Boom time.

L'Orient, oops!

During the early 1840’s, Western Australia experienced it’s first economic boom. This was both contributed to and was fed by a sudden expansion in the settler population. Between 1837 and 1843 the European population in the colony increased by over 50% — The settler population doubled.

While that may sound impressive, consider this: The total number of settlers in 1837 was only 2,025 men women and children. There might have been an additional sixty or seventy soldiers, but that was it for a land area that took in a third of the entire Australian continent.

To put this in a context that the settlers of that day would well understand, during the Napoleonic war fought a generation or so before, ships-of-the-line, the mightiest ships of the day could easily carry a compliment of over one thousand fighting men as crew. Admiral Nelson’s flag ship HMS Victory carried a crew of 821 into the battle of Trafalgar in 1803 (but this is perhaps not the best example as there were considerably fewer of that number left after the battle). L’Orient, French flag ship during the Battle of the Nile (1798) fared even worse, exploding in the heat of the moment. She had a crew compliment of 1,130, but how many of those died or were even on board at the time is debated point.

L’Orient, oops!

What point is attempting to be made is that the entire settler population of Western Australia would have fitted on only four of such ships. After the boom ended in 1843 the settler population even contracted a little. Serious debate was held around that time about abandoning the colony. I don’t believe that would ever have happened even without the benefit of hindsight, but if it had happened, this was the last moment it could practically have occurred.

Even after the 1840’s boom, as it was before, and as it has remained ever since — over half the colony’s population lived in and around the capital city of Perth. The modern entity of Western Australia predominantly was, and always has been, an urban civilisation. This is not a value judgment. It is a historial fact that at times has proved politically inconvenient for our own self image and the reality of how most of us now live.

Hell’s Gate, 2019

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