Swan River Colony

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After Portugal ◄ ● ► Hobart

The young commissary, Henry Drake, was sent to the Swan River after being appointed a Treasury Clerk with the Commissariat Department in July 1831. He left Gravesend on board the Egyptian on 12 August 1831. 1  He reflected on his departure in his Journal on 12 August 1854, saying:

This day 23 years ago I left London from Gravesend with J. Lewis, 2  H. A. & Ned White for Gravesend to join the Egyptian for Swan River – a boy & thinking as a boy.

They arrived at Perth on 28 December 1831. On board was another young colonist, John Purkis, who was Louisa Purkis’s older brother. 3  John was going out to the Swan River Colony to join his parents, James and Elizabeth Sarah Purkis, who had arrived there, also on board the Egyptian, on 13 February 1830. Given that the first ship, H.M.S. Challenger, had arrived on 25 April 1829, the Purkis family, and young Henry Drake, were among the early settlers of Western Australia. Much has been written about the early days of settlement in Western Australia, but that is not the scope of this article. I hope to cover more of that in later writings about the Purkis family.

Henry Drake eagerly partook in the life of early Perth. Life there, however, was not without its challenges. In March 1833 his lodgings were razed in a fire, with the report saying that he had “suffered severely by this untoward accident.” In July 1833, Henry acted as Executor 4  in the estate of George French Johnson, who had died in the first and only duel recorded in Western Australia. 5

And then, on 23 September 1833, Henry (then nearly 21 years old) and 19-year-old Louisa Purkis were married at Perth. Their son, John, was born the following year, on 15 September, and their eldest daughter, Louisa Maria, on 18 July 1836.

Just over a year later , D.A.C.G. Drake and his family were sent to King George’s Sound (Albany), where they were to stay for two years.

King George Sound 1854

King George Sound and entrance to Princess Royal Harbour, 1854 – Duncan Cooper 1813-1904
National Library of Australia PIC Solander Box A23 #T17 NK10163/3

Harbour of Albany 1854 Albany King Georges Sound 1854 Stones Near Albany 1854
Harbour of Albany, King Georges Sound, Feb. 22, 1854
National Library of Australia PIC T1927 NK1174/2 LOC1609
Albany, King Georges Sound, Feb. 22 1854
National Library of Australia PIC T1926 NK1174/1 LOC1608
Stones near Albany, King Georges Sound, Feb. 23, 1854
National Library of Australia PIC T1928 NK1174/3 LOC1610

It was during their time there that Charlotte was born in 1838. The Drake family lived on Stirling Terrace in Albany. The following photograph was taken from a position on Stirling Terrace, close to where their house would have been situated.

Drake View

The Drake family’s view from Stirling Terrace, Albany, Western Australia.
©Alun Stevens 2003

In November 1834 Henry also accompanied members of the 21st Fusiliers to help protect British settlers at the Murray River from “retaliation on the part of the Natives.”

He was also singled out by “An Immigrant”, in a letter, dated 12 January 1838, to The Colonist of Sydney, about the goings-on at King George’s Sound, who said, “I feel pleasure, however, in mentioning the names of Mr. Brown, the late Commissary, his successor Mr. Drake, Mr. Morely, and Mr. Smith, the Surveyor.”

In February 1841 Perth society was rocked by the news that there had been a robbery at the Commissariat Office. The trial of John Wade, for this offence, caused a great deal of consternation for both Henry Drake and his father-in-law, James Purkis.

Shortly after this event, Henry’s life was again shaken up by the suicide of his superior officer, John Lewis, who had been a witness at the marriage of Henry and Louisa Drake. I did find it very poignant in 2003 when I stood at John Lewis’s grave at the East Perth Cemetery, knowing that Henry Drake would have stood at that very spot.

Lewis Grave Lewis Inscription
Grave of John Lewis, East Perth Cemetery, Western Australia.
©Alun Stevens 2003
Inscription on John Lewis’s headstone, East Perth Cemetery, Western Australia.
©Alun Stevens 2003

Two more daughters, Laura and Emily, were born after the family returned to Perth, in 1843 and 1845 respectively.

Charlotte Elizabeth Vigors Shenton, Louisa Purkis’s niece, described where the Drake family had lived in Perth, saying:

I will now go back to Milligan-street and speak of the properties on the right hand side of St. George’s-terrace, looking down from The Barracks. The first owner I know of at the corner, though there may have been one before, was Commissary Drake, when he was here with his regiment. His blocks ran from the corner to the dividing fence between Bishop’s House and Forrest House and through to the river. He built a house there, where he and his wife (who was my mother’s sister, Louisa Purkis) lived for a few years before he was ordered to India [sic]. Some years later it was bought by Bishop Hale. He built a nice residence on it which was the home of all the Bishops and Archbishops of Perth (Church of England). Bishop’s House has been altered twice since Bishop Hale first built it, and was also made larger some few years ago. Until then the kitchen part of the house was the part of that built by W. H. Drake.

