Victoria – Proclaimed

Australia's Regions c 1851

. . . from the explorers and whalers who travelled the seas in the centuries before 1800  →  to Matthew Flinders’ brave voyage in his leaking boat – charting Port Phillip Bay in 1802  →  to Collin’s failed Sullivan Bay settlement, near Sorrento in 1803  →  to William Buckley’s escape from Collins’ settlement to ultimately reside with the Aborigines for over 30 years  →  to Hume & Hovell’s land journey of 1824  →  to Hovell’s failed settlement in Corinella, Western Port Bay  →  to John Batman’s research and belief that there lay new and fertile lands just north of his island home of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) . . .

. . . and so, the story of the formation of the colony of Victoria began . . .

Following many failed efforts to negotiate with the governing bodies of New South Wales to purchase lands around the then known Western Port area; and to investigate the suspected second bay that was believed to lay just to the west, John Batman founded a group of elite gentlemen to support his journey of discovery.

The journey of May and June 1835 proved to be immensely successful.  Whilst keeping a detailed journal of his voyage, he clearly noted the “place for a village” on the Yarra River therein.  He negotiated a treaty with the Aboriginal people, left a group of his men to set up camp on the peninsula then known as ‘Indented Head’ (now known as the Bellarine Peninsula), and hurriedly returned to Van Diemen’s Land to report his findings.

William Buckley had heard of the encampment on Indented Head and flew to their aid, negotiating with the Aborigines to maintain peace and harmony earning him respect and the backing of the Port Phillip Association to obtain a pardon.  John Batman had always seen the Aborigines as the “rightful owners of the soil“.

Henry Batman, his brother, and family left for Port Phillip shortly after John Batman’s return.  With the news of John Fawkner encroaching on the Yarra River, the Indented Head encampment was quickly relocated to the Yarra.  John Batman was adamant to maintain peace and harmony, always.

John Batman soon returned to the Yarra settlement with his wife, children, governess, Caroline Newcomb – building a home, outbuildings, gardens and farm on Batman’s Hill, as shown in the segment of a Map of Melbourne c 1837 below:

Map of Melbourne c 1837 Batman's Hill - Cropped


The settlement began grow at a tremendous rate.  The Aborigines were satisfied with the terms of the treaty, the settlers were building homes and farms, importing and raising livestock.

It is amazing how quickly word spread in those early days, for it was not long before the governing bodies of New South Wales swung into action, realising they had, as yet, no hold on the undefined fertile lands that lay to their south . . .  They quickly descended upon the settlement, revoked Batman’s Treaty with the Aborigines and any claims the settlers had on the land.  With that, the settlers were stripped of their lands and investments – John Batman, himself, had been stripped of all his hard work and dreams, dying in 1839 leaving his wife and children penniless.

The same happened to the men who set up the first camp on Indented Head and many, many others.   The Aborigines suffered tremendously too, ravaged by illness and fear as they watched their lands and rights disappear.

In accordance with Lt James Cook’s secret instructions of 1768:

” . . . You are also with the Consent of the Natives to take Possession of Convenient Situations in the Country . . . Or: if you find the Country uninhabited take Possession . . . by setting up Proper Marks and Inscriptions, as first discoverers and possessors. . . “

With these instructions in mind, it would be interesting to address the question whether John Batman, his team, the very first explorers and settlers, did perhaps have a legitimate claim on the land, as they did in fact set up the “Proper Marks” “as the first discoverers and possessors”.  In John Batman’s case, he was in fact, Australian born and did liaise with the governing bodies at every stage of the venture, with the succours of lawyer, Gellibrand, at his side.  He did not try to claim the unknown lands illegally.

A further factor to be considered was that at this time, the colony was still quite likely to be subject to Lt James Cook’s original claim of the eastern half of Australia being proclaimed British Territory to the Latitude of 38o S, which, in fact, excluded part of Victoria and Tasmania . . .  One must remember that the area was very much unknown to the British at the time.

However, history confirms that by 1838 Governor Bourke declared the site that John Batman had put aside for a village as the administrative centre and a legal port.  Merchants, immigrants and bankers flooded into the tiny settlement that was soon to become Melbourne.

With the New South Wales administration struggling to keep a grip on this remote settlement, settlers began pushing for independence as early as the 1840’s.  At the time, all moneys made by the government through sales of “crown” land was being sent to Sydney; rather than staying in Melbourne to help develop the town.  Maintaining rule of such a large settlement from Sydney was also proving increasingly unmanageable – also supporting the push to separate from New South Wales.

