Fremantle Harbour

History of Fremantle Harbour

1997 marked 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 C.Y. 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

Investigation Branch

Title or description of record Date range Series number
Intelligence reports of internments, repatriations, affiliations and general investigations 1915–1920 PP14/1

Collector of Customs, Western Australia

Title or description of record Date range Series number
Correspondence files 1926–1950 PP6/1
Wartime files 1939–1945 PP227/2 to PP227/5
Seizure of Remo as war prize 1940–1941 PP227/5, 40/C/1497

Canberra office

Title or description of record Date range Series, item number
Fine Arts copyright files, Western Australia 1896–1906 A1721
Pictorial postcard '52,000 tons shipping in Fremantle harbour' 1906 A1721, 207
Pictorial postcard 'Entrance to Fremantle harbour' 1906 A1721, 208
Literary Copyright files, Western Australia 1897–1907 A1723
Plan for opening Swan River for shipping 1902 A1723, 106
Applications for artistic copyright (with exhibit) 1907–1969 A1861
View of Fremantle harbour from South Mole showing Orsova leaving port 1914 A1861, 3141
View from midstream showing both north and south wharves 1914 A1861, 3147

Melbourne office

Title or description of record Date range Series, item number
Department of Defence, correspondence files 1906–1936 B197
Fremantle harbour extensions – fixed armament 1927–1928 B197, 1855/1/74
Department of Defence, correspondence files, AIF prefix 1914–1917 B539
Survey of rock at entrance to Fremantle inner harbour 1916 B539, AIF378/7/1262
Department of Defence, general correspondence files 1910–1921 MP472/1
Hire of launch – police patrol around troop ships, Fremantle harbour 1916 MP472/1, 16/16/5530
Navy Office, general correspondence series 1939–1950 MP138/1
Coal hulk, Fremantle harbour 1933 MP138/1, 603/202/289
HMAS Karangi – attempted salvage submarine hull – Fremantle harbour 1946–1947 MP138/1, 603/288/129
Department of Defence, Defence Army series 1914–1917 MP729/6
Defence of Fremantle harbour against air attack 1942 MP729/6, 15/401/622

Perth office

Title or description of record Date range Series, item number
Property and Survey Branch correspondence files 1911–1973 PP473/1
Fremantle – Customs proclamations – outer harbour area 1911–1973 PP473/1, 1968/23
Works and Services Branch, job files 1942–1962 PP280/1
Fremantle harbour dredging 1943–1949 PP280/1, N1942/43/282
Works and Services Branch, Western Australia, aperture cards 1945–1958 K1201
Fremantle harbour (Dept of Construction drawings) 1941 K1201, WA4401
Maps, charts and drawings, Australian Corps of Signals 1944–1959 PP425/1
Detailed route plans harbour A/MTB battery, submarine cable North Fremantle 1944–1959 PP425/1, V1/R5
Department of Shipping and Transport, Regional Controller, Western Australia, Correspondence files 1953–1971 PP486/1
Port and harbours – growth of Fremantle Port, newspaper cuttings – Kwinana extensions etc. 1958–1968 PP486/1, 1959/247