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Henry Willey Reveley (1788–1875)

by Ray Oldham

This article was published:

Henry Willey Reveley (1788-1875), civil engineer, was born in England, the son of Willey Reveley, an architect whose chief surviving work is the Church of All Saints at Southampton, and his wife Maria, née James. His parents were friends of such intellectual liberals as Jeremy Bentham, Thomas Holcroft, William Godwin and his wife Mary Wollstonecraft. When the last-named died soon after giving birth to a daughter, her infant was brought up for some years in the Reveley's home. This child later became the second wife of the poet Shelley and author of the novel Frankenstein. After Willey Reveley's death in 1799, his widow married John Gisbourne and the family went to live in Italy, where Henry studied mathematics and natural philosophy, distinguished himself by his scientific attainments, and graduated as a civil engineer at the University of Pisa, but had difficulty in obtaining employment. He became a close friend of Shelley, whom he saved from drowning in the River Arno in 1821. After the poet's death in 1822, Reveley returned to England, where he is reputed to have studied under John Rennie, the engineer and constructor of Waterloo Bridge. In 1827 he went with his wife Amelia, a sister of the artist Copley Fielding, to Cape Town as colonial civil engineer, but held this appointment for little more than a year.

When the barque Parmelia called at Cape Town in May 1829, Lieutenant-Governor James Stirling engaged Reveley as civil engineer to the Swan River settlement at a salary of £200 and the Reveleys continued the voyage with the founders of Western Australia. His first work after arrival was the building of huts at the temporary encampment on Garden Island. When the party moved to the mainland he was responsible for the design and construction of all public works. These included the first barracks, government offices, commissariat store, first Government House, the gaol at Fremantle—a 12-sided building now known as the Round House—and the first court-house at Perth. He also superintended the cutting of a canal through the shallow flats in the Swan River near the later Causeway, planned a breakwater and harbour at Fremantle, and as a private venture built in St George's Terrace the first water-mill in Perth on the Tuscan principle. Of the many buildings he designed in a simplified Georgian style, the only surviving ones in 1966 are the Round House, Fremantle (1831) and the Old Court House, Perth (1836).

In 1838 Reveley and his wife returned to England, where his continued interest in the colony was revealed by two articles: one written in 1844 from Parkstone, Dorset, on immigration policy and the other in 1873 from Reading on West Australian timber. He died at Reading in 1875. In spite of his varied attainments, Reveley's contribution to Western Australia seems to have been limited to his architecture. He is known to have tutored the son of at least one family, but the harsh conditions of early settlement left little opportunity for cultural and intellectual activity.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Hasluck, Unwilling Emigrants (Melb, 1959)
  • P. Hasluck and F. I. Bray, ‘Early Mills of Perth’, Journal and Proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), 1 (1927-31)
  • West Australian, 22 June 1929.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ray Oldham, 'Reveley, Henry Willey (1788–1875)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




1875 (aged ~ 87)
Reading, Berkshire, England

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