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Vancouver's Cairn


Heritage Council

Place Number

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Possession Pt, Vancouver Pen Albany

Location Details

Other Name(s)

The Cairn

Local Government



Great Southern

Construction Date

Constructed from 1791 to 1972

Demolition Year


Statutory Heritage Listings

Type Status Date Documents More information
(no listings)

Other Heritage Listings and Surveys

Type Status Date Grading/Management More information
Category Description
Classified by the National Trust Classified 04 Apr 1977

Register of the National Estate Permanent 21 Oct 1980

RHP - Assessed-Below Threshold Current 31 Aug 2001

Statement of Significance

The place was constructed in 1972 by the Albany Historical Society to mark the place where Captain George Vancouver claimed the southwest of Western Australia for Britain in 1791 and named many of the geographic features of the King George Sound district. In so doing, Vancouver ensured that the whole of Australia would be under British control;
It displays powerful aesthetic qualities as an imposing man-made structure in the natural environment. The stacked, cut rock evokes permanence and domination and contrasts with the natural scenic backdrop comprising sky, ocean and the distant undulating landforms of Princess Royal Harbour and King George Sound.

The place has considerable landmark value as a man-made structure at the crest of a smooth granite outcrop. At only two metres high, the cairn itself is just visible from distant points around the harbour but the high point of the Vancouver Peninsula is a clearly identifiable landmark.

The place is valued for its commemoration of the act of possession of the southwest of Western Australia for Britain in 1791, and for its landmark qualities on an elevated site overlooking the Sound and the Harbour.

Physical Description

The northern end of the Vancouver Peninsula comprises an isthmus with Princess Royal Harbour to the west and King George III Sound to the east, culminating in a rounded point which is the site of Point Possession. Vancouver’s Cairn is located on a rocky outcrop towards the crest of this point. Although the water passage between the peninsula and the land of Port Albany, Attaturk Entrance is only approximately 500 metres wide, land access to the site must circumnavigate Princess Royal Harbour, a distance of approximately thirty kilometres via the Frenchman Bay and Quaranup roads.

The place is a marked site along the Quaranup/Point Possession Heritage Trail, a walk of approximately four kilometres that commences at Whaling Cove, (Ruins) carpark. The trail, with interpretive plaques and path markers, follows the seaward side of Quarantine Hill; descends to Bramble Bay; heads north along the waters of Princess Royal Harbour and ascends to Point Possession. The return journey takes in Barker Bay on the eastern side of the isthmus, which is markedly different to the harbour side of Bramble Beach, due to its ocean exposure. The Quaranup Complex is in close proximity to the trail but is not generally accessible to the public.

Due to its location near the crest of Possession Point, Vancouver’s Cairn has panoramic views. The cairn itself has been constructed with stacked free-stone without any visible binding material and is approximately 1.8 metres square and 2.2 metres high. The sides are straight for half the height but form a rough arched shape at the top. A documentary photograph shows a slender, vertical pole once extended from the top of the cairn, but this is no longer in existence.

Two commemorative plaques have been applied to the cairn. The Shire and Town of Albany placed the ‘Vancouver Bicentenary’ plaque to a stone tablet leaning against the north cairn wall, to commemorate the bicentenary of Vancouver’s act of possession, on 29th September 1991. The ‘Quaranup/Point Possession Trail’ interpretative plaque is located against the south wall.

A second stacked rock structure is sited approximately thirty-five metres to the northeast of the cairn. It is much smaller and less formal than the official site, and has the appearance of an amateur attempt to replicate the cairn. The existence nearby of a small, trapezoidal concrete block with a badly rusted vertical pipe fixed in the top surface suggests this second stone structure is remnant fabric of some authorised or municipal activity.


There are reports of early exploration by ships visiting the west coast of Australia in the 17th century, but few reports of the south coast. This area was not completely unknown to sailors, however, as sealers and whalers were known to have frequented it from time to time prior to Vancouver's arrival, but no serious mapping had been carried out and no claim made of the country.

