History of Victoria

History of Victoria

This article describes the history of the Australian state of Victoria.

European discovery

Coming from New Zealand in 1770, Captain James Cook in HM Bark "Endeavour" sighted land at Point Hicks, about 70 km west of Gabo Island, before turning east and north to follow the coast of Australia.

Ships sailing from the United Kingdom to Sydney crossed the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean, sailing around Van Diemen's Land before turning north to their destination. Several captains viewed the expanse of water between Van Diemen's Land and the east coast of New South Wales and wondered whether it was a large bay or a strait. Survivors of the "Sydney Cove", wrecked in the Furneaux Group of islands, also thought it might be a strait.

To clear up the question, Governor Hunter sent George Bass to thoroughly explore the coast in a whaleboat. After reaching Wilsons Promontory and Western Port in January 1798 he was forced by bad weather and lack of provisions to return to Sydney. Bass returned with Matthew Flinders in December 1798 and sailed through the strait, proving its existence.

In December 1800, Lieutenant James Grant in HMS "Lady Nelson", on way from Cape Town to Sydney, sailed through Bass Strait from west to east. Governor King, disappointed at the vagueness of Grant’s chart, sent him back to survey the strait more thoroughly. Bad weather prevented him from proceeding beyond Western Port, where he stayed for five weeks, planting wheat, fruit trees and vegetables on Churchill Island off Phillip Island.

In January 1802 Lieutenant John Murray in the "Lady Nelson" visited Western Port and entered Port Phillip on 14 February. He named Arthur’s Seat, explored Corio Bay and formally took possession of the bay (which he named Port King) for Britain.

Three weeks later the French explorer Nicolas Baudin sailed through the strait from east to west and was the first to properly survey the coast to the west.

On 26 April 1802, Flinders, unaware of Murray’s visit, entered Port Phillip in Investigator, climbed Arthur’s Seat, rowed to Mornington and across to the Bellarine Peninsula and climbed the You Yangs.

In January 1803 Acting-Lieutenant Charles Robbins in the schooner "Cumberland" sailed right around Port Phillip. With him were acting surveyor-general Charles Grimes and gardener James Flemming. At the head of the bay they found a river and followed it upstream where it soon divided. They followed the western branch and named it the Saltwater River (the present Maribyrnong) to what is now Braybrook, and then the eastern fresh-water branch (the Yarra) to Dights Falls. They had a friendly meeting with Aboriginal people and returned to their ship via Corio Bay. They concluded that the best site for a settlement would be on the freshwater at the northern head of the bay, but were unenthusiastic about the soil and its agricultural potential.

British settlement

With Britain involved in the French revolutionary wars, Governor King was concerned that Bass Strait could harbour enemy raiders, and that in peace time it could provide an important trade route and trading base. The appearance of Baudin’s ships seemed to reinforce that France was interested in the area. In addition he was looking for an alternative settlement for the increasing number of convicts in Sydney and reduce the pressure on food resources. Port Phillip, with a favourable climate and rich fishing and sealing resources, seemed an ideal location for another settlement.

A full description of Murray’s and Flinders’ discoveries, together with King’s thoughts on settlement, but not Grimes’ report, reached England just as HMS "Calcutta" was being prepared to send a shipload of convicts to Sydney. In February 1803, Lord Hobart the Secretary of State changed the destination to Port Phillip. On 24 April 1803, HMS "Calcutta", commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins left England accompanied by the store-ship "Ocean". On board were some 300 male convicts, a few free men, a dozen civil officers, a guard of about 50 marines, the wives of 36 men, plus 38 children.

The party entered Port Phillip on 9 October 1803 and chose a site at Sullivan Bay near present-day Sorrento.

Collins was soon disappointed with the area. Reports from exploring parties led by Lieutenant James Tuckey and surveyor George Harris described strong currents, sandy soil, poor timber, swampy land, and scarce fresh water. They also clashed with the Wathaurung people near Corio Bay, killing their leader – the first known Aboriginal death in Victoria.

