top of page
Rottnest Salt Works - State Library of Western Australia (1906)

Henri Couderot Salt Works

During the term of Captain William Jackson’s position as Superintendent on Rottnest Island between 1867 and 1883, he saw many of the building works take place, just like those in his position before and after.


Aside from the construction of the boys' reformatory prison (which is now the Rottnest Cottage) and a number of other buildings, he would oversee the salt works that Henri Couderot would come to design and operate (1). He would also be engaged by the Government to, “teach the natives the routine of the old salt house workings”.


Located adjacent to Pearse Lake (with some historic references spelling it as Pearce) and Herschel Lake, the ruins of the Salt Works today can be seen in an area bearing a triangle formation between Digby and Stables Road.


In December 1839, two buildings had been constructed using the labour of 10 prisoners (9 aboriginals) to store the harvested salt. One of the buildings could store up to 50 tons of salt and the second was described as standing 65 feet long by 16 feet wide.


Although it is difficult to ascertain any further information in the newspaper article or elsewhere in online resources as to where this was initially located, both buildings were erected from stone with lime being burnt on the spot.


Lime was used to bind limestone blocks and stones in place. This was created by burning the limestone in kilns, which produced lumps of quicklime. Mixed with sand and water, calcium hydroxide (slaked lime) was then produced to make a fine powder. A seive would be used to remove any large lumps, the mixture wet again and mixed with more sand to achieve the required consistency before being left to mature for a few days.

Rottnest Salt Works - State Library of Western Australia (1906)

Pensioner Guards

Frenchman Henri Couderot (Convict reg no. 8227) was issued his ticket of leave on 13 December 1873 upon completing his sentence. Aside from several years of experience with salt production, finding any further information on Henri (often spelt Henry) is difficult and information could be jumbled with two men of the same or similar name.


Some sources refer to him as Adrien Couderot. It appears his full name was Adrien Henri Couderot and a Mrs Couderot is listed alongside him, in the Biographies of Western Australian prison officers, 1829-1879 including Enrolled Pensioner Guards.


Pensioner Guards were soldiers employed as guards on board the convict transport ships, sometimes with their wife and children, to start a new life. Many of them remained in Australia as settlers upon serving their military duty of seven years, although in Henri’s case, he was listed as being a convict serving out a sentence. The term Pensioner Guards became Enrolled Guards after 1880.


Mrs Couderot, daughter of William Duffield (the island’s first lighthouse keeper) was reported as being one of the very few people who had, “maintained their unbroken association with the island since her birth”.


Salt Works

The Salt Works was one of the first industries established on Rottnest Island in 1869, comprising of a boiler and two pans enclosed within a limestone structure. Whilst salt had been harvested from the lakes as far back as the 1830s, the unprocessed product had been shipped to Fremantle for processing.


It appears that Aboriginal prison labour was used for harvesting and bagging the salt from 1868. During the first half of the 1900’s, up to 40 prisoners were sent over from Fremantle Prison. Out of these prisoners working the salt lakes, 10% were Aboriginal.


The biggest problem with having the Salt Works processing the salt on the island, appears to have been obtaining the required supply of firewood to generate heat for this to take place. Timber from the island was initially cut down but it was soon realised that the island’s limited supply wasn’t sufficient enough to be able to support this long term.


Firewood was then sourced from the mainland but it was too uneconomical, forcing the Salt Works processing plant to close in 1903. Harvesting of the salt lakes would continue until 1952.


Harvesting the Salt

By the end of the long and hot summers, a number of small lakes would completely dry out (particularly Lake Sirius, Lake Negri, Pink Lake and Pearse Lake). This would leave a layer of crusted salt on the surface which could be harvested (2).


Pearse Lake, which forms part of Government Lake, was named after Frederick Pearse who was a Superintendent on Rottnest Island between 1898 and 1903. Like many before him, he would oversee the Aboriginal Prison and a works program, using forced Aboriginal prison labour.


For more than 100 years, Pearse Lake was harvested for its salt and for a long time, it was the only source of salt production in Western Australia. An average year could produce as much as 700 tonnes (2).


Salt would be carted from a tram to Excursion Jetty (which was built in 1906 and later became the site of the Army Jetty) to be shipped to the Fremantle Port. Although a few of the tram’s rails are believed to still exist on the island, much of the rail was pulled up and relocated to the Perth Zoo (2).


Upon the closure of Henri Couderot’s Salt Works, the building continued to be used for storage and as stables. Over time, one of the chimneys became severely dilapidated and had to be demolished in 1947. The remaining building was later demolished in 1959.



(1) Rottnest Island Management Plan – Volume 1 The Plan (August 1985).

(2) Guidebook to the Geology of Rottnest Island – Phillip E. Playford. Geological Survey of Western Australia (1988).

bottom of page