Fremantle Harbour – Fact sheet 55

Close-up aerial view of Fremantle Harbour with ship in port
Fremantle Harbour 1962 (A1500, K8140)

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

Date

Series & item no.

Investigation Branch (CA 4811)

  

Intelligence reports of internments, repatriations, affiliations and general investigations

1915–1920

PP14/1

Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808)

  

Correspondence files

1926–1950

PP6/1

Wartime files
Seizure of Remo as war prize

1939–1945
1940–1941

PP227/2 to 7
PP227/5, 40/C/1497

Canberra office

  

Fine Arts copyright files, Western Australia
Pictorial postcard '52,000 tons shipping in Fremantle harbour'
Pictorial postcard 'Entrance to Fremantle harbour'

1896–1906
1906
1906

A1721
A1721, 207
A1721, 208

Literary Copyright files, Western Australia
Plan for opening Swan River for shipping

1897–1907
1902

A1723
A1723, 106

Applications for artistic copyright (with exhibit)
View of Fremantle harbour from South Mole showing Orsova leaving port
View from midstream showing both north and south wharves

1907–1969
1914

1914

A1861
A1861, 3141

A1861, 3147

Melbourne office

  

Department of Defence, correspondence files,
Fremantle harbour extensions – fixed armament

1906–1936
1927–1928

B197
B197, 1855/1/74

Department of Defence, correspondence files, AIF prefix
Survey of rock at entrance to Fremantle inner harbour

1914–1917
1916

B539
B539, AIF378/7/1262

Department of Defence, general correspondence files
Hire of launch – police patrol around troop ships, Fremantle harbour

1910–1921
1916

MP472/1
MP472/1, 16/16/5530

Navy Office, general correspondence series
Coal hulk, Fremantle harbour
HMAS Karangi – attempted salvage submarine hull – Fremantle harbour

1939–1950
1933
1946–1947

MP138/1
MP138/1, 603/202/289
MP138/1, 603/288/129

Department of Defence, Defence Army series
Defence of Fremantle harbour against air attack

1914–1917
1942

MP729/6
MP729/6, 15/401/622

Perth office

  

Property and Survey Branch correspondence files
Fremantle – Customs proclamations – outer harbour area

1911–1973
1911–1973

PP473/1
PP473/1, 1968/23

Works and Services Branch, job files
Fremantle harbour dredging

1942–1962
1943–1949

PP280/1
PP280/1, N1942/43/282

Works and Services Branch, Western Australia, aperture cards
Fremantle harbour (Dept of Construction drawings)

1945–1958
1941

K1201
K1201, WA4401

Maps, charts and drawings, Australian Corps of Signals
Detailed route plans harbour A/MTB battery, submarine cable North Fremantle

1944–1959
1944–1959

PP425/1
PP425/1, V1/R50

Department of Shipping and Transport, Regional Controller, Western Australia, Correspondence files
Port and harbours – growth of Fremantle Port, newspaper cuttings – Kwinana extensions etc.

1953–1971

1958–1968

PP486/1

PP486/1, 1959/247

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017