Victor Harbor

Victor Harbor is a town and a district council situated at Encounter Bay, on the southern side of the Fleurieu Peninsula, about 70 km. south of Adelaide.

Encounter Bay was the site of the meeting of the British and French exploration parties commanded by Flinders and Baudin in 1802. In April, 1837, Captain Richard Crozier in command of HMS Victor arrived at Encounter Bay as part of an examination of principal Australian ports. He considered that the anchorage formed by Granite Island and the adjacent coast would be an ideal port – superior to Glenelg or Port Adelaide – and named it Victor Harbor, after his ship.

A whaling station had been established on Granite Island the month before Crozier’s arrival, but that industry expired by the 1870s.

Governors Hindmarsh and Gawler held out the prospect of Victor Harbor being South Australia’s capital, its port being superior to those near Adelaide and also being well located to serve the River Murray traffic. Neither eventuated, although Victor Harbor was declared a legal port in June, 1838. Victor Harbor’s communication with the outside world remained mostly seawards. A jetty was built in 1854.

By 1861 it was apparent that Port Elliot – 5 km. east of Victor Harbor – was not handling export cargo with sufficient dispatch, and Victor Harbor was a better substitute. A jetty, 543 metres long, was built in 1864 and the cargo tramway from Goolwa (at the mouth of the River Murray) to Port Elliot was extended to Victor Harbor. Inland road access was improved by the constriction of bridges in 1863, and by 1867 a township with a bank, a hotel and a telegraph station existed. The Australian Handbook described Victor Harbor in 1875.

VICTOR PORT, a seaport, money-order and telegraph office, on the shores of Victor Harbour, a small bight of Encounter Bay, 64 miles south of Adelaide. The population comprises about 250 persons. The communication is overland by coach, or coasting vessel by sea.

In 1875 the layout of the jetty was changed by converting it to a causeway connected to Granite Island. A breakwater off Granite Island added to the port’s capacity in 1879. By the 1890s Victor Harbor was a tourist destination, and the introduction of a horse-drawn tram along the Granite Island causeway in 1875 added to that. Ten years before, the railway from Adelaide to Goolwa had been extended to Victor Harbor. In 1904 the Handbook reflected the locality’s growing prosperity –

PORT VICTOR … county Hindmarsh, electoral district Encounter Bay, seaport, with post, money-order, telegraph and savings bank offices, on the shores of Victor Harbour, a small bight of Encounter Bay, 64 miles (81 by rail) S. of Adelaide; fares, 12s 6d. and 7s. 11d. Has coffee palace, private hotels, and Austral, Crown, and Grosvenor hotels, the last-named a fine building. Bank: Union. Places of worship belonging to the Episcopalians (St. Augustine), Congregationalists, an Institute, model school, customs house, sawmills, butter factory, and M.U.I.O.O.F. and Rechabite lodges, Choral Society, clubs, &c. A jetty, a mile in length, along which is a iron tramway, connects the mainland with Granite island, from which a causeway projects into deep water for the accommodation of large wool and other ships, several of which are now loaded and despatched direct to London. A railway connects this seaport with Goolwa, the river Murray port. This is one of the prettiest resorts by the seaside during the summer months in South Australia. At Waitpinga, about 14 miles distant, tin ore has been discovered. The lode has been traced from near the seacoast in a north-easterly direction for nearly four miles. The harbour is somewhat exposed to the Southern sea; in the daytime it can be entered with safety, but there is considerable difficulty experienced by vessels leaving when the wind is easterly, or from east to north. A breakwater has been completed, which has rendered it safe and commodious. The breakwater is about 1,000 feet long, and runs out from the NE. corner of Granite Island, in the direction of the obelisk at Port Elliot. Berths are now available for ships up to 1,500 tons, and for intercolonial steamers, where they can load and discharge at the jetty in any weather. Several large steamships for London are regularly loaded at this port, as vessels of 6,000 tons can lie at moorings. A lifeboat with efficient crew and a rocket apparatus is stationed here. Town has made great strides of late years, and is a favourite holiday resort. The District Council of Encounter Bay covers an area of 166 square miles, and has a population of about 1,000. Population of the town 250, with district about 1,800. Newspaper: Southern Argus, weekly.

