History of Albany

First Nations

Before European settlement, the Albany region was inhabited principally by the Menang Aborigines of the larger Noongar group. The area was called Kinjarling which means "place of rain".  Evidence of an Aboriginal presence in the area dates back to about 25,000 years.

Early European Exploration & Settlement

The first recorded European sighting of our southern coastline was made in 1627 by Dutch mariner, Peter Nuyts. In 1791, British naval officer George Vancouver claimed the area for the British Crown naming King George the Third’s Sound and Princess Royal Harbour.  Informed by Vancouver’s charts and journal, British navigator Matthew Flinders resurveyed the coastline in 1802.

Voyages of scientific discovery by the French paralleled the British, including the expeditions of Joseph-Antoine Bruny d’Entrecasteaux (1792), Louis de Freycinet and Nicolas Baudin (1803) and Jules Dumont d’Urville (1826).

In December 1826, Major Edmund Lockyer arrived on the brig Amity to establish a military outpost at King George’s Sound.  On the 21st of January 1827, an official ceremony was held proclaiming the foundation of the first settlement in Western Australia.

In 1832, Sir James Stirling, governor of the Swan River Colony visited the settlement, renaming Lockyer’s preferred ‘Frederick’s Town’ to ‘Albany’, both names recognising Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany.

Development and growth

Albany quickly established itself as an important and strategic coaling port for steamships delivering a regular mail service, cargo and passengers from Europe, vessels taking on coal and water supplies before sailing to the eastern colonies.  Our first exports derived from early sealing and bay whaling operations in the 1830s and ‘40s soon made way for other industries.

Jetties were built, shipping agencies established and services provided, evidenced by the construction of hotels, shops, banks, houses and a post office, customs and courthouse building, all of which began appearing along Stirling Terrace and the waterfront in the 1850s.  The discovery of gold in the state’s eastern goldfields in the 1880s and the construction, then the opening of the Great Southern Railway in 1889 brought further expansion to the region with rapid increases in population, commerce and industries such as agriculture.  Early exports of whale oil, sealskins, wool, sheep and horses expanded to include perishables of meat, fruit and vegetables. 

Community services associated with education, entertainment, religion, health, sport and municipal administration emerged and grew, and by the end of the 1880s, schools, theatres, churches, a hospital and town hall were prominent landmarks in the town.

Whaling

Albany is one of the few, if not the only place in the world where evidence exists of pelagic, bay and shore-based whaling practices.  Early techniques date to pre-settlement but notable shore-based whaling operations in the area have been recorded from 1836, first at Doubtful Island Bay, then Two People Bay, Torbay, Cheyne Beach, Barker Bay, Middle Island, Cape Riche, Cape Arid and Frenchman Bay.  In 1952, the Cheyne Beach Whaling Company began its operations at Frenchman Bay, continuing until November 1978 when it made history as the last whaling station to close in Australia.

Defence

Albany’s natural landforms and expansive views over the deep, sheltered waters of King George Sound and smaller inner harbour, gave it strategic importance as a defensive port.  Vital to the 19th-century communication routes from Europe to Australia, shipping was offered safe and protected anchorage in local waters.   Colonial concerns around international tensions, the vulnerability of the port and the need to protect shipping lanes saw coastal defences established on Mt Adelaide in 1892 with the construction of Princess Royal Fortress and the Plantagenet Battery.  Albany was crucial to the Australian coastal defence system during two world wars, being the departure point for two convoys of transports carrying Australian and New Zealand troops to the First World War at the end of 1914 and as a United States submarine base in 1942.