Melbourne, Australia, Is Founded

Melbourne’s founding as an extension of the New South Wales colony paved the way for the discovery of gold and the creation of the new Australian colony of Victoria. Fueled by these developments, the modest township grew into a significant urban cultural center by the end of the century.

Summary of Event

In February, 1803, Charles Grimes, the acting surveyor general of New South Wales, was surveying what is now known as Port Phillip Bay. While engaged in this task, he discovered a potential settlement site on the Yarra River that he called “the falls.” John Murray had already sighted the bay itself, the first European to do so, in January of the previous year as he sailed past the harbor aboard the Lady Nelson. Grimes only reluctantly recommended “the falls” to Governor Philip Gidley King as a settlement site. Moreover, David Collins made a failed attempt at establishing a colony at Sullivan Bay, in the Port Phillip Bay peninsula, in October, 1803. The combined failure of Collins and reluctance of Grimes Grimes, Charles probably explain why there was little concerted effort to establish a permanent settlement in the area until the 1830’s. Melbourne, Australia
New South Wales;colonization of
Batman, John
British Empire;and Australia[Australia]
[kw]Melbourne, Australia, Is Founded (Aug. 16, 1835)
[kw]Australia, Is Founded, Melbourne, (Aug. 16, 1835)
[kw]Founded, Melbourne, Australia, Is (Aug. 16, 1835)
Melbourne, Australia
New South Wales;colonization of
Batman, John
British Empire;and Australia[Australia]
[g]Australia;Aug. 16, 1835: Melbourne, Australia, Is Founded[1930]
[g]British Empire;Aug. 16, 1835: Melbourne, Australia, Is Founded[1930]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;Aug. 16, 1835: Melbourne, Australia, Is Founded[1930]
[c]Colonization;Aug. 16, 1835: Melbourne, Australia, Is Founded[1930]
[c]Exploration and discovery;Aug. 16, 1835: Melbourne, Australia, Is Founded[1930]
Fawkner, John Pascoe
Bourke, Sir Richard
Gellibrand, Joseph Tice
Darling, Sir Ralph
King, Philip Gidley
Melbourne, Second Viscount
Russell, Robert
Hargraves, Edward Hammond
Grimes, Charles

Port Phillip Bay, located in what would become Victoria in 1851, was at the time in the southernmost part of New South Wales, then known as the Port Phillip District, or Australia Felix. During the 1820’s, the district was home to an ever-expanding maritime industry connecting first small sealing Sealing industry camps and later the larger whaling stations at Portland, Port Fairy, and Launceston. In 1829, Captain William Dutton Dutton, William , the man overseeing the sealing crews at Portland Bay, established a base camp called Portland that has some claim to being the region’s first official settlement. It was a reasonably well established colony by 1834.

The next person to advance European colonization in the region was John Batman, an Australian-born son of English immigrants. Batman had previously accompanied Hamilton Hume (also Australian-born) on exploratory missions in New South Wales before turning his attentions in 1821 to farming and sheep breeding in Launceston. Governor Sir Ralph Darling Darling, Sir Ralph could not consent to Batman’s plan to expand his holdings and raise sheep on pastoral lands in Port Phillip, and Darling’s refusal may have been the catalyst for Batman’s initiative to mobilize a syndicate in Launceston called the Port Phillip Association. The association’s purpose was to negotiate directly with indigenous communities to acquire land tracts around Port Phillip. Batman succeeded in brokering an arrangement similar to that made by Peter Minuit for Manhattan.

Batman set sail across Bass Strait aboard the schooner Rebecca on May 10, 1835, in possession of two “treaties” drafted with Joseph Tice Gellibrand Gellibrand, Joseph Tice . These documents were to be offered as proof to the government of Great Britain that indigenous communities supported Anglo-European settlement and had received appropriate recompense. Within a month, Batman had traded the typical assortment of knives, mirrors, and blankets for land tracts totaling some 600,000 acres. Batman presented the Melbourne and Geelong deeds to indigenous leaders, including representatives of the Dutigalla. One covered 500,000 acres around Melbourne, extending down the western area of Port Phillip including Geelong. The other annexed the southwest, from Bellarine Peninsula to Torquay.

Immediately after his return to Launceston, the press claimed that Batman was “the greatest landowner in the world.” Before Batman could capitalize on his maneuver, however, John Pascoe Fawkner Fawkner, John Pascoe quickly readied his schooner, Enterprize, and set sail from Launceston, entering Port Phillip Bay on August 16, 1835. Fawkner reached “the falls,” the site of what is now Melbourne, by the end of the month, and he was there when others arrived to appraise the area later in 1835. Controversy raged between colonizers over who held legitimate occupancy rights in the territory. The governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke Bourke, Sir Richard , declared that Batman, the other members of the Port Phillip Association, Fawkner, and all other claimants were trespassing on the colony’s lands.

