Suburban History: Henderson

Henderson is named for Sir Reginald Henderson, the British Admiral who recommended a naval base be built in Cockburn Sound in 1910.

The Henderson area’s first European contact came with the landing of Thomas Peel’s hopeful settlers and their failed attempts to build a village community at Clarence, near Woodman Point.

During the 19th century the land along the Cockburn coast – stretching from Fremantle south to Henderson and beyond – was largely used to hold the vast herds of cattle brought down by ship from the Kimberley to be slaughtered at the abattoirs around Robb Jetty. Without the freezing and refrigeration facilities that came later, the cattle had to be kept alive until their meat was needed, and so Henderson was for many years a large-scale cattle holding pen.

Things began to change by the 1900s, when Australians began to see the need for defence from the sea. Until early in the 20th century, Australia had no navy and little naval defence from Britain. Amidst a growing fear of international conflict and a rising spirit of nationalism, Admiral Henderson’s suggestion for a Fleet Base at Cockburn Sound was resoundingly supported, despite the enormous leap in scale that it proposed.Cockburn Sound Naval base opening 1913

When Admiral Henderson visited in 1910, the extent of the Navy in WA was 14 men, four sailboats and a boatshed. The new proposals for a fleet base included 17 armoured ships, nine submarines and 7500 men. Land prices around Woodman Point and Coogee soared, train lines and tramways were built, and the works were officially opened in May 1913 with speeches from the Premier and Australian Admiral Creswell, a military band and a trainful of invited guests who travelled from Fremantle.

This overambitious scale, and the fact that construction began in 1913, less than a year before the outbreak of WW1, meant that trouble followed the naval base from the beginning. Unexpected delays in dredging the harbour, labour shortage and political wrangling all played their part, and the development was officially abandoned by 1920. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the current fleet base on Garden Island began to be designed and constructed.

Residence under construction at Cockburn Sound Naval Base, 1913

Apart from a scattering of 1950s holiday shacks at the southern tip of the suburb that still operate today, the Henderson area was relatively quiet until the 1970s, when industry began to grow along the coastline. In 1973, the name Henderson was approved for the new suburb. In the 1990s the wetlands and bush that make up the majority of Henderson were formally recognised as a Regional Park, and the Australian Marine Complex began to grow early in the new millennium.

Henderson today is a fascinating mixture of regions: it embraces its nautical heritage with the bustling shipyards and industry that shaped the district, it plays host to the largest green space in City of Cockburn, and it is a growing residential area for those who enjoy the coastal lifestyle.


Leah

Author: Leah

I work as the Reader Services Librarian at Spearwood Public Library. I order the books, and I take requests for anything you can’t find in the library! I also research and write local history articles for the Cockburn Soundings, and for anyone who has a local history question.

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2 Comments

  1. I am interested in cranes provided by Stothert and Pitt, Bath, England in 1916, presumed for construction of the base. ( 4no Steam Hercules 10-ton @ 75′ S&P B6318/1916 )

    I do not know whether the construction was under the control of a navy or government department; or a civilian contractor working for such an authority.

    Is there any archive of photographs of construction activities( e.g. engineers progress photos/reports ) prior to the project being cancelled in 1921?

    Is there any knowledge of whether such cranes were advertised for sale.

    Regards,

    Chris C, Queens Park, London

    Post a Reply
    • Leah

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for the question – quite a tricky one!
      In short, we don’t have any photos at all of the construction of the base, either here at Cockburn or in the State Library’s WA history collection, though according to newspaper reports there were a number of buildings constructed as well as a jetty. I’ve dug up a couple of articles mentioning steam cranes for you, though none mention Stothert and Pitt by name.
      http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77893689 – this one gives you a good rundown of what works were completed, in progress, or stalled by 1923, when the site was still potentially going to be revitalised. Towards the end of the second column you’ll find a list of machinery that’s ‘lying idle’ and getting damaged by weather, including steam cranes and Titan cranes.

      http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58241263 – a poorly-preserved picture of the work involved in dismantling the jetty attached to the base, with a mention of cranes.

      http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32808968 – here you’ll find a good rundown of the history of the project, written in 1934, well after the entire thing had been abandoned. The heading ‘Extent of work done’ gives a good overview of the engineering side of things, and again mentions cranes.

      http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article46279341 – if you do a ‘find’ search for ‘stothert’ on this 1947 article, you’ll find an interesting little advertisement from the Federal government regarding tenders for the removal of ’10-ton. Stothert and Pitt. Titan Mobile Steam -ex Fremantle’. It’s possible that these could be the cranes, finally being decommissioned from service at the defunct base, though of course there are other explanations.

      In 1928, Titan steam cranes were advertised for sale in the West Australian (see this search for results), but this would not have been related to the naval base.

      I recommend getting in touch with the Battye Librarians (contact info here, to see if they can turn up anything that isn’t available to view on their online catalogue.

      Post a Reply

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Suburban History: Henderson

by Leah time to read: 2 min
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