The origins of the pilotage service for the Port of Fremantle trace back to the early days of the Swan River Colony in 1829. Pilotage in Fremantle is one of the oldest continuing professions in Western Australia operating in a single location. The story contains some fascinating characters and events over nearly two centuries, and the following is a timeline of important dates and events of the pilotage service in Fremantle:
1829: Fremantle’s first Pilot, Daniel Scott, operates his own boat from Arthur Head. This Pilot service is of an unofficial nature.
Daniel Scott was the son of a flagmaker for both the royal and merchant navies. As a boy he ran away to sea and at 21 was Captain of a small cargo ship that traded between the Gold Coast in Africa and the Caribbean. During one voyage he rescued three men adrift in an open boat and was subsequently commended by the Royal Humane Society.
On 5 August 1829 he arrived in Fremantle on board the “Calista”, and was appointed Deputy Harbourmaster and Pilot for a salary of £100. He built his own jetty in Fremantle, and operated his own boats up and down the coast establishing critical trade routes for newly formed settlements. Captain Scott was also largely responsible for having the first sea-going vessel built in the colony of Western Australia, launching the “Lady Stirling” in May 1836.
An active leader in pressing for local government in Fremantle, he was elected as the first chairman of the Fremantle Town Trust in January 1848 and held the position three times over the next ten years. He was also an honorary member of the local volunteer company and he strongly supported the local Church of England. His religious convictions had been strengthened by his experiences as a young seafarer and he became a guarantor for the first Anglican church built in Fremantle (Saint Johns).
In spite of all these time-consuming public and private activities Captain Scott continued to provide good service as Harbourmaster, often using his own boats and equipment for government duties. An injury to his arm gradually moved him away from pilotage duties, and he resigned his official position as Harbourmaster in February 1851.
1831: A total of 27 vessels call at Fremantle for the year.
1832: Port pilotage fees are set based on the size of vessel, although pilotage is not compulsory.
1844: The first official Pilot service is established.
1845: Edward Back is appointed the first full time Pilot and is based in Fremantle.
1848: Captain Charles Fitzgerald RN, Western Australia’s governor designate, while approaching Fremantle is nearly shipwrecked waiting for a Pilot to come out from Fremantle. This event is the catalyst to move the Pilot Station to Rottnest Island and Edward Back arrives on the the island on September 11th 1848 with his wife and six children. He receives a salary plus rations and in 1849 this is recorded as being 60 pounds annually, plus rations of 1 pound of meat and 1.5 pounds of flour per day. The Pilot service on Rottnest has many problems, including communications between the island and Fremantle, which consisted of a combination of lookouts and flags by day and flares by night. The relationship between the island superintendent and the Pilot is strained from the outset as the superintendent does not want boats on the island that could be used by the prisoners to escape.
1857: Edward Back’s tenure ends.
1897: The incomplete Fremantle Inner Harbour, designed by WA Chief Engineer C. Y. O’Connor, is opened. The SS Sultan is the first vessel to enter. Rottnest Pilots bring vessels to the harbour entrance where a river Pilot then boards and berths the vessel.
1903: After 55 years continuous service from Rottnest Island, the Pilot service is transferred back to Fremantle and on January the 1st, the Fremantle Harbour Trust is formed. Captain Irvine, the Harbour Master at the time had written to the commissioners recommending the Pilot service be returned to Fremantle. The reasons he gave included “good lights on Rottnest, a new leading light at Woodman Point and the introduction of stream driven pilot boats”. The first of these new pilot boat is the ‘Pelican’ which was launched in 1900, and the ‘Lady Forrest’ followed in 1903. On the 1st of August 1903, Pilots Cleary and Heaney take up duty in Fremantle and are housed in purpose built houses at Arthur Head.
1942: A US submarine base is established in Fremantle with the first United States submarines arriving in 1942. The US Navy builds a submarine repair facility on North Quay the next year, and until 1945 the port accommodates more than 170 submarines from the U.S., British and Dutch navies, that make a total of 416 war patrols out of the Fremantle Submarine Base during WW2. The slipway on the south side of the entrance to the harbour (which is where the new Western Australian Maritime Museum is now located), also plays an important role in the wartime function of the harbour. This submarine base is the biggest Allied submarine base in the southern hemisphere, and is the second largest base for Allied submarines in the ensuing Pacific battles. There are up to 125 US, 31 British and 11 Dutch submarines operating out of Fremantle.
1955: The Outer Harbour in Cockburn Sound is declared a harbour on January the 11th. It’s deep water bulk port facilities are developed to service the Kwinana industrial area which expands rapidly in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
1964: The Fremantle Harbour Trust becomes the Fremantle Port Authority. The new Port Authority building is opened adjacent to Victoria Quay and includes offices and a lounge for Pilot rest periods.
1985: Pilot vessel ‘Paddy Troy’ enters service.
1994: The Fremantle Port Authority’s existing Pilots form a private company named Fremantle Pilots. The Pilot company leases space at the Port Authority building.
1999: Pilot vessel ‘Parmelia’ enters service.
2000: Fremantle Pilots return to one of the original Pilot cottages at Arthur Head. 12 Captains Lane which was occupied by Captain Albert Trivett and his family for 60 years from 1926 to 1985. (Captain Trivett was a Fremantle Pilot from 1920 to 1943 and Harbour Master from 1943 to 1953). The cottage is ideally located for Fremantle Pilots as it is a short walk to the Pilot boat at Corkhill Landing. There is also a unique historical connection to the building making it one of only two original Pilot cottages within Australia still utilised for it’s original purpose.
2013: Fremantle council, custodians of the Pilot cottages, take the regrettable decision that Arthur Head will become an arts precinct and request Fremantle Pilots find new premises for its operations, thus dissolving one of the last remaining significant historical connections between a Pilot service and their original premises in Australia. Fremantle Pilots relocate to 1 Quarry Street in the east end of Fremantle in September 2013.
2014: Fremantle Pilots mark 20 years as a private company on July the 1st 2014, over 170 years since Fremantle Pilots first began officially operating at the Port of Fremantle.
2015: Over 2100 vessels call at the port of Fremantle for the year.
2016: Pilot vessel “Berkeley” enters service and in October 2016 Fremantle Pilots purchases the vessel outright, making it the Pilot company’s first directly owned Pilot vessel.
2016: “Ovation of the Seas”, the longest vessel to ever call at any Australian port (348m) arrives in Fremantle.