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Western Australia - Concept

Colony of Western Australia (1829 - 1901)

2 May 1829
1 January 1901
Alternative Names
  • Crown Colony of Western Australia (also known as)
  • Swan River Colony (also known as)

The Colony of Western Australia (also known as Swan River Colony) was established as a free colony on 2 May 1829 when Captain Fremantle formally took possession of the land of Western Australia in the name of the King of England. The Western Australia Act 1929 received Royal Asssent in England on 14 May 1829 confirming the settlement as a British colony. From 1849 to 1868 the settlement became a penal colony accepting convicts by transportation from England. In 1890 the Colony gained self-governance and at the time of Federation, 1 January 1901, it became the State of Western Australia.


The Colony of Western Australia was claimed by Captain Fremantle on 2 May 1829 and the party settled at the mouth of the Swan River. This led to the colony also being known as the Swan River Colony. The Documenting a Democracy website transcribes the Western Australia Act 1829 which claimed the settlement was 'upon certain wild and unoccupied lands on the western coast of New Holland and the islands adjacent' with no acknowledgment of the Aboriginal communities that lived there.

The Lieutenant-Governor had complete power but in 1832 he established a council of 4 government officials to help him govern the colony. The colony was also referred to as the Crown Colony of Western Australia until 1890, as it was ruled by a governor who had been appointed by the monarch.

In May 1849 the British authorised the conversion of Western Australia to a penal colony and the colony received over 9000 convicts during the next 19 years. The last transportation of convicts arrived in the colony in 1868 and Western Australia once again became a free settlement.

The reception of convicts and the small population of Western Australia meant self-governance took much longer to achieve than in other states. In 1870 the colony received representative government with a Legislative Council that had 18 members; twelve of them who had been elected.

In 1890 the colony was granted a constitution by the British Parliament, giving them a self-government. However the British Parliament retained control of Aboriginal affairs until 1897 as there was concern about the treatment of Indigenous people in Western Australia.

The Colony of Western Australia was the final colony to vote for Federation and was left out of the Australian constitution, as proclaimed by Queen Victoria, because it had not decided whether or not it would be one of the original States. The politicians were not in favour of Federation having only just gained self-governance, they were concerned about losing power to the new Commonwealth Government, but when the referendum was held an overwhelming majority of the public were found to be in favour of the union. The new State of Western Australia came into existence with Federation on 1 January 1901.


Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: Western Australia and Federation, The Library and Information Service of Western Australia, 2000,; 'Parliaments - Western Australia', in Parliament @ Work, Commonwealth of Australia, 2009,; 'Western Australia documents', in Documenting a Democracy, Commonwealth of Australia, 2011,; 'Defining moments in Australian history - 1868: Convict transportation to Australia ends', in National Museum of Australia, National Museum of Australia, 2015,; 'Chapter 7', Bringing Them Home: The 'Stolen Children' Report (1997), Australian Human Rights Commission, 2011,

Prepared by: Nicola Laurent