John Burdett Wittenoom – Colonial Chaplain, Justice of the Peace, Educator, Community Figure
One of the earliest civic leaders in a fledgling colony, John Burdett Wittenoom arrived in Fremantle aboard the Wanstead on 30 January 1830.
A widower with four boys, he was accompanied by his sister Eliza, braving a seven month sea journey to commence his role as Colonial Chaplain.
As the only ordained minister of any denomination in the colony until 1836, Wittenoom presided over all funerals, marriages and baptisms in addition to conducting Anglican services. He travelled on horseback to the port at Fremantle and to Guildford, the agricultural township on the Upper Swan, to hold services – under a tree in the early days.
In a new world that seemed for much of the time to offer very little comforts, the solace of religion was of the utmost importance; it was this solace that Wittenoom offered.
Justice of the Peace
Wittenoom was appointed as one of eight foundational Justices of the Peace. Western Australia’s judicial system was founded on English Law, simplified and adapted by Judge William Henry Mackie to suit the local circumstances of the fledgling colony.
The new court house opened on 2 January 1837. During the first decade of its opening Wittenoom was a frequent visitor for the building also served as a venue for Wittenoom’s religious services and school classes.
As a former Headmaster of a Grammar School in England, Wittenoom was actively involved in the Colony as a teacher and administrator. He played a critical role in establishing the Colony’s first school which until 1854 was located in the court house, and later oversaw the establishment of an Education committee.
Wittenoom worked on a number of charitable committees in addition to his religious and political roles. Like many of his Victorian contemporaries he had a strong sense of responsibility towards building a civilised society. Wittenoom’s clerical, judicial and pedagogical roles allowed him to come into contact with a wide section of Western Australian society, a multifaceted and valuable role in a fledgling colony such as the one he settled in.