If you look at a map of the Bellarine Peninsular, you will see Point Henry about 8 kms east of Geelong. It is a narrow strip of land which projects outwards in a northerly direction, dividing Corio Bay from Outer Harbour. Near the end of the strip there is a bluff and below this, the land drops away, forming a natural holding area for livestock. If you stand on top of the bluff and look northwards towards the You Yangs, you will see a view unchanged from the time our ancestors arrived.
The Bellarine Peninsular was originally called Indented Head. The township of Indented Head came much later. There were 2 towns with the name Bellarine, so finally to avoid confusion, one became Drysdale. The latter was also called Tuckfield for some years. Geelong was surveyed in 1838 and its eastern limit was Boundary Road.
Corio Bay has a large sandbar in it which creates problems for shipping. The shipping channel used in the early days was across the bay from Point Henry, near Point Lillias. It has always needed to be dredged. Today, the Hopetoun Channel, which was officially opened in 1892 and which comes in very close to Point Henry, is used. Early shipping records indicate whether ships docked at Melbourne or Geelong but did not usually differentiate between Geelong and Point Henry.
Research by historian, Susie Zada of Ocean Grove, suggests that a vast percentage of early passenger ships arrived at Point Henry rather than Geelong. She considers that ships heavier than 220 tons, landed at Point Henry.
In 1836, land was reserved at Point Henry for a Customs House and by 1837, customs people, and police had been assigned to the area. A township grew up to service the needs of the arriving passengers. There were houses, hotels, churches, schools and warehouses.
By 1876, 175 people resided at Point Henry. There were jetties on either side of the point to facilitate loading and unloading of ships.
An early sketch of Geelong shows Point Henry in the background with a considerable number of ships tied up to its jetties. Susie Zada has found articles in the "Geelong Advertiser", and also diary entries that talk of the cost of travelling from Point Henry to Geelong by horse and waggon. This was often greater than the cost of the voyage out from England.
Farms in the Western District were soon producing grain and wool for export and the first shipment of wool for London, left Point Henry in 1840.
Eventually, Point Henry became a place for recreation. It became popular for its tea gardens. In 1890, over the summer months, 22,000 visitors from Geelong visited Point Henry, and an astonishing figure of 55,000 visitors came from Melbourne. Most people travelled there via the bay steamers.
There was music, entertainment, jugglers, foot races, and pony races for children. The Victorian Tea Garden which opened in 1871, advertised hundreds of shade trees, refreshments, a spacious luncheon room, fresh water, picnic areas, rotundas for dancing and a wine shop with 20,000 bottles of wine. It also had a camera obscura*. This novelty was a permanent octagonal-shaped building which might accomodate about 6-8 people at a time for viewing purposes.
Today, the tea gardens have gone. Evidence of the Cheetham Salt works, established in 1888 on reclaimed land, still exists and the area is an important breeding ground for migratory birds.
The Alcoa Company, whose factory occupies much of the land and the Bellarine Historical Society are discussing the possibility of a commemorative plaque to mark the landing site of our early settlers at Point Henry.
* 'camera' Latin for room, 'obscura' Latin for dark. Originally used for viewing solar eclipses without damaging the eyes. Later, used for portraiture. Source: "A Concise History of Photography" by Helmut & Alison Gernsheim.
Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)
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