Collins 1803 Settlement

In 1803 the first detailed survey of Port Phillip was carried out by Charles Grimes and in October of that year the first European settlement of the Port Phillip District under Lieutenant Governor David Collins was attempted at Sullivan Bay, Sorrento.


On October 9th, 1803, His Majesty’s Ship Calcutta, a 56-gun frigate, almost six months out of Spithead, England and six weeks from her last port, after sailing through a day and night of violent tempest into the calm and sunshine of a perfect spring morning, entered Port Phillip Bay, being aided by a fair wind and a favourable tide. Her cargo was a human one, she being entrusted with the transportation of a new settlement consisting of 299 male convicts, 16 convicts’ wives, a few children of the convicts, a detachment of 50 Royal Marines and the Civil Staff. Their Commander, Lieut. Col. Collins, had been empowered to start a new settlement on Port Phillip Bay; a settlement born of panic communicated to the British Government by Governor King’s fear and mistrust of the French scientists who, at that time, were present in Australian waters.

As they rounded Point Nepean their hearts must have lifted at the sight of the Ocean, their companion ship with whom they had lost touch more than two months previously already lying at anchor. Having arrived on October 7th. She carried the 18 free settlers and their families and was also their store ship “richiy freighted with an ample supply of everything that could be suggested as likely to be of advantage to their undertaking.”

hms calcutta
The H.M.S. Calcutta and the Ocean
at anchor in Port Phillip
From a painting by Dacre Smyth

While Collins searched the coastline of “this noble sheet of water” in his endeavour to find the most suitable location for unloading his cargoes, both human and material, the convicts must have looked with amazement and some solace on the sight that met their eyes, described by Lieut. Tuckey of the “Calcutta” in these words –

“The face of the country bordering the port is beautifully picturesque, swelling into gentle elevations of the brightest verdure, and dotted with trees as if planted by the hand of taste, while the ground is covered with a profusion of flowers of every colour.”

However their hopes of putting their feet on solid ground had to be deferred for a whole week during which the first death in Port Phillip, that of John Skithorn, a free settler occurred.

The first Victorian public water supply was inaugurated when, on 12th October, by order of Captain Woodriffe of the “Calcutta,” six perforated casks were sunk in the sand near the margin of the shore of Sullivan Bay, of which Collins reported “they fill as they are emptied.”

Finally a decision was reached that the camp would be located at Sullivan Bay and on the Bay adjoining it. On the 14th October a start was made with unloading the stores, then, day of days, on the 16th, the convicts . with their baggage, came ashore, to be followed the next day by the free settlers.


So, almost overnight, a complete village was born, axes rang, roads and a parade ground surrounded by orderly rows of white tents appeared in what had been virgin bush. It was a village in which the same things happened in the same manner as they did in any other community all the world over. Women washed and cooked, young people went bird-nesting and had to be severely reprimanded, there was pilfering, fear of fire and, at times, untidy roads. There was wanton destruction in that the wells had to be guarded during the day and locked at night to prevent the people whose very lives depended on the same water from polluting it. The soldiers, at times, presented an “unsteady appearance,” and restrictions had to be placed on their spirit ration.

first settlement sketch
Sullivan Bay, Port Phillip 1803
from a sketch by G.P. Harris, Surveyor

Just as elsewhere, men died and were buried; a child was born: On 25th November, 1803, “At 9 Sergeant Thorn’s wife was delivered of a boy – The first child born on the settlement of Port Phillip.” The same child was baptised – The first Victorian baptism. Rev. Knopwood records on Christmas Day: “After service I publicly baptised Sergeant Thorn’s child.” His given name was William James Hobart, the Hobart being bestowed by the Governor. A woman was given in , marriage – The first Victorian marriage was solemnised on 28th November when Hannah Harvey, a free woman, and Richard Garrett, a convict, were united in the holy bonds of matrimony.

The Village also had a magistrate – The first Victorian magistrate. Knopwood writes on 2nd November:

“Complaint brought me as Magistrate that Robert Carmody, a servant of Mr. Humphrey, had promised Buckley, the Governor’s servant, a waistcoat for a pair of shoes which Carmody had taken and worn. Carmody would not give Buckley the waistcoat, but after hearing them on both sides I had the waistcoat given to Buckley.”

