Port Melbourne

Port Melbourne, a residential and industrial suburb, is 4 km. south-west of Melbourne. It is bounded on its north and west by the Yarra River, on the south by Hobsons Bay and on the east Bay South Melbourne. The residential part adjoins South Melbourne.

In 1839, four years after the first permanent settlement of Melbourne, Wilbraham Liardet settled at Port Melbourne, building a hotel and jetty on Hobsons Bay and operating a mail service to Melbourne. The area became known as Liardet’s Beach, although the official district name was Sandridge. Land sales were delayed until 1850. The gold rush immigration brought passengers and freight which made use of a government pier on Hobsons Bay, served by Australia’s first railway line from Melbourne to Hobsons Bay.

The first allotments surveyed in Sandridge were between Stokes Street and a linear lagoon on the east, now Esplanade East. (The lagoon was probably an ancient course of the Yarra River.) With the railway, the township was enlarged, westwards to the railway line and northwards to Raglan Street.

A Wesleyan church was opened in 1853, and a Wesleyan school in the following year. By 1860 there were also Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian churches, a Catholic school and a National school (1857). On 13 July, 1860, the Sandridge borough was created by severance from Melbourne City Council, its boundaries being the railway line and the lagoon, but further north to Bourndary Street. In addition to the Railway Pier there were the Sandridge Pier and the Town Pier at the end of Bay Street. The Swallow and Ariell Steam Biscuit manufactory was opened in Rouse Street in 1854, beginning with ships biscuits and expanding to become a major industry by 1880. Thomas Swallow was the Council’s second mayor and was influential in several of its community activities.

The borough remained confined between the railway line and the lagoon because of a planned canal between the Yarra River and the bay and the increasingly noxious condition of the lagoon, contributed to by the run-off from Emerald Hill, South Melbourne. Ideas to make the lagoon a dock did not materialsie, and it remained a harbour for small craft.

The coast west of the railway Pier was Sandridge Beach or Fishermens Bend, which was added to the borough in 1863. Its sand was extracted for Melbourne’s building trade, and in some cases the excavations were used as night-soil dumps. Bone mills, goats and pig-keeping added to the effluvia.

In the early 1860s the cream and red brick courthouse was constructed in Sandridge to a design by architect JJ Clark of the Public Works Department. After the first local election in 1861 the Council had met in the court house for the first time. It was also around this time that the police station and bluestone lock-up were built as part of the law enforcement complex. None of these buildings is still used for its original purpose.

In 1869 the first town hall was built in Bay Street. After congested accomodation in the church schools and the National school, a State primary school was opened in Nott Street in 1874. The Australian Handbook described Sandridge in 1875 as –

In 1884 Sandridge was renamed Port Melbourne. Its role as a transport centre meant that Port Melbourne was home to a number of hotels in the 19th century. The Fountain Inn (1860s), on the corner of Raglan/Crockford and Bay Street, was one such hotel. It remains largely intact today.

Port Melbourne also supported a number of industries during the 1800s. These included a soap and candle works, rice and flour mills, a sugar refinery, boot factory, chemical works, gasworks and a distillery.

In 1893 Port Melbourne became a town and on May 14 1919 was proclaimed a city.

In 1934-35 the cement rendered reinforced concrete beam and Centenary Bridge was constructed in Port Melbourne. Built as part of the Unemployment Relief Program of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the bridge features ornamented piers at its entrances. It was also the major publicly funded monument erected as part of Victoria’s Centenary Celebrations and was officially opened by the Duke of Gloucester. Centenary Bridge is today listed by the National Trust (Vic).

The suburb of Port Melbourne is located on Hobsons Bay, on the east bank of the mouth of the Yarra River, four kilometres south-west of Melbourne. It is today a part of the City of Port Phillip, which was formed by the amalgamation of the former cities of Port Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda in 1994.

The port still plays host to cargo vessels and passenger ships, which dock at Station Pier (the northern section of which was built between 1922 and 1930). In modern times the suburb has also developed from one of Melbourne’s poorest areas into a wealthier residential area, blending more modern development with restored public buildings and workers cottages

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Port Melbourne circa 1997
Port Melbourne circa 1997

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