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HomeAbout Us | Over Sixty Years

AHS VOLUNTEERS AT THE OLD GAOL.jpg

History of AHS

Over sixty years of preserving the heritage of Albany. A brief history of the Albany Historical Society.

A group of alarmed Albany residents met in early 1962 to discuss their concerns about the destruction of Albany’s built heritage.  The late Mrs. Judith Gleeson, one of the group, was chosen to write a letter to the Royal Western Australian Historical Society outlining the group’s concerns about what was happening in their town.

 

The reply to Judith’s letter led to a meeting of around 40 local residents on the 4th of June 1962 at 8.pm in the Country Women’s Association Hall in Serpentine Road, Albany, with Mr. Charles Johnson, Mayor of the Town of Albany, in the Chair.  It was resolved at that meeting to form the Albany Branch of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society. This had been one of the options for the group outlined in the letter received from the Royal Western Australian Historical Society. 

 

One of the new group’s prime concerns was to ensure the safety of the little cottage on Duke Street.  This building was to become known as ‘Patrick Taylor Cottage’ and although deserted and run down it was luckily being cared for, to some extent, by next-door neighbours, Bonnie and Adeline Hicks, a mother and daughter, who would feature large in the recording of Albany’s history with many writings and publications to their credit. These ladies had for many years shown interested people around the little old house. However, they and others were concerned that the cottage was living on borrowed time and the wrecking ball was moving ever closer. 

 

The cottage also held a very important secret that very few people knew about, in that it was the oldest surviving dwelling in Western Australia, being built in 1832 by early settlers, the Morley Brothers, who sold it to Patrick Taylor on his arrival in Albany in 1835. The cottage was soon to open to the public with generous donations of articles, photographs and artifacts from the townspeople, not to mention the tireless work of the members of the newly formed group. Albany now had its first museum and tours were conducted by arrangement led by keen members of the group, and of course the Hicks ladies.

 

Within a short period of time, the new branch of the RWAHS Albany had started to attract attention as a proactive group that would not sit idly by and allow the historic built heritage of the town to be redeveloped without challenge.

It would be fair to say they were not well thought of by some developers who proposed the bulldozing of old buildings.  These people saw them as a thorn in their sides, to say the least. On 11th of May 1967 at 8.10pm the Albany Branch of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society ceased to exist, as the incorporation of the Albany Historical Society had been approved under the Incorporations Act. At 8.30pm on the 11th of May 1967, the Albany Historical Society (Inc) was born, with the transfer of all assets and office bearers (including the membership of the Albany Branch of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society), to the new body, from hereon known as the ‘AHS’.  On the 31st of May 1968, the society now known as the Albany Historical Society (Inc) received the title, under a management order from the crown, of the Old Albany Convict Gaol. Along with the excitement of this major asset for the society, came the huge responsibility of somehow repairing this almost derelict building and turning it into a folk museum.

 

In July 1970, an event occurred that would cement the future of the Albany Historical Society as one of longevity and strength. On this date, the society’s long-serving vice-president, the late Mr Homer White, was elected president of the AHS.  This event would ensure the next sixteen years were ones of stability and growth. For many years Homer had always been there to clean the gutters, mow lawns, wash floors, and even clean toilets, as well as attend to the more presidential roles of his office. Over much of the 1960s, he chaired meetings in the absence of the president, the late Father Newbold.  Homer and his wife the late Ethel White, (the society’s secretary for many years) had taken a mortgage on their home to replace the roof on Patrick Taylor Cottage, as society funds could not cover the cost of the new roof. One might have argued that the AHS may have had more money available if it had not sent invitations to monthly committee meetings to committee members, on gold-embossed invitation cards. These invitations outlined the place, time and date of the meeting, along with what would be available for supper, as well as advising members of the expected dress code of lounge suits for men and evening wear for ladies. 

 

The mid-1970s saw the AHS introduced to Professor Donald Garden, OAM FFAHS, FRHSV, who worked in our archives for many months while researching for his book, Albany A Panorama of the Sound from 1827. This book remains to this day, the most complete history ever written about Albany and the district. We continue to have a warm relationship with Don, who has always taken a keen interest in matters concerning the city and the AHS. He has been a great friend to the society over many decades and was awarded life membership by the society in 2010. His recent help in supporting us to save an important heritage property was critical to the positive outcome.  