After the passing of the New South Wales Constitution Act 1842, the Port Phillip District was granted the right to elect six of the twenty four elected members of the Legislative Council of New South Wales.  This, however, did not satisfy the population and the movement for independence continued.

When An Act for the Better Government of Her Majesty’s Australian Colonies was passed on the 5th August 1850, Victoria was cleared to become independent:

” . . . Licence, except such as shall have become payable during Three Calender Months next before such Election or Registration respectively.

     V. And be it enacted, That upon the issuing of such Writs for the first Election of Members of the Legislative Council of the said Colony of Victoria such Colony shall be deemed to be established, and the Legislative Authority of the Governor and Council of New South Wales, and the Powers of such Governor, over and in respect of the Territories comprised in the said Colony of Victoria and the Revenues thereof, shall cease.

     VI. And be it enacted, That, subject to the Provisions herein contained, the Provisions of the said firstly-recited Act of the Sixth Year of the Reign of Her Majesty, as explained and amended by the said Acts of the Eighth Year of Her Majesty, shall remain applicable to the said Colony of New South Wales after such Separation as aforesaid, and to the Governor and Legislative Council thereof . . . “

Source:  Excerpt – An Act for the better Government of Her Majesty’s Australian Colonies – dated 5th August 1850

The news of separation was enthusiastically celebrated in conjunction with the opening of the Princes Bridge on the 15th November 1850 by which time the population had exploded to over 70,000 people.

Separation of Victoria from New South Wales was effected on the 1st July 1851.

The Pitfalls of using a River as a Border . . .

It was assumed at the time, that the use of a natural border, such as a river in the case of Victoria, would remove discrepancies, as it was a defined natural feature.  This simplistic view was soon overthrown as arguments erupted as to whether the border lay on the north bank, the south bank, or through the centre of the river ???  As well as these issues, time has since proven that a river will change course, thereby leaving landowners susceptible to areas of their land holdings changing states and jurisdiction ??? . . .

However, back in 1851, the new colony of Victoria was defined from a bearing at Cape Howe (the eastern most point of Victoria) to the junction of the nearest source of the Murray River, and from there along that river’s course to the junction of the South Australian Border.

It wasn’t until the New South Wales Constitution Act 1855 (UK) came into effect that the border of New South Wales was defined to include the Murray River in its entirety:

Victoria - Murray Border


It is interesting to note that a case arose in 1859 whereby New South Wales claimed Pental Island near Swan Hill on the grounds that the island lay to the north of the watercourse of the Murray River.  In 1872 the Privy Council ruled in Victoria’s favour as they determined that the main watercourse, being the channel of greatest discharge of the Murray River, was to the north of the island.

Defining Victoria’s Western Border

The eastern border of South Australia was defined at Longitude 141oE.  However, due to a series of miscalculations by the early surveyors of the mid 19th century; who had to overcome so many obstacles such as:  primitive instruments, lack of funding, travelling Australia’s harsh terrains and such long distances, and so forth; the physical marker was originally positioned some 3.6 km westward of the actual longitude.  Suspicions of this discrepancy were aroused as early as 1868.

Hence an battle between South Australia and Victoria ensued, resulting in the matter being taken to the High Court in 1911.  The Privy Council ruled in Victoria’s favour in 1914 which meant that Victoria’s western border does not meet the New South Wales border – missing it by 3.6 km.

The year of the colonisation of Victoria was also the year of the discovery of Gold.  First discovered in Warrandyte, gold was also soon discovered in Buninyong, Ballarat, Mount Alexander and Bendigo.  By 1854 the colony’s population had grown from 80,000 to 300,000.  Incredibly, more than $190,000,000 of gold was extracted during the 1850’s boosting the value of imported goods such as materials for housing, mining, food, etc. to an extraordinary figure of $35,000,000 to 1854 alone.

By 1860, the lure of becoming rich quick, resulted in the population of Victoria exploding to 500,000 – which constituted to almost half of the entire population of Australia at the time !!!

Gold had supported a time of immense growth and optimism.  But history proves that after every boom there is a bust.  The bust happened in the 1890’s when the price of exports fell, all but three banks closed and a cruel depression that lasted 20 years ensued.

As if oblivious to the lessons of history, the cycle of BOOM (greed) and BUST (homelessness, hunger, fear, hopelessness) continues until this very day . . .


View other important events in Victoria’s History . . .

View other important events in Australia’s History . . .

View other important events in New South Wales’ History . . .

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