Letters to La Trobe: Making Melbourne, 1839-1851 - Public Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)
Charles La Trobe arrived in Australia in 1839 to become Superintendent of the Port Phillip District (now known as Victoria). He helped create the city of Melbourne and oversaw Victoria's separation from New South Wales. This timeline is created from some of the correspondence La Trobe received as Superintendent between 1839 and 1851 as he built Melbourne.
By Public Record Office Victoria
1 October 1839
La Trobe arrives in Melbourne from England via Sydney having been appointed Superintendent of the Port Phillip District in January.
12 December 1839
The Yarra River is to have its first bridge erected and dam constructed at the falls.
A private enterprise opens the first toll bridge across the Yarra River. Known as Princes Bridge, it connects Swanston Street to St Kilda Road.
27 February 1840
Approval is given to build a Post Office for Melbourne.
26 June 1840
A Bill is presented to the Legislative Council of New South Wales to establish a Supreme Court in Melbourne for the Port Phillip District.
Botanist Mr Daniel Bunce encourages Superintendent La Trobe to develop a Botanic Garden in Melbourne.
Although Bunce offered his horticultural services, he was overlooked by La Trobe as the Melbourne Botanic Garden's first director in 1846.
Bunce went on to become an explorer and Indigenous culture recorder, joining Aboriginal tribes and studying their languages. He published a book on Aboriginal languages in 1851.
6 February 1841
The plans for a Melbourne Gaol are nearly complete.
22 July 1841
The Governor of New South Wales approves of the establishment of a market in Melbourne.
15 December 1841
Melbourne Market opens. It occupies the block between Market, Collins and William Streets, and Flinders Lane. It later becomes the Western Market.
7 April 1842
John Hay, a station owner from Kilmore urges Superintendent La Trobe to bring the bushrangers in the district to order.
“...armed Bushrangers...had cobbed a neighbouring station and had threatened to plunder mine... I beg to bring these facts under your notice”.
25 April 1842
Awaiting the erection of a new prison, Melbourne's current gaol is “inconveniently full”.
Melbourne's Gaol, now known as 'Old Melbourne Gaol', was not opened until 1845, providing a more apt prison for the district.
12 August 1842
Melbourne becomes incorporated and the Town Council is elected on 1 December.
20 March 1843
Representatives for the Port Phillip District are to be elected to the governing New South Wales Legislative Council.
In his letter notifying Superintendent La Trobe of this matter, the New South Wales Police Magistrate states that five persons are to be elected from the Port Phillip District.
The Police Magistrate then proceeds to say that he does not believe that the district has five qualified people for the Council.
24 January 1844
Report shows that 26 convicts are “illegally at large” in the Port Phillip District.
14 August 1845
The growing town of Melbourne applies for an Inspector of Schools.
25 June 1847
Melbourne is proclaimed a city.
It has a population of over 11,000 while the rest of the Port Phillip District is home to only 22,000 more people.
21 March 1848
A petition from Port Phillip District residents is sent to the Queen for the separation of the district from New South Wales.
Gold is discovered near Maldon and the Pyrenees.
5 August 1850
Queen Victoria gives Royal assent to the Imperial act which separates Port Phillip from New South Wales.
13 January 1851
Separation Act proclaimed, creating the Colony of Victoria.
24 March 1851
The newly established Colony of Victoria is to create its own Legislative Council separate from New South Wales.
This exhibition drew from public records preserved within the collection of the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV).
The letters featured in the timeline are drawn from thousands of letters written to La Trobe. These letters have been digitised and made available for viewing on the PROV catalogue thanks to a project supported by the CJ La Trobe Society and funded by the R E Ross Trust.
To view the full collection of digitised letters to La Trobe, and to read a short precis of each letter, scroll through the listings on the PROV catalogue under Record Series Number 19 consignment P0001.
Contributor: Writer, Curator and Researcher —Jason Smeaton
Contributor: Transcription Assistance—Daniel Wilksch
Contributor: Producing Editor—Kate Follington