Longitude: 144.714112 Latitude: -38.320035
Metres above Sea Level: 8.5 m
Area: 11.3 km² Perimeter: 23.2 km
View Portsea’s Statistics & Demographics
Travelling Point Nepean Road toward Point Nepean, the approach to Portsea is adorned by a beautiful avenue of enormous Cypress Pines, believed to have been planted by the founding pioneer of Portsea – James Sandle Ford. The exclusive seaside village of Portsea in Victoria is affectionately referred to as the ‘millionaires playground’ boasting many stunning residences of the rich and famous whilst still maintaining that quaint seaside village feel. Located just 6 km from the very tip of the Mornington Peninsula which borders the notorious ‘Rip‘, some sections of the strip of land that separate Bass Strait from Port Phillip Bay are merely some 70 m in width !!!
The widest point of the Portsea end of the peninsula measures under 2.5 km signifying that the wild, beautiful, ocean, surf beaches are within an easy walk to the village, which is nestled on the shores of Port Phillip Bay bestowing the usually tranquil, but always stunning waters of the Bay . . .
Another extraordinary feature of Portsea is the outstanding ‘Point Nepean National Park‘ which encompasses approximately two thirds of the suburb. History and striking landmarks abound . . .
Portsea, as is the common theme for much of the Mornington Peninsula, was borne on the back of the magnificent and extensive, natural limestone reserves – coupled with ample, hot-burning woods such as the Drooping She-Oak, lime burning was carried out via numerous kilns dotted throughout the area. At the time, the precious lime was in high demand in the rapidly developing city of Melbourne.
Following the first failed settlement attempt on the beaches of Sorrento in 1803, Port Phillip Bay remained uninhabitated until John Batman’s tour of exploration in mid 1835. This discovery lead to the European invasion and settlement of the area now known as Melbourne. Edward Hobson was to be amongst the first to establish a run on the Mornington Peninsula, selecting his ‘Kangerong’ run in the June of 1837. Many others were to follow . . .
The following year, Edward Hobson took a second run ‘Tootgarook’, which extended all the way to Point Nepean, however, as land acts progressed, squatter runs became smaller. As new settlers began arriving, the smaller land allocations were taken up. James Sandle Ford (who had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) c 1830 – as a convict – serving 7 years) and his family, arrived in 1842, establishing a run on a strip of land which ran from the front to back beach in the area now known as Portsea. In fact, he was instrumental in both naming and establishing the township. He grazed cattle (for both dairy and meat) and horses, cultivated crops and established a lime burning business. He began building his home of limestone c 1850 overlooking the ‘Portsea Lagoon’ (‘Ford House’ – Farnsworth Avenue). By the early 1860’s he built Portsea’s first pier which facilitated the efficient transport of his lime and produce to Melbourne. As Portsea’s popularity increased he established Portsea’s first hotel which grew to become the ‘Nepean Hotel’ c 1870. Unbelievably, this stunning limestone hotel was demolished around a century later, in 1971 . . .
An Insight into Portsea as reported in the late 1880’s . . .
