Unlike many of the piers constructed along the bayside shores of the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria which were fashioned to transport lime and wood to the infant Melbourne, the ‘Portsea Pier’ was built to provide access for the budding tourist trade during the 1870’s.
The beautiful beaches of Portsea, whether it be the wild ocean back beach of Bass Strait or the relative tranquility of Port Phillip Bay, began to attract many tourists who accessed the region via steamer. The short distance of around 2 km between these two magnificent attractions made them both so accessible to the early tourists. In ascertaining the build date of Portsea’s Pier, the following article confirms that the jetty had not yet been built in mid 1872:
” . . . Port Phillip can now boast of at least eight or nine attractive watering places. Not more than six years ago we gave illustrations of the only two that could lay claim to the name, viz., Queenscliff and Snapper Point ; but since then Dromana, Portarlington, Frankston, and others have sprung up, steam packet communication has been established, and visitors are continually going and returning throughout the summer. We now direct the attention of our readers to Portsea and Sorrento, and may venture to say at the outset, the progress of these places and the traffic to them now going on is mainly through the weekly trips of that well known steamer the Mystery, celebrated for her fast sailing and excellent passenger accommodation. Though built for a tug, she can as comfortably convey excursionists as any steamer constructed specially for pleasure traffic. Her owners, Messrs. Reid, Poole and Co., have continued running her against many discouragements consequent upon commencing a new traffic, and up to the present time the absence of a jetty at Portsea ; but we feel sure the next and following summers will bring a very large influx of visitors, which will then amply repay and more than than compensate for the slack trade of the first two seasons. We give the following extract from our artist’s diary.
” About twenty minutes’ sail from Queenscliff, across and near the entrance of the Bay, brings us to the Sanitary Station, where the Government have erected a jetty within the boundary of their own land, but not available for landing passengers, being only used when vessels are in quarantine. About half a mile further on, at a low sandy beach, we were landed by a boat sent from the hotel. This is objectionable, but preparations are now being made for the immediate commencement of a jetty by private enterprise. The steamer then proceeds to Sorrento, about two miles further on. Here the Government have also constructed a jetty into the sea 300 feet, fitted with pile heads, steps, &c, having a depth of water of about fifteen feet at its head at high tide. The attractions of Portsea are not to be summed up in a few words, as, for our part, we found it hard work to go through all we had before us during our stay. At the present time little or nothing can be said of the township, which is merely a subdivision of the land belonging to the oldest resident, Mr. Ford, at Point Franklyn. On the west side is the Sanitary Station, which, of course, is closed to the public except on certain occasions. About a mile from the hotel, in a southerly direction, is a charming ride among the sand-hills, across the country, to the back beach, through valleys and over hills covered with tea-tree, light-wood, and wattle. We proceeded on horseback along a sandy track till we reached the spot on the outer shore where the ill-fated Formosa was wrecked at the end of her voyage in 1865 ; the beach is still strewed with fragments that have not been removed. ” . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Illustrated Sydney News & New South Wales Agriculturalist & Grazier (NSW) – Article “Portsea, Sorrento, and London Bridge Rocks” – published 11th May 1872
The pier would become the lifeline for the tiny seaside village, with people gathering in excitement and anticipation of the arrival of the steamers:
” . . . When one sees service cars arriving and departing frequently throughout the day one thinks how means of transport have improved during the last 30 years. During the winter months, from May till November, one relied on the S.S. Dispatch, which called once a week, to get either to or from the city. This little steamer, calling at Queenscliff and Portsea on the way, was advertised to leave Melbourne for the Gippsland Lakes every Saturday at 2 p.m, but on the amount of cargo to be loaded often depended the time of sailing. Given a favourable wind and tide, and not too much cargo to unload at Queenscliff, the Dispatch arrived at Portsea at any time between 7 p.m. and midnight. This weekly arrival was the social event of the week. The village turned out and often waited for hours in the cold and wind on the pier or in the shed. On her return from Lakes Entrance the Dispatch was due to call at Portsea to pick up passengers and cargo at 9 a.m. on Thursday, which she did if weather permitted. Sometimes passengers waited for a couple of days on the pier, and the-Dispatch would pass through on Saturday morning without calling and go to town to set off on her weekly trip outward bound. The intending passengers then had to wait till the following Thursday for their trip to the city . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Argus’ (Melbourne, Vic) – Article “More Portsea Memories” – by B H McKernan (Grandson of James Sandle Ford – founder of Portsea) – published 24th February 1934
As it did in the past, the relative tranquility of the bay contrasting so dramatically with the wild, fresh beauty of the ocean back beach – remains a draw card which attracts thousands of visitors until this very day – noting that Portsea’s greatest distance between the ocean and the bay is less than 2.5 km !!!
‘Portsea Pier’ is ever popular, with many enjoying a stroll over the glistening waters of Port Phillip Bay. Fishing, snorkelling, swimming, relaxing in the Sun – all whilst taking in the fresh smell of the sea air. A delightful park abuts the pier, providing amenities, picnic and barbecue facilities – the seaside village affording all you need to enjoy that perfect day.
– Within Town Centre – obtain Directions here
– Beach Access
– Car Parking is available at various locations within the village
– Facilities available at Portsea include:
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- Off Street Parking
- Sealed Road