burke’s closing remarks were:
Archaeological excavations strongly suggest that the present Lot 26 is not the site of the 1830 dated Kelmscott barracks. This result, combined with fine resolution historical data, suggest that the neighbouring Lot 25 was the barracks’ site. Visual examination from a distance of the area on Lot 25 that Gregory marks as the barracks’ site suggests the presence of a low mound in a well-grassed area.
It is impossible to say conclusively that this feature is the barracks’ remains. Therefore, one recommends:
1. Contacting the property’s owner to ask permission to survey the area;
2. Ideally, one or two excavations on the mound feature would suffice to determine if it is a structure;
3. If excavation is impossible one should consider Ground Penetrating Radar or metal detecting of the site and its surrounds.
To my knowledge none of the above recommendations were acted upon. It would be wonderful to get some tangible evidence from Lot 25.
Books & Journals
‘Along the Canning’, F G Carden, 1968.
‘A Colony Detailed’, the First Census of WA 1832, Ian Berryman.
‘The Colony of Western Australia: A Manual for Emigrants to that Settlement or Its Dependencies’, Nathaniel Ogle, 1839.
‘Conquest and Settlement: The 21st Regiment in Western Australia 1833-1840’, Geoff Blackburn, 1999.
‘Journals of Several Expeditions Made in Western Australia, During the Years 1829, 1830, 1831, and 1832’, Joseph Cross, 1833.
‘Legal Executions in Western Australia’, Brian Purdue, Foundation Press 1993.
‘The Military Establishment in Western Australia 1829-1863’, E S and C G S Whiteley, 2010.
‘Not an Idle Man’, a Biography of John Septimus Roe, J L Burton Jackson, 1982.
‘Settlement to City’, Jennie and Bevan Carter, 2011.
‘State and Position of Western Australia’, Captain Fredk Chidley Irwin, 1835 reprinted 2019.
Dictionary of Western Australians, Vol. 1 1829-1850, compiled by Pamela Statham, 1979.
Dictionary of Western Australians, Vol. 3 1850-1868, compiled by Rica Erickson, 1979.
List of Round House Prisoners 1831 to 1856, courtesy of Steve Errington, 2022.
Lieutenant-Governor Stirling’s Proclamation of the Colony, 18 June 1829 [WAS 1243, Cons 620/1, WA State Records Office].
Passenger List of Medina 1830 [Battye Library Acc 36/12/85 transcribed Graham Bown].
Copies of Original Records of Baptism of the Diocese of Perth by A Burton, 31st July 1937.
War Office Muster Rolls and Pay Lists WO12-7261 to 7265 (63rd); 3802 to 3809 (21st); 6200 to 6209 (51st)[National Archives, Kew].
War Office General Orders WO17-288 [National Archives, Kew].
Colonial Secretary’s Office files [See Whiteley p.84 Distribution of Troops – Battye Library, State Library of WA].
War Office Distribution of Troops WO17 Monthly Returns [National Archives, Kew].
Colonial Office Despatches, 1831, CO18-9-127/128 & 225/30 [National Archives, Kew].
Colonial Office Despatches, 1837, CO18-18-237/238 [National Archives, Kew].
Chart of Swan River by Captain James Stirling RN 1827, Cons 3844 Item 411 [WA State Records Office].
Plans of Kelmscott Series S235 Cons 3868 Item 222 & 225 [WA State Records Office].
Plan of Kelmscott Series S241 Cons 3850 Item 19(c) [WA State Records Office].
Census Records in Despatches 1832, 1836, 1837 [CO18 Piece Nos. 10, 16, 18].
Government Gazettes: No. 86, 16 Dec 1837, No. 103, 5 May 1838, No. 431, 22 Nov 1844.
The Western Australia Police Historical Society Inc. (Superintendent Theophilus Ellis – his Life and Services, Peter Conole).
Design & Art Australia Online (John Atkinson Biography, Margaret Glover).
Fremantle Prison Convict Database.
inHerit State Heritage Public Inventory, Place No. 04708.
Colonial Times 1 Feb 1831.
Perth Gazette 23 Feb 1833.
Perth Gazette 28 Jul 1838.
Perth Gazette 20 Jul 1839.
Perth Gazette 3 Aug 1839.
Inquirer 6 Oct 1841.
Inquirer 20 Oct 1841.
Inquirer 8 Aug 1854.
Perth Gazette 11 Jan 1861.
John Christen Bell [History House Museum, Armadale], Lyn Coy [Swan River Pioneers], Damien Hassan [WA State Records Office], Christine Stack [Landgate], Jeff Walker [Birtwistle Local Studies, Armadale Library]. And especially friends Ernie Fowler who first sparked my interest in the Kelmscott Military Post, and Bevan Carter who helps and encourages me in everything I try to achieve.
© Diane Oldman 2023