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Lieutenant-Governor Stirling’s Proclamation of the Colony

  • Title:
    Lieutenant-Governor Stirling’s Proclamation of the Colony
  • Text:

    Lieutenant-Governor Stirling’s Proclamation of the Colony

    In 1929 a meeting of a newly formed State Archives Committee consisting of Dr. James Sykes Battye, Mr F.I. Bray and Mr. C.G. Morris discussed what were the 'lines upon which it should work to greatest advantage' (i). Their concern was the disregard in which the historical documents of state were held, and how their action as a Committee may mitigate the situation. One of the actions decided was for a transcript of Stirling’s Proclamation of the Colony to be attached to the first Report of their committee. The three-page transcript of the dispatch was attached to the Report of the State Archives Board for the Year Ending 30 June, 1930. But why this document?

    The Proclamation is a foundational document of colonial Western Australia: it represents a material tether to the point in time that the Swan River Colony was founded, and evidence of the ‘pioneers’ of the colony's creation and development. This focus can be seen represented in the other proposed activities of the board: the renaming of streets in Fremantle after Pioneering families, identifying and marking the landing place of the Duracks at Wyndham, and formally acknowledging Emma Mary Whithnell as the first white woman in the North-West (ii). In the 1920s interest in Western Australia's early colonial history was at an all-time high: the milestone of the centenary of the founding of the Swan River Colony was being celebrated, and a dedicated Historical Society was active (Western Australian Historical Society). Battye himself wrote or contributed to several early historical volumes (iii). What became apparent at this time however was that Western Australia's documentary past was under threat from being discarded or destroyed. It is in this context that we can understand the Proclamation as a tool used by the Archives Committee to promote the collection of Government records.

    The question of what of our public records are being collected and where should they be deposited arose in the lead up to the centenary celebrations in 1923 when Bray, the Officer in Charge of the Records and Correspondence Branch of the Colonial Secretary’s Office, became aware that important documentation was being lost (iv). The promotion of the Proclamation by the Archives Committee was no random choice, as the document was testimony to the importance of properly caring for the State's historical documentation. The Proclamation was only known of and accessible at this point in time due to the actions of a prior Archives Committee in 1903-04 when Public Librarian, Battye produced a Report of three departments' historical archival documents – Government House, the Lands Department, and Colonial Secretary's Office. It was in the Colonial Secretary's Office that Battye identified the Proclamation as one of the principal papers held in the Colonial Secretary's Office and encouraged that the collection be organised, bound, and held in the Public Library for safe keeping as: 'They would be a most interesting exhibit, notwithstanding the fact that the Great Seal of Great Britain has been removed from every commission, perhaps by rats with a taste for wax' (v). Money was put aside for the purpose, and the records were collected, bound, and deposited in the Public Library. The survival of the Proclamation was only possible because it had been collected by the State.

    The reproduction in the 1930 Report of the Committee was not the first time Battye had used the Proclamation to promote the collection of Western Australia's documentary past. A facsimile was reproduced by Battye in the Western Mail and The West Australian in December 1912, and in a lecture delivered in Fremantle on Monday 25 June 1928, he stated that the document had suffered 'many vicissitudes' (vi). (His threatened use of the original in the Centenary Pageant was sure to be yet another!)

