Henry Willey Reveley
Born: 1788, Reading, Berkshire, England
Died: 1875 Reading, Berkshire, England
Occupation: Civil Engineer
Hometown: Pisa, Italy
Reveley was born into a progressive, intellectual, artistic family. After his father’s death in 1799 his mother remarried and moved to Pisa, Italy, where Reveley completed his education and qualified as a civil engineer from the University of Pisa. It was here he became a close friend of the poet, Shelley, and famously saved him from drowning in 1821. Shelley drowned anyway, in a storm the next year, and a despondent Reveley then left Italy and travelled, making his way to London where, in 1824, he married Cleobulina Amelia Fielding, known as Amelia. While the marriage lasted nearly half a century, it was not blessed with children.
In 1826 Reveley was appointed as the first colonial civil engineer at the Cape Colony (Cape Town, South Africa). He and Amelia arrived in 1827 but he was unfairly dismissed by the Colony's Governor for incompetence in 1828.
In May 1829 Captain James Stirling, in the barque Parmelia on his way to the soon-to-be established Swan River Colony, called in to Cape Town and recruited Reveley as Acting Civil Engineer. On arrival in June the weather was so rough the mouth of the Swan was impassable and the new migrants spent the first few miserable months in temporary huts Reveley urgently constructed on Garden Island.
From those humble beginnings, Reveley’s impact on the colony was enormous. It was Reveley who, generations before C Y O’Connor, designed the harbour at Fremantle - with an ambitious breakwater that remained unbuilt for 70 years - and dredged the Swan River at Heirresson Island to allow sailing ships to travel further upriver. He also oversaw the construction of the colony’s original public buildings such as the first gaol - the 12-sided 'Round House' at Fremantle, Perth’s first barracks (in Barrack Street), the Court House, the original Government House and other government buildings. Only Fremantle’s Round House and Perth’s Old Court House are still standing today.
On his own land grant, where Perth Technical School on St George’s Terrace now stands, Reveley constructed an ingenious, spring-fed mill along the lines of the ones he had loved so much in Tuscany.
In 1838, disappointed with the harsh conditions and lack of intellectual company and further opportunities in the fledgling colony, Reveley and Amelia returned to England. He spent the next three decades lecturing on arts and science at various universities. They retired back to Reveley’s birthplace in Reading, where Amelia died in 1870, aged 80. Reveley died in 1875, aged 86, two years after publishing a paper on the merits of West Australian timber.