In this everyday atmosphere Knopwood thought it fitting to enter in his diary such events as the following:

“I set my white hen on 21 eggs this morning”  –  “I set my spotted hen” –  “The pigeon set” –  “my brown hen had seven chickens” –  “At 6 Mr. Bromley, Humphries and Harris went to my summer house where we smoked till near 1 a.m.” and “This morn I sew’d coucumbers and onion seeds and melons.”

In many ways so similar but in others so different. This was a village in which the entire population had to contend with rising temperatures such as they had never before experienced; where the orthodox punishment of the period, that of the lash, was resorted to at times for both convicts and soldiers; where the time was told, not by watches or clocks but by hour-glasses; where the Governor had constant worries in that he had approximately 400 people under his care, 299 of them convicts, with only 50 marines to control and guard them, feeling uneasily that the soldiers might side with the convicts in the event of a mass desertion or uprising. Here, owing to the unscrupulous merchants who had supplied the stores, many of the tools were of such an inferior type as to be practically unusable, and there was no possibility of obtaining replacements.

It was a rare Village in that it had the honour of being the venue for the ceremony, on November 17th, wherein a Governor was inaugurated for the first time on Victorian soil –  “The Lieut. Governor’s Commission was read by Rev. Knopwood, chaplain to the Colony; when that was done the military fired three volleys and all gave three cheers to his honour.” It had been the intention to delay this ceremony until a permanent settlement was made, but it was thought that it might help to deter deserters if there was an official Governor.

Although the Village consisted of a cluster of tents in the immediate area adjacent to Sullivan Bay, it must not be pictured as a group of over 400 people hemmed in between the water and the bush, afraid of the natives, (in point of fact they had more to fear from their own neighbours), as, apart from the camp, parade ground and roads, twelve acres had been allotted for various uses. It was situated in very beautiful and open country which invited exploration, and although from December 26th convicts were forbidden to indulge in that still popular sport of cray fishing on the Ocean Beach between sunset and sunrise, walks to Point Nepean and more commonly to the Signal Post on the South West Ocean front (St. Paul’s) to watch for a welcome sail from Port Jackson, or to search fearfully for the appearance of a French flag, must have been very popular. In the months they were here, there would not be very much ground in Sorrento and Portsea untrodden by the feet of those early settlers of whose dwellings no trace remains.

Sullivan Bay Port Phillip 1803
Sullivan Bay Port Phillip 1803


The day of the landing, 16th October, saw the printing of the first news sheet. The first Victorian printing press was set up under the shelter of a spreading tree and, what was unquestionably the first composition set in type, was the first of 48 General Orders, together with Garrison Orders, published between 16th October, 1803 and 27th January 1804. Each order was headed with the Royal Coat of Arms, and was placed on the Order Board, one copy for the whole settlement. The first of these General Orders reads as follows:

“The Commissary is directed to issue, until further orders, the following ration weekly –  To civil, military and free settlers – beef 7 lbs. or Pork 4 lbs.; biscuit 7 lbs.; flour 1 lb.; sugar 6 ozs. To women two – thirds, children above five years half; and children under five years quarter of the above ration. A copper will be immediately erected for the convenience of cooking and persons appointed to dress the provisions, which are to be ready every day at twelve o’clock. Half a pint of spirits is allowed to the military daily.” (At a later date, when the supply of biscuits ran out, the flour ration was increased to 7 lbs.)

In General Orders on 21st December the following announcement was made –

“The Commissary will issue to each person in the settlement, women and children excepted, to whom he will serve the usual proportion, one pound of raisins on the provision day before Christmas.”

The first Victorian store was opened on 8th November. Although on 29th October John Blink-worth, a free settler, was given permission to sell a few articles of wearing apparel which he had brought from England, General Orders on 8th November stated that Mr. Hartley (a free settler) having submitted a list of articles which he had for sale to the Lieut. Governor, had been given a license to sell them, and had caused the list to be made public on the Order Board.

After the abandonment of the settlement a claim was made by a settler named Hartley for £500 compensation for the loss of his house, garden and well.


The first Church Parade, on 23rd October, must have presented a dramatic picture when the entire population was called on to thank God for their safe journey. The convicts, their clothes worn to tatters and almost due for their half yearly distribution of new ones were exhorted to attend “as clean as their present situation would admit,” came through the wild flowers and the sunshine of the spring to the Parade Ground, together with the free settlers, who would undoubtedly seize on this opportunity to array themselves in their best silks and furbelows. They were surrounded by the Royal Marines in their colourful uniforms, and no doubt the two drummers in the Company marshalled them all along.