I don’t know why Charlotte Shenton wrote that Henry Drake had been ordered to “India”, as he went to Tasmania after he left Perth. It does, however, seem to me that the house Charlotte Shenton was referring to was Bishop’s House in Perth. Even though Henry Drake isn’t mentioned in the Wikipedia article, his brother-in-law, Alfred Hillman, is mentioned as a previous owner of the land.

Henry Drake’s colleague, Deputy-Assistant Commissary-General George J. Webb, in 1847, described Perth as follows:

APPROACHING the chief town of the colony of Western Australia, from Fremantle, either by land or water, has generally elicited from the traveller expressions of pleasure, from the great beauty of its situation and the air of quiet tranquillity which overhangs it. … You observe what a long straight street that is before us – it is called Saint George’s Terrace, and is a mile in length, appearing, (as in fact it is,) the main artery of the town, which as it proceeds, throws out ramifications at right angles on either side. … Let us now proceed along – but we must travel slowly, for the sand is so very heavy that our horses almost plough their weary way through it. The large houses on the right are Mr. Hammersley’s and Mr. Lawrence’s the Crown Solicitor, or as some persons style him the Solicitor General, and that on the left is the new and extensive store of Messrs. F. Mangles & Co.; opposite this is a very picturesque looking water mill; and, at the extremity of the street that here runs down to the water, you perceive they are at present erecting a jetty. This large building is the Australian Bank, and that large white thatched cottage peeping out from among the trees is Whitehall, the residence of Mr. Mackie, the Civil Court Commissioner, and his cousin Major Irwin, Commandant of the troops. In Saint George’s Terrace also stands the office of the Inquirer newspaper, and the Western Australian Office of the SWAN RIVER NEWS.
The streets of Perth are rather unique – something characterises them that is peculiar to themselves, and which it is therefore difficult to describe. One circumstance that tends towards this impression is the paucity of wheel tracks; but this is accounted for by the character of the soil, which is sand, and (comparatively speaking), the little occasion there is for much land carriage, even in the principal street of the capital of the colony, and the seat of Government. The community is not so large but that we are able to do without many of the luxuries there are elsewhere in the way of transport, and besides, the town is principally situated on the borders of the river, and, as the greater proportion of goods are sold at Fremantle and brought by water to Perth, it is cheaper to get manual labor for the mere conveyance of them to one’s house than to employ a man, a cart, and a horse, which would cost about treble the sum, and is hardly more convenient. As for driving for pleasure through Perth, it is quite out of the question – I have never seen it even attempted.
We are now, after passing Williams’ Hotel, at the Club, … Just opposite to us is the house of Assistant Commissary General Drake. And now let us get on towards Mr. Samson’s, which is that large building apparently without any chimnies, and seemingly but half finished. Messrs Samsons are the largest merchants in the colony, and are deservedly liked and esteemed for their constant exertions to merit the confidence of their connexion.
We are now at the corner of Government Square, (or, at least, what is called the square), and you can now take in, at one glance, the whole of the Government buildings – the Commissariat Store, Public Offices, Court House, Officers’ Quarters, Soldiers’ Barracks, Gaol, Magazine, Western Australian Bank, Hospital, &c. &c., and among the trees in the background, you may distinguish the flat and prison-like roof of Government House. These buildings are all of the very simplest construction, but built with a great regard to comfort, having verandahs and some of the appurtenances that such a climate as this requires, such as verandahs, sun-screens, shades, ventilators, lofty rooms, &c. &. 6

In 1847, Henry’s 12-year-old son, John, left Perth, probably to go to school in England, though I have been unable to find out where he might have gone. Given the practices of the time, he probably lived with family members, such as his grandparents, John and Maria Drake, in Devon or in London, when not attending boarding school somewhere in England. Maybe, like his uncle, John Minshull Drake, he attended Westminster School, but I have not found anything to corroborate that. To the best of my knowledge, John never again lived with members of his birth family.

Some years ago, my parents gave me a photograph of a lovely painting of John, Louisa Maria, and Charlotte Drake, which must have been painted before John left Western Australia in 1847. I am not sure where they got the photograph, but it clearly shows the affection between the three siblings.

Drake Children

John, Charlotte, and Louisa Maria Drake (c. 1847).
© Megan Stevens.

A year later, Henry Drake, now an Assistant Commissary General, was transferred to Hobart, Tasmania. In January 1848 a very complimentary tribute was published in The Perth Gazette, expressing the regret of the people of Perth at Henry’s imminent departure. It read as follows:

An almost universal change is being made in the Commissariat Department, and ere long only one of those who have so long and worthily filled appointments in this portion of the public service, in Perth, will remain. The alterations are: D.C.G. Darling on the 1st proximo takes the place of Officer in charge vice A.C.G. Drake, who goes to Van Diemen’s Land; D.A.C.G. Connell in the place of D.A.C.G. Webb, who is appointed as the officer in charge at King George’s Sound, vice A.C.G. Neill who retires on half-pay; Mr. Bussell is appointed Storekeeper vice Mr. G. Nash who has resigned and returns to England.

