Fremantle’s role as a port began with the foundation of the Swan River Colony in 1829.
The port city derives its name from Captain Charles H. Fremantle who arrived on HMS Challenger and took possession of this part of the continent in the name of His Majesty King George IV at Arthur Head on 2 May 1829.
Captain James Stirling arrived with 68 settlers in the transport Parmelia on 2 June 1829, and established the settlement on the Swan River.
At that time, the mouth of the river was blocked by a rocky bar, making the entrance virtually impassable for seagoing vessels.
The earliest port facility was a small jetty situated near Arthur Head. Other jetties in the same area were later built, and the remnants of what came to be known as the Long Jetty can still be seen today in Bathers Bay.
However, as time passed, the need for a protected anchorage became increasingly urgent.
The benefits of a sheltered harbour had been recognised as far back as the 1830s, and various proposals were considered over the years, but cost was a major drawback. Some engineers at the time also doubted the practicality of establishing a commercial port inside the mouth of the Swan River.
The gold discoveries of the 1890s brought people and prosperity to Western Australia. There was a rapid growth in trade, and the massive economic expansion that occurred provided both the funds and the impetus for the development of new port facilities.
In 1891, Western Australia’s first Premier, John Forrest, (later Sir John) appointed Charles Yelverton O’Connor as Engineer-in-Chief. Work on his scheme for the development of a safe harbour at Fremantle began the following year.
The project involved blasting and dredging of the rocky bar to create a channel, dredging to deepen the river basin and construction of two moles to protect the entrance to the harbour. The scheme also involved land reclamation to allow for the construction of quays and warehouses.
On 4 May 1897, the official opening of the Inner Harbour was marked by the entry of the SS Sultan, a 2063-ton steamer on the Fremantle to Batavia and Singapore run. This was the beginning of a new era in the history of shipping in Western Australia.
While the harbour has been deepened, and facilities extended and modernised over the years, the basic structure of the Inner Harbour remains essentially unchanged to this day, testament to the boldness, brilliance and foresight of its designer.