Romsey Australia

Early Settlers in Victoria Australia.

Flinders Street Railway Station Melbourne Australia 1854


Early Settlers in Victoria

The first attempt to settle Victoria was made in 1803.
On the 7th October of that year Lieutenant-Colonel Collins arrived from England with the intention of founding, in Port Phillip, a convict settlement similar to that which had been established at Sydney.

The expedition landed on the shores of Port Phillip, near Sorrento, and several explorations of the country were made, but in the course of a few months the attempt at colonisation was abandoned, as the place was believed to be unsuitable for settlement. For twenty years thereafter the District of Port Phillip continued to be neglected.

1824  Hume and Hovell     

In 1824 Hume and Hovell undertook exploration of the territory to the south and west , the western arm of Port Phillip, not far from the present town of Geelong. In 1826 another expedition, under Captain Wright, was sent from Sydney to form a settlement at Western Port, but returned by order of Governor Darling after one year's trial, although the reports of Hume and Hovell and of the officers of the military were favourable to a continuation of the occupation. The first permanent settlement was made in 1834 at Portland Bay, by Edward Henty.

1835  John Batman     

In May, 1835, John Batman arrived at Port Phillip from Launceston, Tasmania, and obtained from the aborigines tracts of land covering an area of 600 000 acres on the shores of Port Phillip and the banks of the Yarra, but these grants were afterwards disallowed by the Imperial Government.

In August of the same year another party, under the leadership of J. P. Fawkner, also from Launceston, arrived in the Yarra, and formed a settlement on the site now occupied by the city of Melbourne.

In 1836 Captain Lonsdale, who bore the title of Resident Magistrate of the District of Port Phillip, and was accompanied by a party of soldiers as well as the necessary civil servants, was dispatched from Sydney by Sir Richard Bourke, Governor of New South Wales, for the purpose of establishing regular Government.

1837 the Governor    

In 1837 the Governor himself arrived from Sydney, and gave the name Melbourne to the new settlement. Port Phillip was separated from the mother colony on the 1st July, 1851, and became an independent province under the name of Victoria. The first representative Parliament was opened on the 21st November, 1856. Victoria is both the second most populous State in Australia and the smallest on the Australian mainland. It is also the most densely populated State. It's capital city, Melbourne, was the main city of the Victorian gold rush in the middle of the nineteenth century and soon outgrew even Sydney though this has since been reversed. After Federation Melbourne served as the National Capital until the establishment of Canberra.

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News from Australia

Image:  The Illuminated Magazine (vol. II) January 1844

Description of Melbourne 1853   
W. J. Wills Member of the Burke and Wills Expedition

Port Phillip, January 3rd, 1853.
My dear Father,
Melbourne is situated, as you know, on the Yarra Yarra,   [Footnote: A native term, which means "always running." ]  , which has not nearly so large a bed as the Dart, although more navigable.
It is narrow but very deep, and so far resembles a canal rather than a river.
The town, or city, as they call it, is situated low, but laid out on a good scale.
The streets are very wide, and I think when filled with houses it will be a fine place; but what spoils the appearance now is, the number of wooden buildings they are throwing up, as they cannot get workmen for others.
The town of Melbourne is all on one side of the river, but on the opposite bank is Canvas Town, connected with Melbourne by a good bridge of one arch.
Canvas Town takes its name from being entirely composed of tents, except a few wooden erections, such as a public-house, and the Immigrant's Home, where we had lodged.

I do not like Melbourne in its present state. You are not safe out after sundown, and in a short time you will not be safe during the day.
There were some men taken out of the river drowned, suspected to have been murdered, and several attempts at robbery, while we were there.
From your affectionate and dutiful son,
W J Wills.

  Letter from W. J. Wills   Member of the Burke and Wills Expedition  

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Yarra River.
European settlers at first callled this river the Freshwater.
Charles, Grimes (1772-1858), surveyor-general of New South Wales, made a survey of Port Phillip and on 2 February 1803 the mouth of the Yarra was discovered.
He suggested that the "most eligible place for a settlement I have seen is on the Freshwater (Yarra) River".
But in 1835,  John Wedge    (1793-1872),  surveyor and explorer, will give it the name Yarra Yarra, in the mistaken belief that this is the Aboriginal name for the stream.
In fact, the indigenous people called it Birrarung, a place of mists and shadows.
Today it is called the Yarra river.

Melbourne 1835  " The banks of the Yarra were fringed with feathery scrub, and the stream itself, as yet untainted by the sewage of a populous city, glided downward to the sea in its pristine freshness and purity. .... "

Melbourne 1841  " the water supply of the inhabitants had to be carted in casks from the  already polluted Yarra river.... "

    Source :  "Picturesque Atlas of Australasia" a three-volume geographic encyclopaedia of
    Australia and New Zealand compiled and published in 1886. Descriptive Sketch of Victoria  
    Source:  Dictionary Of Australian Biography  Angus and Robertson--1949


A Romance of Canvas Town.

" DWELLERS in Melbourne during 1851 and the immediately succeeding years of the golden age in Australia will remember Canvas Town. Good cause, doubtless, have certain prosperous citizens to recall the strange suburb of Melbourne across the river, in which they, with hundreds of strangers and pilgrims, were fain to abide, pending suitable lodgings or employment. It arose mushroom-like from the bare trampled clay, a town of tents and calico, at no great distance from Prince's-bridge, shouldering the road which then led to the fashionable suburb of South Yarra. "

" For in Melbourne, houses and cottages, huts and hotels were alike full, more than full, with legitimate occupants. The verandahs and even the back yards were utilised as dormitories. A list of the extraordinary makeshifts for bedrooms then in common use would read like a chapter from the Hunting of the Snark or kindred literature. Only with this difference, that the nonsense would all be true,--terribly true. "

Canvas Town Melbourne 1853

Partially extracted from:  A Romance of Canvas Town   Author   Rolf Boldrewood  1881
  pseudonym of Thomas Alexander Browne (1826-1915)

Melbourne 1853

" The people here are dying by scores of dissentry, fevers, and every other ailment that man is subject to; a more unhealthy place is not to be found in the known world...a person that brings out a family here ought to be shot - he has no place to bring them to. A room in Melbourne could not be obtained for love or money and you would pay two pounds a week for a dilapidated old Tent not even water proof. "  A letter from John Hewat to his parents, March 17 1853.

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The writings of an Englishman upon arriving in Melbourne   1852

Decr 26/52

My Dear Papa

We arrived here on Saturday , and by all accounts everything was very dear - for instance - bread 2/- the 4lb loaf, salt 4d per lb - meat 6d per lb, coffee 1/8 per lb, sugar 4d per lb, lump sugar 10d. Spirits etc very dear - beer 6d per glass or 2/- per pot etc and everything in comparison.

I did not intend going on shore till I went for good for they charged 5/- to land. I stayed on board all Sunday - packed up on Monday - and Tuesday morning at 8 o'clock went by the steamer to Melbourne which is about 10 miles from where we were anchored.
It cost me nearly £2. to land with my luggage and all, for labour is so expensive.
Entering the town, it seemed so queer and strange - my chum and I went and walked about, after we had got our luggage stored - we were quite bewildered.

We went to a lodging house and there were two beds - mind I say beds because a room is a thing impossible to get.
These beds were in a room where 12 slept - and I hear there are some houses where 20 sleep together in a room. We took these beds and paid 3/- each for them, and we then had dinner - 2/-.

After dinner I walked in the town and I saw put up in a printers, "Compositors wanted" so I walked in and was engaged at £4.18/- per week.
It is a jobing office and I like it very much - Well I was to go there next morning at 6 o'clock - after that I went and found Frank Wyman, who was very glad to see me - he is doing nothing, but he is not single in this - but of this I will write more of, when I have finished about myself.

After that I went to the tents - or "Canvas Town" as they call it. I should think there must be nearly nearly 1000 tents, and it looks for all the world like Eden in the "Martin Chuzelwitt" of Dickens.
There I saw Mountee and Charlotte, very miserable. They had arrived about 10 days before us - and were 120 days at sea.
They are both very miserable and wish they had never come - which is the cry of everyone that arrived. We had tea with them, and then went home and went to bed.

Since then I have been to work every day from 6 till 6 and have felt very tired when the day is over, and I generally turn in about 9 o'clock. On the morning after I arrived I went to a boarding house to live where they charged me £2.2/- per week for breakfast dinner and tea, and a bed with 12 in the same room.
Oh it is a wretched place destitute of every comfort is this Australia. Cherries 4/- per lb - Cabbages 1/ each Apples 4/ per lb and not worth eating. Washing 12/- per dozen if you send all shirts - but if you mix the things large with the small you can get them done for 8/- per doz.

On the first Monday and first week after I came on Shore I was so dreadfully bit by the Moschettos they bit me all over while I was asleep, you must not scratch the place when they itch for it makes them worse.
My face was so covered with these bites that I looked as if I had the small pox, and really thought I was going to be ill, but I stood up against it, and Charlotte and Mountee, hearing of a house to let at 30/ a week near my office I said I would take one room with them for the houses have only two rooms most of them.

Well - the second Monday after I arrived we were in this house, and thank God I am now free from moschettos, for it was only through so many living and sleeping in one room at the boarding house that I was so bit.
On Christmas day we had some baked pork and plum pudding which was very good. They charged 9d for baking it and if you take 1/- will not give you the change.
Coppers are rare things here nothing hardly is to be bought under 6d .
Change is never hardly given.

To give you an idea of the things here is today that 10/- here is only equal to 1/- in England this is a fact.
I bought a bottle of Port wine and Rum to drink at Christmas and they charged me 6/- for the bad wine and 4/6 for the Rum - one thing of this, I don't care for I am no drinker.
I drank all your healths at home and thought of what you were all doing calculating the 9½ hours we have gained on you for when we are going to bed at ½ past 9 it is 12 at noon with you.   I did not wish any of you here for it is a horrid country.

The summer season is now on , and they say they have no rain, in England.
There have been four or five showers - not such showers as we have in England, but rain that seems to pour - not "little babies in long clothes " but " Giants with pitchforks ".

The morning after I arrived I had to cross a street. The water was nearly up to my knees - this the old settlers call nothing.
They don't call this rain - they say it lasts for 3 months right off.

The Sunday before last I took a walk with Mr Wyman to Pryham, a place about 5 miles off - and nearly knocked myself up, you cannot walk here in the middle of the day - nor at night for murder is nothing here and no one thinks of walking out without a pistol in his pocket, they are "stuck up", as they call it and thrown into the Yarra river -

It is a wicked country and a devil's life.
To advise anyone to come out I certainly should not for though I have got a tolerable situation - I am one in a thousand, besides persons who are no trade are useless out here - Clerks are no good here - all they do is work on the road at £3 a week, which with the high price of things is not too much, considering what hard work is.

If Alfred Newman was to come out he would not know what to do - I can assure him for no one but Carpenters and Brickmakers are wanted - not even printers, for they are plentiful now - and I can only say that I am very very lucky.

As for coming out for the " beautiful country ", it is nothing on England - even in the worst parts. It is a horrid place and where I never hope to settle.
All I say is stay in England - don't leave her she is not to be equalled.
What some have endured living in the tents I cannot tell you but it is dreadful.
There are many out of work out of employment here as there are in England - and it is only the good workmen - and they must be lucky - that succeeds.
As for letters of introduction they are not worth a dump - in fact I have not used mine.

Bigamy is a constant occurance here that no notice is taken of it.
If a man leaves his wife to go to the diggings she marries another man and when her husband comes back, if he goes to say anything about Justice, gets laughed at, and perhaps a bullet through the head for his trouble.

All I have written is not overdrawn in the least - I can assure you,
and after leaving beautiful England to come to such a different place, where comfort is not known.
Do not advise anyone to come. I do not say this from any selfish mood but for their good while they can exist in England, let them stay.

I was not born to be lucky in some things - I shall give myself ten years and then come home again and see old England again, that is to say if I don't make my fortune before.

To make a fortune here is easy if you can get established well. Mr Lyon and Roy is here starving, but I don't think they make much of their London madrigal and Glee Club.

The theatre and all connections with it is far from respectable.
I went to the tents the other day and coming home heard a lady playing on the piano and singing in one of them, "I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls" - poor thing.
I thought that all you can do here is to dream of those places here.

Many persons who work on the roads get sun stroke, and die.
The dysentry has carried off a great many - the water is very bad - in fact nothing is good - meat tough - the flies plentiful, and everything dear.

The gentlemen wear veils as well as the ladies here, to keep off dust and flies.
I have a wide-a-wake and green veil, to look like the rest.
Dogs are very numerous. You have to carry a stick to knock them off to prevent them biting you.

Every one is on an equality here and the only thing that I am not obliged to keep up any great appearances here.
I can wear what I like and no one looks at you. I shall become a rough and uncouth being - and not the civilised Henry Severn that was.

It is no good making friends here for they only cost money and I want to save so shall remain quite by myself going through the routine of the day like a clock.
I have not been able to get all my clothes out of the box but shall go next week.

I hope to send by next letter something to give you but must not promise till I know where I am and must keep a little store in case of illness which please God I may not have.

Good bye.
Give my love to all at home. I hope you are getting on well.
I am expecting letters from you.
Give my love to all - everyone.
Tell them I am doing well and believe my dear father I am your loving son.
Thomas H. Severn

Tell Moma and children they must not be offended because I have not sent my love separately.

  A Letter to his Father from Thomas Henry Severn,
a newly arrived passenger on the ship "PRINCE ALFRED".
Written in Melbourne Australia on 26 December 1852. 

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Melbourne circa 1853

An extract from:

 A Lady's Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852-53

" The state of society in the town had not much improved during my absence. On the public road from Melbourne to St. Kilda, fifteen men were robbed in one afternoon, and tied to trees within sight of one another.
In Melbourne itself the same want of security prevailed, and concerts, lectures, &c., were always advertised to take place when there was a full moon, the only nights any one, unarmed, dared venture, out after dusk.
The following extract from the "Argus," gives a fair specimen of Melbourne order.

"We are led to these remarks (referring to a tirade against the Government) by an occurrence that took place last week in Queen Street, the whole detail of which is peculiarly illustrative of the very creditable state of things, to which, under the happy auspices of a La Trobe dynasty, we are rapidly descending.

"A ruffian robs a man in a public-house, in broad daylight. He is pursued by a constable and taken. On the way to the watchhouse a mob collects, the police are attacked, pistols are pointed, bludgeons and axe-handles are brought out of the adjacent houses (all still in broad daylight, and in a busy street), and distributed amongst the crowd, loud cries inciting attack are heard, a scuffle ensues, the police are beaten, the prisoner is rescued, the crowd separates, and a man is left dead upon the ground. The body is taken into a public-house, an inquest is held, the deceased is recognized as a drunkard, the jury is assured that a POST-MORTEM examination is quite unnecessary; and the man is buried, after a verdict is brought in of 'Died by the visitation of God;' the said visitation of God having, in this instance, assumed the somewhat peculiar form of a fractured skull!"

This is a true picture of Melbourne; but whether the "Argus" is justified in reproaching the "La Trobe dynasty" with it, is quite another matter. "
Source: A Lady's Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852-53   by Mrs Charles (Ellen) Clacy   1853

Melbourne from the south, near the St. Kilda road. 1855 (1)

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Speeding Vehicles in Melbourne Australia circa 1875

Elizabeth Street Melbourne 1875
" ..police regulation forbids these.... a regulation, as might be expected, not infrequently disregarded. We were told, however, in all gravity by a citizen of Melbourne, that when the municipal treasury happens to be low, policemen are stationed at the crossings until a sufficient number of offenders have been caught, carried off to the police office, and fined to bring the funds up to the required level. "  

Elizabeth street Melbourne circa 1875

Source:  What we saw in Australia. 1875  by Rosamond and Florence Davenport Hill

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'Larrikinism' a term first adopted in Melbourne
" That the milder treatment favoured by the magistrates is not, efficient, the following paragraph leads us to fear.
It is extracted from the ' South Australian Register ' for December 5th, 1874.
' The fruits of the defective early training of young men belonging chiefly to the lower grades of society are beginning to manifest themselves in an epidemic of 'larrikinism' a term first adopted in Melbourne to describe the reckless deeds of the young roughs that infest the streets of that city.

The offenders are principally youths budding into manhood, who appear to set at defiance all moral and social restraints, and to take delight in blackguardism for its own sake.
They are accustomed to go about in gangs insulting or maltreating the quietly disposed, according as the humour seizes them, or as opportunity serves. Their operations are principally confined to Adelaide and the suburbs, although other centres of population are beginning to complain of their lawless proceedings.
Encouragement has been given to their escapades by the unwise leniency with which magistrates have treated cases of rowdyism brought before them from time to time. A demand has sprung up in some quarters for the free application of the cane or of the lash to the backs of the young ruffians ; but there is reason to believe that the existing law, which empowers the Justices to imprison the culprits or to send them on for trial at the Supreme Court, would, if rigorously administered, answer all requirements. "
Source:  What we saw in Australia. 1875  by Rosamond and Florence Davenport Hill

The Larrikins.

