Monday, 18 August 2014

Western Port - a short history of early European activity

Both the Cardinia Shire and the City of Casey have Western Port as part of their border. The Bay has been a popular recreation spot for many of us over the years - for instance, we used to go to the beach at Tooradin when I was young; Dad and my uncle had a boat so they used to water ski down there, and Dad used to go fishing there as well. These activities would have been repeated by many local families since the European settlement of the region. Further afield, Phillip Island continues to be a holiday destination for many locals. The Bay has also been used commercially by fishermen. What follows is a short history of the Bay since the arrival of  the Europeans.

Western Port Bay was 'discovered' by George Bass (1771-1803)  on January 5, 1798. Bass had left Sydney (Port Jackson) on December 3, 1897 with the purpose of discovering whether a strait existed between Tasmania (Van Diemen's land) and the mainland. As we know the Strait did exist and it was named after him. Bass named Western Port thus as it was the most westerly port that was known at the time - or as he wrote in his journal I have named the place, from its relative situation to every other known harbour on the coast, Western Port. Bass navigated around what was to be called Phillip Island, but did not realise that the land mass that became known as French Island, was indeed, also an island. They were also unaware of Port Phillip Bay - I wonder what Western Port would have been called if they were. The journey was a remarkable feat of navigation and enterprise, the party was away for eleven weeks, had eked out the original six weeks of supplies they took with them, they sailed 600 miles of uncharted coast line all in an open boat that was only 28 feet, 7 inches (8.7 metres) long.

After Bass, the next official  European activity was carried out in the Lady Nelson, under Lieutenant James Grant (1772-1833) - they arrived  at Western Port on March 21, 1801. The crew planted a garden on Churchill Island and they charted the Bay. The Lady Nelson returned in December 1802 under First Lieutenant John Murray (1775-1803) and harvested the wheat crop planted by Grant the year before, and on January 5,  1802 they 'discovered' Port Phillip Bay. In April 1802, the French Captain Hamelin in the Naturaliste reached Western Port and circumnavigated  and mapped French Island.


Oyster breeding park, Rutherford Creek, Western Port Bay
State Library of Victoria Image A/S22/09/84/15

The French interest in this region prompted the British Government to establish, in 1803,  a settlement at what is now Sorrento, under Lieutenant Governor David Collins (1756-1810). In Western Port, enterprising sealers had moved in - seals were hunted for their skins and their oil. Sealers also abducted Aboriginal women, to act a sex slaves and to exploit their hunting knowledge. In 1826,  the British sent the Dragon, under the command of Captain Samuel Wright and the Fly, under the command of Captain F. Wetherall to Western Port, they landed at what is now Rhyll and claimed formal possession on December 3, 1826 and on December 12 they claimed formal possession of a site near Corinella. At Corinella, a settlement was soon established - gardens, roads, wells, buildings including Government House, military barracks, storehouse, hospital, blacksmiths, stables etc - most of the labour was supplied by the 21 convicts. This was a short lived settlement and was abandoned in January 1828.


Captain Wetherall's 1826 map of Western Port
Source: Western Port Chronology 1798-1839: Exploration to Settlement by Valda Cole (see below)

Later on pastoral settlements took place - in 1835 Samuel Anderson (1803-1863) and Robert Massie settled on the Bass River.  Moving  around to the Bay, to the area now covered by Casey and Cardinia - in 1839 Robert Jamieson and Samuel Rawson settled at the Yallock Station, on the Yallock Creek. Frederick and Charles Manton took up Manton's Old Station in 1840; the Balla Balla run was taken up by Robert Innes Allen in 1839; Thomas Rutherford took up the station (Bourbinandera) based around what was to be known as Rutherford Inlet in 1842; the Lang Waring run was taken up in 1843 by William Willoby. Later on, from around the 1850s,  all these  large runs were broken up and sold and other European settlers arrived.


These are aerials of the top section of Western Port, taken January 22 1970 - not exactly what the early Europeans would have seen, but I can never resist using an aerial photograph! You could only imagine what these early explorers and cartographers would say if they could see the land they charted today, from an aerial or satellite image. The township is Warneet. The land mass on the left is Quail Island, Rutherford Inlet separates Quail island from Chinamans island. Quail island was originally known as Harris Island, it was named for Surgeon John Harris, member of the N.S.W Corps. Chinamans Island was so named as Chinese fishermen were said to live on the island.


This is Warneet, again, and Cannons Creek. We also see the top of Quail Island and Rutherford Inlet.


The land mass on bottom right is Quail Island, with Watson Inlet to the left. From the middle top, there is an L-shaped road - this is Craigs Lane. The road running down to a creek/inlet on the right is Vowell Drive.


This connects to the aerial above - on the right is Vowell Drive. On the left is Tyabb-Tooradin Road and Callanans Lane, this forms a triangle, where the Pearcedale Conservation Park and  Moonlit Sanctuary is located. There is Watson Inlet, part of the Yaringa Marine National Park, again. The inlet is named after  John Watson, whose property 'Freehall', was near to the Inlet.  John Watson was the owner of considerable property in the Parish of Tyabb, a prominent citizen and a member of the Mt. Eliza District Road Board. A Mornington Peninsula Shire  Council Ward is named after him (Personal correspondence from historian, Valda Cole)

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