Murder on the Swan

A showcase of intriguing events and unsolved crimes along the Swan River from 1832-1947.

Slow and steady, the Swan River snakes its way into the heart of our City. The cool breeze rippling across the steely grey waters and the sound of gentle lapping against the banks provides reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the main drag.

However, these waters are heavy with stories of violence and blood, mystery and death.  

This exhibition brings a smattering of these stories to the surface - from 1832 and a fatal riverside duel, to 1947 when a murderer went free and and innocent man died.

In between, an influx of convict labour saw notorious criminals arrive; bodies being dumped into the murky depths; stolen goods and weapons submerged; and killers washed the blood from themselves in the waters. Meanwhile, justice was served in the Old Court House which once stood on the banks of the Swan River.

We encourage you to think about these cases as not only stories of their time, but as stories of our time. Each has shaped Perth in some way or another. While our City has changed over the years as a result of the lawmakers and the lawbreakers, the Swan River has always remained constant – gently watching, quietly waiting for crime, justice and law to unfold.

CAUTION: Viewer discretion is advised. Exhibition content is graphic and some may find it distressing.


This exhibition is a collaboration between the Museum of Perth and the Piddington Society.

The Piddington Society was founded in 2011 by Nicholas van Hattem and is named after the shortest serving Judge of the High Court, Albert Piddington. Since 2011, Piddington has grown significantly and has continued to develop a focus on further legal education and social justice. The Society runs regular professional development and networking events for legal practitioners across Perth and raises funds for community legal centres.

Some of the research for this exhibition was conducted by job seekers and Museum volunteers. The aim of the 28-week project was to develop computer-based research and administration skills, culminating in an exhibition for the Perth community.  

This research was undertaken in the historic Atlas Building (where the exhibition is held). Between 1932-1939, the second floor was occupied by law firm, Jackson, Leake, Stawell & Co. The firm merged with Nairn & McDonald in 1940 and still exists today as WA’s largest independent law firm, Jackson McDonald.

PROJECT LEADERS: Nicholas van Hattem, Marina White and Sarah Bailey
HISTORIANS: Shannon Lovelady and Joanne Hyland
CURATORS: Shannon Lovelady and Reece Harley
ADDITIONAL RESEARCH: Rebecca Cain, Peter Boyd, Melanie Alexander, Eugene Spurr and Lyndal Farnsworth



Fremantle Prison
The Hennessy family
The Old Court House Law Museum; Law Society of Western Australia
The Piddington Society
Royal Perth Yacht Club
Sean Martin
West Australian Medical Museum