‘The Falls’, that once occupied this at this site, are arguably THE reason that the City of Melbourne came to be.
During his journey of exploration of Port Phillip in mid 1835, John Batman happened to venture up the Yarra River due to a twist of fate that had prevented him being able to exit the northern reaches of the Port Phillip Bay on that day:
“Monday 8th June 1835
The wind south this morning for Indenture Head we tried but could not get out of the river. The boat went up the large River I have spoken of which comes from the East, and I am glad to state about six miles up found the River all good water and very deep. This will be the place for a Village . . . “
– Source: John Batman’s Journal, 8th June 1835
John Batman had stumbled upon what was to become known as ‘The Falls’ – a natural barrier that separated the fresh water of the Yarra River from the salt water of Port Phillip Bay. ‘The Falls’ marked the end of the navigable river, however they did provide a means of crossing the river. This specific location presented an excellent water source, as well as a transport route downstream that not only accessed the large bay, but also the ocean and beyond – essential ingredients back then. Fertile land, fresh water, shelter and transport – naturally, John Batman believed this to be an ideal location for a village. It is possibly prudent to mention that shipping was the only effectual means of transport at this time.
” . . . The falls were formed by the outcrop of a reef which barred the’ river, but there was a passage among the rocks large enough to admit small boats at high water, and the salt water from the Bay frequently flavored the Upper Yarra. To prevent this contamination of the water supply, a dam was made on the rocks by convict labor in 1839, but it did not last long, and another work to serve the same purpose was also a failure . . . “
Source: Excerpt – Age (Melbourne, Vic) – Article “The Falls Bridge – the Old and the New” – published 15th April 1890
Little did he know that just ten years on, his only son would drown at this very location . . .
30th January 1845
My Dear Elizabeth
I am sure you were very much distressed when you heard of the death of your dear brother. I wrote a hurried letter to your aunt, acquainting her of the sad event and also sent a newspaper with the particulars; it seems that he was catching small fishes, which are left by the tide amongst the stones at the falls, and in getting up in haste one of the stones he was stankiing upon gave way and he was immediately carried away a considerable distance by the current, into the middle of the unlucky Yarrow Yarra, and before any assistance could be procured my lovely boy had sunk, every effort was made to get the body, but to no purpose untill next morning, when several of the blacks dived in different parts of the River and were successful in finding him.
Oh, my dear child, had you but seen him you would never have forgotten his countenance; no person would have thought he was dead, he looked as if he were in a quiet sleep, with a heavenly smile on his sweet face. I am almost heart broken when I think of him and believe me Elizabeth all my happiness in this world is buried in the grave with him. I loved him to excess – the only thing that reconciles me to this bereavement is that I am sure he is now in heaven, the Lord has taken him from the evil to come. He gave him to me and He has in the order of his divine will taken him from me – and blessed be his holy name.
I send you a piece of his hair, which I cut off myself before he was put in the coffin – he was buried very respectably; several gentlemen attended; they wore white bands and scarfs. He was carried in a hearse and about one hundred and fifty children followed, carrying flowers in their hands, which they strewed over his grave.
He was buried in a vault with his father, and placed on top of his coffin, which looked as fresh and as new a the first day it was placed there, although six years have nearly elapsed since the unfortunate occurrence – Lucy has been living with Mr. Solomen for some time and intends to remain while the return from V D Land. The go once for the [?] Shamrock – the wax candles Lucy has now in her possession they are very good.
Give my affectionate love to my sister and Mr. Stevens and accept the same.
Your Affectionate but Afflicted Mother.”
Reading this letter brings tears to your eyes – the pain is so strongly felt through her words . . .
It is interesting to note at this point that of all the explorers who had suggested locations for future cities in Australia, John Batman was the only one whose location actually became a city, let alone a capital city . . .
‘The Falls’ were later to be extended to form a weir and bridges built to provide a river crossing.