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The Causeway and Victor Harbour from Granite Island

The 1911 census recorded 937 persons in the Victor Harbour locality, and it was proclaimed a municipal town in 1914. By that time a proposal for the extension of the breakwater was put aside in favour of Victor Harbor as a holiday resort. In 1928 the road from Adelaide was asphalted. In 1936 Victor Harbor had three hotels and thirty-six guest houses, bowling greens, golf links, river boats and picture theatres. In that year – South Australia’s centenary – there was the Victor Harbor Grand Prix.

After the war, The Australian Blue Book (1947) described ‘The Corporate Town of Victor Harbour’ –

… Situated directly south of Adelaide, about 50 miles, and on the shores of Encounter Bay, Victor Harbour is now one of the most popular watering places in Australia. It is also the business centre for the rural population of this south coast district. Three excellent motor roads connect with the Metropolis, one inland through Mt. Lofty and south Meadows; another south through Noarlunga and Willunga, and the third along the coast of the Gulf of Yankalilla, thence across the Peninsula and down the Inman River Valley to the shores of Encounter Bay. Apart from the private motorist, visitors are catered for by regular tourist ‘bus services from Adelaide. The daily train service passes through lovely mountain scenery in the Mt. Lofty Ranges until it terminates at Victor Harbour, which is 81 miles by railway from Adelaide.

Residents and tourists are well catered for by water supply and electricity services, three hotels, one residential club and about forty guest houses. All sporting facilities are provided, including bowling greens, croquet lawns, tennis courts and a golf links. There are picture theatres, a dance palais, swimming baths, rifle, coursing and racing clubs, and boats of all kinds for hire.

A well-equipped camping area is provided on the foreshores, where many improvements have been made. The town is excellently laid out with substantial stone buildings and institutions.

Along the coast there are many interesting rock formations and some bold scenery. The Bluff is a prominent headland three miles to the south of the town. It rises to a height of over 300 feet and provides extensive views along the coast. Within easy walking distance, about a mile from the mouth of the Hindmarsh River, is a magnificent surfing beach at the Chiton Rocks.

Many water and driving excursions may be made in the surrounding district. Boating on the Hindmarsh River, with its miles of beautiful tree-shaded banks, is a popular pastime, whilst drives up the fertile valleys of the Hindmarsh and Inman Rivers reveal rich cultivated flats and orange groves. Much of interest to the student of geology may be found. A visit to the Hindmarsh Valley waterfalls is well worth while. The hills surrounding the town abound with sites that are ideal for country residences and many pretty homes have been erected.

Victor Harbour is not only a summer resort, but has an appeal to the visitor all the year round. In the spring and autumn especially, the town is favoured with ideal weather, cloudless days and pleasantly cool nights.

Tourist facilities increased in the post-war years, along with residential and retired-person populations. In 1996 there were three retirement villages and several hostels/nursing homes in Victor Harbor. On 31 October, 1975, the town council was re-united with the surrounding rural council and named the District Council of Victor Harbor. The amalgamation coincided with a rapid increase in population. Victor Harbor’s populations have been 937 (1911), 1,401 (1933), 1,914 (1954), 2,411 (1971), 7,228 (1991). Of the 4,478 dwellings recorded in the census of 1911, 1,524 were unoccupied, mostly holiday houses. In 1996 hotels, motels and guest houses provided 750 bed spaces.

The agricultural sector had dairy herds totalling 10,600 cattle in 1993. There were also 33,000 head of sheep and fat lambs and 8,000 cattle for meat.

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Horse tram to Granite Island, 1939.

Further Reading:

  • Page, Michael, Victor Harbor: From Pioneer Port to Seaside Resort, The District Council of Victor Harbor, 1987.
  • Strempel, A.A. and Tolley, J.C., The Story of Victor Harbor, 1965.

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