Port Phillip 1800-1840

Discovery of Port Phillip. The discovery of Bass Strait in 1798

had rendered it possible for the captains of ships bound for Sydney to

shorten somewhat their voyage thither; and as this was recognised by the

English Government to be a great advantage, a small vessel, the Lady

Nelson, was sent out under the command of Lieutenant Grant, in order to

make a thorough exploration of the passage. She reached the Australian

ast at the boundary between the two present colonies of Victoria

and South Australia. Grant called the cape he first met with Cape

Northumberland. He saw and named Cape Nelson, Portland Bay, Cape

Schanck, and other features of the coast. When he arrived in Sydney he

called the attention of Governor King to a small inlet which he had not

been able to examine, although it seemed to him of importance. In 1802

the Governor sent back the Lady Nelson, now under the command of

Lieutenant Murray, to explore this inlet. Lieutenant Murray entered

it, and found that a narrow passage led to a broad sheet of water,

thoroughly landlocked, though of very considerable extent. He reported

favourably of the beauty and fertility of its shores, and desired to

name it Port King, in honour of the Governor; but Governor King

requested that this tribute should be paid to the memory of his old

commander, the first Australian Governor, and thus the bay received its

present name, Port Phillip. Only sixty days later Flinders also entered

the bay; but when he arrived, some time afterwards, in Sydney, he was

surprised to find he was not the first discoverer.

It was at this time that the Governor in Sydney was afraid of the

intrusion of the French upon Australian soil, and when he heard how

favourable the appearance of this port was for settlement he resolved to

have it more carefully explored. Accordingly he sent a small schooner,

the Cumberland, under the charge of Mr. Robbins, to make the

examination. The vessel carried Charles Grimes, the Surveyor-General of

New South Wales, and his assistant, Meehan; also a surgeon named

M'Callum, and a liberated convict named Flemming, who was to report on

the agricultural capabilities of the district.

On arriving at Port Phillip they commenced a systematic survey, Robbins

sounding the bay, and making a careful chart, while the other four were

every morning landed on the shore to examine the country. They walked

ten or fifteen miles each day, and in the evening were again taken on

board the schooner. Thus they walked from the site of Sorrento round by

Brighton till they reached the river Yarra, which they described as a

large fresh-water stream, but without naming it. Then they went round

the bay as far as Geelong. They carried a good chart and several long

reports to the Governor at Sydney, who would probably have sent a party

down to settle by the Yarra, had it not been that an expedition had

already set sail from England for the purpose of occupying the shores of

Port Phillip.

Governor Collins. This was the expedition of David Collins, already

mentioned. He brought out nearly 400 persons, of whom over 300 were

convicts. There is good reason to believe that Collins from the first

would have preferred to settle at the Derwent, in Tasmania, but at any

rate he carried out his work at Port Phillip in a very half-hearted

manner. Tuckey chose for the settlement a sandy shore at Sorrento, where

scarcely a drop of fresh water was to be had, and where the blazing sun

of midsummer must have been unusually trying to a crowd of people fresh

from colder climates.

It soon became apparent that the site selected would never prove

suitable, and Collins sent Lieutenant Tuckey in search of a better

place. That officer seems to have made a very inefficient search. He

found no river, and no stream better than the little one on which the

town of Frankston now stands. Here he was attacked by a great crowd of

blacks, and had a conflict with them sufficiently severe to prevent his

landing again. He was thus debarred from exploration by land, and the

stormy weather prevented him from remaining long in the open bay. Tuckey

therefore returned with a very gloomy report, and increased the

despondency of the little community. Every one was dull and dispirited,

except the two or three children who had been allowed to accompany their

convict parents. Among these, the leader of all their childish sports,

was a little lad named John Pascoe Fawkner, who was destined to be

afterwards of note in the history of Port Phillip. Everybody grew

dispirited under the heat, the want of fresh water, and the general

wretchedness of the situation; and very soon all voices were unanimous

in urging the Governor to remove. Collins then sent a boat, with

letters, to Sydney, and Governor King gave him permission to cross

over to Tasmania. He lost not a moment in doing so, and founded the

settlement at the Derwent, to which reference has already been made.

Before he left, there were four convicts who took advantage of the

confusion to escape into the bush, hoping to make their way to Sydney.

One returned, footsore and weary, just in time to be taken on board; the

other three were not again seen. Two are believed to have perished of

hunger, and thirty-two years passed away before the fate of the third

was discovered.

