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History of Henderson

History of Henderson

Henderson is named for Sir Reginald Henderson, the British Admiral who recommended a naval base be built in Cockburn Sound in 1910.

The Henderson area’s first European contact came with the landing of Thomas Peel’s hopeful settlers and their failed attempts to build a village community at Clarence, near Woodman Point.

During the 19th century the land along the Cockburn coast – stretching from Fremantle south to Henderson and beyond – was largely used to hold the vast herds of cattle brought down by ship from the Kimberley to be slaughtered at the abattoirs around Robb Jetty. Without the freezing and refrigeration facilities that came later, the cattle had to be kept alive until their meat was needed, and so Henderson was for many years a large-scale cattle holding pen.

A Fleet Base at Cockburn Sound was resoundingly supported.

Things began to change by the 1900s, when Australians began to see the need for defence from the sea. Until early in the 20th century, Australia had no navy and little naval defence from Britain. Amidst a growing fear of international conflict and a rising spirit of nationalism, Admiral Henderson’s suggestion for a Fleet Base at Cockburn Sound was resoundingly supported, despite the enormous leap in scale that it proposed.

When Admiral Henderson visited in 1910, the extent of the Navy in WA was 14 men, four sailboats and a boatshed. The new proposals for a fleet base included 17 armoured ships, nine submarines and 7500 men. Land prices around Woodman Point and Coogee soared, train lines and tramways were built, and the works were officially opened in May 1913 with speeches from the Premier and Australian Admiral Creswell, a military band and a trainful of invited guests who traveled from Fremantle.

Trouble followed the naval base from the beginning.

This overambitious scale, and the fact that construction began in 1913, less than a year before the outbreak of WW1, meant that trouble followed the naval base from the beginning. Unexpected delays in dredging the harbour, labour shortage and political wrangling all played their part, and the development was officially abandoned by 1920. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the current fleet base on Garden Island began to be designed and constructed.

Apart from a scattering of 1950s holiday shacks at the southern tip of the suburb that still operate today, the Henderson area was relatively quiet until the 1970s, when industry began to grow along the coastline. In 1973, the name Henderson was approved for the new suburb. In the 1990s the wetlands and bush that make up the majority of Henderson were formally recognised as a Regional Park, and the Australian Marine Complex began to grow early in the new millennium.

Henderson today is a fascinating mixture of regions.

Henderson embraces its nautical heritage with the bustling shipyards and industry that shaped the district, it plays host to the largest green space in City of Cockburn, and it is a growing residential area for those who enjoy the coastal lifestyle.

Local history questions or anything to add? Please let us know by commenting below.

This article can also be seen on the Cockburn Libraries’ Local History blog and first appeared in the April 2014 edition of Cockburn Soundings

About The Author


Leah works as the Reader Services Librarian at Spearwood Public Library, where she orders the books, and takes requests for anything you can't find in the library! She also researches and writes local history articles for the Cockburn Soundings, and for anyone who has a local history question. Comment below to ask Leah a question.


  1. I am interested in cranes provided by Stothert and Pitt, Bath, England in 1916, presumed for construction of the base. ( 4no Steam Hercules 10-ton @ 75′ S&P B6318/1916 )
    I do not know whether the construction was under the control of a navy or government department; or a civilian contractor working for such an authority.
    Is there any archive of photographs of construction activities( e.g. engineers progress photos/reports ) prior to the project being cancelled in 1921?
    Is there any knowledge of whether such cranes were advertised for sale.

    Chris C, Queens Park, London

    • Adrian

      Hey Chris,

      I will forward you query on to a couple of people who may be able to help you.

      I have also added your comment to the same post on the Cockburn Libraries website, so that they will be looking for information for you as well.

      You should receive a response soon.


  2. If you’re talking about the history of Henderson, it would be good to discuss the settlement of Clarence, which has now been conclusively proven by Dr Shane Burke from Notre Dame University, to have stretched from the foreshore at what is now the Naval Base Shacks, up the flank of Mt Brown. That takes the earliest European connection to the site back to 1830. Then of course, there’s the Whadjuks…be nice to mention them.

    • Adrian

      Hey Steve,

      Thanks for the additional information.

      I have forwarded this to Leah to look into.

      You will hear from her soon.


    • Leah

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for the comment. You’re right about the Clarence settlement being part of Henderson’s history – have you seen the post specifically dedicated to Clarence that was written for WA Day last year? I’ll link it in the post above as well.
      I’m definitely looking to try and incorporate more Indigenous history into the European history of the area – do you have anything specific to the Henderson area that you could share with me? In the meantime, we also have an Indigenous history post here that covers some of the Noongar experiences in Cockburn, and the Derbal Nara website is a fantastic resource.


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