PORT PHILLIP BEFORE SEPARATION


(A Report on Professor Alan G. L. Shaw's Address to the 150th Anniversary Luncheon on 30th June 2001)

July 1st 1851 - an important day in our history - the day that the Port Phillip District was offically declared an independent colony and took the name Victoria. Celebrations had begun on November 11th 1850 when news that the "Australian Colonies Government Act" had been passed by the House of Lords, arrived in Melbourne. Four days of celebrations followed the small announcement in a newspaper, which was carried from Sydney to Adelaide on the Lysander, and from there by horse to Melbourne. There was a special edition of the "Melbourne Morning Herald", and news of the Separation Act was proclaimed at Flagstaff Hill. Celebrations coincided with the opening of the Princes Bridge on the 15th November and a procession of 6,000 people took 2 hours to cross the bridge. So much excitement that no newspapers were printed for 4 days.

Professor Alan Shaw, AO, gave us an entertaining and informative talk on the events leading up to Separation and the main reasons for its necessity.

In 1835 George Mercer, a member of the Port Phillip Association, tried unsuccessfully to get the British Government to endorse John Batman's Treaty. In the same year, Governor Bourke wrote to the Colonial Office and stressed that the Port Phillip area should be independent because Melbourne was too far away from Sydney to be governed from there.

Charles Joseph La Trobe arrived in October 1839 to take up the position of Superintendent. He was subject to orders from Governor Sir George Gipps in Sydney who in turn was given instructions from London. The turn around time for a reply from London was about 18 months and between Sydney and Melbourne the time was approximately one month. La Trobe was inexperienced and thus there were constant delays. However a request for a punt across the Yarra was repeatedly refused because officials in Sydney didn't know the difference between a punt and a bridge!

Labour was a big problem, or rather the lack of it. Sydney, with its convicts, had a large unpaid work force whilst Melbourne had very few convicts. La Trobe wished to hire workers from the general population but was told that was too expensive. He was forever being told not to waste money. But roads needed repairing, lighthouses and bridges were needed. There was no courthouse. When the lighthouse at Queenscliffe was eventually built, its light had a range of 6 miles instead of the required 12. Things improved marginally after Gipps visited Melbourne in 1841.

Money collected from the sale of land in the Port Phillip district was supposed to be spent on encouraging immigration, but the migrants were going to Sydney. Eventually Gipps was instructed from London that this revenue was to be used for migration to Melbourne. The original boundary of Port Phillip had extended to a point on the coast, east of Sale and a British Government land act of 1841 had suggested that the Murrumbidgee River should be the northern boundary. Gipps protested and said that the Murray was the proper border. The New South Wales Legislative Council became partly elected in 1842 but there were few representatives from Melbourne, and the Council had little sympathy for Melbourne's needs. Petitions were drawn up in 1845, and sent to Gipps, who sent them on to London. The outcome of an enquiry in Sydney was that Separation was recommended.

Documents were forwarded to London, arriving in late 1846, but unforseen circumstances meant that the act was not drawn up until 1847. Debate on constitution changes to be included in the act caused more delay and eventually it was passed on August 4th 1850.

On 1st July 1851, the Port Phillip District officially became the Colony of Victoria. This was the day on which writs were to be issued for the election of Victoria's Legislative Council. Having had the unenviable task of trying to appease the citizens of Melbourne and cope with indifference from Sydney, Charles Joseph La Trobe was sworn in as Lieutenant Governor on the 17th July 1851.

Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)


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