    The decision to collect these early papers of public office, begun in 1903, and the continued efforts of Battye and the members of the 1923 and 1928 iterations of the State Archive’s Committee, with support of the Western Australian Historical Society, set the foundations for the WA historical collections in what is today the J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History (State Library of Western Australia), the State Records Office of WA, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and the WA Museum (vii). That these collections started through deposit in the Public Library under the supervision of Chief Librarian Battye was a trend in collections nation-wide. Museum establishment and collecting focused on the Arts and Sciences, and awareness of the need to collect historical material, including preserving the government archives, emerged later and became associated with Australia's library sector (viii). We can consider Western Australia's collecting activity was initially stimulated by Federal interest in establishing a Commonwealth Archives, as it was their commissioned 'Report on European Archives' by Frank M. Bladen (who had been preparing the Historical Records of New South Wales (HRNSW)) that caused WA Premier W.H. James to ask the question 'Where are our old records and what effort is made to take care of them' (ix). In New South Wales, the HRNSW ceased in 1902 due to a lack of financial support, but historical collecting became formidable with the bequest and donation by David Scott Mitchell to form the foundations of the Mitchell Library in 1910, while South Australia established Australia’s first systematic and legislated State records in 1919, though their Library had been actively seeking material since the 1890s (x). Western Australia’s efforts at collection can be considered similarly early to South Australia and New South Wales, but their efficacy in the early twentieth century was somewhat less supported by financial bequests or formal government legislation. When a State Archivist was finally appointed in 1945, South Australia was chosen as the model to emulate (xi). As a result, historical documents, manuscripts and photographs were separated from artefacts or relics, which were sent to the Museum, and from historical drawings and paintings, which were deposited in the Art Gallery collections.

    It is to the early activity of the State Archives Committee that we owe such a complete record of our Colonial and State Government. Collecting and documentation is time heavy and thus expensive work, and one that on the surface is passive and often fails to excite investment. Establishing our State archives independently in legislation was a drawn out and long fight that only came to full fruition in 2000 with the State Records Act, despite the first State Archives Committee established in 1903, legislation for the protection of buildings and documents attempted in the 1930s, the first State Archivist position created in 1945, and a second attempt at legislation regarding 'the disposal of Public Documents and for other purposes connected therewith' drafted as early as 1948 (xii). The nuances and depth of our State History deserve to be recognised and told, and this can only be done if the primary resources for those stories are preserved. Rediscovering Stirling's Proclamation of the Colony acted as a 'eureka' moment for Battye in that it afforded him a document with such clear significance to the State Government and society of the day, he could communicate through its existence the importance of preserving historical archives more broadly. Communicating the importance of this collecting activity is a constant battle however: the early Archives Committees lapsed as continually no financial provision was made for their function, and to this day we must defend our State Archives against defunding, despite the continual service they produce to our community and government departments.

    Stirling’s Proclamation of the Colony stands as documentary evidence of the establishment of the Swan River Colony. Its collection by Battye at the behest of the State, and promotional use by the State Archives Committee, and later Board, stands as testimony to the early commencement and promotion of collecting Western Australia’s documentary material. We must acknowledge that this preliminary archival collecting though among some of the earliest systematic collecting efforts in Australia alongside New South Wales and South Australia, suffered from lack of dedicated funding and legislation. We owe much to the perseverance of the early Committee, and those that supported it such as the members of the Historical Society of Western Australia (now the Royal Western Australian Historical Society). Collecting our documentary history is imperative for the continued understanding of our collective past, and can aid us in the decisions that take us into the future. Like Battye with the Proclamation, we must continue to promote the necessary task of collection and care against neglect or wilful destruction.

    State Records Office WA S1243, Cons 620/1: https://archive.sro.wa.gov.au/index.php/governor-stirlings-proclamation-of-the-establishment-of-the-colony-1. A full scan of the document is available at: https://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/item-did-93.html

    Image of the scan of S1243, Cons 620/1 reproduced courtesy State Records Office WA: https://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/item-did-93.html

    Note: This essay was first published 4 September 2020, and was revised by the author 18 June 2021

    Word Count: 1474

  • Author:
    Rebecca Repper
  • Publish?:
    yes
  • (i) Meeting 22 June 1929, 'State Archives Board - Minutes of Meetings', S675-cons752 1930/0455, State Records Office WA.

    (ii) Meeting 6 August 1930, 'State Archives Board - Minutes of Meetings'.

