The State and Position of Western Australia/Chapter 7


India—Colonization Company formed at Calcutta—Views of the Shareholders—Loss of the Mercury—Interest excited at Calcutta and Madras—Rearing of Horses for the India Market—Remount of British Cavalry at Madras, procured from Sydney—Position of Swan River—Its superior Advantages for that traffic.

Some slight reference has already been made to India, and to the favourable circumstances under which the voyage to and fro, between that part of our dominions and Swan River, may be performed. The following additional particulars will be interesting to those who have friends and relations in the East Indies.

In 1833, a company was formed at Calcutta for the purpose of trading with and settling in Western Australia. Among those principally concerned in establishing the company were J. Pattle, Esq., of the Civil Service, and Colonel Becher. In the same year the bark Mercury was dispatched to King George’s Sound on that undertaking, having on board Captain C. Cowles, H. C. M., and J. Calder (late of the firm of Mackintosh and Co.), W. Raynoe, G. Pattle, S. Beadle, jun., Esqrs., Messrs. T. Nisbett, S. Austen, two European officers, one carpenter, and seventy natives of India. This unfortunate bark was never after heard of, and being an old vessel, is supposed to have foundered at sea, as H. M. S. Hyacinth, dispatched in the subsequent year in search of her by Admiral Sir John Gore, could find no trace of the wreck. The gentlemen on board were preceding others interested in the adventure, in order to prepare the way, by selecting the most eligible sites for their future operations. Ten overseers, with five mechanics attached to each, and engaged for five years, were said to be on board, for the purpose of erecting buildings on the respective allotments of the members of the company; and while these improvements were carrying on, the vessel was to return to India for the families of the shareholders. The colony was meant to be the permanent residence of their families, but the gentlemen were to remain only during the summer months. It appears that the company intended having two or three trading vessels, to keep up a regular communication, and also one for whaling during the season. Messrs. J. Pattle and C. and G. Becher, in their petition to the Admiral for search to be made for the Mercury, state, that she sailed in October for Western Australia, “provided with an extensive establishment of men and means, for the purpose of obtaining land, and ultimately effecting colonization at that interesting settlement;” and they go on to say that, as the average passage from Calcutta to King George’s Sound was a month, and the Mercury had not reached the colony in March 1834, they feared she bad been wrecked on the Keeling or Coco Islands. While the writer deeply sympathizes with the relatives and friends of the unfortunate sufferers, he is happy to find that a strong attachment to the colony, “England’s youngest child,” is still maintained at Calcutta, and that Messrs. Pattle and Mangles, of the Civil Service, Colonels Becher and Frith, and Captain Lowes, were, according to the latest accounts, distinguished for the deep interest they were taking in its welfare. A letter of the 4th of November, from Mr. Mangles, mentions that one of the greatest sufferers by the loss of the Mercury has since been most active in promoting schemes having for their object the formation of another company, and the keeping up of a constant communication with the colony; “he desires,” says Mr. M., “to get up a joint-stock company, 100 shares of 1500 rupees each, and I dare say it will fill. I will let you know hereafter how this matter progresses. I hope to see regular packets for passengers established.” A letter from Calcutta, dated January last, states that a passenger-ship for Swan River and Van Diemen’s Land was to sail early in that month; so that the proposed communication appears to have fairly commenced.