A subculture of the Victorian era of 1837 - 1901 , who had ‘ a language, manners and dress peculiarly his own...’. The Larrikins were easily recognised by the short jackets, short and tight bell bottom trousers worn with high-heeled pointed boots. The activities, dress sense and life styles of the Larrikins and their girlfriends (donah) earned them ‘the anger and disgust of all respectable folk’. The donah was described as ‘gaudily dressed’ wearing boots, brightly coloured dresses and flaunting their feather boas. Gaudy could be also used to describe their presumed and display of character. The image on the left represents the fashion style of 1876 from which the donha modified their style of dress.(2)

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The Sydney larrikin in 1878
" The larrikins are numerous in Sydney.
They are brutal cowards, who would not hesitate to rob a sick child, or steal the letters off a gravestone. They insult women, assault unwary pedestrians, defy the police, haunt the parks at night, are up to every villany and outrage.
Larrikinism threatens dire consequences.
The respectable classes growl and grumble, and occasionally write letters to the papers, and abuse the police and the aldermen, and the clergy, and government. But as for subscribing to night schools, or city missions, or as exist in other great cities, these things are not thought of.....

" We are too busy gambling, and pot-hunting, and overreaching and manipulating politics, and plundering the treasury, and rigging the market, to lose time over mawkish sentimentality.
Let the parsons, and the police, and the government look to it.
They are paid to put down larrikinism. What have we to do with it?" Overdrawn, you say? I wish it were so. "
Source:  Our Australian Cousins by James Inglis:     MacMillan and Co.London 1880

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Melbourne Australia
Flinders Street Railway Station circa 1927 Melbourne Australia

" At its meeting last evening the Prahran Council received a communication from the Brighton Council suggesting that the Prahan Council in conjunction with those of St Kilda , Caulfield, Moorabbin, and Brighton should appoint representatives to wait on the Railways Commissioners to direct attention to the overcrowding of carriages on the Melbourne to Brighton railway through the late running of trains

This condition was emphasised daily between 5 and 6 p.m. when residents of the various municipalities connected by this train service were returning to their homes.
Failure on the part of the department to observe scheduled time occasioned crowding and much discomfort, inconvenience, and annoyance resulted.
The matter was referred to the mayor "
Source:  Argus Newspaper (Melbourne, Vic.)   Tuesday 10 August 1915

We should just get used to crowded trains.
Department of Transport chief Jim Betts said Melbourne was becoming more like London, Paris and Tokyo, where overcrowding was a fact of life. "I'm not saying that's a good thing. I'm not celebrating it. But welcome to the Western world," he said. "This is what happens when you have a city of four million people."
Source:  Herald Sun Newspaper (Melbourne, Vic.)   May 19, 2009

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Serious water famine:  Melbourne 1887
Threatened failure of the Yan Yean water supply for Melbourne.
"  It might be as well, therefore, for householders to consider the desirability of their adopting some tank system for storing rain water during the summer months. "    Source: : The Age  10 January 1887

More than a century later we are again informed about the benifits of a household rainwater tank:

Victoria State Government  Water Minister  John Thwaites said ,
" By installing a rainwater tank, householders can help protect our drinking water supplies....."
Source:  Media Release  From the Minister of Water  Victoria,  October 12, 2006

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References and other Sources:
An extract from 'A statistical account of the Seven Colonies of Australasia 1895 - 1896 by T. A. Coglan
Reference: Victoria University - Local Aboriginal History.
Thomas Henry Severn's Diary"
Image source. "Picturesque Atlas of Australasia" a three-volume geographic encyclopaedia of
    Australia and New Zealand compiled and published in 1886. Descriptive Sketch of Victoria
Image   Flinders Street Railway Station Melbourne Australia 1854  
Source:  The City Terminus of the M & H.B Railway Company. by S.T.GILL 1854  courtesy of Tbe National Bank of Australia Limited calendar September 1967
Image   Melbourne from the south, near the St. Kilda road. 1855 (1)
Source:  Henry Burn lithograph 1855  courtesy of Tbe National Bank of Australia Limited calendar 1967

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Early Settlers in Victoria Australia.  (19 pages)

by Romsey Australia
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License.


Revised March 2012