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Vic Mews built MELTON LASS during World War II.

Mews Boatbuilders

The Mews family of West Australian boatbuilders encompasses five generations, and is the longest association in boatbuilding of any West Australian family. They worked at a series of yards and locations around Perth and Fremantle, occasionally in partnership with others, and amongst the generations of siblings they often shared the same Christian names, in particular Thomas William, John, and James, all making it difficult to determine for some Mews built craft exactly which Mews was involved, and where the vessel came from.

The patriarch was Thomas William Mews (snr) who arrived in Fremantle with his wife Mary in 1830, along with five children. They were lucky to land on shore as their vessel ROCKINGHAM had grounded at a bay south of Fremantle behind Garden Island, a the location that now bears that name Rockingham. The passengers and their belongings made it to shore eventually. The vessel was then moved but while careened to repair it the vessel slipped off the shoal bank into deep water, capsized and sank.

In an obituary for one of his daughters, it notes that Thomas Mews brought with him a house in sections which he erected, and the complete parts of a wooden vessel in order to begin his business. Another report notes that a house had been lost off the stranded ship, and drifted before being secured, then taken onto dry land and set up for the stranded passengers. To get to Perth, Mews organised building “ boats from timber and trees they procured from lakes Mondogalup and Spectacles, in which they essayed to pass up the coast to Fremantle, there being no direct road..”

In 1831 TW Mews (snr) is recorded working in partnership with Samuel Cox with a boatbuilding yard on the Swan River in Perth. His three sons, Thomas William (the second), John and James were also involved in building and as boat owners. Thomas William (the second) had a son of the same name, who also took up boatbuilding.
It has been established that TW Mews the second worked for his father TW Mews at the Perth family yard before setting up his own business in the late 1830s. He later moved to Fremantle and had a boatyard on the beach where the whaling station had been established. His son TW the third worked with him until he then set up a separate business also in Fremantle. Meanwhile, TW Mews the second’s brothers John and James had remained with TW Mews’ snr in Perth, and when TW snr moved into semi-retirement the sons then operated the business. A further generation of Mews with the names James and John worked as boatbuilders, followed by Robert 1860-1941 and finally Vic Mews, who is recorded building craft in the 1950s and located near the Fremantle fish markets, about 100 metres away from the original Fremantle shed on the beach at Bathers Bay.

A wide range of vessels were built, all in timber including pearling luggers, schooners, lighters, launches, yachts, skiffs and dinghies. Whilst many were built for private owners or commercial firms, clients included work for the government departments. TW Mews Snr also undertook civil work on bridges and other structures including when he was in his mid-80s.

An Obituary for James John Mews was published on 5 November 1930, and it covers some of the family history:
“The death, at his home at Claremont yesterday at the age of 75 years of Mr James John Mews removed another of the old identities of Fremantle. For over 30 years the deceased was associated with the boatbuilding industry at Fremantle in its flourishing period, when stout and speedy luggers were turned out for pearl-fishing in the North West.

His parents arrived in the then colony in the emigrant ship Rockingham, bringing with them from England goods and chattels to an approximate value of £5000. Included amongst these was a complete house in sections which was the first house built on Mount's Bay Road. Perth, and in which Mr James Mews was born. Sixty-five years ago his father purchased the property in Henry Street Fremantle, on which Clare's printery and adjoining businesses now stand. This was the site of the first post-office in Fremantle, which was conducted by the late Mr John Bateman. On that site the elder Mr. Mews established a boatbuilding business, and the family has been identified with that industry ever since. There, James and his brothers, Robert and Thomas, were instructed in their trade by their father. Later, James and Robert were associated in the business, and still later Robert established his own business on South Beach, which is still conducted by him. James continued the old business, and Thomas launched out on his own account, so that at one period there were three yards carried on by members of the family. Mr James Mews retired about 30 years ago, and a few years later settled in Claremont where he was associated with the local yacht and bowling clubs. He was twice married, and is survived by a widow and eleven children.”

Another obituary noted he was “a keen sportsman, being a champion rifle shot and as a yachtsman he was particularly prominent, having won the Governor’s Cup with his yacht VALENTINE. Mr Mews was of quiet disposition and enjoyed the esteem of a wide circle of friends.”

There are many Mews craft recorded over a long period. TW Mews and Solomon Cook built the first locally made steam boat on the Swan. Cook who was an American citizen built the machinery and boiler, and whilst it was later called LIVELY, its first name was possibly SPECULATOR. They also built a steam ferry called THE FRIENDS.

Amongst vessels built by Mews and recorded in contemporary reports are:
1856: a fast sailing 2 ton pleasure boat THE CYGNET
1858: cutter PILOT 31.3 X 10.7 X 4.1 ft for John Charles Mews, went to pearling at Cossack
1859: SISTERS 35 X 10.7 X 4.1 ft for J C Mews
1867: cutter ALERT 47.2 X13 X 5.4 ft for J C Mews
1867: cutter EDWARD JAMES 42.4 X 11.8 X 5 ft for J C Mews
1875: Topsail Schooner MYRA 64 X 17 X 7.4 ft for John Bateman
1877: John Mews builds schooner ALPHA 40 X 10. 3 X 4.5 ft for Frances Wemyss
1884: J Mews builds schooner COMET 63.8 X 13.5 X 4.5 ft for John Tuckey
1886: 4 new yachts built by T Mews race in Perth Yacht Club regatta
1887: Jas & E Mews build 3rd class yacht 17ft long THE TERROR For Customs employees
1888: T W Mews builds lugger “DOVE 41.6X 18.8 X 5.8 ft for himself
1903: J Mews built yacht VALENTINE in ocean race

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