Swan River Letters Volume 1 is a significant and original contribution to the literature on the founding and early history of the Swan River colony in Western Australia.
Based on the editor’s extensive study of British and colonial newspapers, the book has two parts. The first part is an essay detailing the reaction in Britain which followed the receival of the first news from the colony. By an unfortunate mischance, the first news was not the official despatches, or letters from colonists, but consisted of second or third-hand rumours of disaster that had been passed on by a shopkeeper living on the remote island of St Helena. As a result, the new colony suffered a near-fatal setback – emigration from Britain ceased, and Western Australia acquired a bad name which lasted for decades afterwards.
The main part of the book contains annotated transcripts of over one hundred letters and reports from Swan River colonists that were published in contemporary newspapers and pamphlets. These letters, most of them previously unknown, include a letter from James Stirling himself. Written during the voyage from Britain to Cape Town, it gives a unique insight into Stirling’s plans and hopes for the new colony. Other correspondents include William Stirling (the governor’s cousin), Alexander Collie, Thomas Hester, CD Ridley, James Purkis, Alfred Stone and John and Joseph Hardey. Although most of the letters are from the middle-class colonists, there are some from tradesmen and servants, which are among the very few known letters from working-class colonists.
In a foreword, Emeritus Professor RT Appleyard describes this book as ‘a goldmine of information on the early years at the Swan River colony’, which ‘will be an essential reference for scholars’. #0818R