The Pioneer Settlers

The years 1841 to 1845 were significant years at The Heads as they marked the arrival of the pioneer settlers.

James Sandle Ford, was closely followed by Edward Skelton who had already spent some time in the Colony living at Williamstown. He settled at Shelly Beach also known as Skelton’s Flat.

The Sullivan family arrived by lime craft from Canvas Town (Melbourne) landing at Shelly Beach. After a dispute with the Skelton’s they took up land, under license, where the Quarantine Station was later built. Their house was based on the style of an Irish bog hut, reminiscent of their homeland. It measured 6Oft. x 12 ft. and was divided into compartments. The outer walls were l2in. thick and the roof was of split palings overlaid like shingles. They raised cattle, grew potatoes and other crops. They built their kiln into the cliff face above the beach; it can be readily identified looking west from Portsea pier, it appears as a tunnel shaped hole in the middle of Weeroona Bay cliff. Unfortunately they found the limestone too flinty to burn properly.

These neighbours were joined by James McGrath who settled on an adjacent property. These four families were the earliest permanent residents at The Heads; needless to say they intermarried and many of their descendants still live on the peninsula.

The settlement grew and by 1845 Ford’s farm, known as the Station, was well developed. The Ford Homestead was erected and also several small huts for the limeburners, and outbuildings with a well near by. Grazing paddocks and a garden were situated in low land – water being obtained from two large lagoons. The general location was in the vicinity of the Portsea Back Beach Road and Franklin Road being approximately in the centre of the fenced area.

The cypress trees bordering Nepean Highway, a feature of Portsea, were planted by Ford.

About 1860 he built the first pier at Portsea. Additions were made to it by the Harbour Trust and, in later rebuilding, the original structure disappeared, although the site is the original one.

Today little remains of the many jetties, quarries or the schooners, although traces of the kilns remain, several being in a good state of preservation.