Historical Towns Directory

By clicking on a state or territory on the map, you can access a regional guide to Australia's historic towns, including a wealth of information about organizations, museums and locations.

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Find Portland

Portland (current population 11,000) was the site of Victoria's first permanent white settlement. The Henty brothers are widely credited with this settlement's creation, although a whaling station in the bay preceded their arrival. Over 200 Heritage listed buildings dating back to its early development remain in Portland today.

Although the bay was most probably utilised by those involved in the seal industry, which began after Matthew Flinders noted the presence of seals on he Furneaux Islands of Bass Strait in 1798, the first recorded charting of the bay occurred in 1800 when Lieutenant James Grant sailed past it aboard the Lady Nelson. He named it Portland Bay in honour of the British home secretary, the Duke of Portland. Frenchman, Nicolas Baudin, followed in 1802 when he made a more thorough examination of the coast.

In 1829 whaler and sealer William Dutton was the first to establish a hut at Portland Bay, where he based himself between sealing trips. In 1833 Dutton, on behalf of Captain Griffiths of Launceston, set up a whaling fishery at the bay where seasonal whalers assisted a permanent staff in processing whale oil and bone for shipping.

Also in 1833 Edward Henty stopped at the bay on his return to Launceston from South Australia. His favourable impressions of the land from this initial visit prompted his return in November 1834, along with livestock and servants. His brother Frank followed the next month, along with the state's first merino sheep. The brothers undertook the state's first farming enterprise as well as having an involvement in the whaling and sealing industries. In November 1835 they sheared Victoria's first sheep.

Portland battery

When Major Thomas Mitchell passed through on his trek through Australia Felix in 1836, he was surprised to note a settlement of around 200 people at Portland. Mitchell's positive accounts of the land further inland prompted the Hentys to move their activities into the Western district in 1837, thus becoming the first Europeans to do so.

The Henty's legacy is still evident in Portland today. The double-storey bluestone woolstore at 8-10 Bentinck Street was built as part of their operations and is possibly Victoria's oldest existing warehouse. The site of an 1835 hut is now occupied by the Richmond Henty Hotel complex. Edward Henty's third home, the bluestone 'Burswood' mansion, was constructed in the early to mid 1850s. The bluestone Regency style home is believed to replicate the Henty family home in Sussex, England.

By 1838 Portland Bay's whaling industry was at its height with 40 boats operating in the bay. However the intensive whaling resulted in an abrupt drop in whale numbers after 1840 and the industry correspondingly contracted.

Police magistrate Foster Fyans was appointed for the area in 1839 to deal with an alleged Aboriginal massacre, of which the Hentys were aware. No official report was made on such occurrence, but Fyans' recommendations of the area for the development of a township resulted in a survey commencing in November 1839.

Land sales began in 1840, with blocks in town averaging a sale price of 300 pounds. The subsequent development included four churches and six hotels.

Portland Courthouse

The Portland Inn (1840) is now Victoria's oldest building still on its original site, although it is now a private residence. The Steam Packet Inn, constructed before December 1842 using Tasmanian timber, is also one of Portland's oldest buildings. It has also been used as a police barracks and, apparently, a house of prostitution. It is currently a guesthouse. An 1842 hotel was replaced in 1890 by the current Gordon Inn and is now the holder of Victoria's oldest continuous license.

The original Anglican church (1843) is now the church hall at Gothic bluestone St Stephen's Church (1856). The All Saints Catholic Church (1857-62) was used as a place of worship by Mary MacKillop during her time in Portland between 1862 and 1866. While in Portland she became sacristan of this church as well as teaching at the common school. In 1864 established a 'young ladies'' seminary. Her work in education, social reform and providing help to the disadvantaged ultimately led to her being declared a saint in 1995.

Victoria's second-longest running newspaper, the Portland Mercury was first printed in 1842.

A bluestone courthouse, now believed to be Victoria's oldest, was built in 1845. Banks were first established in 1846-47.

The customs house (1849) on Cliff Street is the oldest Commonwealth building still used for its initial purpose.

Portland Customs House

During the 1840s Portland became an important port for the export of the farmers' produce. The gold rushes in the 1850s and 1860s further enhanced this role and a new pier was built in 1859 to replace the original 1846 structure.

The 1860s and 1870s also saw the development of a number of industries. Railway arrived in 1878 and briefly generated more trade until the establishment of a preferential rails rates system meant that freight transport to Melbourne was just as cheap and Portland's rail trade diminished.

In 1889 the Portland Battery was constructed to help repel the feared Russian invasion.

A deep-water pier built between 1898 and 1901 helped Portland to become a chief export port for West Victorian goods until Geelong established equivalent facilities.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the then-controversial ALCOA aluminium smelter was constructed.

History House, Portland

Portland became a city in 1985. It is now again a major export port for south-western Victoria and south-eastern South Australia.

Portland Historical Society
Information: The Society was founded in 1964 and aims to promote Portland's history. Portland is the 'Cradle of Victoria', settled by Edward Henty on November 19th 1834. The Society operates the Curator's Cottage in the Botanical Gardens, which furnished in historical style and is open from 2pm to 4pm Wednesdays and Sundays over the summer period and also on school and public holidays. The Society also has a display in History House - Old Town Hall - which is open from 10am to 12pm and 1pm to 4pm daily.

PO Box 58
Portland VIC 3305

Portland Visitor Information Centre
Phone: 03 5523 2671; 1800 035 567
Fax: 03 5521 7287

Lee Breakwater Road
Portland VIC 3305

Email: portlandvic@glenelg.vic.gov.au
Website: http://www.greatoceanroad.org/portlandsurrounds/



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