The fine bay of Portland and nearby Cape Bridgewater were indirectly named by Captain Grant in 1800 on the Brig named Lady Nelson. Grant explored this part of the coast a year or so before Matthew Flinders and Nicholas Baudin. James Grant was receiving his orders from the Duke of Portland and so Governor King in Sydney named the bay Portland after looking at Grant’s maps. Nicholas Baudin, the French explorer also named the area and called it Terra Bonaparte. After Major Thomas Mitchell’s explorations in 1836 his Australia Felix region became known as the Western Districts (of NSW). From 1803 some American whalers established summer whaling camps along Portland Bay but there was no permanent white settlement until Edward Henty arrived here from Launceston in November 1834. His brother Francis arrived to settle in December 1834. Thus began the white settlement of Victoria almost a year before Fawkner and Batman settled on Port Phillip Bay. (John Fawkner and John Batman also moved from Launceston because of the land shortages there with Fawkner settling in August 1835 near Hobson’s Bay and Batman in June 1835 near the Yarra although he personally did not settle until April 1836.)
Edward Henty landed with 13 cattle, 4 bullocks, 5 pigs, 2 turkeys, vines, plants, seeds, and apple and pear trees. Francis arrived with dairy cows and Merino sheep a month later. In 1836 Major Mitchell called in to the Henty’s property where Portland now stands. Henty had already explored inland by then and he had discovered Darlots Creek and Lake Condah. Three of Henty’s pastoral runs were near the later town of Merino. The Hentys also earnt income from whaling but Edward did not even begin any whaling until 1836. Edward built his first house on what is now Bentinck Street. This was swept away when the town was surveyed in 1840 by Charles Tyers the government surveyor. By this time Edward and Francis had been joined by their other brothers Richard and John. It was a Henty son (Richard) who was the first white male born in Victoria and Edward Henty was the first to move inland in Victoria when he moved to near Merino in 1837. But many now assert that the first white settlement (not permanent or farming or pastoral settlement) in Victoria was by William Dutton with his fishery (sealing) and whaling station near Portland in 1833. Dutton had camped here in a temporary house for summer months since 1828. He also had whaling camps on Kangaroo Island. He did not spend all the year at Portland but his whaling camp was a permanent structure. Dutton also had early whaling camps at Port Fairy. When Edward Henty arrived in November 1834 Dutton was already there and assisted Henty to get established. But does this Dutton claim really detract from Edward Henty’s claim to be the first permanent white settler on the land in Victoria?
The Henty brothers had illegally squatted on land and despite having 60 acres under crop, sheep grazing at Merino, two houses in both Portland and at Merino and 53 whites living on the land (46 males including employees and 7 females) Governor Gipps of Sydney was not impressed. The Henty brothers claimed compensation for their development of the land and a grant of some of the land. Thus began many years of legal battles between the government and the Henty brothers. Gipps decided to send Police to Portland to remove Henty from the land but this never happened. In 1843 the government softened and gave a grant of 83 acres at £2 per acre; town acres at £100 per acre; and compensation of £118 for their buildings, including the house which was destroyed to create Bentinck Street. The Henty brothers declined this offer and the dispute continued. Eventually the Henty brothers got legal leases and they purchased freehold land. