Pioneering Families of Australia


Early Melbourne

This following description of the development of Melbourne and its early years has been extracted from    


The second article was  published in the Times on 22nd August,1853 and is a wonderful description of the problems associated with mass the migration to Melbourne because of the Gold Rush.  It is worth reading in full.





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 the modern day site of Sorrento south of Melbourne) 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 1810s and 1820s Port Phillip was regularly visited by whalers and sealers who worked the coast from Van Diemen's Land 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 and a magistrate, Captain William Lonsdale, was 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 of 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.




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 today's terms that equates to many billions of dollars.

Melbourne started as an illegal settlement. Despite opposition from the government in Sydney, sheep farmers from Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) crossed Bass Strait in search of new pastures.


In May 1835, a syndicate led by John Batman explored Port Phillip Bay, looking for suitable sites for a settlement. Batman claimed to have signed a 'treaty' with Aboriginal leaders, giving him ownership of almost 250,000 hectares of land. Three months later, another syndicate of farmers, led by John Pascoe Fawkner, entered the Yarra River aboard the Enterprize, establishing the first permanent settlement.


New South Wales Governor Richard Bourke declared Batman's treaty illegal and the settlers to be trespassers. But within two years, more than 350 people and 55 000 sheep had landed, and the squatters were establishing large wool-growing properties in the district. Bourke was forced to accept the rapidly growing township.


In 1845, the Council appointed a Public Works Committee which reported three months later that 400 tree stumps had been grubbed from the main streets of the town but that 1000 still remained to be cleared. By 1849, however, most of the principal streets were paved, the footpaths gravelled and the centres of the roads metalled. Some streets had kerbed and pitched water channels while one thoroughfare even had a few oil lamps placed on wooden posts.    


Such progress!!

Melbourne 1838 from the Yarra Burkst

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.



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