History of Melbourne

Melbourne is the capital of Victoria, and home to close to 4 million people. Many of the citizens of Melbourne live in the suburbs that east and south of the Yarra River, sprawled around Port Phillip Bay and extending as far east as Mount Dandenong.

Melbourne was founded on the Yarra River in 1835 after an abortive bid in 1803 to establish a settlement inside the Port Phillip Bay heads near Sorrento.

The Port Phillip District gained independence from New South Wales in 1850. Melbourne boomed in the 1850's as a result of the gold rush in the region to the north.

Melbourne is regarded as the world's Top Sport City and has a reputation as being more refined than its northerly neighbour Sydney, boasting the country's finest restaurants and is acknowledged as the country's most important financial centre.

History of Melbourne


Like most Australian colonies the original reason for the British occupation of Victoria was the fear of possible French settlement. By the end of the eighteenth century the coast had been explored extensively by both British and French adventurers.

Reacting to a perceived French threat Lieutenant David Collins, accompanied by a party comprising both convicts and free settlers, landed on the shores of Port Phillip (near Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula) in October 1803 and a short-lived colony was established.

By May 1804 Collins had gained permission to move the colony to Van Diemen's Land and his brief attempt at settlement had been abandoned.

Through the 1810's and 1820's Port Phillip was regularly visited by whalers and sealers who worked the coast from Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) to South Australia.

The real impetus for permanent settlement came as a result of the land-based explorers who, having explored south from Sydney, had crossed the Murrumbidgee River and pushed on towards the southern coast. Hume and Hovell reached Port Phillip in 1824. They mistook it for Western Port and two years later, acting on their incorrect advice, a military and convict outpost was established on Western Port. It lasted thirteen months.

Around this time the entrepreneurial John Batman, who was living in Van Diemen's Land, tried to gain approval from the Governor of New South Wales to settle the area around Western Port. He had been encouraged by reports that the land was fertile and the pastures rich. The Governor, fearing problems if a second colony was created, denied Batman permission.

This proved to be a hollow gesture. Eight years later, in November 1834, Edward Henty ignored the rulings of the New South Wales governor and settled at Portland Bay. In early 1835, spurred on by Henty's example, Batman crossed Bass Strait and in June 1835 infamously 'purchased' the land on the western shore of Port Phillip from the local Aborigines.

At this time Batman explored the shores of Port Phillip and chose a site for a village. Within a year the township of Melbourne began to grow on the banks of the Yarra River.

In 1837 the township of Melbourne was surveyed and named with magistrate, Captain William Lonsdale sent from Sydney to maintain law and order. The attempts to stop settlement had clearly failed and the administration of New South Wales was forced to deal with Victoria as a successful, and semi-autonomous, colony. This was converted into a reality in September 1839 when Charles La Trobe, the newly appointed Superintendent of the Port Phillip District, arrived from England. In his wake the colony established a separate police force, a customs office and, perhaps most importantly, a separate Lands Office.

By 1 July 1851, when the colony of Victoria was officially proclaimed, there were already more than 80 000 people living south of the Murray-Murrumbidgee and over six million sheep were being grazed on well-established properties.

In theory Victoria would have remained a rural economy (although in 1851 it was true that more than 20 000 of the state's 80 000 people were living in Melbourne) but the discovery of gold changed everything.

The Gold Rush


By November 1851 alluvial gold had been discovered at Clunes, Anderson's Creek, Buninyong, Ballarat, Mount Alexander and Bendigo, which at the time was known as Sandhurst. The streets of Melbourne were virtually deserted and, by early 1852, ships from all over the world were disgorging eager miners on the wharves of Melbourne.

By 1854 the colony's population had grown from 80 000 to 300 000, the value of imported goods had reached an extraordinary £18 million, and everything needed for mining, from food to houses and equipment, was being shipped into the colony. In 1856 more than 86 million grams of gold were mined. This would form the basis for unprecedented development which would establish Melbourne as Australia's major financial centre and Victoria as an extremely wealthy colony.

A total of more than £100 million worth of gold was won from the earth in the 1850s.

In 1855 a Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly were created to administer the colony. The problem was that membership and voting rights were tied to ownership of substantial tracts of land. Thus, the first parliament was made up almost entirely of lawyers, successful businessmen, affluent squatters and merchants. They may have represented the 80 000 people who lived in the state in 1851 but they hardly represented the 300 000 in 1855.

Although Melbourne was to experience depressions in both the 1890s and 1930s it was basically a prosperous and successful city. Its vitality and dynamism of the state continued after World War II when, as a result of Australia's active attempt to attract migrants from Europe, large numbers of non-English speaking settlers (particularly from Italy and Greece) arrived. It is often claimed (not entirely accurately) that Melbourne is the second-largest Greek city in the world (it has recently been changed to third largest city) and the largest Italian city outside Italy. Certainly Lygon Street, famed for its international cuisine, is a symbol of the cultural diversity of the city.

History Part 2


Melbourne and the State of Victoria came about through the actions of independent settlers frustrated by the lack of interest shown by the government of the Colony of New South Wales in developing the area. At that time the south-eastern corner of Australia, bounded by the Murray River in the north and Bass Strait in the south, was part of New South Wales (NSW). NSW then occupied the eastern two-thirds of the entire Australian continent and was governed from Sydney. The British established the first European settlement at Sydney in 1788. The settlement struggled to feed itself, let alone indulge in long-range exploration. These days you can take a 1 hour flight, or drive 12 hours from Sydney along 1000km of highway to the site of today's Melbourne, which all those years ago may have well been on another planet.

