Swan River and the Tranby

The arrival of the ‘First Fleet’ carrying convicts, soldiers and officials to establish a penal colony in 1789 had marked the foundation of New South Wales, the first British colony. In 1803, Lieutenant John Bowen, a British soldier, established the first European colony on Tasmania and a year later the town of Hobart was founded. However, the western edge of the great Australian Continent was not settled until the late 1820s and here a Hull ship, the Tranby and some people from districts on both sides of the Humber played a pioneering role in establishing the new colony.

Tranby House by the banks of the Swan River in Western Australia
Built by the Hardey family and named after the Hull brig Tranby
Source: National Trust for Australia (W.A.)

The area around what is now the Western Australian city of Perth was probably first sighted by a Dutchman, Willem de Vlamingh, who had voyaged along the western coast in 1697. He named the Swarte Swaene Revier – or Swan River in English – after the large flocks of Black Swans which he saw in the area. French interest in the area in the early 1820s probably prompted the British to move forward with colonisation plans for the region. In 1826 the Governor of New South Wales despatched a party of men to King George’s Sound whilst a naval captain, James Stirling, explored the Swan River further along the western coast. Stirling and the botanist Charles Fraser were greatly taken by the region and promoted the idea of colonisation. As a result, in 1829 a decision was made to annex the vast lands in the west of Australia and create a colony around the Swan River. A port settlement around Freemantle was also to be created and a number of well connected promoters were assigned land in return for a contribution of capital and labour.

The decision to form a colony attracted a great deal of attention in Britain and was also well reported in the local Hull newspapers. There were a number of incentives on offer to early settlers. Settlers who arrived before the end of the year 1830 were to be allocated parcels of land in proportion to the amount of capital they were prepared to invest in equipment and the like. The rate was 40 acres for every £3 invested in equipment to improve the land. Soon plans were drafted by people in Hull and district to charter a vessel to sail for the Swan River with settlers and a number of advertisements appeared in the local press during April and May 1829 which described the situation and climate of the Swan River region as ‘very superior and the soil peculiarly rich’

It appears that the people behind the charter plans included members of the Hardey family who worked land on the Lincolnshire side of the River Humber. Ann and Joseph Hardey from Barrow appear to have been amongst the driving forces behind the venture, along with Joseph’s brothers, John and William, of Ulceby Grange in North Lincolnshire. Others who were heavily involved were Michael and James Clarkson of Holme House near Market Weighton. Its seems that all or most of those planning to move to the Swan River were Methodists..

During the spring of 1829 those involved searched for a suitable vessel. Whilst they looked around various ports a wreck lying close to the Hull ferry stage for Lincolnshire seemed the least likely candidate. This wreck was the Tranby, a small brig of only eighty feet in length which had been built in Hull in 1823. The vessel’s life had been largely uneventful by the standards of the day until early in January 1828 when she returned to the Humber after a stormy twelve week winter voyage from Archangel in the far north of Russia. On returning to port she moored in the Humber off the Citadel but her anchor chain seems to have broken in the strong tidal flow and she was swept two miles down river before being flung on her side on a sandbank. The crew all managed to escape and the waterlogged cargo was eventually recovered but the vessel was in a desperate state, filling with water on every tide.

The Tranby was eventually brought to on the foreshore close to the Grimsby Packet landing stage and arrangements were soon made for the hulk and the stores to be offered for sale at auction on the foreshore by the south end of Humber Dock close to where she lay. However, instead of being sold off in bits and broken up, it appears that the Tranby was bought in more or less one piece, probably by the firm of Bolton and Humphrey, shipowners and shipbrokers of 21 High Street and Dock Street, and over the next couple of months underwent a complete and thorough repair, much of her decking was replaced and a number of new hold beams and knees were fitted. Soon back in fine fettle the little brig was offered for sale. The vessel was soon taken and with Messrs Locking and Wakes acting as agents she became the vessel chartered for the Swan River emigrants.