In Colonel Hanson, already alluded to, the colony possesses, at Madras, a zealous and influential advocate. When he visited Western Australia in 1831, the prejudice against it in public opinion was at its height; but he soon perceived that this prejudice had no foundation, and that, with reference to India, the colony was likely to prove an object of very peculiar interest. It had long been a desideratum with the officers of the various branches of the East India Company’s Service to find a country, where, on retiring, they might have a climate that would renovate their impaired constitutions, and yet prove congenial to their acquired feelings, so long habituated to the intense heat of a tropical sun. In these particulars, speaking generally, the climate of England does not suit them. If it restores the constitutions of some, with many it does not agree, from the humidity of the atmosphere; while the cold and long-continued rains are agreeable to few, if any of them. The Colonel found that Western Australia answered the desired description. He came to it an invalid, and left it in rude health; while its climate, of which he had trial in the hottest season, was delightful to his feelings. But besides a healthy and pleasant climate, the servants of the Company are anxious to enjoy society resembling that which they have left behind them, or look forward to mix with, in England. On this head, Colonel Hanson, in his pamphlet, bears a most favourable testimony to the colony, where he found various families, including near relations of both sexes of his friends at Madras and in England, no way their inferiors in refinement of taste and suavity of manners. Recent accounts from Madras state that the Colonel had left that Presidency for King George’s Sound, where he has a small grant, intending to reside there for a couple of years while on leave of absence.

The Calcutta Company, in selecting Western Australia as their place of abode or retirement, appear also to have had in view its eligibility as a place of residence for their families when in ill health, or for the education of the children of such members as continued to fill situations in India. Perhaps the most painful circumstance connected with the India Service is the separation of families. How many ladies are obliged to tear themselves from their husbands, either on account of their own ill health, or that of their children, on whose tender frames the deleterious climate soon begins to operate! These separations are often prolonged for years, and the same causes have obliged many a delicate female to make the long voyage a second time home and to India without any relation to protect her. Another frequent cause of separation is the anxiety to obtain for their children a suitable education. In Dr. Milligan’s Report on the climate[1] the following passage occurs:—“The favourable opinion I have already expressed of the influence of this climate on European constitutions, and of the place as a residence for invalids from India, is strengthened by a further experience of two years.” The Doctor goes on to show that the climate is peculiarly suited to the female sex, and “children,” he adds, “thrive remarkably well.”

With reference to education, the writer has heard of one family, including several females, who proceeded last year to the colony, with the view of devoting themselves to that object; and one or two estimable persons were so occupied when he left it.

The connexion of the colony with India will also be greatly promoted by a traffic in horses, when the colonists have had time to raise them in sufficient numbers to make the exportation of them an object. The native horses of India are not considered powerful enough for the mounting of our dragoons. When at the Mauritius in November 1833, the writer met Captain Collins of H. M. 13th Light Dragoons, and learned from him that he was proceeding to Sydney, to procure a remount of several hundred horses for the British cavalry at Madras, having contracted with the Government to receive for each, after they were landed and approved of there, the sum of 54 l. or 55 l., the writer forgets which. Capt. Collins mentioned that the number of horses likely to be wanted in subsequent years would be much greater, and expressed his intention of visiting King George’s Sound,[2] with a view to the future establishment of a breeding stud there, being sensible that a considerable saving would thus accrue, as the expense and risk at present incurred in importing them from the Eastern coast are very great.

On reference to a preceding part of this pamphlet[3] it will be found that during the winter season in the southern hemisphere, a vessel may easily accomplish the voyage from Swan River to Madras in three weeks, and have fine weather the whole way; but the passage to India from the penal settlements at the same season would require at least twice that time, as the voyage would be along the East coast and through Torres Straits.

It is needless to dwell on the peculiar advantages Swan River would afford to the capitalist who embarked in the speculation of raising horses for the India market, where 150 l. is no unusual price for a good riding horse. Powerful carriage horses are also in great request there.—The latest accounts from the colony mention that it had been proposed to form a company, having for its object the purchase of Sir James Stirling’s fine stud of eight thoroughbred horses, lately arrived, and which are mostly, if not entirely, from Lord Egremont’s stud. The suggestion seems to have arisen from an apprehension that part of the stud was about to be sent to another colony, and a strong desire to retain so valuable an acquisition.

  1. See Appendix, No. 3.
  2. Now that the harbours in the vicinity of Swan River are well ascertained, and have been found to afford safe entrance and anchorage, they are likely to be resorted to in preference to King George’s Sound for the above purpose; as it is of importance that vessels that have live stock on board, should not have to double Cape Leeuwin.
  3. See page 20.