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SS PERTH built by AE Brown in 1914

AE Brown

Fremantle boat builder AE Brown was closely associated with pearling luggers for the NW pearling trade, but his work included a wide variety of craft. Alfred Brown was born in New Zealand in 1842, and commenced his boatbuilding at Russell on the North Island in the 1880s. By the mid-1880s New Zealand was suffering a depression, and when news arrived of a large gold strike at Halls Creek in the Kimberley region of WA, Brown and his partners George Brown and William Taylor decided to leave and join the other potential prospectors. They made plans to take advantage of what they expected was a large river system leading to the gold fields, and took aboard their schooner a steam launch and planking to build barges, so they could set up a cargo trade. To their dismay they arrived to reality of the Ord River at Wyndham; a shallow, muddy and tidal esturay system unable to be used by vessels.

They left and went to Fremantle in 1887, sold the steamer and some of the timber, and Brown established a yard in Fitzgerald Terrace (now Marine Parade). His first vessel was HINEMOA, a yacht that won many races and helped establish his reputation. He married Lillian Gibbs, the daughter of a Bunbury boat builder and carpenter.

The first registered vessel built by Brown was the schooner EVA, a lugger for the north west fields where the fleet operated from Broome. It was very successful and its design became virtually the standard for the area. Around 100 registered luggers are attributed to Brown’s yard. One of these, the lugger WAITANGI, was used by Brown & his brother Gilbert at Broome.

He also built yachts, launches, barges, and other river craft including a produce boat RAY, and a firewood boat carrying firewood from the Canning River to Fremantle to supply wood for factories and the public. The yard also undertook repairs and alterations, keeping his staff with regular work.

Records show some of this varied work:

1892: Built 18 ft boat for Messrs Simpson & Johnson to be raced with Royal Perth Yacht Club, to be yawl rig and no ballast, then later a lighter for Capt Fothergill to be called THE MOLLY, LOA 85 Ft beam 18 ft, depth of hold 6ft, to carry 150 tons.
C 1890s: built DON JOSEPH a small schooner of 13 tons for Mr Francais Rodriguez (wrecked 1899)
1901: built launch K.C for Mr Sept. Burt, LOA 42ft, Beam 8ft, draught 2ft 6in, built of kauri planks on American elm frames.
1905: Perth Flying Squadron design competition, Mr A E Brown a judge
1907: Yacht VERONA for sale by tender renovated by Mr A E Brown
1910: Lugger MYRTLE OLGA
1913: IVANHOE launched for Fremantle Harbour Trust, LOA 70 ft, beam 17ft, moulded depth 7&1/2 ft.
1914: SS PERTH a double ended steam ferry was launched from the yard of AE Brown who was sub-contractor to Messer’s Denny Bros for the hull. It was built to operate on the ferry service between Barrack Street in the city and Mends Street on the Swan River.

In 1910 he moved the business to Elizabeth St in North Fremantle, and built a large covered shed to enable work to continue in all weather.

In 1921 he retired and the business was sold to the Swan River Shipping Company. He died in 1933 aged 71.

Based on material from TROVE newspaper searches and ‘They Kept This State Afloat’- Rod Dickson 1998.