Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Solomon Cook (1816–1871)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published:

Solomon Cook (1816?-1871), shipwright, blacksmith and engineer, was born probably in the United States of America, son of Jacob Cook, blacksmith. In December 1848 at the district registry in Albany, Western Australia, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Bob West, sealer. On 9 May 1849 when naturalized an Australian citizen, Cook was living in York, where he had set up as a wheelwright, coach-builder and ironfounder. About this time he was allowed to take stone from government land to build a circular windmill, which was long a landmark in the district. He was also engaged to build the first bridge across the Canning River, for which he used local jarrah. In 1850 the superintendent of public works, Henry Trigg, reported that many piles of the bridge had been driven unsatisfactorily. Although Cook had been ill, the government insisted on a survey of the work to assess the cost of rectifying the faults.

In 1850-55 Cook had varied interests, among them the contract for supplying meat to the convict depot at York. In 1852, when the pastoral lease of York townsite was granted to the Wesleyan Institute for a mission station, he organized a protest to the governor; Cook's memorial, signed by many residents of York, asked for rights of commonage on the land, but the resident magistrate, Captain Richard Meares, condemned the document, declaring that his own signature had been forged. To Cook's great relief Meares later retracted his charges and the Wesleyans' lease was not renewed when their contract expired. In January 1853 Cook applied for the mail run from Guildford to York, proposing to use a vehicle similar to the American fly wagon. Soon afterwards he contracted to carry six immigrants from Perth to York but claimed demurrage for delay. The immigration officer was not sympathetic and Cook received much less than he had claimed. In that year he was also responsible for flooring the new court-house at York, and for trying to raise £75 for a bridge across the Avon River, the government having promised to pay the balance of the necessary £150; after much discussion and many difficulties with finance Cook's tender for the bridge was formally accepted in August. He also made several requests for land grants in various places but each time was advised to wait for notice of public auction in the Government Gazette.

One of Cook's most important activities was his work with steam engines. The Perth Gazette, 13 February 1852, paid tribute to the steam-mill built at York by Cook; it ground enough flour to supply most of the district's needs. The Inquirer, 17 August 1853, also praised his mill and noted that 'Mr. S. Cook intends to build a small steam boat for the river, she is not to be more than forty feet (12 m) long and the machinery to be colonial made'. Instead Cook installed engines on several Swan River boats; first in the Speculator, built by T. W. Mews and launched on 13 October 1854; second in the Pioneer, a most ungainly vessel known as the 'Puffing Billy', which carried passengers and cargo for many years; and third in the Friends which plied the river until 1872.

In 1857 Cook planned a daily ferry service from Perth to Guildford and the Upper Swan. To improve navigation on the river he applied to the government to widen the crooked channel below the Perth bridge, believing this to be a small and inexpensive operation, but the acting comptroller-general, J. P. Wray, completely disagreed. Probably Cook underestimated the problem; after his tender of £650 to widen and deepen the Perth canal was accepted on 15 May 1860, he found that its banks continually washed away and that costs of construction rose sharply. When his contract time ran out, he had to plead for compensation for the extra costs. His assessor, E. M. Grain, R.E., could see no reason why the contract had not been completed in time, and reported that Cook had started in the wrong season, deviated from the specifications and not deposited sand at the agreed distance from the canal banks. The director of public works, Richard Jewell, refused Cook permission to finish the project, but because three-quarters of the work had been completed Cook was paid £500 as full satisfaction for his contract.

By 1860 Cook had a sizable workshop in Murray Street, Perth, with separate departments for wagon building, coach painting, wheelwrighting, manufacture of farming implements and general smith's work. He employed a large staff, trained several apprentices and had high repute as an employer. His ideas were progressive and he was highly respected, although described as 'a most humble and unostentatious citizen'. His first threshing machine, produced in 1862, was similar to John Ridley's machine, but with slight improvements and adaptations for local conditions. It cost the same as the South Australian model and was therefore in great demand in Western Australia.

On 29 January 1861 at Wesley Chapel, Perth, Cook, then a widower, married Louisa Burgess, daughter of William Joyce, carpenter; it was her third marriage and she had five children. Cook and Louisa had three children: twin sons George and John, and a daughter Annie. Cook died of dysentery on 24 February 1871, aged 55. His entire property was sold by auction on 26 July. His sons were brought up by his former apprentice, John Maley of Greenough. Louisa and Annie went to live in Fremantle.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Millett, An Australian Parsonage (Lond, 1872)
  • J. E. Hammond, Western Pioneers, O. K. Battye ed (Perth, 1936)
  • Western Australian Government Gazette, 15 May 1860
  • J. E. Hammond, ‘The Builders of Perth’, Journal and Proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), vol 1, part 9, 1931, pp 58-64
  • K. O. Murray, ‘From Oar to Diesel on the Swan’, Journal and Proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), vol 4, part 1, 1949, pp 54-66, and 'Part II', vol 4, part 2, 1949, pp 67-75
  • Inquirer (Perth), 25 May, 16 Nov 1853, 15 Feb, 15 Oct 1854, 15 Jan, 23 June 1857, 28 Feb 1866, 1 Mar 1871
  • Herald (Fremantle), 4 Mar 1871
  • CSO, 1849-69 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Cook, Solomon (1816–1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


United States of America


24 February, 1871 (aged ~ 55)
Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.