History of Esperance
The Noognar people were the first known inhabitants of Esperance and they called the area Kepa Kurl which means
"where the water lies like a boomerang". The area was an ideal location for the local Noongar as it was full of a
wide variety of food and water, which meant that had no need to travel far.
Pieter Nuyts - The first known Europeans to sight the area were the crew of the Dutch vessel
"Gulde Zeepaard", under the command of Pieter Nuyts, in 1627. They sailed through the Archipelago but did not
actually set foot on land.
D’Entrecasteaux - It would take another 175 years before the French would venture to the
western south coast of New Holland. The expedition , which departed from Brest in France on September 1791,
was under the command of Admiral Bruny D’Entrecasteaux. D’Entrecasteaux had been commissioned
by the National Assembly to search for the lost explorer Jean-François de La Pérouse who had not been
heard of since leaving Botany Bay in March 1788. D’Entrecasteaux was also requested to chart the journey and
look for new scientific discoveries.
In December 1792 the two ships, L'Esperance and Le Recherche, encountered a storm off the south coast. Fears
were raised that the ship would be wrecked if they couldn't find a safe harbour. Le Grand, one of the ship's crew,
climbed the masthead as the ship rolled in the wild weather and spied a safe anchoring place. In honour of the crew
member who saved the day, D’Entrecasteaux named the cape, Citizen
Le Grand and the bay, Esperance, after his ship.
Matthew Flinders - In 1802 Matthew Flinders sailed around the Western Australian
coast and named such places as Lucky Bay and Thistle Cove.
Edward John Eyre - In 1840 Edward John Eyre and John Baxter led an expedition from
Adelaide to Albany. Their plans were to explore the interior of Adelaide before following the coastline from the
Great Australian Bight and the Nullabor Plain to Western Australia. The group consisted of the two explorers
and three aborigines, Wylie, Joey and Yarry . Near Caiguna, on the Nullabor Plain, the group began running
low on water and food. The two young aboriginal boys Joey and Yarry panicked , killing Baxter and fleeing with the
guns and most of the supplies. Wylie refused to join the two and stayed with Eyre to continue the journey with
virtually no provisions. Fortunately they were saved by French whalers who, by chance , were in a bay near
Esperance. Eyre in gratitude named the area Rossiter Bay after the Captain of the whaling ship.
What did Eyre learn from this expedition? Basically that the land was worthless for
The Dempsters - Despite the area being occasionally frequented by
sealers from the penal settlement at Van Diemans Land and American and French whalers, Esperance wasn't
actually settled until the 1860s by the Dempsters, a pioneer family of Scottish descent.
In 1864, the government offered Charles, James , Andrew and William Dempster leases with generous
conditions in order for them to take up land in what had been declared unsuitable for agriculture. The
offer suited them just fine, as they were close to the primary colony port of Albany and Adelaide where they
could sell their products. The Dempster brothers stocked their land with sheep , cattle and horses. In
the early years their farming endeavours were successful but it wasn't long before their sheep were affected
with coast disease due to the lack of cobalt in the soil.
The first town jetty was built in 1890s following the huge gold rush in the eastern goldfileds and
later, in 1935, the Tankers Jetty was constructed.
Poor soil hindered the development of agriculture in the area but in the 1960s, when they
discovered that by adding superphosphate fertilisers (with trace elements) to the soil it could create suitable
pastoral land, an American syndicate sought interest. The eventual partnership of the syndicate with the state
government proved to be a success.