Mt Eliza Convict Depot

Mount Eliza is a hill which overlooks the city of Perth, Western Australia and forms part of Kings Park, a showcase 400 acres (175 hectares). Mount Eliza is a bushland/parkland area named by Captain James Stirling in 1827 after Eliza Darling, wife of the Governor of New South Wales. In the Nyoongar language our first people refer to this area as Ga-ra-katta.

Buildings at the foot of Mt Eliza on the Swan River

What has confused people is that Mt Eliza (yes, the contraction) has been the name given to the wide range of land use activities of at the foot of the ‘mount’: boat building; an Aboriginal school; timber mill; flour mill; tannery; brewery; convict hiring depot; invalid depot; poorhouse; old men’s home; and now in 2018, ‘The Old Brewery’ (although it is a relatively new brewery, being part of a business development located on the site of Swan Brewery). In fact, we have the heritage listing of the former Swan Brewery to thank for a window into the history of this piece of land.

The WA Heritage Council website lists ‘Mt Eliza Convict Depot Site’ as place number 02413 and has made it synonymous with a ‘Pensioner Guard Village’, but neither of these sites are heritage listed (last update 1 Jan 2017). No mention is made of a pensioner village by Broomhall, although Campbell mentions that “Pensioners lots were cleared ‘behind Perth’, the cottages built by private contractors with window and door joinery supplied from the Fremantle workshops.” Just one reference has been found to pensioner land grants near Mt. Eliza: ‘May 1883 Asssigned Perth Pensioner Lot 24/H [these were located left rear of Mt Eliza Barracks].’  [James:400]. This reference relates to Private Michael Hunter, EPF whose land grant was actually H23 (not H24) on 2 roods, 30 perches of a Perth Town Lot. It may thus be inferred that any ‘pensioner guard village’ lots were considered part of the Perth grants.

There is no mistaking the role the area would play in the Colony’s history when E Y W Henderson published a list of 50 ticket of leave (TOL) men who were ‘at Mount Eliza Station’ by 11 Jul 1851 under the superintendence of Mr C F Gregory.’ These were among the 296 arrivals on the first voyage of the convict ship Pyrenees which left Torbay, Devon in March and arrived 28 Jun 1851. Every man on board was given his TOL upon arrival subject to a set of not unreasonable conditions.

Muster Book entry showing Privates assigned to Sutherland Bay in April 1852

In another twist of confusing name-calling, the British Army Muster Books and Pay Lists placed the burgeoning convict hiring depot in the river, recording Sappers Dalziell and Watson as being stationed in ‘Sutherland Bay’ from February to April 1852; it was changed to ‘Mt Eliza’ in the May Muster Book that year. Sutherland Bay was named after Henry Charles Sutherland who purchased property in Crawley from Captain Mark Currie, the Colony’s first Harbour Master.

Fieldbook Plan of William Phelps’ Survey 1864.
Bottom left is the Steam Mill where convicts were accommodated (later the brewery).

Mt Eliza’s proximity to Perth was useful, even before its depot buildings were built. The convicts were quartered in the Steam Mill [Gibbs:64] and were engaged on the Fremantle Road, draining swamps and maintaining the causeway across the river. Plans for the buildings included quarters for 68 men, a cookhouse, wash-house and privies; the original structures were built of timber sent from Fremantle. An infirmary was added in 1853 followed by a smiths’ shop, guardroom and lock-up. Behind these buildings the scarp of Mt Eliza had to be shored up and made sound, of course. All this work was accomplished under the instruction of the Sappers & Miners. During the period of 1852 to 1855, a rotation of two Corporals and five Privates was assigned to the depot. These were: Corporals Henry Condy and John Donaldson; Privates John Dalziell, John Fasham; John Kenny; John Thomson and John Watson. Condy was on station for only one month in May 1855 – perhaps he was uncomfortable being the only person not named John!

The Comptroller General’s Memorandum of Work confirms that the depot ultimately comprised ‘a depot of stone for 130 men, hospital, cook-house, guard-room, &c., and wooden quarters for three officers, office, store &c.

Information about the depot fizzles out after 1856 when it seems its usefulness as a depot decreases and then ceased entirely in 1872. However, the site lived on into the early 20th century in the shape of the the invalid depot, the poorhouse and the ‘Old Men’s Home’, until the new location for the latter was established in Claremont in 1906.

South West Aboriginal Aboriginal Land and Sea Council website
Heritage Council of WA Register of Heritage Places #2186.
A Superior Body of Men, M S James, 2016, Authorhouse.
Application for Crown Grant of Land: Michael Hunter, Cons. 5000, WA State Records Office.
Perth Gazette & Independent Journal of Politics and News, 18 Jul 1851.
‘LAGS‘, Bill Edgar, 2012, Tammar Publications.
Dictionary of Western Australians, Vol. 1, Early Settlers, comp. Pamela Statham, 1979, UWA Press.
The Archaeology of the Convict System in Western Australia, Martin Gibbs, 2001, Australasian Historical Archaeology No. 19.
Western Mail, 22 Sep 1900 p. 68. [Thanks to Garry Gillard for sourcing this information about the Steam Mill].
Henderson & Coy. Robin McKellar Campbell, 2017, Uniprint W.A.
Convict System: A collection of miscellaneous official documents relating to the transportation of convicts to Australia, covering the period 1810-1865, bound in 8 volumes., State Library of WA.
List of State Records Office resources available to the researcher of this depot and its convicts [Convict Records of Western Australia, 2016, Friends of the Battye Library].

© Diane Oldman 2018.