“Hat Rock” was a significant landmark to the very first explorers of Port Phillip Bay.
Matthew Flinders’ first named and identified “Hat Rock” on his Map of Port Phillip Bay in 1802.
It is a rocky outcrop that can best be described as the highest, most northerly point of the Bellarine Peninsula. It also forms the eastern boundary to the natural harbour occuring at Portarlington. The curious name of “Hat Rock” is hard to understand until one sees it from the water. At low tide it does make sense, as the the rocky outcrop sits on a large, flat shelf of rock which, yes, could well look like a “hat” (though this would now be barely evident due to the construction of the marina).
Walking along the beach in an eastward direction, you will be graced with some very significant reminders of the Aboriginal era, such as cliffs of red ochre, which on wild stormy days can make the water at the base of the cliff turn red as it collapses into the sea; a little further along, a historic Aboriginal Birthing Cave with middens upon the ‘roof’; continuing even a little further, wandering past the boat ramp and jetty, the cliffs reform and more middens are revealed atop – though as this cliff face continues to rapidly collapse into the sea, these may become less and less apparent . . .
As the land falls back to sea level, a modern drain marks the outlet of the historic springs that once sustained the Aborigines and early pioneers . . .
Matthew Flinders’ exploration of Port Phillip Bay was a huge inspiration to John Batman, as was his childhood friend, Hamilton Hume’s overland expedition of 1824. During the late 1820’s / early 1830’s, as he gathered information of this largely unexplored and still uncolonised area.
Matthew Flinders noted only a few landmarks in the Port Phillip Bay area, such as “Arthurs Seat“, “Swan Pond“, “Indented Head” (now known as the “Bellarine Peninsula”) and “Hat Rock” (which is the highest most-northerly point of the peninsula and forms the eastern perimeter of Portarlington’s natural harbour).
On Saturday the 1st May 1802, following an expedition to Station Peak (the You Yangs) to observe the harbour from the western aspect, Matthew Flinders writes:
” . . . we left them on friendly terms to proceed westward in our examination. The water became very shallow abreast of a sandy point [Point Richards], whence the shore trends nearly southwest; and there being no appearance of an opening to the sea this way, I steered across the western arm, as well to ascertain its depth as with the intention of ascending the hills lying behind the northern shore. Two of the peaks upon these hills had been set from the ship’s deck at sunset of the 25th, at the distance of thirtyseven miles; and as their elevation must consequently be a thousand feet, or more, I expected to obtain from thence such a view of the upper parts of the port as would render the coasting round it unnecessary . . . “
” . . . I left the ship’s name on a scroll of paper, deposited in a small pile of stones upon the top of the peak [Station Peak]; and at three in the afternoon reached the tent, much fatigued, having walked more than twenty miles without finding a drop of water. Mr. Lacy, the midshipman of the boat, had observed the latitude at the tent from an artificial horizon to be 38° 2′ 22″; and Station Peak bore from thence N. 47° W. In the evening we rowed back to Indented Head, and landed there soon after dark. Fires had been seen moving along the shore, but the people seemed to have fled; though we found two newly erected huts with fires in them, and utensils, which must have belonged to some of the people before seen, since there was boiled rice in one of the baskets. We took up our quarters here for the night, keeping a good watch; but nothing was seen of the Indians till we pushed off from the shore in the morning [SUNDAY 2 MAY 1802], when seven showed themselves upon a hill behind the huts. They ran down to examine their habitations, and finding every thing as they had left it, a little water excepted of which we were in want, they seemed satisfied; and for a short time three of them followed the boat.
Along the northeast and east sides of Indented Head I found the water to be shoal for nearly a mile off . . . “
Source: Excerpt – “A Voyage to Terra Australis” – Volume I – by Matthew Flinders – Chapter 9 – published 1814
From the writings of Matthew Flinders it would appear that the Aborigines were friendly, submissive and not aggressive. The description of camp upon his return from the You Yangs sounds much like the beach within Portarlington’s natural harbour – where the land rises behind the beach and where the sandy stretch is substantial enough to set up camp and for the fires to be “moving along the shore” . . .
Interestingly, this 1797 Cartwheel Penny was discovered at 16 Drysdale Street, Portarlington, which is in the direct vicinity of ‘Hat Rock’. These pennies were distinctive due to their large size and weight of 1 oz (28.4 gm). Though the Cartwheel Penny had been introduced into Sydney c 1800, this was a far cry from the Port Phillip region which was not yet acknowledged by the governance, nor did settlement begin in the region until mid 1835. Could this have been left behind by Matthew Flinders or one of his crew ??? . . .
The Portarlington harbour is one of the very few natural harbours in Port Phillip Bay which allows enough depth for a schooner, with a keel of generally 9 ft (2.74 m) in depth, to come close to shore.
The following excerpt of the journal entry by John Batman’s suggests that the ‘Rebecca’ was able to come close enough to shore to facilitate the transfer of three months supplies and goods from the ship to shore in rough seas, ” . . . in an hour . . .”.
On Tuesday, 9th June 1835, John Batman left 3 men: William Todd, James Gumm and Dr Alexander Thomson together with 5 Sydney Aborigines: Pigeon, Joe the Marine, Bullet, Bungett and Old Bull, on “Indenture Head”:
“Tuesday 9th June 1835 – We are now under way with a light wind for Indenture Head where I hope to land all the things with the men – … – made Indenture Head and commenced landing the goods immediately as the Port was very rough and the wind increasing, we landed all in from boats … I pointed out the spot where Gumm is to commence a Garden, Hut … home … the whole of my natives, at last wanted to stop however Bullet, Pigeon and Joe the Marine … with the other three natives already mentioned making in all eight persons. They have got now three months supply or more, with a large quantity of potatoes to plant in the ground and all kinds of other garden seeds as well as pips and stone fruits. I left apples and oranges with them, also the 6 dogs and gave Gumm written authority to put off any person or persons that may trespass on the land I have purchased from the Natives. They got everything landed in an hour and we shook hands with them and off we came to the Heads which we got clear of by eight o’clock with a fair wind”
– Source: John Batman’s hand-written Journal – 9th June, 1835
When viewing the maps of the period (which is as it remains to this very day), it is hard to believe that John Batman’s men were able to unload the ‘Rebecca’ within the hour, in increasingly rough seas at the location of the township of Indented Head where the memorial to him now stands; as there was a large sandbank named the “Prince George Bank” that extends well over two kilometres into the sea – suggesting that the ‘Rebecca’ would have had to anchor beyond this bank – resulting in the row boats having to row that distance forwards and backwards to transport the goods to shore . . . It seems prudent that these knowledgeable explorers would seek deep water – close to shore ?? . . .
Following John Batman’s exploration of Port Phillip, John Helder Wedge (a member of the Port Phillip Association) also makes reference to “Hat Rock” in his more refined map of Port Phillip – c 1836.
The picture drawn by John Wedge depicting the Batman Encampment of 1835 clearly outlines a small cove with the huts placed high on a cliff which descends to sea level as the cove rounds to the next point. There is only one area on the entire peninsula that features these landmarks and has the depth of water greater than 9 ft (2.74 m) that would enable the Rebecca to anchor close enough to shore to enable the crew to unload her within an hour – and that is at Matthew Flinders’ Hat Rock. That coupled with the knowledge that early explorers generally set camp at high points to ensure that they could see danger approaching plus the fact that fresh water was available from a spring (noted on all the original maps and in William Todd’s diary) not far away, leads to the distinct possibility that “Hat Rock” may well have been the location of Batman’s first camp at Port Phillip. Being such a high point it would have enabled the camp to see the Rebecca returning, also as quoted in Todd’s journal.
As noted on the maps above, today’s ‘Bellarine Peninsula’ was known as ‘Indented Head’ – so named by Matthew Flinders in 1802. The hills lying along the western reaches of the peninsula were first documented by John Wedge as the ‘Bullenno Hills’ on his hand drawn map of 1835, however the name was translated to ‘Ballarina Hills’ in the map of 1836. An extract of a letter from John Wedge to John Batman is addressed ” . . . Ballarine Point – 10 Augt. 1835 . . . “ – could this depict the point of the ‘Bellarine Hills’ which are a rise of older Basalt that concludes at ‘Hat Rock’ ? . . .
The location of Batman’s camp has been argued for years, as John Batman nor William Todd provided exact references to the location apart from being at Indented Head – which was the reference given to the entire peninsula at the time. Today, the monument to John Batman stands at a location near the township of Indented Head, however, this area presents sandy soils and a very shallow water depth extending some two kilometres into the sea. This does not support Batman’s diary entry that the Rebecca was unloaded within an hour in relatively rough seas, nor is it supported by William Todd’s diary entries where the men had to break up the soil for the garden and also where, the soils were so hard that it broke their shovel !! The soil at Hat Rock is rich and hard – perfect for growing produce.
The article published in the Examiner on the 7th March 1905, titled Work of Batman’s Party, states that the encampment was located “(on the N.W. corner of the Queenscliff peninsula)”.
