Date of Birth:
  8 May 1797 
Place of Birth:
  Newbury, England
Date of Death:

  28 May 1878 in Perth,
   Western Australia

Date Arrived:
  1 June 1829

Ship Arrival:

  Surveyor, Surveyor-
  Explorer, Naval

  Officer, Sketcher
Father -Reverend James Roe
Mother-Sophia Roe (formerly Brookes)
Siblings-James Roe, Thomas Roe, George Roe, Charles Roe, James Roe, William Roe, Henry Roe, Sophia Roe, Eleanor Roe
Wife-Matilda Roe (formerly Bennett)
Children-Sophia Roe, Matilda Elizabeth Roe, James Broun Roe, Eliza Naylor Roe, John Henry Hayden Roe, Emma Lucille Frances Roe, Ellen Elizabeth Roe, William Henry Lyons Roe, Frederick Mackie Roe, Alice Maude Roe, George Harriott Roe, Augustus Sanford Keats Roe, Jessie Roe 


John Septimus Roe

History before Arrival in Perth

John Septimus Roe was the seventh son of James and Sophia Roe and was born on the 8 May 1797 in Newbury, England. As a child he wished to become a teacher and his father, although quite poor, managed to secure him a place at Christ’s Hospital in London. There are letters written by John Septimus Roe to his parents that show that there was a struggle for his parents to keep him at the school (not because John didn’t want to be there, it was because they were lacking in funds to pay for the school fees).

On the 27 May 1813, John entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman (a commissioned officer of the lowest rank) aboard the ship Rippon, upon which he participated in the blockade of the French coast during the Napoleonic Wars. John passed examinations for Mathematics and Navigation in 1817 and was appointed master’s mate (a master’s mate is someone who is ranked between a midshipman and a lieutenant) in the surveying service in New South Wales under the command of Phillip Parker King.

Under the command of Phillip Parker King, John participated in 3 expeditions to map out the coast of Australia upon the ship the Mermaid. The voyages included a circumnavigation of Australia, a brief survey of the Derwent River in Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land) and an 8- month mapping expedition of the north coast of Australia (parts of the coast hadn’t been explored since Captain Cook) that was interrupted by severe weather damage to the ship. In 1821 the northern survey was continued on the ship the Bathurst upon which John suffered a nasty fall from the masthead from which he received some bad injuries. Later in John’s life he attributed the loss of sight in his right eye to the fall.

On the 1 June 1823, John Septimus Roe was made a Lieutenant of the Royal Navy upon the ship the Tamar under the command of Captain (Sir) James Bremer. On the 20 September 1824, John Septimus Roe aided in the establishment of a settlement upon the Northern coast of Australia. After the establishment of the settlement the Tamar sailed for the India Station where they participated in the war against Burma, from which John was awarded the Burma medal. On his way back to England John prepared 3 charts of parts of the Arabian and African coasts along with some sketches and surveys. When he returned to England John Septimus Roe was appointed to the Hydrographic Office to work on publications for The Australia Directory (London, 1830).

Arrival at Perth and Post Arrival History

In 1829 John Septimus Roe was made surveyor-general of the suggested settlement of the Swan River. John Septimus Roe and his wife travelled to the Swan River upon the ship the ‘Parmelia’ and arrived at the Swan River on the 1 June 1829. In the newly formed Swan River colony John charted the sea entrances to the Swan River, he surveyed the sites of Fremantle and Perth and he marked out the lots of the planned towns.

While in Perth John participated in many journeys of exploration including 8 short trips to the South and the South-West, a longer trip to the South Coast of Australia, a rescue mission north to rescue crew members from Captain George Grey’s expedition and his final journey took 5 months between 1848 and 1849 and took him east of Esperance to Russell Range.

In 1860 John Septimus Roe revisited England where he applied for promotion to the rank of commander. His application took 3 years to pass and the rank was granted with no extra pay. John Septimus Roe retired in Perth in 1870 after spending 57 years and 2 months in the service of the public (approximately 31 years as surveyor-general). John Septimus Roe died of natural causes at the age of 81 (which was quite old in that era as people tended to die much younger) on the 28 May 1878 and was buried in the East Perth Cemeteries. After his death the Swan River Colony regretted that he had not received all the honours he deserved.

Other Interesting Facts

·         John Septimus Roe was one of the founders of the Swan River Mechanics’ Institute and was its president for a lot of years, from his many works he helped lay the foundations of what later became the Perth Museum.

·   Apparently John Septimus Roe was one of the first people who encouraged the setting aside of Kings Park (then Mount Eliza) as a public place exempt from activities such as lumbering.

·   He was possibly a source of inspiration for the young John Forrest and Alexander Forrest as they worked with him as surveyors.

·   Many things were named after John Septimus Roe including the town of Roebourne in Western Australia, Mount Roe, Roelands (a town near Bunbury), the Roe river, the Roe highway (a major highway in WA), a poisonous weed discovered by him, 2 other species of plants and an Anglican Community School was also named after him.


Picture References: (Note, the copyright of these pictures has expired as they are both over 150 years old)


John Septimus Roe - 1824John Septimus Roe - 1850s

 John Septimus Roe - 1824                                 John Septimus Roe - 1850s