Collins reported his criticisms to Governor King, who supported him and recommended moving the settlement. On 18 December "Calcutta" departed for England, and the party was prepared for evacuation. This was achieved in two voyages of "Ocean" in January and May 1804, assisted by the "Lady Nelson" which had been surveying Port Dalrymple on the north coast of Van Diemen's Land. The party was transferred to the fledgling settlement of Hobart, founded by Lieutenant John Bowen as a penal colony at Risdon Cove in September 1803.

The brief settlement at Sorrento achieved little and left only a few relics for modern tourists to observe. Collins has been criticised for not investigating the bay thoroughly, in particular the northern head with its fresh-water river, and for being too hasty in his condemnation of the bay. The site of the settlement is now a reserve incorporating some graves from the period.

When Collins departed, one man was left behind. A convict, William Buckley, had escaped and was presumed killed by Aborigines. He was to see his next European in 1835.

For the next thirty years a few sealers and whalers rested on the southern coast of New South Wales. In 1826 the French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville visited one of these camps on Phillip Island. There was a brief convict settlement at Corinella on Western Port under the command of Samuel G. Wright from November 1826 to April 1828, to protect the approaches to the bay. A sealer William Dutton built a hut on the shore of Portland Bay in 1829.

Interest grows in the north coast of Bass Strait

Following a number of exploratory expeditions south from the settled areas of New South Wales, the pastoralist Hamilton Hume and former sea-captain William Hovell set off to explore the country to the south in October 1824. They crossed the Murray River (which they named the Hume River) near the site of Albury and continued south. They crossed the Goulburn River (which they called the Hovell) above the site of Yea, and were forced to detour around mountains. They arrived on the shores of Corio Bay, mistakenly believing it to be Western Port, and returned to Sydney in January 1825, lavishly praising the quality of the country they had passed through.

In April 1826 the French explorer d'Urville visited one of the sealers’ camps on Phillip Island. Worried by this renewed French interest in the area and encouraged by Hume and Hovell’s reports, Governor Darling ordered a settlement to be established at Western Port. A small convict party arrived in November 1826 at Corinella under the command of Samuel Wright, to protect the approaches to the bay. Hovell, accompanying the party, soon realised that this was not where he had arrived two years before, and reported unfavourably on the swampy land around Western Port, although he referred to better land to the north. In spite of clearing the land for crops, and the construction of a fort and houses, the settlement was abandoned in April 1828.

The shortage of good pasture in Van Diemen's Land led to settlers there showing interest in the country across Bass Strait, following Hume and Hovell’s reports and stories of visiting sealers. Pastoralist John Batman and surveyor John Wedge planned an expedition from Launceston in 1825 but permission was not granted. A number of settlers sought land over the next few years, but Governor Darling turned down all requests.

The expedition down the Murray River by Charles Sturt in 1830 again aroused interest in settlement in the south. In April 1833 Edward Henty, returning to Van Diemen's Land from Spencer Gulf called in to Portland for a cargo of oil, and was much impressed. In November 1834 John Hart, another sailor, reported favourably in Launceston on Western Port. It was now inevitable that settlement would occur.

In June 1834 banker Charles Swanston advised his client George Mercer that land was scarce in Van Diemen's Land and he should invest across Bass Strait. Pastoralists John Aitken and George Russell suggested forming a partnership, and in August 1834 a group of eight Launceston capitalists formed what became the Port Phillip Association. On 19 November 1834 Edward Henty landed in Portland Bay and began the first permanent European settlement on the north coast of Bass Strait.

Permanent settlement

Victoria's first successful British settlement was at Portland, on the west coast of what is now Victoria. Portland was settled by the Henty family in 1834, who were originally farmers from Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). When Major Mitchell led an expedition to the region from Sydney in 1835, he was surprised to find a small but prosperous community, living off the fertile farmland.

Melbourne was founded in 1835 by John Batman, also from Van Diemen's Land and quickly grew into a thriving community. The first petition for the separation of the Port Phillip District (or 'Australia Felix') from New South Wales was drafted in 1840 by Henry Fyshe Gisborne and presented by him to Governor Gipps. Gipps, who had previously been in favour of separation, rejected the petition.

