A Brief Overview and Timeline of Port Phillip History

A Brief Overview and Timeline of Port Phillip History

Richard Broome, La Trobe University

In 1770 Lieutenant Hicks on board Lieutenant James Cook’s Endeavour sighted the coast of Victoria, but it was not until early 1798 that George Bass penetrated the Strait later named after him and sailed into Western Port. Despite some explorations the region remained free of European penetration until the mid 1830s. Then the dispossession of Aboriginal people began, ending 2,000 generations of autonomy.

The European pastoral invasion of Port Phillip after 1834 came from three directions: across the Bass Strait, from New South Wales and later from Great Britain as settlers sought land for sheep raising. This activity was illegal as the British government had banned settlement of the southern coast to confine its spread and maintain law and order. However, despite denouncing Batman’s ‘Treaty’ as worthless and illegal, Governor Richard Bourke in Sydney recognised the new-found occupation of the area and sent a magistrate to regulate affairs in May 1836. Bourke visited the infant settlement (then called ‘BearBrass’) in 1837 and named it after Viscount Melbourne, the then current British Prime Minister.

In the first decade of settlement the freemen of Port Phillip disputed control from convict New South Wales, whose governor resided in Sydney, advised by a Legislative Council full of Sydney men. The movement for Separation from the mother colony of New South Wales became a reality in mid 1851. The new colony showed its patriotism by calling itself Victoria after the beloved reigning monarch.

By 1851 the era of Port Phillip Society had formally ended. The discovery of gold in the same year ensured that Victoria was transformed in culture and ideas, from a hierarchical pastoral society of big landholders, to a bustling gold-driven democracy of small business enterprise. By this time the Aboriginal traditional owners of the region had been reduced by over eighty per cent, there being only 1,907 Aborigines remaining in the colony by 1853.

  • 1770 First European sighting of the Victorian coastline by the crew of the Endeavour
  • 1798 George Bass enters Western Port and lands at Phillip Island
  • 1802 Port Phillip Bay discovered and entered by Lieutenant John Murray
  • 1803 First European settlement attempted but fails at Sullivan’s Bay, near Sorrento
  • 1824 Hamilton Hume and William Hovell overlanded from NSW to Corio Bay
  • 1825 Military post created at Corinella but abandoned after sixteen months
  • 1834 Edward Henty and family settle at Portland, the first permanent European settlers
  • 1835 John Batman makes his treaty with the Aborigines and ‘purchases land’
  • 1836 Port Phillip proclaimed as open for settlement
  • 1834 Governor Bourke inspects and names Melbourne, and Hoddle begins surveys
  • 1841 Willis arrives in Melbourne as the first resident judge
  • 1842 Melbourne proclaimed as a town, first town council elected
  • 1843 Judge Willis is dismissed and leaves Melbourne for Great Britain
  • 1851 Act of Separation proclaimed. Charles La Trobe becomes first Victorian Governor

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