|The port with the reef behind it at Port Gregory
Unusual and fascinating small seaside town
Located 47 km west of Northampton, Port Gregory is a fascinating small settlement where history, fishing, wheat lands and getting away from it allı holidaying all mingle.
There can be few places in Australia where wheat fields grow right next to huge white sand dunes, where an historic convict settlement stands on the shores of a pink lake, and where a reef runs parallel to the coast forming a natural breakwater for a small harbour. In terms of originality there are few places to compare with Port Gregory.
The first European to pass through the area was George Grey who, after his abortive attempt to explore the coast north of NorthWest Cape, was forced to walk back to Perth through the area in 1839. Grey reported the existence of the Hutt River (both the Hutt River and Hutt Lagoon were named by Grey after William Hutt, the brother of the Governor of Western Australia) and in 1841 a government expedition was sent to explore the Hutt River. Being unable to cross the sandbars they sailed north to somewhere near the site of modern day Port Gregory.
A subsequent exploration party arrived in the area in 1847 and reported favourably on the areaıs pastoral potential and in 1848 the explorer A.C. Gregory discovered lead ore in the Murchison River. So it was that on 22 May 1853 F.T. Gregory (brother of A.C. Gregory after whom the port is named) and Captain J. Johnson sailed into the Port Gregory harbour with 60 ticket of leave men. The plan was to hire the convicts to local pastoralists.
There is some kind of appropriate irony in the fact that Johnsonıs brig Leander ran aground and had to be abandoned. Port Gregory may be a pretty port but it is not a safe one. Between 1853-1867 six vessels were wrecked on the reef.
Port Gregory was a shortlived experiment. By 1856 the ticket-of-leave depot was closed down and the port slowly declined in importance. It is a comment on the skills of the convicts that many of the buildings which they constructed from limestone which they had quarried from the nearby hills are still standing today.
There is no question about the appeal of Port Gregory. On one level this tiny village is nothing more than a fishing port and a place for people who really want to get away from it all. It is isolated at the end of a dirt road and has only the most minimal of services. However the area does boast beautiful huge white sand dunes which are 1015 metres high, a remarkable pink lake and some of the most interesting convict ruins anywhere in Western Australia. Not bad for a community with a permanent population of less than 200.
Things to see:
Sanfordıs House (it can be seen across Hutt Lagoon and can be inspected by taking the signposted road to the east of the lagoon) was built by the convicts in 1853 out of limestone. A verandah was subsequently added with masts salvaged from the wreck of the Mary Queen of Scots which ran aground at Archdeacon Ledge in March 1855.
Sanford, the grandson of the Duke of Bedford, was appointed Superintendant of Convicts in late 1852 but resigned in 1854 (the house and outbuildings including a stone mill and large stone barn were all conveniently built during his period as Superintendant) to concentrate on whaling and agriculture.
Other Historic Buildings
But the convicts were not in the area to build a magnificent two storey villa for the Superintendant. On the main Port Gregory road can be seen the ruins of the Lynton Hiring Depot where the convicts were held until local businessmen came to hire them for labouring tasks on the nearby farms. There are stories that the local farmers treated the convicts like slaves frequently flogging them for the slightest misdemeanours and summarily executing them for minor offences. It is hard to substantiate these claims and they may well be little more than local folklore.
By 1856 a store, bakery, depot, lockup, hospital, lime kiln and administration block had all been built but a lack of fresh vegetables had seen the convict population ravaged by scurvy. It was decided to close the settlement and by January 1857 (less than 4 years after they had arrived) the convicts were either being shipped back to Fremantle or settled in nearby Greenough. A map identifying the various ruins at the Lynton Hiring Depot (and including the rest of the historic sites) is available at the farm house below Sanfordıs House.
The other major attraction in the area is Hutt Lagoon - a remarkable pink lagoon which is coloured by the presence of algae known as beta caratine in the waters. It is mined both for its salt and for its food colouring properties.