Early on the morning of the following Sunday the convicts were enabled to appear in better garb, as on that day each male convict was issued with his new clothing, which consisted of: “1 jacket, 1 waistcoat, 1 pair of duck trowsers, 1 pair breeches, 2 check shirts, 1 pair of shoes, 1 hat.” The Lieut. Governor advised them that these clothes, with the exception of the shoes, had to last them for another six months, and that it was their duty to take the utmost care of them and to be ready to produce them if called on to do so.

Although Divine Service was held each Sunday unless the weather was too hot, the first sermon in Victoria was not delivered until 13th November. In his diary the Rev. Knopwood records:

“At 11 all the officers military and civil attended with the Governor and Capt Woodruff to the parade, from thence all the convicts at Divine Service; the sermon preached was to return Almighty God thanks for our safe arrival here.”

The text was “If I take the wings of the morning and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there also shall Thy hand lead me and Thy right hand shall hold me.” For many years this service was commemorated in St. John’s Church, Sorrento.

Any interest in the first sermon must have been quite overshadowed by the fact that for the first time, on that same day, a kangaroo was shot. Knopwood lists, not only the fact that it measured 7ft. 6ins. long and when cleaned it weighed 681bs., but he also gave, in the greatest detail its complete physical statistics. Two days later he gave the dimensions of a sea elephant killed at Port Phillip which was estimated to weigh more than 200lbs. The significance of these two “kills” is highlighted by Collins’ report that he had hoped, immediately on their arrival, to be able to supplement their diet of salt meat. Prior to this date, however, they had not managed to shoot any animals nor had they caught many fish owing to the poor condition of their nets.


The first imported livestock in Victoria, as far as may be ascertained, were 2 bulls, one cow, 2 heifers, 12 sheep, pigs, goats and poultry. The value of these to the Colony as a future source of animal food is borne out by the following General Orders, the first of which called for the first livestock census, 27th October:

“No part of the livestock belonging to individuals – sheep, swine, goats or poultry – be slaughtered or exported from the settlement until further orders without the Governor’s knowledge and approbation. A return of live stock in possession of individuals of every description to be delivered to the Commissary immediately.”

Evidently this command did not bring the desired result as General Orders on 7th November stated that a female goat had been wantonly kicked and killed by some person or persons unknown, and a reward of £5 was offered for information leading to the apprehension of the offender. The value placed on the stock can be assessed by the fact that £5 was, at that time, a very large sum of money.


Although the first Victorian crop was planted on Churchill Island by Lieut. Grant and later harvested by Lieut. Murray, The first attempt at agriculture on the Victorian mainland was carried out here. Collins stated that he had set aside 2 (two) acres for a garden for himself and had allotted 5 (five) acres for the planting of Indian Corn (though the ground was cultivated, the seed does not appear to have been sown before the removal of the Settlement). He also allotted to sixteen of the free settlers, all of whom had brought seed with them, 5 (five) acres in which they could build houses for themselves and make gardens. The married men amongst the soldiers and convicts were also allowed to build houses and cultivate gardens; this permission as regards the convicts was later withdrawn on account of abuse of the privilege. However, on New Year’s Day, they had fresh green peas and beans with duck for their dinner. It seems to have only been the seed brought out privately which produced good results, as Collins reports that the balance which had been treated in exactly the same way, did not come to fruition.


From the outset Collins was dissatisfied with the prospect of making a permanent settlement at Port Phillip, and though the choice of transferring elsewhere had virtually been left to him, he was anxious to contact Governor King in order to obtain his support. His great dilemma was how to accomplish this as the Captain of the “Ocean” was unco-operative. Finally the matter was resolved by Mr. Collins a cousin of the Governor, who volunteered to captain a six-oared cutter manned by a volunteer crew of six convicts. The precarious nature of the venture was so manifest that Collins thought it wisest not to forward the despatches and mail with which he had been entrusted in England to such an expedition. On 6th November, these seven brave men in charge of the first Victorian mail, started on their journey taking three days, while watched constantly by many anxious eyes, to clear the Rip. When just 60 miles short of their destination they were overtaken by the “Ocean”, whose Captain had changed his mind, taken on board and delivered safely to Port Jackson.


While awaiting the return of despatches from Port Jackson, Collins reported: “I am constructing a magazine, bomb-proof, to be formed of stone and cemented with lime.” This surely must be the first mention of the lime for which this area became renowned. William Buckley stated that he had worked on this magazine, while Fawkner also recorded later that before they left Port Phillip plenty of lime was found and this enabled every hut to build a chimney.

