Just waiting for a squaddie with a match
Just waiting for a squaddie with a match

It deserves to be better known, but the first town in the Swan River Colony was not Perth or Fremantle, but Sulphur Town on Garden Island. Admittedly, Albany had been colonised a couple of years before.

Sulphur Town was home to the first Government House, and saw WA’s first horse race. What became of it is the subject of today’s story.

More than 400 people lived in the town, named after the ship which carried the 63rd Regiment. A regiment that was to start and end the settlement.

But by 1834, Sulphur Town was practically abandoned, as people left in the rush to claim good land along the Swan River. Even so, all the original buildings still remained.

In May of that year, the transport ship Lonach was anchored off shore. Onboard were the 45th, 55th, and 63rd Regiments. Some of the soldiers’ wives were permitted to land on Garden Island to do the laundry, and it seems that a few of the men followed them.

After a few ales, the squaddies did the only reasonable thing possible. They burnt the entire town to the ground. It seems likely they started with Governor Stirling’s old residence, before moving on to the barracks, the stores, and several huts and out-houses.

Ladders belonging to Thomas Peel were tossed into the flames, while any locked cabinets were broken open, just in case something valuable had been left behind.

The newspaper howled for the severest punishment the law allowed, but by this time the Lonach had departed, taking all the guilty men (and their wives) with them.

Recently, local archaeologist Shane Burke has discovered a molten champagne bottle on Garden Island, a permanent reminder of the need to keep soldiers well away from matches.

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