Old Davy Gray

perth-town-hallThe old man lay there, contentedly considering the bush and awakening cicadas. As darkness descended, he recollected his 75 years. He’d learned the skills of a boiler maker in the Peak District of the English midlands. A misunderstanding over arson and forgery earned him a trip to the Swan River colony. It was better here anyway, prospects were good.

Twenty years later he was the wealthiest and best known contractor in Perth. Fortune deserted him, so he retired to work his country holding at Pinjarra, named after the local indigenous mob. Now he enjoyed old age and married life, his seven children, and a bevy of grandchildren. His horse lay beside him and gave a snort. Davy closed his grey eyes, turned his long face to the sand, and never woke again.

David Gray was a convict of stout build, distinguishable by a scar across the bridge of nose. He was 27-years-old, with 3 children, when sentenced in Derbyshire to 10 year’s transportation to Western Australia. This year is the 150th anniversary of his disembarkation in 1866, and there are touches of him everywhere.

The most significant is the imposing Town Hall in the centre of Perth today. It’s the only town hall in Australia built in the medieval style, and the only one constructed by convicts. Within a year of arriving, Davy became a brick layer, and right from the beginning he worked on the town hall longer than anyone. For almost 3 years he laboured, his sweat still in the limestone mortar binding the brown clay bricks.

Rumour has it that Davy and his fellow prisoners cheekily left their mark. It’s said that the small windows of the tower are modeled on the inverted arrows on the convicts’ uniforms, and the clock faces are surrounded by a hangman’s rope.

Right alongside is where the first tree was felled thereby establishing the colony in 1829. Today it’s overshadowed by the state buildings. Behind is where public floggings were held. Today that place is occupied by The Deanery built by convicts in 1859. The site is still throwing up 19th century porcelain from its sandy garden. Across the road is the old courthouse, Perth’s oldest building built by convicts in 1836. It’s where the first European executed in the colony was sentenced in 1844.

That warm April evening in 1912, former convict Davy hurried his spring cart pulled by a borrowed horse. He was keen to get home before nightfall, so took a short cut. The track was narrow, his cart hit a black boy tree, hurtling on one wheel for another 20 feet, then flipping upside down. Both the driver and horse were trapped.

Davy lay there dying. He was comfortable in the knowledge that he’d achieved a lot in his varied life. More than most. And his memorial still stands today.


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