As we delve into the history of Australia, it is hard to believe that a man like George Selth Coppin is all but forgotten. His drive and enthusiasm brought theatre and pleasure into the young Australia. He built and owned many a theatre, played on more stages, engineered a tramway and amphitheater in Sorrento, Victoria, organised a paddle steamer to transport the tourists to his resort, created Australia’s first zoo, facilitated Australia’s first balloon flight in 1858, owned or co-owned various Port Phillip steamers, assisted those not as fortunate as he, became a politician and entrepreneur . . .
His story of poverty, fame & fortune repeated itself a number of times during his lifetime, but it would appear that when his world collapsed around him, he would get up, brush himself down, and rise again . .
On the 4th August 1845, the ‘Cataraqui’ was wrecked on King Island – far from its destination of Port Phillip Bay – only 8 crew and 1 immigrant were to survive the worst maritime tragedy in Australia’s history. George Coppin was quick to organise aid for the survivors and rescuers:
Home of Australia’s first Zoo and first Balloon Flight, George Coppin’s Cremorne Gardens were filled with stage, theatre, beautiful gardens, a lake, rotundas, circus, refreshments – accessible to Melburnians via steamer or onmnibus:
Affectionately known as the ‘Iron Pot’, the ‘Olympic Theatre’ was a prefabricated 2-storey iron building built in Manchester in England in 1854 and transported by sailing ship to Melbourne by George Coppin, as his first theatre in Melbourne:
” . . . It is, now about 14 years ago since I originated companies to clear the bush, to form and make roads to the Ocean Amphitheatre, to erect rotundas, and seats along four miles of paths running by the side of the ocean, to erect the Continental Hotel and several cottages, to erect public baths, Mechanic’s Institute and Public library and to purchase the New Zealand steamer ‘Golden Crown‘, reducing the return ticket from 20s by the tug steamer ‘Williams‘ to 7s 6d. by the first excursion steamer that ever ran down the Bay; and although have a balance of £6000 or £7000 upon the wrong side of my ledger, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have secured good health for my family, and the pleasure of seeing the gradual progress of the place. The great attraction of the present season has been the tramway, as upwards of 50,000 passengers have travelled by it. Next season will be the most important since Sorrento has been established. We are to have a new steamer 50 ft longer and 3 miles an hour faster than the Ozone, and as both boats will run to Sorrento, a great addition to a number of passengers and a reduction in fares may be expected . . . “
Source: Excerpt – Queenscliff Sentinel, Drysdale, Portarlington and Sorrento Advertiser (Vic) – Article ‘Mr Coppin at Sorrento’ – published 26th April 1890
In order to ensure tourists could find easy passage to Coppin’s famous amphitheater precinct, he formed a paddle steamer steamer company to traverse Port Phillip Bay from Melbourne to Sorrento:
The many ship wrecks occuring along the coast of the Mornington Peninsula caused George Coppin to petition for the formation of a “volunteer life-saving corps” in Sorrento. This lead to the construction of a Life Saving Track with 16 lookout and access points stretching along the back beach from Sorrento to Rye:
This is an ever evolving story. As our travels to various regions of Australia continue, more discoveries may come to light and will be added to this amazing story of the life of George Selth Coppin.