The following extract of an article published in 1886 provides a wonderful insight into the Portsea of that time:
” . . . Portsea is a postal town, with telegraph office, which has lately come into considerable prominence as a seaside resort, for which it is excellently situated. It has two hotels, a State School, and English and Catholic churches. The resident population, composed chiefly of lime burners (the district abounds in lime of the best description) numbers nearly 100. Like Sorrento, its neighbor, Portsea has two frontages, one facing Queenscliff and the other Bass’s Straits. The caves of the Back Beach, called London-bridge distant 2 miles from the settlement, are well known natural curiosities. The headland of Point Nepean, which carries heavy batteries, may also be reached in less than an hour’s walk. The marine view from the locality has established the reputation of the place as a fashionable watering place. There may be seen Cape Schanck and its light house, Pulpit Rock and St. Paul’s on the left, and Barwon Heads, Cape Otway ranges on the right. The ti-tree and wattle grow most luxuriantly on the shore, and some pretty private residences may be seen peeping through the dense bushes. Portsea lies in a quiet cove, which has a gently sloping beach on which it is pleasant to wander, and be lulled by the lap and lisp of the water. The charm is still that of Nature as distinguised from the utilitarian work of man. A pleasant bush walk of 20 minutes brings one to the Back Beach. If there should happen to be a big swell on, as is very often the case, the sight is a very grand, not to say awe-inspiring one. Descending a precipitous cliff by a sinuous track, you land upon a broad smooth beach, which girdles a vast field of foam. The great waves of the Southern Ocean are dashing with impotent fury on the reef, which rises within a stone’s throw of the shore, and making a scene of magnificent desolation. A volume of sound rises now like a roar of fierce anger, now with a measured dirge-like like tone, and now in melancholy strains, tristfully surgent like those of an Æolian harp. Hurling themselves upon the impregnable barrier, the waves often send up shoots of rosy foam to a great height, where they glitter for a moment in the rays of the sun, and fall like obelisks of diamonds. As the volcanic spines of rock receive the onset of their ocean foe, aqueous galleries and arches are formed, which maintain a continuous roar, and in the narrow openings of the reef the flux and reflux of the sea forms a miniature maelstrom, which would be fatal to the largest ship afloat that had the misfortune to be drawn into the leaping and thundering vortex. The lines of breakers on the rock bound shore, with their milk white crests, may be seen a considerable distance at sea. When the tide recedes, there are pools of translucent water in stone basins, where colored sea weeds and other subaqueous growths may be observed at leisure. There are rocks and cliffs, honeycombed and carved, and moulded into a thousand fantastic shapes by the salt spray driven upon them for centuries by the southerly gales. The great curiosity of the place is London-bridge. This is a headland that has been detached from the mainland by the action of the water, the greater part of which has been worn into a vast cave of amphitheatrical form. In the shelves and honeycombed crevices the swallows build, and its topmost sides are ornamented by hanging creepers and wild flowers. The “bridge” is a great mass of rock covered with soil, which supports the vegetation of the neighboring shore, and the various apertures which have been worn in it, giving a clear view right through, suggest the arches of a bridge of large dimensions. The interior of the cave is studded with boulders and broken fluted columns, which have only partially resisted the ocean surge. When the sea comes tumbling in, and goes hissing through the outlets, it is like a boiling cauldron. From the top of this rock there is a glorious view of the sea and the shore line, and of the great bed of the reef immediately below, where the water is heaving and breaking miniature cascades. The local juvenile Shaughraun haunts the caves, waiting for a fair opportunity to catch Rock cod and crayfish, or an occasional wallaby or rabbit from the contiguous shore . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Illustrated Australian News’ – Article “A Holiday Tour Round Port Phillip” – published 18th December 1886
The above illustration, which could possibly dated in the 1880’s, shows the stunning ‘Nepean Hotel’, the Pier, the Sea Baths that were once situate between the pier and Point Franklin, and surrounding homes, farmlands, and beaches.
The suburb is also steeped in military history, being a major part of the early defence strategy. From the very tip of the peninsula to Point Franklin located on the eastern fringe of the seaside village, remnants of forts, barracks, gun placements, enormous guns, tunnels, parade yards, an so forth can be found. From the stunning views of the high ground, a fort can be seen in amidst the waters of the bay. It is a fascinating journey through colonial to WWII military strategy . . .
Portsea in 1898:
The postal town with telegraph station, savings bank and money [?] office on shore of Port Phillip Bay, 63½ miles S. of Melbourne, and a fashionable watering-place near the Heads, 3 miles from Sorrento. Communication by coach to Dromana, thence by conveyance ; also steamer via Mornington, with Sorrento, Queenscliffe and Melbourne. Public baths, two hotels and good jetty. The sanitary quarantine station is here. From Portsea a magnificent panoramic view of land and sea is obtained – on left, Cape Schanck with its lighthouse, pulpit rock and t. Paul’s; and on the right, Barwon heads and Cape Otway ranges. “London bridge” caves are natural curiosities. Batteries at Point Nepean and Franklin fort at Portsea defend one side of entrance to Port Phillip Bay. Mail to Mornington 29 miles : coach thence, 24 miles. – post master. Population, 89.
Source: Excerpt – ‘Mornington Standard’ – Article “Frankston & Hastings Shire” – published 8th September 1898
Today, the Portsea promontory features stunning walks, cycling, surfing, boating, snorkelling, scuba diving, beautiful beaches, national parks, piers, village shopping, eateries and, of course, the historic and iconic ‘Portsea Hotel’ c 1927. Portsea is a must for locals, travellers and day trippers alike.
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