The settlement of Port Phillip [chapter 43 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 43 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 21 April 1935.]

The story of Australia — XLIII

The settlement of Port Phillip

Victoria, the smallest State in the Commonwealth, formed up to the middle of 1851 a part of New South Wales, being known after settlement as the Port Phillip district. Bass and Flinders had explored its coastline, and in February, 1801, Lieutenant John Murray examined the bay now called Port Phillip Bay. He entered and named it Port King, in honour of Governor King, at whose request it was afterwards changed to Port Phillip, in honour of Governor Phillip.

In 1803 Colonel David Collins attempted to form a settlement at Port Phillip. He arrived from England with 300 convicts and a number of free settlers. He chose the sandy peninsula which divides the eastern arm of Port Phillip from the ocean as a site for the new colony, which position, from the first, was totally unsuitable for the purpose. No progress was made, and finally, in June, 1804, he was ordered to move the whole party across to Tasmania. It thus came about that Port Phillip was abandoned, and those southern coasts ol New South Wales remained neglected for nearly 20 years.


In October, 1824, the two explorers, Hume and Hovell, succeeded in travelling overland from Sydney to the shores of Port Phillip Bay (which they mistook for Westernport) at a point a few miles north of the present Geelong. Their reports spoke so highly of the well-watered and fine open country that they had discovered that Governor Brisbane decided to establish settlements on various parts port.

His object in doing so was to prevent any attempt on the part of the French to found a settlement on this part of the coast. It was thought at the time that the French had resolved to establish settlement on various parts of the Australian coasts.

The expedition reached Westernport, and the officers and men disembarked on its eastern side and erected a small fortification at the eastern end of Phillip Island, which lies across the entrance. But the occupation lasted only from November, 1826, until January, 1823, and once more the southern districts were abandoned to aborigines and sealers.

First pioneers

It was from Tasmania that the first pioneers of the Port Phillip district came. That colony had attracted a large number of free settlers of the right class and great progress had been made. But the amount of pasture land in the island colony was limited, and when the reports of Hume and Hovell reached their ears, envious eyes were turned towards the unoccupied country on the other side of the strait.

In 1827 John Batman made an application by letter to the Governor of New South Wales for land at Westernport, but the request was refused. At that time, it should be remembered, it was still supposed that the fine country through which Hume and Hovell passed was on the shores of Westernport.

In November, 1834, Edward Henty, who, with his father and brother, had been disappointed in a venture at the Swan River colony, in Western Australia, and had arrived in Tasmania too late to obtain free grants of land, boldly settled on the shores of Portland Bay, and afterwards procured from the Colonial Office a sort of tacit consent to his remaining there.

This was the first permanent settlement in Victorian territory, but owing to its isolated position and the indifferent shelter to shipping it had no immediate development.

John Batman

It was reserved for John Batman and those who followed him in 1835 to do the real pioneering work which laid the foundation of the colony.

An association was formed in Tasmania, consisting of a number of influential settlers, to colonise Port Phillip. It was determined by the association that Batman should at once cross over to Port Phillip and find out the capabilities of the port as a grazing and agricultural district. He embarked in the Rebecca, a ship of 15 tons, and reached Port Phillip on May 29. Landing on the western side of the bay, he made several excursions inland, and was delighted with the appearance of the country.

Batman had been authorised by the association, in the event of the land proving suitable, to buy as much as possible from the natives, trusting that the transaction would afterwards receive official acknowledgment. His object now was to locate a party of blacks sufficiently large for his purpose. When at last he found a tribe of 45 individuals — men, women, and children — he soon persuaded himself that he had discovered among them “eight chiefs” who possessed the whole of the country near Port Phillip.

Treaty with Blacks

Aided by some Sydney blacks whom he had brought with him Batman made his memorable treaty with the aborigines, the history of which he relates as follows:— “After a full explanation of what my object was I purchased from them 600,000 acres, and delivered over to them blankets, knives, looking glasses, tomahawks, beads, scissors, &c., as payment for the land. The parchment the eight chiefs signed this afternoon, delivering me some of the soil, each of them, as giving me full possession of the land.”

There were two of these documents, the first referring to 500,000 acres lying north and west of Port Phillip, including the site of Melbourne, and the second dealing with 100,000 acres in the vicinity of Geelong.

“Place for A Village”

Having completed this extraordinary transaction, he was eager to return to Tasmania. But the ship was delayed by contrary winds, and being too active to lose time he took a row up the Yarra. This is his story:— “The boat went up the large river, which comes from the east, and I am glad to state about six miles up found the river of good water and very deep. This will be the place for a village.”

Before sailing for Tasmania he established a depot at Indented Head, near the entrance to the harbour, where he left some of his men.

Batman reached Launceston on June 11, and by June 25 he had prepared a memorial asking for confirmation of the purchase and promising a definite scheme of colonisation. Governor Arthur could hold out no hope, but sent the memorial on to London, with a strong recommendation that something should be done for Batman.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 21 April 1935, p. 25

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