top of page

Home | History Hub | James Richard Dunn

Photo of the painting _Wheat and Birches_. Oil on canvas. .jpg

James Richard Dunn

By: Grant Peake

Published: 24 February 2024


How an English shipwright, became a successful pastoralist and a trusted civil servant.

James Richard Dunn was born in Woodburn, Kent, England in 1812, and at age fourteen, Dunn commenced a seven-year apprenticeship as a shipwright. Arriving in Albany as a ship’s carpenter, on the 19 June 1934, aboard the James Pattison. Dunn is thought to be the only steerage passenger from the vessel to remain in Albany, becoming a permanent resident of the colony and Dunn soon became a respected and trustworthy resident of the town.

In 1837, Dunn along with John McKail, were awarded the contract to build the town’s first major jetty. The length of the jetty was to be 75 yards long, much shorter than the original proposal of 130 yards. In September of that year, whilst working on the jetty, Dunn lost part of his hand when firing a salute to the newly wed, Patrick Taylor, who was returning to Albany from Fremantle onboard the Champion with his young bride, Mary (nee Bussell).

Even while Dunn was recovering from his terrible accident, he continued work on the jetty which was completed by September 1838. Later Dunn was to be appointed gaoler, at the Albany Gaol in 1841, the building been located below the present Lawley Park. He was also appointed Police Constable from 1841 to 1849.

In October 1843, Dunn married Elizabeth Henderson, a 21-year-old, Scots woman who had arrived 10 months prior aboard the vessel Trusty in service to the Forrest family.

James Dunn.jpg

Governor Kennedy took exception to the number of hotels and requested that the number be reduced to four later in that year. Dunn pleaded with the authorities for reconsideration, especially being partially disabled, who had been a shipwright, building contractor and gaoler, now in declining health, this action would take away his livelihood, especially when Dunn had his wife, Elizabeth and five children to support. Sadly Dunn’s pleas to retain his hotel licence were unsuccessful with his licence been revoked. Regrettably he was forced to return to his former occupation of a builder.

In 1860, Dunn was instrumental in reviving the defunct Albany Roads Trust which was responsible for the maintenance and upgrading of roads in the town, the state of which were nothing less than deplorable. Some roads were little more than rutted tracks, that presented as almost impassable. With Dunn’s progressive attitude, hard work and dedication, the roads in Albany began to gradually improve. By the latter half of the 1860’s, James Dunn and his family were looked upon as being successful small business people. Dunn was made a member of the Plantagenet Roads Board in 1871.

In the early 1870’s, and during the whaling season, the arrival of whalers and sealers boosted the Albany population from a few hundred to a couple of thousand.  James Dunn and his family were responsible for rescuing a young woman who had been brought to Albany by her aunt, for the purposes of prostitution. Prostitution in those times became a lucrative business and the girl was secreted away to Dunn’s Porongurup farm for safety.

James Dunn retired from the Civil Service and established a lucrative pastoral property, Woodburn, in the Porongurup’s. He employed ticket-of-leave convicts from the Albany Convict Gaol between 1866-1873 to work on his property. His sons went on to be pioneer shepherds at Phillips River.

James Dunn died in the Porongurup’s on 2 June 1875 and is buried in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Albany his headstone reads; "Blessed are the dead which die in the lord: For they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them."

bottom of page