” . . . So long spanned by the well-known bridge of that name, mark a spot of some historical interest, as it was there the first attempt was made of anything like a public work in the colony. The “Falls,” and not the river, ought to be known as ” Yarra Yarra,” which is the Aboriginal appellation for a rapid, or any rush of water over rocks. Though fresh water was obtainable above the “Falls” at certain hours, the salt-water impelled by the tide rendered it so brackish as to be often undrinkable. Therefore, an effort was made to stem the deleterious up-flow, and in 1839 a weir or dam, of the rudest kind was thrown across the “Falls.” It was formed of stone, mud and mortar, by the labour of a convict road-gang, and in August the Port Phillip Gazette wrote of it as ” simple, neat, and substantial,” and equestrians were ” requested not to ride on it,” being dangerous alike to man, horse, and embankment. The ” substantiality ” of this undertaking soon gave way, and ere a year had passed the matter was brought so prominently under the notice of Governor Sir George Gipps on his visit to Melbourne in 1841, that His Excellency not only directed the construction of a new breakwater, but volunteered to prepare a specification for the same. Sir George, be it known, was a Captain of Royal Engineers. Though shortly after His Excellency’s departure this projected breakwater was commenced, owing to the stinginess of the Government, or other unknown cause, the Vice-regal design was never worked up to, the thing was scamped, and turned out more than half a failure. The brackishness of the water was partly reduced, but the supply was noxious, and anything like good water was not to be procured until the Yan Yean advanced to working order. The boiling process worked off the saline insalubrity of the water to a great extent, and the river did not reek with the disgusting contributories which in a few years commenced that pollution which, increasing with time, at the present day has transformed the waterway into a cloaca maxima of festering impurities. The Town Council was subject to spasmodic fits towards abating the universal nuisance, but the “vested interests,” and the absence of adequate legislative authority, completely paralysed intentions excellent in themselves. The only other natural breakwater within miles of Melbourne was the “Falls” at Studley Park, remarkable as a once favourite crossing-place for cattle, and a station for herring fishing, much affected by the ancient anglers . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘The Chronicles of Melbourne 1835 to 1851’ Volume II – by Garryowen – published 1888
During the first years of ‘The Settlement’, as Melbourne was known back then, ‘The Falls’ were the only means of crossing the Yarra River until ferries and punts began operating c 1838. The first bridge was constructed c 1845, a little further upstream, at the location very near that is now known as the ‘Princes Bridge’ . . .
1860 would see a wooden bridge constructed over ‘The Falls’ which would be replaced by the ‘Queens Bridge‘ in 1890.
‘The Falls’ were blasted to oblivion in 1883:
” . . . In 1879 Sir John Coode reported that the “falls” in the Yarra must be removed in order to prevent a repetition of the disastrous floods of 1863 and 1878. It was pointed out that the tidal flow of the Yarra is stopped by the barrier of rock capped by the artificial mound or dam which was placed thereon some years ago for the purpose of excluding the tide and impounding fresh water for the use of the city . . . the obstructions in the bed of the Yarra must be removed from just above Prince’s-bridge to below Falls-bridge, and the waterway must be enlarged and supplemented by the substantial embanking of nearly the whole length of river margin between the Botanical-gardens bridge and the sea . . . “
” . . . At last two of the departmental rock-boring machines were got to work by the contractor, Mr. Simson, and yesterday good progress was made in preparing for blasting, which will be in full progress in a few days . . . ”
The blasting will be done by dynamite, which is preferable to powder for submarine work. The charges will be graduated in quantity according to the depth of the rock to be operated upon. In some places it will be 15 ft. deep, in others the reef touches the surface of the water. The rock extends 160 ft. on the west side of the bridge, and right across the river, which is at this place 240 ft. wide. . . . It will be cleared to a uniform depth of 15 ft. 6 in., but some of the additional fairway will be taken up by the new iron bridge, which is to be constructed . . . The cost of the entire removal of the reef is estimated at about £20,000 . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW) – Article “Removal of the Yarra Falls (Argus May 24)” – published 29th May 1883
– Facilities available at Melbourne
Sorry, no records were found. Please adjust your search criteria and try again.
Sorry, unable to load the Maps API.
- Sealed Road