On 12th December, Knopwood records, “At 10 a signal was made from the post on the S.W. side that a ship appeared in sight, which we immediately reported to the “Calcutta.” However it was not until 4 p.m. that they knew the ship to be the “Ocean” captained by their old friend Capt. Mertho who had been taken into the Government service by Governor King; with him were Mr. Collins and the pardoned convict crew of the cutter bringing back authorization for the removal of the settlement to Van Diemen’s Land.


Upon receipt of Governor King’s agreement to the removal of the Settlement, feverish activity set in. A wharf – the first Victorian wharf – was built measuring 380ft. in length. Its purpose was to facilitate the reloading of the ships and it was built of timber hauled down from Arthur’s Seat on roughly built wagons drawn by “convict power.”

The first Victorian census was taken in order to ensure an equitable division of the people to be removed by the “Ocean” and the “Lady Nelson” and those to be left behind to care for the livestock till the “Ocean” returned. A stocktaking of medical supplies, provisions and clothing was ordered; Divine Service was cancelled on several Sundays in order that all haste could be made to transfer the settlement and re-establish it before the winter set in.

One item of note during this period is that at last the soldiers, who had to await their new uniforms until they were altered to fit were issued with them on 17th January, parading in them for the first time on 18th January, when at 12 o’clock “three volleys were fired, it being the anniversary of the day on which His Majesty’s birth was kept.”

On 27th January all was ready for the first contingent to leave for Van Diemen’s Land, the “Lady Nelson” carried most of the settlers, while the “Ocean” carried stores and convicts. They finally cleared the Heads on 30th January, 1804, the “Ocean” returning to Port Phillip on 16 April to remove the remainder of the stores, livestock and personnel under the charge of Lieut. Sladden. On 21st May she cleared the Heads but did not anchor in the Derwent till 25th June, having encountered stormy weather which, unfortunately, caused the loss of a large number of their livestock.

In this wholesale evacuation of the First Victorian Settlement, no regard was paid to Governor King’s request that a small establishment be left at Port Phillip, “perhaps a trusty sergeant and a superintendent might be sufficient.”


Of the seven children in the settlement two boys, both eleven years of age, one the son of a free settler and the other of a convict, later made names for themselves in Melbourne.

One, the son of the free settler, was James Hobbs who served at sea under various commands, one of them being under Captain Bligh. His reminiscences of Captain Bligh and the “Porpoise” are historical. Later he made a name for himself by circumnavigating Tasmania, being in charge of two whale boats manned by twelve convicts. He left Hobart on 5th February 1824, visited Port Davey and Macquarie where one of his boats had to be replaced and the other repaired; continued on to George Town, exploring the coast and rivers all the way, arriving there 20th May. He completed his circumnavigation and exploration of the coast on 10th July 1824. He was rewarded for this exploit by being made “Wharfinger.” His great grandson, the Rev. E. Kent became vicar of St. John’s Church, Sorrento in 1947.

The other, John Pascoe Faulkiner (later changed to Fawkner) was the son of a metal refiner sentenced to 14 years transportation for robbery. His wife with their son John and daughter Elizabeth were enabled to accompany him in the “Calcutta.” Young Fawkner loved the First Settlement and he grew up in Van Diemen’s Land a pugnacious, hardworking and self willed lad. He worked hard and his shrewdness and tenacity brought financial results. He returned to Port Phillip arriving just later than Batman and became one of the founders of Melbourne. He brought with him all that he had accumulated and used it to help in the establishment of this new colony. He built the first hotel in Melbourne and published Melbourne’s first newspaper, the first few copies being issued in manuscript form. He was elected to the first electoral body in Melbourne, viz, the Market Commission, also to the first Town Council and the first Legislative Council. He was a Justice of the Peace and held almost every position of honour in the state.

Who could have visualised that a lad, who played on the sands of Sullivan Bay in 1803 would return and help to build Melbourne, and that when he died in his 77th year, all shops and offices would be closed by proclamation while the cortege, almost two miles in length, passed slowly on its way to the Melbourne General Cemetery, watched in respectful silence by the large crowds who, not only lined the streets, but also selected vantage points at windows, on verandahs and on roof tops.

John Fawkner Funeral mp001550
John Fawkner Funeral 1869 from SLV

(Extract from ‘The Peninsula Story’ Published by NHS 1992)