The British Act of Parliament separating Victoria from New South Wales, and naming and providing a Constitution for the new Colony, was signed ten years later by Queen Victoria on 5 August 1850. It was followed by enabling legislation passed by the New South Wales Legislative Council on 1 July 1851. This was formally the founding moment of the Colony of Victoria as separation from New South Wales was established by Section 1 of the 1851 Act. [http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/item.asp?sdID=17]

Gold Rush era

In 1851 gold was first discovered in Clunes near Ballarat, [cite web
title = 150 Years of Gold Mining in Victoria
work = Stawell Historical Society
url = http://home.vicnet.net.au/~shsinc/golddiscovery.html
format = HTML
accessdate = 2008-02-12
] and subsequently at Bendigo. Later discoveries occurred at many sites across Victoria. This triggered one of the largest gold rushes the world has ever seen. The colony grew rapidly in both population and economic power. In ten years the population of Victoria, Australia increased sevenfold from 76,000 to 540,000. All sorts of gold records were produced including the "richest shallow alluvial goldfield in the world" and the largest gold nugget. Victoria produced in the decade 1851-1860 20 million ounces of gold, one third of the world's output.

Immigrants arrived from all over the world to search for gold, especially from Ireland and China. Many Chinese miners worked in Victoria, and their legacy is particularly strong in Bendigo and its environs. Although there was some racism directed at them, there was not the level of anti-Chinese violence that was seen at the Lambing Flat riots in New South Wales. However, there was a riot at Buckland Valley near Bright in 1857. Conditions on the gold fields were cramped and unsanitary - an outbreak of typhoid at Buckland Valley in 1854 killed over 1,000 miners.

In 1854 there was an armed rebellion against the government of Victoria by miners protesting against mining taxes (the "Eureka Stockade"). This was crushed by British troops, but some of the leaders of the rebellion subsequently became members of the Victoria Parliament, and the rebellion is still sometimes regarded as a pivotal moment in the development of Australia democracy.

The first foreign military action by the colony of Victoria was to send troops and a warship to New Zealand as part of the Maori Wars. Troops from New South Wales had previously participated in the Crimean War.


In 1901 Victoria ceased to be an independent colony and became a state in the Commonwealth of Australia. Victorian and Tasmanian politicians were particularly active in the Federation process.

As a result of the gold rush, Melbourne became the financial centre of Australia and New Zealand. Between 1901 and 1927, Melbourne was the capital of Australia while Canberra was under construction. It was also the largest city in Australia at the time, and the second largest city in the Empire (after London)Fact|date=February 2008. Whilst Melbourne remains an important financial centre, Sydney is now the largest city.

1990s Economic Slump

Victoria experienced an economic slump from 1989 to 1992 during the term of John Cain's government. This was largely attributable to lagging property markets and manufacturing sectors as well as a financial crash involving industry giants such as the Pyramid Building Society and the collapse of The State Bank of Victoria, in particular its merchant banking arm Tricontinental. The result was a loss of employment and a drain of population to New South Wales and Queensland.

In the 1990s, the Victorian state government of Premier Jeff Kennett (Lib) sought to reverse this trend with the aggressive development of new public works, mainly centred around the state capital of Melbourne. These included the Melbourne Museum, Federation Square, the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre (nicknamed "Jeff's Shed"), Crown Casino, capital works such as the CityLink tollway, the sale of state assets (including the State Electricity Commission and some state schools), the pruning of state services and a public relations campaign promoting Melbourne's merits, aimed at Melbourne residents and visitors alike. These policies were continued under the government of Premier Steve Bracks (ALP) and the current Premier John Brumby (ALP).


* A. G. L. Shaw, "A History of the Port Phillip District: Victoria before separation", Melbourne, MUP, 1996. (ISBN 0-522-85064-2).
* Marjorie Tipping, "Convicts Unbound: The story of the Calcutta convicts and their settlement in Australia", Melbourne, Viking O’Neil, 1988. (ISBN 0-670-90068-0).
*Jenny Fawcett,"Captain Henry Wishart of Port Fairy Bay", Warrnambool,Collett,Bain & Gaspar, 2005 www.genseek.net/pioneers.htm

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