Great Southern

June 1st, 2001 Features, Scoop

Captain James Stirling was a commercially minded man, and if not for his tenacity and (as it might be called today) marketing acumen, Albany might have been the capital of WA and the premier city in the west.

In the early 1820’s, the British knew they had to claim the west coast for themselves. As Malcolm Traill, local studies librarian for the City of Albany explains, ‘It killed two birds with one stone to claim the west before the French did and take up some of the overflow of convicts from Sydney and Melbourne.’

After considering both Albany and Shark Bay as the sight of WA’s first penal colony, the British selected somewhere closer and more acclimatised to home.

The first shipment of convicts — only about 20 or 30 — arrived aboard the ‘Amity’ in the 1820’s and formed the basis for the fledgling settlement.

In the meantime, Stirling has surveyed the Swan River and was setting wheels in motion in the financial halls of London. ‘Stirling had commercial interests in London,’ Traill explains, ‘he had been given large land grants around the Swan River and he really pushed for development there rather than at Albany. He was biased towards the area because he owned the land, even though it wasn’t that promising for agriculture.’

Of course, Stirling succeeded, but he had a little help. ‘A lot of the convicts sent to Albany were guilty of the smaller crimes,’ Traill says, ‘their sentence was transportation, so when they arrived they already had tickets of leave. The convicts provided the labour for road gangs and farm hands, but when they were freed not all stayed and the settlement really struggled without their labour.’

There were probably only a few hundred convicts in Albany all in all. And unlike in Sydney or Port Phillip, the shadier side of convict life didn’t seem to raise its head except for a few initial problems with drunkenness.


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