Learning Sequences

For History teachers and students

Developed by HTAA (The History Teachers' Association of Australia)

Unit 3 - Foundation Story - Melbourne

Historical Context - European settlement of the Port Phillip District

The first European settlement in Australia dates from January 1788 and the arrival at Sydney Cove of Governor Arthur Phillip's 'First Fleet', which had been sent from Britain to establish a penal colony.

Even though this small outpost of the British Empire faced many challenges in its earliest years, European settlement of Australia gradually expanded as the colonists searched for resources to sustain themselves and secondary penal colonies were established at more remote locations. The explorations of navigators such as George Bass and Matthew Flinders focused attention on south-eastern Australia, as did the profits to be made from the early whaling and sealing industries. At the same time, from the early 1800s the reports of inland explorers began to encourage the spread of pastoralists well beyond Sydney.

Hamilton Hume and William Hovel were the first Europeans to complete an overland journey between Sydney and Port Phillip in 1824. Port Phillip was the name given to the large bay on Bass Strait where the modern city of Melbourne is located. From the 1830s until the colony of Victoria was separated from New South Wales in 1851, a large area around Port Phillip Bay was referred to as the Port Phillip District.

>Map of South Eastern Australia in the 1830s

Map of South Eastern Australia in the 1830s

An attempt to establish a first European settlement at Port Phillip Bay in 1803 failed and it was to be another three decades before a permanent settlement succeeded. In 1834 Edward Henty took a small group from Launceston in Van Diemen’s Land to set up a farming settlement at Portland, west of Port Phillip Bay. In the following year John Batman crossed from Launceston to Port Phillip Bay, where he made what he described as a 'treaty' with Aboriginal leaders for the purchase of land. Shortly afterwards, Batman was followed by another settler from Van Diemen's Land, John Pascoe Fawkner.

Despite the fact that Batman's 'treaty' had no legal status and was disregarded by the New South Wales Governor, Bourke, more settlers quickly followed Batman to Port Phillip Bay and by 1837 it had a European population of nearly 600. In that year the new settlement was given the name Melbourne. Stimulated by pastoral expansion and then the discovery of gold in the 1850s, it was soon to become Australia’s fastest growing city. By the 1870s Melbourne had overtaken Sydney in population and by the 1880s ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ had become one of the largest, most prosperous and culturally vibrant cities in the British Empire. Conscious of their city's achievements, civic leaders were keen to support the development of institutions such as an art gallery, library, university and museum—all regarded as essential features of a leading British city of the time. Two generations after the first European settlement, they were also conscious of the need for a foundation story.


  1. Using the text and map above and the Chronology (SR 1), write a short summary of the period leading to the European settlement of Victoria.
  2. Using the online Encyclopedia of Melbourne as a reference, find out more about the Port Phillip District or Marvellous Melbourne.
  3. Using the online Australian Dictionary of Biography as a reference, find out more about George Bass, Matthew Flinders, Hamilton Hume, William Hovel, Edward Henty or John Pascoe Fawkner.