The governor’s declaration and his threats of punitive action notwithstanding, settlers from Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales inundated the area in quest of land. Bourke appointed an official delegate, Captain William Lonsdale Lonsdale, William (1800?-1864), to monitor widespread squatting in 1836. In March, 1837, Bourke visited a small Port Phillip colony that had been established on the banks of the Yarra River and promptly renamed the township Melbourne in honour of the British prime minister, the second Viscount Melbourne, Second Viscount Melbourne. Robert Russell Russell, Robert drafted the town’s plan, and the first land sale occurred on June 1, 1837.

Even Mining;in Australia[Australia]
Australia;gold rush
Gold rushes;Australia though many squatters chanced upon gold during the early 1840’s, the Imperial Waste Land Act of 1842 discouraged active mining, because under the act, any precious metal or minerals discovered in Australia technically belonged to the Crown. Gold fever gathered momentum in late 1848, however, after the news of serious strikes in California reached Australia. An eight-vessel armada of gold seekers departed Sydney in January, 1849, and among these early pioneers was a pastoralist named Edward Hammond Hargraves. Hargraves, Edward Hammond His geological comparisons between conditions in California and Australia prompted his speedy return in 1850.

Hargraves’s subsequent discoveries in fields he named Ophir, in New South Wales, brought a wave of prospectors into the area. Governor Charles Fitzroy realized that a groundswell was imminent, and, after reviewing Hargraves’s report of licensing strategies in California, he adopted a similar method of controlled prospecting by implementing a charge of thirty shillings per month. Populations in Melbourne and the nearby port of Geelong skyrocketed by more than twenty thousand in 1853, as a thriving mass converged onto the goldfields. The often remarkable discoveries spawned the townships of Ballarat to the west of Melbourne, Bendigo to its north, and Beechworth to its northeast.


Melbourne became a major center of Australian colonial development in the 1850’s. Port Phillip became the colony of Victoria in 1851, and it became self-governing in 1855, with Melbourne as its capital. In 1854, Australia’s first railway line was established between Port Melbourne and Melbourne, and the Age newspaper was born. During 1855, the University of Melbourne was founded, as was the lavish Theatre Theater;Australian Royal (although it was not the city’s first purpose-built theater). Victoria was by then producing close to 95 percent of the country’s total production of gold. By 1861, the state’s gold production accounted for one-third of the world’s total production.

Melbourne continued to grow culturally as well. In 1861, it established a horse race called the Melbourne Cup that grew in fame just as its Theatre Royal and other cultural attractions did. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the city came to boast William Wardall’s Gothic-revivalist St. Patrick’s Cathedral and E. H. Baily’s sculpture of Governor Bourke Bourke, Sir Richard . Buildings of Georgian, Regency, and Victorian traditions probably inspired French painter Paul Gauguin’s assessment of the city’s architecture Architecture;Australian as “burlesques of the grandiose” during the late 1890’s, and in 1895, Mark Twain Twain, Mark
Twain, Mark
[p]Twain, Mark;and Australia[Australia] noted that the city was “equipped with everything that goes to make the modern great city.”

Debates continue as to who is responsible for the founding of Melbourne. Some argue that it comes down to a question of direction. Before Batman, the pioneers of 1802 had veered right upon entering Port Phillip Bay, thus encountering a scenic, albeit topographically poor, area. Batman, however, had swung left, thus revealing the geographical wealth of the region. An accidental decision thus changed the history of a nation’s development.

Further Reading

  • Burgmann, Verity, and Jenny Lee, eds. Constructing a Culture: A People’s History of Australia Since 1788. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books, 1988. Considers the influence of many historical events in shaping Australia’s cultural character.
  • Clark, C. M. H. Selected Documents in Australian History, 1851-1900. Sydney: Halstead Press, 1966. Historical account of Australia’s history complete with contemporary papers.
  • Flannery, Tim, ed. The Birth of Melbourne. Melbourne: Text, 2002. Popular account of the founding of Melbourne using period documents to support conclusions.
  • Harcourt, Rex. Southern Invasion, Northern Conquest: The Story of the Founding of Melbourne. Blackburn South, Victoria: Golden Point Press, 2001. View of Australia’s settlement history, starting from the settlement of Tasmania and moving outward from there.

Flinders Explores Australia

Great Britain Begins Colonizing Tasmania

Gold Is Discovered in New South Wales

Last Convicts Land in Western Australia

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Paul Gauguin; Second Viscount Melbourne; Mark Twain. Melbourne, Australia
New South Wales;colonization of
Batman, John
British Empire;and Australia[Australia]