The Tranby was originally expected to sail in August 1829 but she finally departed from Hull in early September. The interest in the vessel, as she was prepared for the voyage in the Old Dock, was tremendous and at the end of August the local papers reported that one old gentleman accidentally fell in the water as the crowded pressed around the quayside to see that activity. He was recovered but died a few weeks later.

No less than thirty seven passengers and fourteen crew, together with livestock and farming equipment were crowded onto the small ship as she made her way south under the command of Captain John Storey. The livestock included cattle, sheep, pigs, dogs, cats and rabbits, the ship a veritable Noah’s Ark. The first stage of the voyage to South Africa was not without incident for the vessel nearly went aground in bad weather in the English Channel and on 1st October was struck by what was described by Captain Storey as a very ‘singular visitation’. Apparently, what was described as a fireball from the sky struck the ship and immediately exploded on deck. The mate and several of the passengers were injured, one of Mr Clarkson’s sheep was killed and a dog suffered a broken leg. The ship was enveloped in a sulphurous smell and the animals were much alarmed. Order was recovered and the ship sailed on. Mrs Brownell, the surgeon’s wife gave birth to a son on the 3rd December who was named Thomas Tranby Brownell and on the 8th December 1829 the Tranby dropped anchor beneath Table Mountain some two months and twelve days after passing Land’s End.

The Tranby seems to have resumed her voyage south after a break of just a few days and finally arrived in the Swan River in February 1830 giving those on board plenty of time to take advantage of the land offer. After discharging all the settlers, their livestock and equipment, the little brig does not seem to have stayed very long in the Swan River but soon sailed for Batavia where a cargo of sugar was loaded at Anger and seventeen Spaniards, part of the shipwrecked crew of a Spanish ship, were taken on as passengers The vessel had reached Santander on the north coast of Spain then called at Bilbao before returning to Hull later in the year. Captain Storey seems to have been nothing if not impressed by the performance of his little ship, saying that he met with no more than two vessels which were her equal on the passage home. We do not know a great deal of his later years but he may well be the Captain John Storey who died in Hull, aged thirty nine in 1839 and was buried in St James Church. The fine marble memorial, later erected in the church in his memory by his wife, was apparently buried in the crypt when the church, which was bombed in the Second World War, was demolished in the 1950s.

Out in Australia, the Tranby’s former passengers, all good farmers and devout Methodists, initially settled together on a 512 acre plot of land which they named the Peninsular by the banks of the Swan River, about four miles to the east of Perth. Ann and Joseph Hardey built their first dwelling, Tranby House, named after the ship, in 1830 on his share of the land. Here he also cleared the undergrowth and planted crops. The Clarkson family had also moved on to the Avon River and named the area known as York because it reminded them so much of their home in England.

Later in the 1830s Ann and Joseph Hardey also acquired some 10,000 acres of land near York on the Avon River. Joseph Hardey had started preaching soon after his arrival in Australia and continued to do so throughout the 1830s. The couple rebuilt Tranby House in 1839 and the property survives to this day, one of the oldest houses in South Australia. Today the property is furnished to reflect the style when the Hardey family lived there and amongst the pieces it contains are the Hardy family’s brass bed and antique polished medicine chest.

The eminent co-educational institution of the Uniting Church in Australia is named Tranby College after the brig Tranby and each year still celebrates Tranby Day in memory of the day the brig Tranby arrived at the Swan River Colony in 1830.

Select Bibliography

Joseph Cross, Journals of Several Expeditions Made in Western Australia During the Years 1829, 1830, 1831 and 1832 (UK: J.Cross, 1833)

James Jupp, The Australian People: An Encyclopaedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Stuart Macintyre, A concise History of Australia (UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Kay Walsh and Joy W. Hooton, Australian Autobiographical Narratives: An Annotated Bibliography (Australia: National Library of Australia, 1993)