ROE, John Septimus (1797-1878)

ROE, John Septimus (1797-1878)
explorer and pioneer
the seventh son of the Rev. James Roe, was born at Newbury, Berkshire, in 1797. He was educated at Christ's hospital school, London, and entered the navy as a midshipman in 1813. He was chiefly on the East India station where he was promoted lieutenant. In 1817 he was with Phillip Parker King (q.v.) on his expedition around the coast of Australia, and again in 1821. He saw active service in the Burmese war 1825-7, and in December 1828 was appointed surveyor-general of Western Australia. He arrived at the mouth of the Swan River in the Parmelia with Governor Stirling (q.v.) on 1 June 1829. He made the preliminary surveys, and the sites of Perth and Fremantle were chosen on his recommendation. Roe was fully employed for some time surveying blocks for the settlers, but he found time to do some exploring of the country in the vicinity of Perth and along the coast. In 1836 he made his first expedition to the inland, when he explored the tableland to the north and east of Perth. He reached as far as Lake Brown but found little country fit for settlement. In 1839 Roe did good work in finding and rescuing some of the men of the unfortunate expedition led by Captain Grey (q.v.). His most important piece of exploring took place in 1848, when as leader of a party of five, he explored the country to the south-east of Perth and the north-east of Albany. He was away for about five months and covered a distance of nearly 1800 miles. Much desolate sandy and rocky country was traversed, and occasionally scrub country was met with, difficult to force a way through. Though little good land was found Roe discovered coal in two separate localities, and also some excellent forest land. The interesting report of his journey may be found in Volume 22 of the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society. This was the last of Roe's expeditions but he continued to be surveyor-general until 1871. He was much interested in science and was a fellow of the Linnean Society. His scientific collection formed the basis of the present museum at Perth, and he was largely, if not entirely, responsible for setting aside the King's park at Perth as a permanent reserve. He died at Perth on 28 May 1878. He was married when he arrived in Western Australia and there was a family of six sons and at least two daughters. His youngest son, A. S. K. Roe, was for many years a well-known police magistrate at Perth, and other descendants have played a prominent part in the development of the West.
Roe was a good public servant and he takes high rank among Australian explorers. He was excellent in observing and recording the country he passed through, and thoroughly capable in managing expeditions and carrying them to a successful conclusion. The town of Roebourne is named after him.
Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 1879, p. 277; Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, 1852; E. Favenc, The Explorers of Australia; J. G. Wilson, Western Australia's Centenary, p. 195; J. S. Battye, The Cyclopaedia of Western Australia.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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