Also quoted in George Dunderdale’s “Book of the Bush” published c 1890:
The ‘Thistle’ wrecked at Port Fairy
” . . . After the crew of the ‘Thistle’ had spent their money, they were taken back to Port Fairy for the purpose of stripping bark, a large quantity of wattle trees having been found in the neighbouring country. Sheep were also taken there in charge of Mr. J. Murphy, who intended to form a station. John Griffiths also sent over his father, Jonathan, who had been a carpenter on board the first man-of-war that had arrived at Port Jackson, three old men who had been prisoners, four bullocks, a plough, and some seed potatoes. A cargo of the previous season’s bark was put into the ‘Thistle’, and on her return to Launceston, was transferred to the ‘Rhoda’ brig, Captain Rolls, bound for London. More sheep and provisions were then taken in the ‘Thistle’, and after they were landed at Port Fairy, another cargo of bark was put on board. For three days there was no wind, and a tremendous sea setting in from the south-east, the schooner could not leave the bay. On the night of December 24th a gale of wind came on from the south-east; one chain parted, and after riding until three o’clock in the morning of Christmas Day, the other chain also parted. The vessel drew eight feet, and was lying in between three and four fathoms of water. As soon as the second chain broke, Davy went up on the fore-yard and cut the gaskets of the foresail. The schooner grounded in the trough of sea, but when she rose the foresail was down, and she paid off before the wind. The shore was about a mile, or a mile and a half distant, and she took the beach right abreast of a sheep yard, where her wreck now lies. The men got ashore in safety, but all the cargo was lost.
A tent was pitched on shore near the wreck, but as there was no vessel in the bay by which they could return to Launceston, the four men, Captain Mills, D. Fermaner, Charles Ferris, and Richard Jennings, on December 31st, 1837, set sail in a whaleboat for Port Philip. Davy had stolen Jennings from the ‘Rhoda’ brig at Launceston, when seamen were scarce. He was afterwards a pilot at Port Philip, and was buried at Williamstown.
The whaleboat reached Port Philip on January 3rd, 1838, having got through the Rip on the night of the 2nd. Ferris was the only man of the crew who had been in before, he having gone in with Batman, in the ‘Rebecca’ cutter, Captain Baldwin. Baldwin was afterwards before the mast in the ‘Elizabeth’ schooner; he was a clever man, but fond of drink.
The whaleboat anchored off Portsea, but the men did not land for fear of the blacks.
At daylight Davy landed to look for water, but could not find any; and there were only three pints in the water-bag. The wind being from the north, the boat was pulled over to Mud Island, and the men went ashore to make tea with the three pints of water. Davy walked about the island, and found a rookery of small mackerel-gulls and a great quantity of their eggs in the sand. He broke a number of them, and found that the light-coloured eggs were good, and that the dark ones had birds in them. He took off his shirt, tied the sleeves together, bagged a lot of the eggs, and carried them back to the camp. Mills broke the best of them into the great pot, and the eggs and water mixed together and boiled made about a quart for each man . . . “
Reference to Port Arlington – ” . . . where Batman first settled . . . “
” . . . After breakfast the wind shifted to the southward, and the ‘Henry’ brig, from Launceston, Captain Whiting, ran in, bound to Point Henry with sheep; but before Mills and his men could get away from Mud Island the brig had passed. They pulled and sailed after her, but did not overtake her until she arrived off the point where Batman first settled, now called Port Arlington; at that time they called the place Indented Heads . . . “
Rescued . . .
” . . . When the whaleboat came near the brig to ask for water, two or three muskets were levelled at the men over the bulwarks, and they were told to keep off, or they would be shot. At that time a boat’s crew of prisoners had escaped from Melbourne in a whale boat, and the ship-wrecked men were suspected as the runaways. But one of the crew of the ‘Henry’, named Jack Macdonald, looked over the side, and seeing Davy in the boat, asked him what they had done with the schooner ‘Thistle’, and they told him they had lost her at Port Fairy.
Captain Whiting asked Macdonald if he knew them, and on being informed that they were the captain and crew of the schooner ‘Thistle’, he invited them on board and supplied them with a good dinner. They went on to Point Henry in the brig, and assisted in landing the sheep . . . “
The scarcity of fresh water in the vicinity of today’s Indented Head also poses another question, however the location of a springs is noted on all the earliest plans of Portarlington, such as the Portarlington Plan c 1856 and Parish of Paywit – Plan – c 1854 appears to correlate with William Todd’s journal entries . . .
– Close proximity to Town Centre – obtain Directions here
– Car Parking available along Newcombe Street
– Adjacent to the Walking / Cycling Trail
– Other Historical POI’s in Portarlington
– Facilities available at Portarlington
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- Sealed Road