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Henry Maxwell Lefroy


Henry Maxwell Lefroy is best known as an explorer and as Superintendent of the Fremantle Convict Establishment (renamed the Fremantle Prison in 1867) from 1859-1875, but his reason for going to the Swan River Colony in 1841 was to acquire sufficient wealth from farming to return to England and live comfortably; he did not intend to make Western Australia his home. However, although he left the Colony in 1844 he returned in 1854 and never visited England again. He died in Fremantle in 1879.

Lefroy did not leave as many detailed personal records as Eliza Brown or George Fletcher Moore, for example, but it is still possible to say something about his responses to the landscapes around York, where he first leased property, and also about the extent to which he felt attached to the Colony.

When Lefroy first wrote to his mother he was quite optimistic:

The climate, upon which our comfort and spirits are always dependent, is perhaps the finest n the world. Although the soil is generally poor, the country contains unnumbered districts admirably adapted to sheep feeding, as a present prepared by nature. The mineral resources also are probably very great, but of course nearly useless at present from the enormous rate of wages.. [11]

But a few months later in a letter to his sister he referred to the area around York as 'desolate' and early the following year, 1842, he wrote:

We are now suffering from a great scarcity of water. Taken as a whole, apart from the climate, this country must be the most miserable and barren under the sun. Bagshot Heath is fertile in comparison. [12]

By May 1842 Lefroy was feeling downhearted about his situation in the Colony and in a letter to his sister Isabella he was reflective and melancholy:

In fact, I am very out of sorts and am likely to continue so, for when once the blue devil gets hold of a man out here, there are few means of driving them off.[13]

These feelings continued and in a letter to his mother in June 1843 Lefroy confessed to being

...dull and solitary tonight. In such a state of mind I long to pour out my heart to some dear, though distant friend. [14]

It is not surprising then that Lefroy left the Colony less than a year later. What is surprising though is that he returned and arrived in the Colony for the second time in 1854, having married Annette (nee Bate) before he left in 1853. Why did he return? Lefroy provided a clue to this question in a letter to his sister Isabella:

I go back to Australia, not because I prefer it, or because Charles advises it, but because I cannot help going. I prefer poverty and independence in Australia to idleness and dependence in England.[15]

In a letter to another sister, Anne, he also explained that:

When I went to W. Australia before, I believe it was the worst Colony I could have chosen. Now, I believe, it is nearly the best for my purpose. [16]

Although Lefroy did not elaborate on his purpose, his comments suggest that his idealism and his desire to live his life as a valuable citizen were behind his decision to go back to the Colony.


When Lefroy returned he accepted the position of Assistant Superintendent of the Convict Establishment at Fremantle and was promoted to Superintendent in 1859; a position he held until he retired in 1875. From the available evidence it is difficult to assess the extent to which he became attached to his place in the Colony, but an extract from another letter suggests that he was content at least, and perhaps resigned to living with fewer material comforts than he would have enjoyed had he stayed in England:

What I enjoy most is sitting in our garden in the evening, with Annette by my side, smoking my pipe...My prospect of ever returning to England is now very remote, I must just settle down here. [17]

However, it remains unclear whether he did 'settle down'.

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Page last updated: Thursday 22 September 2011 by Illona Tobin Asset ID 43145
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