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VICTORIA, OR PORT PHILLIP.
1835 to 1850.
SKETCH OF THE RISE OF A COLONY FOUNDED BY COLONISTS WITH SHEEP,
WITHOUT AN ACT OF PARLIAMENT.
EVENTEEN years ago Victoria, or Port Phillip, was a desert,
barely known to Europeans except by the reports of wandering shore parties of whalers and sealers. In the year 1852 between seventy and eighty thousand inhabitants, six millions of fine-woolled sheep, a city furnished with all the comforts and luxuries of civilized life, two thriving ports crowded with ships, steam-boats, and coasters, farms, gardens, and vineyards, attested the colonizing vigour of the English race, the advantages of its soil and climate, and, not least, of administrative and legislative neglect; for Port Phillip has attained all its solid prosperity without the aid of colonizing companies or acts of parliament, or governors or regiments, or any of the complicated machinery with which sham colonies are bolstered up, and real colonies are so often encumbered.
A small band of experienced colonists, a succession of flocks and herds from the opposite coast, a magistrate, a few policemen and customs officers, then a sort of deputy governor under the modest name of superintendent—these were found sufficient for building up the most flourishing dependency of the British crown, without calling on the home country for a single shilling.
The history of Port Phillip is singularly barren of incident, and may be comprised in a very few pages, while volumes might be filled with the moving accidents which have chequered the career of colonies which have not attained, and are not likely to attain, one-tenth of its wealth and importance as a field for British labour and capital.
In 1798 Bass, in the course of his whale-boat expedition, visited Western Port, one of the harbours of Victoria. In 1802 Flinders sailed into Port Phillip Bay, having been preceded ten weeks previously by Lieutenant John Murray, of the Lady Nelson.
In 1803 Colonel Collins was sent from England with a small force and a party of convicts to found a settlement in Port Phillip. He arrived in 1804, and took up a very injudicious position on the southern shore of the bay, where the beach was unfavourable for landing, and there was no fresh water. It is evident, from a narrative published by one of the party, that from the first Collins had no earnest desire to form a settlement at Port Phillip: he had heard glowing accounts of the beauty and fertility of the opposite shores of Van Diemen's Land, and, after a very cursory survey, he decided on removing thither. In the course of a walk round the bay, undertaken by the officers of the ship, a fast-flowing stream was discovered, and at one moment the hopes of the seamen were excited by the sight of the sparkling sand, which they took for gold; but of course, observes the narrator, it was only mica.* At the present day we cannot be so sure that it was mica.
During their encampment on the shores of Port Phillip three of the convicts escaped into the interior : one of them was William Buckley, a native of Macclesfield, who had been a grenadier, served under the Duke of York in Flanders, and had been transported for striking his superior officer.
Previous to the arrival of Collins, Mr. Charles Grimes, the surveyorgeneral of the colony, had completed the marine survey of Flinders by making an outline of the harbour, where he reported the existence of the river now known as the Yarra Yarra, or “ever-flowing water."
In 1824 Messrs. Hume and Hovell, two stockowners of New South Wales, made an expedition to explore new pastures, and, travelling from near Lake George four hundred miles, in the course of which they traversed the flanks of the Australian Alps, and crossed three rivers, which they named the Hume, the Ovens, and the Goulburn, emerged on shores which they imagined to be those of Western Port, but there is now little doubt that they had really reached the western arm of Port Phillip Bay, near the site of the port of Geelong. In looking at
map of the Melbourne district a spot will be found marked Mount Disappointment, about thirty miles from Melbourne. It was this hill that the weary travellers climbed, calculating that from its summit they would behold the sea. They were right in the direction, and a long line of coast and a stretch of the finest sheep plains lay in a line before them; but, unfortunately, lofty broad boled trees hid everything from their longing eyes, and they descended sad and disheartened.
It would seem as if there had been a spell over this fortunate land which guarded its wealth from the discovery of a series of explorers, from Cook to Hovell and Hume.
* "Lieutenant Tuckey's Voyage in H. M. S. Calcutta, to found a Settlement in Bass's Straits 1803-4."
Mr. Hovell was afterwards employed by the government to form a settlement at Western Port, which was, however, soon abandoned ; and the fine pastoral district traversed in the course of his journey with Mr. Hume excited little attention, in consequence of the discovery, about the same time, of Brisbane Downs, which were more accessible from the previously occupied districts.
In 1834 Messrs. Henty, engaged in the whaling trade at Launceston, in Van Diemen’s Land, formed a branch establishment at Portland Bay, and soon afterwards imported a few sheep and cattle to feed on the splendid pastures which there, unlike the other districts of Australia, carpetted the shores almost to the water's edge; and, in the same year, other flockowners from Van Diemen's Land crossed the straits to Port Phillip.
Already the Tasmanians had found the pastures of their island, covered as the greater portion of it is by inaccessible mountains and forests of gigantic timber, too limited for the annual increase of their flocks. The reports of the pastoral resources of the opposite shore became a constant subject of discussion, and in April, 1835, a party of settlers formed themselves into an association,* for the purpose of taking possession of an estate in Port Phillip; but, before they could execute their project, Mr. John Batman, a blacksmith, born in New South Wales, but then visiting Van Diemen's Land, secretly set sail from Launceston, accompanied by a party of tame blacks from the neighbourhood of Sydney, landed in the middle of May, and, through his native interpreter, entered into an arrangement with the Port Phillip
* The association consisted of Messrs. S. and N. Jackson, Fawkner, Marr, Evans, and Lancy.