Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Bussell, Alfred Pickmore (1816–1882)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Alfred Pickmore Bussell (1816-1882), settler and pastoralist, was born on 21 June 1816 at Portsea, Hampshire, England, the sixth son of William Marchant Bussell, Anglican clergyman, and his wife Frances Louisa, née Yates. He was educated at Winchester and in 1829 sailed for Western Australia with his brothers John, Charles and Vernon in the Warrior. In May 1830 they took up land near Augusta on the Blackwood River. Alfred evidently enjoyed pioneering; in 1832 he wrote to his uncle of land flourishing in cultivation, of his work as plasterer's assistant in building their home at the Adelphi and of the pleasure gained as secretary to the Thatched Roof Club, a social centre in Augusta. Unfortunately their fine home at the Adelphi was destroyed by fire on 5 November 1833; disenchanted the Bussells moved to the Vasse. Alfred went by sea with John to select a new site and in June 1834 described their landing at the future Busselton, 'not quite so cheerless as our landing at Swan River for our hands were not, as then, totally unaccustomed to labour, nor were our minds as resourceless'. Yet their water supply was very scarce and depended greatly on the good offices of some Aboriginals. Alfred helped his brothers to establish Cattle Chosen, and thereby gained useful experience. By 1851 the Bussells had parted company and Alfred lived at Broadwater, but also held a share of 1800 acres (728 ha) of leasehold and for some time carted provisions between Augusta and the Vasse.

The marriage arranged between Alfred Bussell and Ellen, 16-year-old daughter of Robert and Ann Heppingstone, took place at Wonnerup on 22 August 1850. Reared in the colony and accustomed to livestock, natives and home-building in the bush, Ellen proved an ideal wife. They later sold Broadwater and set off along the Old Augusta Road with their bullocks, a dray, stores, tools and bedding, a horse and saddle and a labourer, Kelly. Afraid of Aboriginals, Kelly left them before they reached their destination, Ellensbrook, where their stockmen had already arrived. Their home of wattle and daub was thatched with paper bark and floored with jarrah, and to improve access to the property Alfred built a bridge and a road, for which the government later gave him £50. Ellen, a most adept housekeeper, trained her native servants well and soon they were comfortably settled. A whale washed ashore yielded them a supply of oil for many months.

Despite their isolation the Bussell family won repute for compassion and kindness. Ellen kept and reared Nilgee, an Aboriginal baby abandoned in their potato patch, and harboured John Wragge, a deserter from an American whaler; another deserter was the carpenter, Adams, who became a most faithful employee and later married Ellen's maid, Mary Smith.

Saddened by the death of an infant son, Alfred decided to leave Ellensbrook and began to plan his most ambitious project, the building of a gentleman's residence, Wallcliffe. Leaving Ellen to care for the family and manage the dairy, he took some carefully chosen craftsmen to the site. The men quarried lime and chalk stone, cut and seasoned timber and by 1865 Alfred's dream was fulfilled and the family moved to Wallcliffe, in the centre of his 60,000 acres (24,281 ha) extending from Cowaramup to the Donnelly River.

Bussell was proud of his cattle and dairy herd, supplied meat and dairy products to timber merchants and stores at the Vasse and Augusta, and often overlanded stock to the Perth market. In 1872 he established 'cheese' factories at Boojidup and Booranup. He retained his scientific interests and became adept in curing the ills of members of his family and local Aboriginals. He also had some success in combatting such diseases as rickets, heart-leaf poison and 'coastiness'. He was a justice of the peace, and in July 1872 his friend, Governor Sir Frederick Weld, nominated him to the Legislative Council. The West Australian Times, 16 August, commented: 'of the new nominee Mr. A. P. Bussell we know but little, he has made a single speech, and as far as we can see, has no intention of making another'. But Bussell was not happy; he longed for his family and wrote nostalgically to Ellen, 'so we go on fighting battles in the horrid chamber'. He worried over the costs of being a councillor and was much obliged to Weld, who invited him to stay at Government House to save hotel expenses. Even so he was glad to return to Wallcliffe in October 1874.

On 1 December 1876 when the Georgette was wrecked their daughter, Grace, and a native stockman, Sam Isaacs, rode into the sea and rescued survivors. Known widely as 'Grace Darling of the West', she was awarded the medal of the Royal Humane Society and a gold watch by the British government. In 1950 a monument to her and Sam Isaacs was erected at Margaret River.

Ellen Bussell died on 16 January 1877, and was buried at Ellensbrook. Alfred remained at Wallcliffe, which he managed with help from his unmarried daughter Edith. He died on 18 October 1882, at Brookhampton farm, near Bridgetown. He was buried at Busselton. He left his surviving sons, Alfred John and Frederick Aloysius Weld, his estates, a small bank balance, but few debts. Of his seven daughters six married into wellknown Western Australian families.

Select Bibliography

  • E. O. G. Shann, Cattle Chosen (Lond, 1926)
  • A. Hasluck, Portrait with Background (Melb, 1955)
  • A. Stewart, ‘Western Sussex’. Early Days, vol 10, Dec 1948, pp 32-37
  • I. D. Heppingstone, ‘The Story of Alfred and Ellen Bussell: Pioneers of the Margaret River’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Western Australian Historical Society), vol 6, part 3, 1964, pp 33-45
  • Herald (Fremantle), 6 Feb, 17 Nov 1877
  • West Australian Times, 4 Jan 1878
  • Inquirer (Perth), 16 Jan supplement, 13 Feb 1878
  • West Australian, 19 Aug 1881
  • South-Western News, 2 June 1955–20 Feb 1958
  • Bussell papers 1828-78 (State Library of Western Australia).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Bussell, Alfred Pickmore (1816–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bussell-alfred-pickmore-3126/text4653, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 17 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017