John Forrest: the early years

The history of Bunbury's colonial boy - John Forrest. Image supplied by the Bunbury Historical Society.

The history of Bunbury's colonial boy - John Forrest. Image supplied by the Bunbury Historical Society.

On Sunday, August 22, 1847, Margaret Forrest, gave birth to her third son, John.

Years later, when John was considered above his family’s station, his father William claimed credit for his son’s success.

William and Margaret Forrest nurtured and propelled young John towards a successful future.

Born in Scotland, William, aged 21, an artisan and Margaret Guthrie Hill, aged 19, from Dundee married in Glasgow in 1840.

Sorrow came early to the young couple when their first born, Mary, died in February 1842.

Shortly after burying their daughter, they answered a newspaper advertisement placed by Dr John Ferguson seeking servants to accompany him to the Western Australian Company’s settlement in Australind.

William and Margaret boarded the ‘Trusty’ at Gravesend on August 2, 1842.

In November, their second child William, was born at sea and on December 9, they arrived at the Leschenault Inlet in the middle of a heat wave.

The hardships facing them was breath-taking.

Imagine, a young nursing mother and her husband surrounded by a wilderness totally devoid of the civilized society they had left behind.

Many were overwhelmed. The resilient Forrest’s however, resolved to survive and prosper.

After a short time working on Dr Ferguson’s lands at Wedderburn near the Brunswick River, William carved out a livelihood from the virgin bush.

Using the most rudimentary of tools, he built a cottage and a windmill with the capacity to grind flour. It was here, at Mill Point, that young John took his first steps.

When William decided Mill Point was inadequate, he built a stone homestead and an enviable multi-purpose watermill upstream in the Picton area.  

Initially, John attended school at Moorlands and later in Bunbury, where in December, 1859, he received a book prize of Wordsworth’s poetry for attentiveness and good conduct.

William built a small schoolroom on his property around 1860 and it was from here that John joined his older brothers at Bishop Hale’s School in Perth.

Under the direction of Rev. George Sweeting, John socialised as an equal with the sons of Perth’s elite demonstrating proficiency in the Classics, Latin, religion, arithmetic, algebra, history and geography.

In November 1863, he was apprenticed to Thomas Carey, Bunbury’s Assistant Surveyor. 

When he completed his apprenticeship in November,1865, he was credited as the first young man born and educated in the colony to qualify as a Land Surveyor.

This was to be the ‘first of many firsts’ for Bunbury’s John Forrest.