Western Port. When Hume and Hovell returned to Sydney after their

exploring expedition, Hovell insisted that the fine harbour he had seen

was Western Port. He had really been at Geelong Harbour, but was all

that distance astray in his reckoning. Induced by his report, the

Government sent an expedition under Captain Wright to form a settlement

at Western Port. Hovell went with him to give the benefit of his

experience. They landed on Phillip Island; but the want of a stream of

permanent water was a disadvantage, and soon after they crossed to the

mainland on the eastern shore, where they founded a settlement, building

wooden huts and one or two brick cottages. Hovell had now to confess

that the place he had formerly seen was not Western Port, and he went

off in search of the fine country he had previously seen, but came back

disappointed. The settlement struggled onward for about a year, and was

then withdrawn.

It is not easy to explain in a few words why they abandoned their

dwellings and the land they had begun to cultivate. It seems to have

been due to a general discontent. However, there were private settlers

in Tasmania who would have carried out the undertaking with much more

energy. For in Tasmania the sheep had been multiplying at a great rate,

while the amount of clear and grassy land in that island was very

limited. One of the residents in Tasmania, named John Batman, who has

been already mentioned, conceived the idea of forming an association

among the Tasmanian sheep-owners, for the purpose of crossing Bass

Strait and occupying with their flocks the splendid grassy lands which

explorers had seen there.

Batman. John Batman was a native of Parramatta, but when he was

about twenty-one years of age he had left his home to seek his fortune

in Tasmania. There he had taken up land and had settled down to the life

of a sheep-farmer in the country around Ben Lomond. But he was fond of a

life of adventure, and found enough of excitement for a time in the

troubled state of the colony. It was he who captured Brady, the leader

of the bushrangers, and he became well known during the struggle with

the natives on account of his success in dealing with them and in

inducing them to surrender peaceably. But when all these troubles were

over, and he had to settle down to the monotonous work of drafting and

driving sheep, he found his land too rocky to support his flocks.

Knowing that others in Tasmania were in the same difficulty, he and his

friend Gellibrand, a lawyer in Hobart, in the year 1827 asked permission

to occupy the grassy lands supposed to be round Western Port, but the

Governor in Sydney refused. In 1834 some of them resolved to go without

permission, and an association of thirteen members resolved to send

sheep over to Port Phillip, which was now known to be the more suitable


Before they sent the sheep, they resolved to send some one to explore

and report. John Batman naturally volunteered, and the association

chartered for him a little vessel, the Rebecca, in which, after

nineteen days of sea-sickness and miserable tossing in the strait, he

succeeded in entering Port Phillip on the 29th of May, 1835. Next

morning he landed near Geelong and walked to the top of the Barrabool

Hills, wading most of the way through grass knee-deep. On the following

day he went in search of the aboriginals, and met a party of about

twenty women, together with a number of children. With these he soon

contrived to be on friendly terms; and after he had distributed among

them looking-glasses, blankets, handkerchiefs, apples and sugar, he left

them very well satisfied.

The Yarra.# A day or two later the Rebecca anchored in Hobson's Bay,

in front of the ti-tree scrub and the lonely shores where now the

streets of Williamstown extend in all directions. Batman again started

on foot to explore that river whose mouth lay there in front of him.

With fourteen men, all well armed, he passed up the river banks; but,

being on the left side, he naturally turned up that branch which is

called the Saltwater, instead of the main stream. After two days of

walking through open grassy lands, admirably suited for sheep, they

reached the site of Sunbury. From a hill at that place they could see

fires about twenty miles to the south-east; and, as they were anxious to

meet the natives, they bent their steps in that direction till they

overtook a native man, with his wife and three children. To his great

satisfaction, he learnt that these people knew of his friendly meeting

with the women in the Geelong district. They guided him to the banks of

the Merri Creek, to the place where their whole tribe was encamped. He

stayed with them all night, sleeping in a pretty grassy hollow beside

the stream. In the morning he offered to buy a portion of their land,

and gave them a large quantity of goods, consisting of scissors, knives,

blankets, looking-glasses, and articles of this description. In return,

they granted him all the land stretching from the Merri Creek to

Geelong. Batman had the documents drawn up, and on the Northcote Hill,

overlooking the grass-covered flats of Collingwood and the sombre

forests of Carlton and Fitzroy, the natives affixed their marks to the

deeds, by which Batman fancied he was legally put in possession of

600,000 acres. Trees were cut with notches, in order to fix the

boundaries, and in the afternoon Batman took leave of his black friends.

He had not gone far before he was stopped by a large swamp, and so slept

for the night under the great gum trees which then spread their shade

over the ground now covered by the populous streets of West Melbourne.

In the morning he found his way round the swamp, and in trying to reach

the Saltwater came upon a noble stream, which was afterwards called the

Yarra. In the evening he reached his vessel in the bay. Next day he

ascended the Yarra in a boat; and when he came to the Yarra Falls, he

wrote in his diary, "This will be the place for a village," unconscious

that he was gazing upon the site of a great and busy city. Returning to

Indented Head, near the heads of Port Phillip, he left three white men

and his Sydney natives to cultivate the soil and retain possession of

the land he supposed himself to have purchased. Then he set sail for

Tasmania, where he and his associates began to prepare for transporting

their households, their sheep and their cattle, to the new country.

