How WA honours one rapist

Looking every inch like a rapist

Looking every inch the rapist

When the Boy from Bassendean was convicted of historical sex crimes, people were quick to react. Perth Modern removed paintings from the wall, while Perth and Bassendean councils ripped up their memorial plaques. So what to do about a city named after a sadistic rapist?

In April 1826 Charles Howe Fremantle was arrested and charged with raping a 15-year-old servant. This had taken place in front of a woman and two children at Charlie’s lodgings in Portsmouth. A charge of ‘aggravated rape’ carried the automatic death penalty. Fortunately for him, daddy was a politician.

William Fremantle immediately called on his mentor, the much-hated Marquess of Buckingham. He told Charlie’s dad he would help get the young man out of this “sad scrape”, and would pay “bail to any amount”. Further, William was advised to “buy off the evidence” in order to keep the scandal out of the press.

Thanks to Buckingham’s dirty money, bail was granted and the marquess even advised on which dubious lawyer would best “get rid of the evidence”.

And so thanks to a corrupt aristocrat, daddy’s connections and a bent lawyer, a brutal rape was covered up and Charles was bundled out of the country to go and claim Western Australia. (The ungrateful sod had the nerve to complain about this mission!)

And, in due course, the evil bastard became an admiral.

Every now and again, someone claims Fremantle was only ‘charged’ with rape, never convicted. But simply read the correspondence between Buckingham and William Fremantle. There is no question about his guilt.

So, if we rip up plaques mentioning sex offenders, what do we do about an entire city?

James Stirling and the tomboy


Ellen Mangles, looking very pensive

Dear readers, sometimes we have to face the unspeakable. Could it be that our founding father was in fact something of a creep? The relationship between James Stirling and Ellen Mangles has been portrayed as a great love story, like this from the late 1970s:

Theirs had been a most romantic love-match; he had been instantly swept off his feet by her that first day when, at her home, Woodbridge, in Surrey, as a laughing tomboy of thirteen, she had rushed by him on two donkeys, one foot on each.

Apparently in the late 1970s, it was romantic for a middle-aged man to fancy a girl of thirteen. (See Jimmy Saville, Rolf Harris, etc.) Okay, let’s not call in Operation Yewtree just yet. Perhaps this was more normal in the 1820s.

Let’s ask Ellen’s mother, Mary, what she thought of this “love-match” when Stirling proposed marriage to her fifteen year old daughter.

Mary considered her daughter to be childish for her age, and completely incapable of forming a relationship with a middle-aged man. She preferring horses, carts, and rowing to dancing and talking to boys. In fact, she had recently declared she did not like men at all, and had no interest in them.

Mum was extremely concerned by Stirling’s interest in her daughter, but doubted Ellen would see much in a man “double her age” in any case. What a “love-match” for Ellen, then. Wooed by an underemployed sailor on half-pay and more than twice her age.

Mr and Mrs Mangles discussed Stirling’s obsession with Ellen, and they agreed not to mention it to her. She had two more years at school, and because of her “extreme youthfulness and inexperience” (as Mary put it) it was best she not be informed about creepy sailors.

Stirling promised the Mangles he would respect this decision and wait until she had finished education. Mary did not believe him. She said he would either break the agreement, or—in an eerie phrase—break the spirit and keep to it only to the letter. Reading this prophesy is as disturbing today as it was in the 1820s.

Mary’s scepticism proved correct. Stirling could not keep his hands off her for the agreed time. Instead, he married her just before her sixteenth birthday. (Some WA historians are so embarrassed by this, they claim she had turned sixteen. She had not.)

There will be those who will say “Times were different then.” And indeed they were. Just as times were different in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. But that’s no excuse today, is it?