Foundry forges maritime history

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Rare photos of steel workers, cracked anchors and ship christenings were the last thing Alex Chalmers expected to find demolishing Freo’s oldest foundry.

Published here for the first time, salvaged archives include snapshots taken a century ago of the original site on Beach Street where Mr Chalmers stumbled across lost company titles, operating licences and insurance slips dating to the early 1920s.

Impressed by his chance discovery, the 59-year-old foundry boss now based at Henderson decided to compile the images into the company’s new 2014 calendar.

“We found them in boxes with a few other bits and pieces,” he told the Herald, flicking through calendar images copied for 150 WA clients.

“I have never seen them before.”

His grandfather Alexander James Chalmers registered the foundry under the factories act in then Mandurah Road (South Terrace) before moving to Beach Street in 1907. Born in Victoria in 1865, AJ Chalmers served on council in 1938 and was a member of the Ugly Men’s Association, a charity established in 1917.

Annual Uglieland carnivals were held in Perth and Fremantle and an Uglieland fairground on Pioneer Park ran from 1922 to 1936 to raise money for poor kids. The new Lotteries Commission took over many of its activities in 1933.

AJ died in 1942 at his home in Shuffrey Street, the business passing to son Peter and brothers Alan and James (pictured walking past a rudder wearing a pit hat in one of the discovered photos).

Mr Chalmers’ 84-year-old father Peter started work at the factory aged 16 and retired 44 years later. He now lives in Mandurah.

Mr Chalmers started his own apprenticeship as a fitter and turner in 1968, aged 15.

“It’s difficult to say how they did it, it’s all riveted,” he says, inspecting a faded photo of iron foundry workers in front of a funnel built for the British steamer SS Westminster.

A May 1916 newspaper article reports SS Westminster returning to Fremantle from Geraldton before leaving for the UK with her cargo of grain. Captain Pennell berthed the 4343-ton ship just after 4pm opposite the former wheat shed on the north wharf.

It was sunk by a German submarine near Malta on December 14, 1916, killing 15. The calendar image for next October shows the ship’s funnel wedged with timber planks to stop it rolling on land now occupied by council carpark.

Behind the workers, a young steelmaker sits crosslegged on the black funnel, cradling his face in his hands. The Chalmers foundry sign appears in the background next to the tavern and backpackers’ lodge.


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