The Henty Brothers. But even earlier than this period a quiet

settlement had been made in the western parts of Victoria. There, as

early as 1828, sealers had dwelt at Portland Bay, had built their little

cottages and formed their little gardens. But they were unauthorised,

and could only be regarded by the British Government as intruders,

having no legal right to the land they occupied. In 1834, however, there

came settlers of another class--Edward, Stephen, and Frank Henty. Their

father--a man of some wealth--had in 1828 emigrated with all his family

to Western Australia, carrying with him large quantities of fine stock.

But the settlement at Swan River proving a failure, he had removed to

Tasmania, where his six sons all settled. Very soon they found the

pastoral lands of Tasmania too limited, and as Edward Henty had in one

of his coasting voyages seen the sealers at Portland Bay and noticed how

numerous the whales were in that bay, and how fine the grassy lands that

lay within, he chartered a vessel, the Thistle, and crossed in her to

settle at Portland Bay with servants, sheep, cattle, and horses.

The land was all that had been anticipated, and soon Frank, and then

Stephen, arrived, with more stock and more men to tend them. Houses and

stores were put up, and fields were ploughed. Ere long other settlers

followed, and in the course of five or six years all the district lying

inland from Portland Bay was well settled and covered with sheep, while

at Portland Bay itself so many whales were caught that there were not

tanks enough to hold the oil, and much of it was wasted. The English

Government after some delay agreed to sell land to the settlers, and

before 1840 a thriving little town stood on the shores of Portland Bay.

Fawkner. John Pascoe Fawkner, who, as a boy, had landed at Sorrento

in 1803, had grown up to manhood in Tasmania through stormy times, and

had at length settled down as an innkeeper in Launceston; with that

business, however, combining the editing and publishing of a small

newspaper. For he was always a busy and active-minded worker, and had

done a great deal to make up for the defective education of his earlier

years. When Batman arrived in Launceston with the news of the fine

pastoral country across the water, Fawkner became quite excited at the

prospects that seemed possible over there. He accordingly began to

agitate for the formation of another association, and five members

joined him. At his expense, the schooner Enterprise was chartered and

loaded with all things necessary for a small settlement. On the 27th

July, 1835, he set sail from Launceston; but the weather was so rough

that, after three days and two nights of inexpressible sickness, Fawkner

found himself still in sight of the Tasmanian coast. He therefore asked

to be put ashore, and left Captain Lancey to manage the trip as he

thought best. The captain took the vessel over to Western Port, as had

been originally arranged; but the land there was not nearly so good as

they understood it to be in the Port Phillip district. So they sailed

round and safely anchored in Hobson's Bay, bringing with them horses and

ploughs, grain, fruit trees, materials for a house, boats, provisions,

and, indeed, everything that a small settlement could want. Getting out

their boat, they entered upon the stream which they saw before them;

but, unfortunately, they turned up the wrong arm, and, after rowing many

miles, were forced to turn back, the water all the way being salt and

unfit for drinking. For this reason they called this stream the

Saltwater; but next morning they started again and tried the other

branch. After pulling for about an hour and a half they reached a basin

in the river whose beauty filled them with exultation and delight. A

rocky ledge over which the river flowed kept the water above it fresh;

the soil was rich, and covered with splendid grass, and they instantly

came to the conclusion to settle in this favoured spot. Next day they

towed the vessel up, and landed where the Custom House now is. At night

they slept beside the falls, where the air was fragrant with the sweet

scent of the wattle trees just bursting into bloom.

They had not been on the river many days before Mr. Wedge--one of

Batman's party--in crossing the country from Indented Head to the Yarra,

was astonished to see the masts of a vessel rising amid the gum trees.

On reaching the river bank, what was his surprise to find, in that

lonely spot, a vessel almost embedded in the woods, and the rocks and

glades echoing to the sound of hammer and saw and the encouraging shouts

of the ploughmen! Wedge informed Fawkner's party that they were

trespassers on land belonging to John Batman and Company. Captain

Lancey, having heard the story of the purchase, declared that such a

transaction could have no value. When Wedge was gone, the settlers laid

their axes to the roots of the trees, and began to clear the land for

extensive cultivation. A fortnight later Wedge brought round all his

party from Indented Head in order to occupy what Batman had marked as

the site for a village, and the two rival parties were encamped side by

side where the western part of Collins Street now stands. A little later

Fawkner arrived with further settlers and with a wooden house, which he

soon erected by the banks of the Yarra, the first regularly built house

of Melbourne. He placed it by the side of the densely wooded stream,

which was afterwards turned into Elizabeth Street. Great crowds of black

and white cockatoos raised their incessant clamour at the first strokes

of the axe; but soon the hillside was clear, and man had taken permanent

possession of the spot.