George Vancouver was born in 1757, in the port of King's Lynn, Norfolk and died in England in 1798 at the age of 41. His family was of Dutch descent. Vancouver joined the navy at the age of 15, in 1772, and sailed with Captain James Cook, on the Resolution, as Cook attempted to chart more of the coastline of the still largely unknown great southern continent. In 1776, Vancouver undertook a second voyage with Cook, to chart the North-West Passage linking the Pacific with Hudson Bay. It was during this voyage that Cook was killed at Hawaii. On his return to England, Vancouver passed his examinations and achieved the rank of lieutenant.

Between 1780 and 1790, he served on other ships, fought against the Franco-Spanish Alliance, and spent several years at Jamaica. In 1789, he was appointed second in command of an exploring mission to the South Seas and the North-West coast of America under Captain Roberts, but a dispute between Spain and England caused the voyage to be cancelled. The following year, on 15 December 1790, Vancouver was appointed to command an expedition to Nootka Sound on the American Pacific coast to receive a 'restitution of the territories' which the Spanish had seized during the dispute, and:
to chart the coast from the 30th degree of north latitude northwestward towards Cook's river; and further to obtain every possible information that could be collected respecting the natural and political state of the country.

Vancouver left England on 1 April 1791, with the sloop Discovery, under his own command, and the armed tender Chatham, under the command of Lieutenant William Broughton. The ships spent some time at the Cape of Good Hope before sailing for the southwest coast of 'New Holland', which was sighted on 26 September 1791.
"On landing, we proceeded along the shores of the Sound to the northward, to a high rocky point that obtained the name of Point Possession; and on reaching the summit gained an excellent view of the Sound in all directions.....The necessary observations being made at this station, the British colours were displayed, and having drunk His Majesty's health, accompanied by the usual formalities on such occasions, we took possession of the country from the land we saw north-westward of Cape Chatham, so far as we might explore its coasts, in the name of his present Majesty, for him, and for his heirs and successors."

Vancouver makes no mention of building a cairn on Point Possession at the place where he took possession of the country, but this does not mean that he did not cause one to be erected. It was normal practice in these circumstances to hoist a flag, which Vancouver did, and as a flagpole could not be planted in granite, it was probably supported with a pile of rocks. How intricately this pile of rocks was assembled can only be conjectured. In 1972, the Albany Historical Society undertook to build Vancouver's Cairn to commemorate the events of 1791. They built the cairn with rocks they found scattered over the area. Some of the rocks they used may have formed the support for Vancouver's flagpole but there was no indication in 1972 that any rock structure had previously existed. The action of weather and people over the intervening 181 years had removed any evidence, if any there had been. An undated photograph of Vancouver’s Cairn on the National Estate database shows a 'stick' in the centre of the stone structure. According to David Bird of the Albany Historical Society, this was a piece of driftwood, a worked piece of timber that had probably washed ashore from a boat, and which was added to the cairn at the time of construction.

Later in the 1970s, a group of people gathered on Point Possession and created another small cairn, a random pile of stone, a little distance from Vancouver's Cairn. The significance of this second cairn has not been uncovered.

A plaque was erected on the south side of Vancouver's Cairn in 1988, as part of the Bicentennial project. In 1991, on the 200th anniversary of Vancouver's act of possession, a re-enactment ceremony was held at Vancouver's Cairn when another plaque was unveiled by the Chief Justice of Western Australia, David Malcolm.

State Heritage Office library entries

Library Id Title Medium Year Of Publication
328 Albany, Western Australia : the first hundred years, 1791-1891. Book 1992

Place Type

Historic site


Epoch General Specific
Original Use OTHER Other
Present Use OTHER Other

Construction Materials

Type General Specific
Other STONE Granite

Creation Date

30 May 1989

Publish place record online (inHerit):


Last Update

14 Mar 2018


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