Henry Wray, colony-builder

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Demerara 1823 by Joshua Bryant

Henry Wray was born in Demerara on 1 Jan 1826. His father, Charles Wray, was mid-way through a 14-year career as Chief Justice of that British Colony which became British Guiana in 1831. At that time Demerara was a colony of slaves – the population comprising 2,500 whites, 2,500 freed blacks, and 77,000 slaves. The short-lived Demerara Rebellion predated Britain’s abolition of slavery by ten years and would have been a rebellion of some import to Wray Senior. Charles moved back to England on his retirement and died the following year in October 1836 in Charlton, about three miles from Woolwich. On the night of the 1841 census Mary Wray (née Pitts), now widowed, together with Henry (15) and his brother Charles (13), was living in Pall Mall, St James, Westminster.

Royal Military Academy, Woolwich

Wray was educated privately and at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich – a place where the sons of military men, and the more respectable classes, were instructed in mathematics, land-surveying, with mapping, fortification, engineering, the use of the musket and sword, exercise, and field-pieces. For the students’ use were twelve brass cannon (three-pounders), placed in front of the building, with which they acquired a knowledge of their application in the field of battle (Mogg).

Henry gained his place in the Academy in May 1841 at the age of 15 years 4 months, and started at the Woolwich institution on 9th August. He was able to enter directly into the 3rd Class of mathematics and fortification; in French he was not so fortunate! Nonetheless, he passed his probationary examination by June 1842. He went on to succeed in passing his technical and practical examinations throughout 1843 and passed out as a 1st Class Cadet and promoted to the Royal Engineers on 20th December 1843.

Thus, eleven days before his 18th birthday Henry Wray became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers on full pay and promptly went on leave for six weeks. He then attended the Royal Engineers’ establishment at Chatham for a course of professional instruction for 12 months and then returned to Woolwich for a short time. Finally, out of the classroom, he spent a year and three months in Ireland.

In May 1846, now a 1st Lieutenant, he was given his first overseas posting – Gibraltar. It was there that he married Mary Drinkwater on 18 May 1848 in King’s Chapel. They returned to England in September 1850 where they lived on Walpole Street in Chelsea. Henry was soon posted to the Medway District where, in 1851, the couple could be found living at Banks Terrace, Sheerness, Kent with their daughters, Mary aged two born in Gibraltar, and Alice aged eight months born in Chelsea, along with a nurse and a house servant.

To Swan River, Western Australia

In June 1851 Wray was at Woolwich having already received orders for special duty, to Swan River, Western Australia … being too good an opening to refuse, he wrote in a letter to his friend ‘Hutchinson’ in July, a copy of which was purchased by the State Library of WA in 1994. It gives us a sense of Wray’s informality, his view on family life and religion. Click here.

Lieutenant Wray was with the second wave of the Royal Engineers to arrive in Western Australia; Captain Edmund Henderson having arrived in June 1850 with five Sappers and Miners. Wray and his family, together with 2nd Lieutenant Edmund F Du Cane, Assistant Surgeon Richard C Eliot, and 65 Sappers and Miners sailed from England on 10th September 1851 for Western Australia. The migrant ship Anna Robertson landed in Fremantle on 18th December 1851.

Henderson (an alumnus of the Royal Military Academy from 1835 to 1838) was Wray’s immediate superior, and his many architectural designs were implemented by Wray, including the engineering of roads, bridges, jetties and a recycled sewage system, based on a model advocated by Prince Albert, which fertilised the prison gardens. The design of the new Fremantle prison, the lunatic asylum associated with the prison, and a new Government House at Perth were drawn up in the Royal Engineers’ office and Wray assisted Henderson with all these projects. The Fremantle and Perth sections of this Memorandum of Work would have been largely under the supervision of Henry Wray.

Marmion Cottage

Henry and Mary Wray had six children – Mary and Alice above; Catherine and Henry, born in Fremantle; Louise born in Pimlico, London and Charles Drinkwater in Hythe, Kent. Regrettably, Alice died on the voyage to Western Australia aged 15 months and Henry died at nine months old. Alice and Henry have memorial headstones in the Alma Street Heritage Garden in Fremantle Cemetery. During their time in the Colony the family lived in the Vice Regal Residence in South Terrace, Fremantle, later known as Marmion Cottage.

A little known engineering proposal from Wray didn’t get off the ground by reason of disagreements between ‘experts’, politics, tyranny of distance, and Wray’s redeployment. It was announced in an article appearing in the Perth Gazette on 17th August 1855 entitled Captain Wray, R.E., to the Honorable the Comptroller-General, reporting on the lighting [of] the New Prison with Gas, made of the Xanthorrhoea. By the time it appeared in the newspaper, the report was over 12 months old, having a dateline of 26th August 1854. Several years after the proposal was approved by Governor Fitzgerald, the equipment ordered from England arrived. By the time the science and cost estimates had been argued, there was a different Governor in office and Wray had returned to England. The project was dead and the fate of the equipment unknown; perhaps it is still languishing in the depths of Fremantle prison!