In the approaching departure of Mr. Drake from the colony, we shall regret the loss of one of the most esteemed members of our little community – of one who has been most forward in doing all in his power to advance the interests and promote the welfare of the colony; in expressing our own feelings on this subject, we feel confident we also represent those of the whole body of settlers, and that he will bear with him their universal good wishes for the continued prosperity of himself and family, trusting that wherever his service may lead him, the charms of an enlarged society and an advancement in rank, may not so far estrange as to cause him to consider with regret the many years he has passed among us.

The following is an extract, relative to Mr. Drake’s departure, from the General Orders emanating from the Commandant’s Office, dated 27th instant: –

“On the departure of Assistant Commissary General Drake from this command, it becomes the pleasing duty of the Commandant to place on record, the high sense he entertains of the zeal and ability with which this meritorious Officer has conducted the duties of his department, for a period of more than eight years, during which he has been entrusted with the charge in this command; the acknowledgments of the Commandant are also due to Mr. Drake for the efficient aid he has ever derived from this intelligent Officer’s advice on all matters connected with the Commissariat Department.”

(Signed) F. C. IRWIN,
Lieut.-Col. and Commandant.

Rica Erickson gives a fairly good potted biography of Henry Drake’s life, with an emphasis on his time in Western Australia:

DRAKE, William Henry, b. 1812, d. 28.1.1882 (England), son of John, arr. 28.12.1831 per Egyptian, m. 1st 23.9.1833 Louisa PURKIS b. 1814 d. 20.10.1862 (Sth Africa), dtr. of James & Elizabeth, m. 2nd (South Africa) Elizabeth Lucy WOOD. Chd. John b. 1834, Louisa Maria b. 1836, Charlotte b. 1838, Laura b. 1843, dtr. [Emily] b. 1845 & 1 son. Granted 1920 acres but selected only 584 acres in Canning district. Appointed Deputy Asst. Comm. General 1847-8. Dep. with wife & 4 chd. 5.1848 per Arpenteur for S.A. A son [John] dep. 7.1848 [sic] per Champion for Singapore. Became controller of War Office in London 1867 & Director of Supplies & Transport 1871. Knighted in 1871. 7

The only correction that I can offer is that John departed in July 1847, not 1848. I also don’t know about the “1 son” mentioned above, as I have been unable to find any reference to any other son.

After Portugal ◄ ● ► Hobart


1. ENGLISH EXTRACTS. Sailed, July the 21st, The Egyptian, Captain Lilburn, for Swan River. [“ENGLISH EXTRACTS.” The Sydney Herald (NSW: 1831-1842) 16 January 1832: 4. Web. 19 Aug 2017.]
The Egyptian had arrived from England with an Assistant Com. Gen. (Mr. Lewis,) and numerous passengers, who had come out at the commencement of the settlement. The colony we regret to say was still struggling severely. [“The Courier.” The Hobart Town Courier (Tas.: 1827-1839) 3 March 1832: 2. Web. 24 Aug 2017.]

2. John Lewis (1793-1841), formerly Assistant Commissary-General in Western Australia.

3. Rica Erickson, The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians: pre-1829-1888 (P), p. 2547, PDF accessed 4 June 2023.

4. NOTICE. ALL Persons having claims on the estate of the late Mr. G. F. Johnson, are requested to forward them to the Executors for adjustment, before the end of the present month; and all Persons indebted to the said estate are requested to discharge their respective accounts forthwith. W. H. DRAKE, Executor. Perth, July 13, 1833. [“Classified Advertising” The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA: 1833-1847) 13 July 1833: 109. Web. 18 Apr 2018.]

5. JOHNSON, George French, b. 1799, d. 18.8.1832, arr. 12.10.1829 per Orelia from Tasmania. Merchant, asked permission to build a store on Garden Is. Allocated 766.5 acres free grant & selected 746 in Avon district & 20.5 in South West. He died from gunshot wounds after fighting a duel with William Nairn Clark, the first and only duel recorded in W.A. His estate was left to friends in Hobart. [Rica Erickson, The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians: pre-1829-1888 (J), p. 1641, PDF accessed 4 June 2023.]

6. The Swan River News, and Western Australian Chronicle, No. 39, (London, 1 Mar 1847), pp. 118-9, at National Library of Australia, Australian Periodical Publications 1840-1845: Australian Cooperative Digitisation Project, Accessed 4 Apr 2000. I HAVE RECENTLY BEEN UNABLE TO FIND THIS DOCUMENT ANYWHERE ONLINE SO IT IS JUST AS WELL I PRINTED IT ALL OFF IN 2000!

7. Rica Erickson, The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians: pre-1829-1888 (D), p. 892, PDF accessed 4 June 2023.

©Megan Stevens 2018

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