Guildford Stories


In 1827 Captain James Stirling sailed up the Swan River, to determine if the land was suitable to establish a colony.  His impressions were favourable, describing the Guildford area as ‘rich, romantic country’.  He reported his findings to the British Government.  Two years later he returned with early settlers, establishing the Swan River Colony.

Assistant Surveyor Henry Charles Sutherland completed the first surveys of Guildford in December 1829.  The town layout has not altered significantly since that time.

The Swan Guildford Historical Society was established in 1962, due to the influence of Mrs Judy Hamersley, granddaughter of Charles Harper who built Woodbridge House.


Between 1842 and 1849,  234 juvenile convicts aged 10 to 21 years from Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight in England were dispatched to the ‘free’ colony of Western Australia.  One of these boys, John Gavin came to the Swan River Colony in 1843, on board the Shepherd.  The following year he was accused and tried for the murder of his employer’s son, 18-year-old George Pollard.  Three days later he was publicly hanged outside the Round House in Fremantle.  Afterwards a ‘death mask’was made, and his brain removed for “scientific purposes”.  He was then unceremoniously buried in an unmarked grave among the sand hills to the south of Fremantle.


Guildford is built on a promontory between the Swan and Helena Rivers.  It can only be accessed by bridge on three sides.  Guildford is one of the furthest navigable points on the Swan River and became an inland port, providing the main link for transporting produce and other goods between Perth and outlying country districts.

Guildford was laid out in the style of an English town of the early 1800’s.  It had a public square, originally designated as a church square (Stirling Square) and land was allocated for a school.  Land around the floodplain was provided as commonage for grazing sheep and cattle.

In the early years, blocks of land were quite large, permitting owners to grow crops. Long, narrow ‘ribbon’blocks with river frontages were set aside for rich and influential settlers.


During the convict era (1851 to 1868), a convict hiring depot was established so that farmers and businessmen in the area could hire cheap convict labour.  Some buildings from this era can still be seen today, including the Comissariat store and quarters in Meadow Street, constructed in 1854 under the leadership of Lieutenant Edmund DuCane.  It has been the home of the Garrick Theatre Club since 1933. Various buildings were constructed to the south of the Gaol in Meadow Street to house convicts. A convict hospital once stood on the site now occupied by the Post Office building.  Convicts were under a strict 10pm curfew.  Today, a replica curfew bell is located to the left of the Colonial Gaol entrance.


Guildford was a thriving river port town until the late 1880’s. In the early days of settlement, the road from Perth to Guildford was sandy and slow going for a horse and buggy, and it was quicker and more economical to transport produce via the Swan River.  Building materials, clothes, general stores, farming equipment, and household goods were ferried between Perth to Guildford. On the return trip, barges carried wheat, wool, bricks, timber, hay, and sandalwood to Fremantle port.  When the railway line was built it linked services to the Swan Valley and other outlying areas.  This resulted in the demise of river trade, and Guildford entered a period of steady decline, with a reduced population in the town.


The Swan Districts wine region is the oldest wine region in Western Australia. The first vines were planted at the time of settlement in 1829 by English botanist Thomas Waters at Olive Farm, South Guildford.  In those days, grapes were predominantly grown for eating, or dried to make sultanas, raisins, and currants.  Wine drinking was not important in those days.