During a two-year stint as Acting Comptroller General of the Convict Establishment from 1856 to 1858, occasioned by Henderson’s leave of absence in England, Wray was promoted to 1st Captain on 29th October 1856. As soon as Henderson returned to Western Australia, Wray returned to England on the ship Nile, leaving 4th February 1858. Wray’s wife Mary and daughters Mary and Catherine had left for England that March on Dolphin.

Officers’ quarters and guard room, convict prison, Fremantle and Government House, Perth by Henry Wray 1859. The Lunatic Asylum 20th century photograph.


The Boundary Commissioner

Wray’s signature on boundary agreement map

Wray had been ‘at home’ little more than six months on routine duties when he joined a special War Office committee which kept him in England for a further 18 months. During this time he and Mary had another daughter, Louise. At that point they lived in Cambridge Street, Pimlico.

In 1859, Guatemala and Britain negotiated the Wyke-Aycinena Treaty regarding the historically disputed area of Guatemala and the British settlement in the Bay of Honduras. The treaty stated that Guatemala would recognise British sovereignty over the region and formed the modern day boundary lines of Belize. In January 1860 Henry was sent to the region as the Major Boundary Commissioner. On 13th May 1861 he and his Guatemalan counterpart signed the map depicting the boundary between the regions. He was also charged with surveying a road to link the coast of British Honduras to Guatemala City. This involved surveying, mapping and erecting limestone pyramids to mark the agreed border through challenging terrain with a hostile population.

Wray’s return from Central America was followed by two months at the Foreign Office in Whitehall – undoubtedly debriefing the events in Belize. During his time away, Mary spent at least some of her time in St Leonards-on-Sea, near Hastings with the infant Louise. The two older girls, Mary and Catherine were boarding at a girl’s ‘seminary’ in Kingston, Surrey. Wray was then posted to Hythe, Kent for just over two years where he was involved in the design and construction of the Royal Engineers’ camp buildings. During their time in Hythe, their son Charles Drinkwater was born in late 1862.

The Battle of Shimonoseki Straits

In December 1863 Wray was sent on special service to Japan under the Naval Commander-in-Chief, Vice Admiral Sir Augustus Kuper. Wray was sent by Kuper in August 1864 to reconnoitre the batteries in the Shimonoseki Straits. He was afterwards present with a detachment of Royal Engineers in the action of 5th September and was mentioned in the Admiral’s despatch of 10th September 1864. In November 1864, he was deservedly promoted to Brevet Major.
The Capture of a Battery at Shimonoseki (left).

A Teaching Post

In June 1866 Wray was appointed Superintendent of the architectural course of instruction at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham. He held the position for nearly eight years, during which time his Theory and Practice of Construction was published – a standard text for Royal Engineer officers for the next twenty years. At Chatham, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Henry, Mary, Catherine and young Charles were then living in Rochester, Kent.

From Malta to Jersey

From Chatham Lieutenant Colonel Wray was posted to Malta, in command of the Royal Engineers who were rebuilding the defences of the island, and once again became involved in a diverse programme of public works, including camp and barrack accommodation, water supply and sewerage works. In recognition of his achievements in Malta he was promoted to Colonel and awarded the CMG in May 1879. He was transferred to Ireland the following month, and served as Colonel on staff until April 1882 when he was promoted to Major General.

In October 1883 he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jersey, a position he held until he retired from the Army on 5th November 1887 with the rank of Lieutenant General (Honorary) and a pension of £700 per year. His career comprised 25 years 10 days in Britain, and 18 years 310 days overseas. A remarkable record of nearly 44 years service.

Wray died of pneumonia aged 74 at his residence in Grosvenor Road, Bournemouth on 6th April 1900. Probate was granted to Colonel John Copley Wray, effects £667 13s. 10d.

Henry Wray, colony-builder

Mogg’s New Picture of London and Visitor’s Guide to it Sights, Edward Mogg 1844.
Royal Military Academy Register – WO 149 Volume 5, Page 036, The Sandhurst Collection.
Statement of Services for Henry Wray, WO25-3913-182, National Archives, Kew.
1841 to 1891 Censuses of England & Wales, National Archives, Kew.
Letter from Wray to Hutchinson 4 July 1851, Acc 4436A State Library of Western Australia.
Musters and Pay Lists within WO11-130 to 203, National Archives, Kew.
Design and Art Australia Online.
Fremantle Prison Gas Proposal CO18-110-169 to 245, National Archives, Kew.
National Probate Calendar of England and Wales 1900, National Archives, Kew.

Demerara Rebellion 1823 by Joshua Bryant [Wikipedia Commons].
Royal Military Academy Woolwich [Wikipedia Commons].
Marmion Cottage [Fremantle Library].
Fremantle Prison and Government House by Henry Wray [National Library of Australia].
Fremantle Lunatic Asylum [Battye Library WA].
Signature of Henry Wray on Belize-Guatemala Map 1861 [Wikipedia Commons].
Capture of Battery at Shimonoseki by Felice Beato [Wikipedia Commons].
Henry Wray [Battye Library WA].

Garry Gillard for his considerable transcription skills relating to the Wray-Hutchinson letter and the Fremantle Prison Gas Proposal.
Jeanette Lee for leading me to the information about the Gas Project.


© Diane Oldman 2022