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W Lawrence Senior

Lawrence Boatbuilders

The family of American born (1826) William Lawrence were boatbuilders in Perth Western Australia over two generations. The patriarch William Lawrence (Snr) had deserted from an American whaling ship FLORIDA at Albany in March 1844. He had been apprenticed to the ship’s carpenter and was also registered as ‘whale boat puller’. After hiding briefly he walked to Perth with another who had also deserted, but the other man did not survive the rugged land journey.

On his arrival at the Swan River he was afraid to enter Perth and eventually wandered into the halfway river house of Samuel Caporn at Pt. Walter. Sam gave him a job and he befriended the family, eventually marrying a daughter ( Elizabeth or ‘Bessie’). Lawrence and Henry Caporn rowed a gig from Perth to Fremantle and return, six days a week carrying mail and passengers. They were convicted of mugging a passenger and stealing 26 gold sovereigns after a bout of drinking. Lawrence served four years of an eight year term for this before being released on ‘ticket of leave’.

Banned from his old business, he repaired boats and went prospecting for gold when the state government offered a reward for the first payable find. He made several small discoveries and in 1888 eventually convinced a syndicate of influential people to finance an expedition to the Yilgarn on knowledge he had gleaned from his exploration. This culminated in the discovery of gold near Southern Cross then subsequently Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. He also went on a voyage of discovery and prospecting to the Kimberley in1864.

By the late 1860s William Snr had established a boatbuilding business on the corner of Mill St and Bazaar Terrace in Perth. A pearling cutter VENUS was registered in 1867, another called TRIBUNE the following year. A significant project in 1871 was the steamer CITY OF PERTH. The report of tis launch notes the business as W Lawrence and Son, indicating his eldest son (also William) had joined the business. In 1874 the yard is recorded as the winning tenderer for building two craft for the water police, and soon after a buoy for the Harbour Masters department. He also won a tender in 1876 to build a government schooner.

William Snr’s boatbuilding enterprise saw him become a rich and influential man and when he died in 1898, he owned all that land from St. Georges Terracee to Hay St and from William St. to Milligan, plus other large tracts.
William jnr’s younger brother Samuel also entered the business around 1879. The name remained Lawrence and Son, whilst the elder son William jnr. purchased the Mews’ shipyard site next door to run his own business. He then commenced work by building a steamer fitted with screw propellers as a means of propulsion, and this was the first propeller driven vessel built in that colony.

When the father (William Snr.) passed away in 1898, the boys apparently joined up as W. & S. Lawrence and continued boatbuilding. For brief period Jeremiah Asquith went into partnership with Samuel Lawrence in the early 1900s, building about eight craft. William Junior accidently drowned in 1907 aged 57, however his father William Snr had worked up until his 90s, as did Samuel who passed away in 1942, bringing to an end the Lawrence family enterprise.

Numerous craft are recorded for William Lawrence, Lawrence and Sons and then W &S Lawrence as the business evolved over the two generations.

1868: A vessel of 70 tons for Mr Watson and a ‘fine cutter’ for W Lawrence the builder.
1870: An advertisement promises “lighters, gigs, punts or craft of any description.
1874: steamboat for the river trade
1876: Punts for dredging the river and a steam launch credited to William Jnr.
1886: “another fine yacht” by Lawrence and Son
1887: Lawrence and Son build the first of the UNA class yachts
1888: Lawrence and Son dissolved and becomes W&S Lawrence, and build a ‘nicely finished boat for the Police Department, for use in Albany. The workmanship was highly commended by the Commissioner of Police, who inspected the boat a few days ago, as well as a large number of competent judges in the boatbuilding line”.
1889: EMERALD” another lugger for the North-west pearling fleet, to the order of McKay & Pearse”
1891: a cutter for Johns Bros and Shannon, Shark Bay and a schooner for Capt. Francis of Cossack. A rowing boat for the Royal Perth Yacht Club.
1892: a report notes William Jnr indicating a decline in shipbuilding for the pearling trade, but was building a a 71 ft barge for the Swan River Brick Company, a paddle steamer ferry, a launch for Sir James Lee Steere, using a petrol motor and propeller ( the first in the colony), and some small boats. The yard employed seven men.
1897: THE KENTISH LASS stern wheel paddle steamer, the dredge CANNING
1898: THE DUCHESS ferry, designed by Ernest Thompson ( a student of Walter Reeks in Sydney)
1901: luggers DAVID and TUDOR take 1st and 2nd place in Broome regatta, a gig for Mr McGibbon,
1902: JULIA wins lugger race in Broome, and a sixth lugger from the firm was currently being built for the owners of JULIA, the Oriental Pearling Company