The first European visitor to these shores was the English buccaneer William Dampier, who came aboard the Cygnet in 1688. In 1818, Captain Phillip Parker King on the Mermaid arrived in the Dampier Archipelago and named the Intercourse Islands, Lewis and Enderby Islands and Nickol Bay.
Francis Thomas Gregory on the Dolphin arrived at Nickol Bay in 1861, naming Hearson’s Cove, the Maitland and Fortescue rivers, the Hamersley Ranges, Mt Samson and Mt Bruce.
The first white settler was Walter Padbury, who, inspired by reports from the Gregory expedition, decided to start a sheep station on the “uninhabited” north-west coast. His party landed at Tien Tsin, later to be called Cossack, in 1863. Later that same year John Wellard followed this example and the managers of these parties, Charles Nairn and William Shakespeare Hall, are remembered as the pioneers of the north west.
John and Emma Withnell arrived in April 1864, travelled overland up the Harding River until they arrived at Yeera-Muk-A-Doo Pool and camped at the base of a hill, which Emma named Mount Welcome.
More settlers, some associated with the Denison Plains Association, the Portland Squatting Company and the Camden Harbour Pastoral Association, arrived, and in 1865 Government officials from the failed Camden Harbour settlement, including Resident Magistrate R.J Sholl, received orders to transfer the Government establishment to Tien Tsin.
Sholl recommended Tien Tsin as a port and chose a town site at Mount Welcome, the place taken up by the Withnells. Roebourne was named after the Surveyor General J.S. Roe, and was proclaimed a township 17 August 1866.
The District of Nickol Bay, defined as “All that portion North of a due East and West line from the mouth of the Murchison River” was gazetted in 1871.
After Governor Weld’s visit in 1871-1872, Tien Tsin was re-named Cossack, after the name of the vessel the governor travelled on.
In 1887 the Roads District of Nickol Bay was abolished and the Roebourne Roads Board District gazetted. The Towns of Roebourne and Cossack were proclaimed as Municipalities.
Over time the area of the Roebourne Roads Board was reduced to form various other Road Districts, including Ashburton, Tableland and Port Hedland.
Roebourne Municipal Council was dissolved in 1906 and included in the Roebourne Roads Board and in 1910 the Town of Cossack was abolished.
East, West and Central wards were gazetted in 1914 and in 1916 the number of members for each ward allocated.
The Roebourne Roads Board became the Shire of Roebourne in 1961 and in 1971 the area of the shire was reduced to 5900 square miles, including Roebourne, Cossack, Whim Creek, Point Samson, Wickham, Karratha and Dampier and the stations Karratha, Mardie, Mt Welcome, Woodbrook, Warambie, Pyramid, Sherlock, Mallina and Cooya Pooya.
With the beginning of the iron ore industry in the early 1960s, Dampier was chosen as the Port for Hamersley Iron’s operations and this signalled the beginning of major development in the shire. With the introduction of jet aircraft, regular passenger flights to the unsealed Roebourne airport were discontinued and in 1966 Hamersley Iron constructed a sealed airport, then the Dampier Airport.
Planning for the construction of Karratha began in 1968 and land was excised from the Karratha Station pastoral lease. Wickham’s first permanent buildings were begun in 1970 and from this time the Shire of Roebourne was faced with increasing responsibilities.
Fourteen years after its establishment, Karratha became the administrative centre for the Shire of Roebourne when the Shire offices were relocated from Carnarvon Terrace, Roebourne, to Welcome Road, Karratha in 1975.
On 1 July 2014 the Shire of Roebourne became the City of Karratha.