 

1990 saw the start of a project to restore the Old Gaol to its former glory, with the late Mrs Joan Blight, the society’s first female president, overseeing the restoration. The society had secured a grant from the National Estates Grant Program along with its own funds.  The work was divided into four stages and saw a major overhaul of the entire site.  The work was completed in 1994. The AHS will always be most thankful to Joan, and everyone involved in seeing this restoration to its completion. Their attention to detail and tireless work have given Albany an outstanding Convict Gaol Museum.

In the early 1990s, the society managed to achieve the acquisition of its third property, with the lease from the City of Albany of the Old Westrail Barracks on the Corner of Frederick and Spencer Streets.  This building had been built as the P&O Co-operative Store in 1870 and had seen many and varied uses over the subsequent years. The Society intended to utilise this building as a storage and display museum.  However, it would not see this building open to the public until 2010. While the AHS had for many years used the upper floor for office and meeting space, the lower floor was full to overflowing with our collection that was unable to be displayed at either the Gaol or the Cottage. Regrettably, the AHS no longer has this building in our portfolio as it was returned to the City of Albany at the end of our lease in 2013 due to some inappropriate and underhanded acts by certain people.  

 

In late 2002, Andrew Eyden joined the AHS as an attendant at the Albany Convict Gaol.  Within a short period, he had become the society’s secretary, a role he still fulfils. In 2007 Andrew was also appointed the inaugural Chief Executive Officer. This position was created to ensure the smooth administration of the society’s daily management. The membership felt that a monthly committee meeting was no longer enough to manage the AHS on a day-to-day basis. Under Andrew’s leadership, the society has become enlivened and has matured to higher levels of professionalism for a voluntary organization of this type. We are seen as a major player in the tourism industry of Albany on top of the normal functions of a historical society.

 

During 2005 Andrew successfully acquired from the State Government the management order for the old police sergeant’s house on Duke Street.  This building is located opposite Patrick Taylor Cottage.  The order also covers what was a vacant block of land to the side of the cottage, where the Hicks family home once stood.  With the aid of several grants, we were able to renovate the Police House, as it is known, into our administrative offices. In 2008 we successfully obtained a grant from the Federal Government for $121,000 to redevelop the unused block of land into Albany’s first botanical park. Today the society has 65 active volunteers spending more than 12,000 man-hours per year in service to our community through their contribution to the AHS.

 

Looking to the future, the society is currently working on Norman House, a substantial Georgian home that is of historical importance. Built in 1858, it was the home of Albany pioneer and early entrepreneur George Cheyne, and his wife Grace. After a recent campaign by the AHS to save this most important historical property from demolition, the building's owners have decided to gift the building to the society in a remarkable turn of events. This incredible gift will see the AHS working on a restoration project for the immediate future as the building does require restoration works to return it to its former glory. We have plans to utilise the property as offices, as well as to showcase some of our collection that is currently in storage along with much-needed office space. This restoration work will also form part of the society’s bicentennial projects.

In late 2023 the society introduced our new website which has been an incredible success. We believe that along with social media, the website has seen the community expressing a renewed interest in the role the AHS plays in our community. It also confirms our view that an active internet and social media presence is vital for groups such as ours to remain relevant.     

After our recent success with Norman House, the AHS is now taking a far more proactive role in concerning itself in the development of Albany.  This is something we have regrettably become a little lax about over the years. With some regret, the last thirty years have seen us become so immersed in the management of our assets and collection, that we have to some extent lost sight of the major issues that confront Albany, in relation to the development of its built heritage.  From its inception, the AHS was a very loud and proactive voice in ensuring that Albany retained its historical significance as the first settlement in Western Australia.  It is now more imperative than ever before that a watchful eye is kept on the development of this, the most special of places. We have once again begun our campaign to save our community’s historical and built history by taking a far more vigilant role.    

 

With Albany’s bicentenary fast approaching, we are currently working to ensure that 2026 will be an opportunity to showcase our community and its European and Indigenous history. This bicentenary is a first for Western Australia, and as such is a great opportunity to showcase Albany and the region, with its rich history as the first European settlement in Western Australia. It is an incredible opportunity to tell the story of the region's Indigenous peoples and their history dating back tens of thousands of years. We have several events planned over twelve months. 

 

To end this brief history, the AHS would like to pay tribute to the many hundreds of people who have in previous years and to this day, given so freely of themselves to make the organization what we have become. Every one of them should be proud of what they have contributed to the AHS. We hope the society will continue to prosper for another sixty years and evolve to be the benevolent educator, guardian and protector of Albany’s amazing history and heritage.

Grant Peake | June 2024

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