Fremantle Harbour – Fact sheet 55
History of Fremantle Harbour
1997 marks the centenary year of the development of Fremantle Harbour. Fremantle is named after Sir Charles Howe Fremantle (1800–1869). On 2 May 1829, as commander of HMS Challenger, he hoisted the Union Jack on the south head of the Swan River to take formal possession for the British crown 'of all that part of New Holland which is not included in the territory of New South Wales'.
Often, the spelling 'Freemantle' is used – even in early documents and dispatches sent by Sir James Stirling (the first Governor of Western Australia) who named the port – but this spelling is erroneous.
Until the 1850s, Fremantle was an important whaling centre and, as early as 1839, plans were proposed to provide shipping with more adequate shelter so that vessels would not have to anchor at sea and have cargo lightered ashore.
In 1892, work began to develop the mouth of the Swan River into a port. Under the direction of CY O'Connor, the harbour was opened in May 1897. Recognition of Fremantle over Albany as the premier port in Western Australia came in August 1900 when the first mail steamers called there. The Fremantle Harbour Trust (now known as the Fremantle Port Authority) was created in 1903 and has always been a State government organisation. (For more information, see The Australian Encyclopaedia, Grolier, 1963 and Australian Geographic Society, 1988.)
Commonwealth activity and interest
From Federation in 1901, the Commonwealth has had a strong presence in Fremantle and around the harbour. The port has been a natural focal point for Commonwealth agencies concerned with immigration, defence and customs activity.
Other Commonwealth agencies active in the area have included those dealing with military or civilian intelligence gathering such as the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the Commonwealth Police, industrial relations bodies – especially concerning the stevedoring industry – lighthouse and navigation agencies, quarantine services and health authorities.
Examples of records relating to Fremantle Harbour
Title or description of records and location
Series & item no.
Investigation Branch (CA 4811)
Intelligence reports of internments, repatriations, affiliations and general investigations
Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808)
PP227/2 to 7
Fine Arts copyright files, Western Australia
Literary Copyright files, Western Australia
Applications for artistic copyright (with exhibit)
Department of Defence, correspondence files,
Department of Defence, correspondence files, AIF prefix
Department of Defence, general correspondence files
Navy Office, general correspondence series
Department of Defence, Defence Army series
Property and Survey Branch correspondence files
Works and Services Branch, job files
Works and Services Branch, Western Australia, aperture cards
Maps, charts and drawings, Australian Corps of Signals
Department of Shipping and Transport, Regional Controller, Western Australia, Correspondence files