Roughly in the centre of the southern coastline of today's Victoria, the very large and open Port Phillip Bay was discovered in 1802 from the sea. It is shaped like a fat pear, more than 50km from base to stem, which is the mouth of the Yarra River, and, for the most part, just as wide. Despite its 265km shoreline, Port Phillip has a narrow opening to the ocean - less than 4km wide and hard to see from any distance at sea.

A year later the government in Sydney sent the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania, David Collins to establish a settlement at Port Phillip. The group included sailors and their families, a few free settlers and about 300 convicts. Poorly located, it failed within months and was transferred south across Bass Strait to the south coast of the island state of Tasmania (then called Van Diemen's Land, so named by the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman who had discovered it in 1640). Hobart Town was established here by Collins and was to become Tasmania's capital.

In 1826 a second attempt at a Victorian settlement was made near Corinella on the shore of the much smaller Western Port Bay. Settlement Point is about 110km south-east of Melbourne on what is now the road to Phillip Island. It also failed after a few months.

Though official attempts to populate the region had failed, enterprising settlers from Tasmania filtered into the area seeking arable and pastoral land. In common with other parts of the colony, they simply took possession of tracts of land and 'squatted' there. These squatters came without government permission or knowledge and generally resisted all attempts to move them.

John Batman came to Port Phillip Bay in May 1835 and 'paid' the local Aboriginal people in blankets and trinkets for about 243,000 acres of land which included what is now Melbourne. A year earlier the Henty family has also crossed Bass Strait, setting up a farming and grazing property near Portland about 360km west of Melbourne. The only deep water port between Melbourne and Adelaide (the capital of South Australia) it had been a whaling station since the early 1800s.

Growing pressure for pastoral land to graze cattle and sheep finally brought Surveyor General Thomas Mitchell overland from Sydney in the north to Port Phillip Bay in 1836. Faced with the knowledge some 200 squatters were already in the region and had taken land that rightly belonged to the colonial government, Governor Bourke declared the area around Port Phillip open for settlement.

John Batman had set aside part of the land he had acquired from the Aboriginals for a township. Bourke visited the town in March 1837, and though he was not impressed by the way Batman had 'bought' the land from the indigenous people, agreed the site near the Yarra River was the best place for a settlement. Bourke named it Melbourne after the British prime minister at the time and ordered the land to be surveyed and an official land sale to be held on June 1, 1837 so settlers could get valid title to their township blocks. The Yarra now forms the southern boundary of Melbourne city and flows through several suburbs.

Governor Bourke declared Melbourne an administrative centre and a legal port, opening it up as a major trading centre and for immigration. Merchants and bankers flooded into the town and by 1838 four banks had opened and major public buildings were being erected. The locals began to agitate for independence from the government in Sydney in the 1840s, claiming the money from land sales was going to Sydney instead of helping develop the fledgling settlement. Six seats in the colonial legislature failed to satisfy them.

Though Bourke's successor Governor Gipps told his superiors in London in 1838 the Port Phillip area was becoming very difficult to govern because of its distance from Sydney, it took until July 1851 for them to agree to declare Victoria a separate colony, which it became the following year. By 1851 most of the best pastoral land between Melbourne and the Murray River, which formed much of the Victorian border, had been settled.

Ironically 1851 marked the start of the Gold Rush in Victoria and New South Wales. Though there had been six or seven known gold discoveries in NSW from 1823, historians suggest those finds were kept quiet for some political reason. Gold was found west and north-west of Melbourne at Bendigo and Ballarat almost at the same time, sparking an exodus of about a third of the city's adults bound for the diggings. Tens of thousands of immigrants, many from America and southern China, poured into Victoria through Melbourne. It is said Victoria's population increased by 95,000 in the year after the first gold strike and the population of the goldfields swelled to 60,000. The fields were immensely rich. Some 90 per cent of the gold mined in Australia in the 1850s came from Victoria.

The surge of wealth and people cemented Melbourne's future as a major city. By 1861, just 25 years after John Batman set up the township, it was home to 125,000 people. Gold sparked the development of housing, schools, churches, fine homes for professional people and merchants, and public buildings.

The International Exhibition of 1880 put Melbourne on the world map as a major city. Its Exhibition Buildings stand monument to an era that earned it the title of Marvellous Melbourne. The city developed into a major trade centre with wool, wheat and other agricultural products adding to its wealth. Though most Victorians will grudgingly admit the mantle has shifted to Sydney, Melbourne was the financial capital of Australia until about the 1970s and the headquarters of many of the country's largest companies.

Today Melbourne is home to about 3.2 million people. For reasons now forgotten, it had a major attraction for Greeks and Italians as far back as the turn of the 20th Century. In people terms, it is the third largest Greek city in the world and the largest Italian city outside Italy. In common with Sydney, it has a large Chinese community dating from the 1850s gold rush. Melbourne has long been a bastion of the Jewish community in Australia. Though the mix is somewhat different to Sydney, authorities say the city's residents come from 110 to 140 different ethnic backgrounds.



Web Links

Melbourne Link History of Melbourne Link opens in new browser window

Opens in New Window City of Melbourne - History and heritage Link opens in new browser window

Opens in New Window History of a city Link opens in new browser window

Opens in New Window Marvellous Melbourne - A History of Melbourne - Museum Victoria Link opens in new browser window

Opens in New Window History of Melbourne - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Link opens in new browser window

Opens in New Window Koori and Aboriginal History Link opens in new browser window

Opens in New Window Batman's Treaty of Melbourne Link opens in new browser window

Opens in New Window The History of the City of Melbourne (PDF, 2.5Mb) Link opens in new browser window

Opens in New Window www.ayton.id.au Link opens in new browser window





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