William Buckley. Meanwhile a circumstance had happened which

favoured Batman's party in no small degree. The men left at Indented

Head were surprised one morning to see an extremely tall figure

advancing towards them. His hair was thickly matted; his skin was brown,

but not black, like that of the natives; he was almost naked, and he

carried the ordinary arms of the aborigines. This was William Buckley,

the only survivor of the three convicts who had escaped from Governor

Collins's expedition. He had dwelt for thirty-two years among the

natives. During this long time he had experienced many strange

adventures, but had not exercised the smallest influence for good upon

the natives. He was content to sink at once to their level, and to lead

the purely animal life they led. But when he heard that there was a

party of whites on Indented Head, whom the Geelong tribes proposed to

murder, he crossed to warn them of their danger. Batman's party clothed

him and treated him well, and for a time he acted as interpreter,

smoothing over many of the difficulties that arose with the natives, and

rendering the formation of the settlement much less difficult than it

might have been.

Excitement in Tasmania. The news taken over by Batman caused a

commotion in Tasmania. Many settlers crossed in search of the new

country, and, before a year had passed, nearly two hundred persons, with

more than 15,000 sheep, had landed on the shores of Port Phillip. But

they soon spread over a great extent of country--from Geelong to

Sunbury. They were in the midst of numerous black tribes, who now, too

late, began to perceive the nature of Batman's visit, and commenced to

seek revenge. Frequent attacks were made, in one of which a squatter and

his servant were killed beside the Werribee. Their bodies lie buried in

the Flagstaff Gardens.

Governor Bourke. These were not the only troubles of the settlers;

for the Sydney Government declared that all purchases of land from

ignorant natives were invalid, and Governor Bourke issued a

proclamation, warning the people at Port Phillip against fixing their

homes there, as the land did not legally belong to them.

Still new settlers flocked over, and a township began to be formed on

the banks of the Yarra. Batman's association found that their claims to

the land granted them by the natives would not be allowed; and, after

some correspondence on the subject with the Home Government, they had

to be content with 28,000 acres, as compensation for the money they had


Lonsdale. Towards the close of 1836 Governor Bourke found himself

compelled to recognise the new settlement, and sent Captain Lonsdale to

act as a magistrate; thirty soldiers accompanied him to maintain order

and protect the settlers. Next year (1837) the Governor himself arrived

at Port Phillip, where he found the settlers now numbering 500. He

planned out the little town, giving names to its streets, and finally

settling that it should be called Melbourne, after Lord Melbourne, who

was then the Prime Minister of England.

Latrobe. in 1838 Geelong began to grow into a township, and the

settlers spread west as far as Colac. Next year Mr. Latrobe was sent to

take charge of the whole district of Port Phillip, under the title of

Superintendent, but with almost all the powers of a Governor. The

settlers held a public meeting, in an auction-room at Market Square, for

the purpose of according a hearty welcome to their new Governor, whose

kindliness and upright conduct soon made him a great favourite.

A wattle-and-daub building was put up as a police-office, on the site of

the Western Markets, where it did duty for some time, until one night it

fell; some say because it was undermined by a party of imprisoned

natives; but others, because a bull belonging to Mr. Batman had rushed

against it. A court-house was erected, and four policemen appointed. A

post-office next followed, and, one by one, the various institutions of

a civilised community arose in miniature form. Numerous ships began to

enter the bay, and a lucrative trade sprang up with Tasmania. In 1838

the first newspaper appeared. It was due to the enterprise of Fawkner.

Every Monday morning sheets containing four pages of writing were

distributed to the subscribers, under the title of the Advertiser.

After nine issues of this kind had been published, a parcel of old

refuse type was sent over from Tasmania; and a young man being found in

the town who had, in his boyhood, spent a few months in a printing

office, he was pressed into the service, and thenceforward the

Advertiser appeared in a printed form--the pioneer of the press of

Victoria. Mr. Batman had fixed his residence not far from the place now

occupied by the Spencer Street Railway Station. Here, in the year 1839,

he was seized with a violent cold; and, after being carefully nursed by

one of his daughters, died without seeing more than the beginning of

that settlement he had laboured so hard to found. Mr. Fawkner lived to

an advanced age, and saw the city--whose first house he had

built--become a vast metropolis.

The year 1839 brought further increase to the population; and before the

beginning of 1840 there were 3,000 persons, with 500 houses and 70

shops, in Melbourne. In 1841, within five years of its foundation, it

contained 11,000 persons and 1,500 houses.