    (iii) Battye, J. S. (ed.) 1912. The Cyclopedia of Western Australia: An Historical and Commercial Review, Descriptive and Biographical Facts Figures and Illustrations: An Epitome of Progress. Adelaide: Cyclopedia Company by Hussey & Gillingham. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-116156597; Battye, J. S., & Fox, M. J. 1915. The History of the North West of Australia, Embracing Kimberley, Gascoyne and Murchison Districts, Illustrated. Perth, W.A.: V. K. Jones and Co. http://purl.slwa.wa.gov.au/slwa_b1345930_001; Battye, J. S. 1924. Western Australia: A History from Its Discovery to the Inauguration of the Commonwealth. Oxford: Clarendon Press. c.f. Bolton, G. C. 1981 'Western Australia Reflects on Its Past,' in Stannage, C. T. (ed) A New History of Western Australia, Perth, W.A.: University of Western Australia Press, 677–91.

    (iv) 'Historical - Preservation of Govt Documents (State Archives)', S36-cons3621 1975/053.18. State Records Office WA. Bray was unable to verify claims for aged pensions as the original documents were missing.

    (ix) Nind, Michael. 'Towards a State Archive in Western Australia, 1903-1945', Early Days: Journal of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society 11, no. 3 (1997): 365. The HRNSW formed the precedent for the Historical Records of Australia series which the Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament supported between 1912 and 1925, but the question of a 'Commonwealth Archives' was not seriously revisited until World War Two: Bean, C.E.W. 1945. 'Australia's Federal Archives John Curtin's Initiative', Australian Historical Studies 3.11, 176-186.

    (v) 'Archives - Preservation of, Correspondence Files', S675- cons752 1921/2532.33-35, State Records Office WA.

    (vi) 1928. 'State Centenary. Captain Stirling's Proclamation.', The West Australian (Perth), 27 June, 12, viewed 01 Apr 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32121444.

    (vii) The early Archives Committee had an incredibly broad collecting remit - encompassing 'pictures, photographs, maps, documents, relics, manuscripts, and publications relating to the history of Western Australia'. Lukis, Meroula F. F. 1946. 'The Work of the Western Australian Archives Department.' Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand 3, no. 12 (1946): 313.

    (viii) Lloyd, Clem, & Sekuless, Peter. 1980. Australia’s National Collections. North Ryde, N.S.W.: Cassell Australia, 122.

    (x) Powell, Graeme, 1996. ‘The Collecting of Personal and Private Papers in Australia’, Archives and Manuscripts 24.1, 62-63; Ventress, Alan, 2007. ‘A Tale of Tension and Neglect: State Archives in New South Wales 1788-1960’, The Australian Library Journal 56.3-4: 428-443; Bridge, Carl, 1984. 'The Foundation of the South Australian Archives', Archives & Manuscripts 12.1, 29-37.

    (xi) Report of the State Archives Board for the Year Ending 30 June, 1930. S4075 - cons855 1931/225, State Records Office, WA.

    (xii) Regarding the legislation attempted in the 1930s, see J. Sassoon, 2006. 'The Courage of their Convictions: Creating Cultural Landscapes in the 1930s Western Australia', International Journal of Heritage Studies 12.3, 255-266. For the 1948 drafted legislation see 'Archives - Preservation of - Preparation of Bill to create Library Board of W.A. for control etc. of', S2664-cons1042 1948/4960, State Records Office WA. For an overview of the period leading up to the appointment of Meroula (Mollie) Lukis as the State Archivist in 1945, see Nind, Michael. 'Towards a State Archive in Western Australia, 1903-1945', Early Days: Journal of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society 11, no. 3 (1997): 374.

  • Suggested citation: Rebecca Repper, Lieutenant-Governor Stirling’s Proclamation of the Colony, in Collecting the West: "99 Collections That Made Western Australia", 2021. (api.nodegoat.collectingthewest.net/ngQn5I647QJ4aC7b6QBga)

    Collecting the West is an Australian Research Council funded project: LP160100078