Williamstown

In September, 1836, Sydney’s Governor Richard Bourke sent Captain William Lonsdale to the Port Phillip district, thereby acknowledging that settlement beyond the permitted boundaries had occurred. Lonsdale selected Gellibrand Point at the north-west of Port Phillip Bay as the place for the official settlement, but the better situated Melbourne overtook it in his later estimation. Nevertheless a town was surveyed and named William’s Town (after King William IV), on 10 April, 1837. Land in Nelson Place, Williamstown, was sold two months later.Williamstown_Wharf_ca1850Williamstown Wharf ca 1850

William’s Town’s pre-gold rush role in Port Phillip was farming and maritime activities. It was Melbourne’s port, with ship mooring and repair facilities. The time ball tower at Gellibrand Point (1852) was for the synchronisation of ships’ chronometers, and the Naval Dock Yards and Hobsons Bay dredges were installed in the 1850s. The description of Williamstown in the 1875 edition of The Australian Handbook was –

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By 1904 the population had doubled to about 15,000, representing the consolidation of industry and institutions. The Handbook’s 1904 entry for Williamstown was –

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The Williamstown municipality contained Newport and Spotswood. Housing construction took place in the 1950s in Spotswood and housing was built on the decommissioned Williamstown Rifle Range in the 1990s. By then the older parts of Williamstown were undergoing a residential renaissance, attracting people with a preference for historic renovation. Access by car across the West Gate Bridge in 1978 made Williamstown a “gentrifiable” inner suburb. A population peak of 30,606 had been reached in 1961. By 1991 it was 22,100, despite the number of private dwellings having increased from 8,228 to 8,856.

Williamstown’s shoreline features remained much the same from 1900 to the present day: numerous piers and recreational sailing facilities facing the calmer waters of Hobsons Bay, the Williamstown Cricket Ground and football club on Gellibrand Point, facing Port Phillip Bay and the beach (served by Williamstown Beach railway Station) a little to the west. The web of railway lines serving four piers and the graving dock were dismantled in the 1960s.

There are 15 sites in the former Williamstown municipality on the Victorian Heritage register, including the Railway Station and the Alfred Graving Dock.

On 22 June, 1994, Williamstown city was united with Altona city and parts of Footscray and Werribee cities to form the City of Hobsons Bay.

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Postcard dated 1906.

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Historical Cafe Strip, Williamstown, 1997.

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Williamstown Jetty, 1997.

Further Reading:

  • Davison, Graeme (ed.), “Melbourne on Foot: 15 walks through Historic Melbourne”, pages 168-83, Rigby Publishing Ltd, 1980.
  • Evans, Wilson, “Port of Many Prows”, Hawthorn Press, 19??.
  • Strahan, Lynne, “At the Edge of the Centre: A History of Williamstown”, Hargren Publishing Company, 1994.

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