Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Bateman (1789–1855)

by G. C. Bolton

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John Bateman (1789-1855), merchant, was born in London. He was a silk mercer of Cheapside in 1824 when he married Mary Ann Benningfield. By this marriage he had three sons, John (1824-1909), Walter (1826-1882) and Charles (b.1828) and six daughters. Bateman emigrated to Western Australia in the Medina in 1830, and at the second sale of town lots bought an acre (0.4 ha) block in Fremantle where he built a stone house and a store dealing in merchandise of many kinds. He became postmaster at Fremantle in March 1833. From his register of incoming letters it appears that the volume of business was seldom overwhelming. He was a member of the Fremantle Town Trust from its foundation in 1848 to 1853, with one interval. His chief claim to prominence was his part in establishing the Fremantle Whaling Co., which operated in 1837 as a competitor of American whalers who victualled at the port. Its greatest rival, however, was a Perth company also formed in 1837, but both seem to have succumbed to the depression of the early 1840s. The sole memento of the Fremantle company was a tunnel, originally built to transport their produce, which for many years ran between Arthur's Head and the Round House, Fremantle.

Bateman died on 3 April 1855 soon after his wife took over his duties as postmaster. His sons took over the family business, which was formed into a company in 1857. Walter Bateman also succeeded his mother as postmaster from April 1855 to November 1861, served on the Town Trust in 1860, 1862, and 1864-65, and was chosen in Fremantle's first parliamentary election for nomination to the Legislative Council, where he sat from 1868 to 1870. He sold his share of the business to his brother John in 1872, and died unmarried on 24 September 1882. John Bateman took no active role in politics, but throughout his long life zealously pushed Fremantle's claims as a harbour, having an unrivalled knowledge of the near-by coast. He served on a committee for a new jetty in 1871, and was one of the few witnesses called by the 1892 select committee on the development of Fremantle Harbour. In 1890 he retired, selling his business to John Wesley Bateman (1852-1907), the eldest of his four surviving sons by his marriage on 17 August 1850 to Rachel White, formerly of Sydenham, London.

John Wesley Bateman was a member of the Fremantle Town Council between 1880 and 1882, and president of the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce from 1895 to 1900, at a time when the discovery of gold and the construction of an artificial harbour at Fremantle brought unparalleled expansion to business in the port. His descendants became prominent shareholders in the firm of J. & W. Bateman. As exporters of timber, sandalwood and horses, and importers of sugar and other tropical produce, the firm developed a considerable trade between Fremantle and south-east Asia during the century. Until the coming of steamships in 1888, the firm had a monopoly of the coastal trade to the north-west and the Kimberley, and continued to supply many sheep and cattle stations with stores and credit well into the twentieth century.

Select Bibliography

  • Twentieth Century Impressions of Western Australia (Perth, 1901)
  • J. G. Wilson (ed), Western Australia's Centenary, 1829-1929 (Perth, 1929)
  • J. K. Ewers, The Western Gateway: 100 Years of Local Government in Fremantle (Fremantle, 1948)
  • P. E. C. de Mouncey, ‘Whaling in the Early Days’, Journal and Proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), vol 1, part 8, 1930, pp 58-60
  • P. U. Henn, genealogical notes (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Bateman, John (1789–1855)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


3 April, 1855 (aged ~ 66)
Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia

Cause of Death


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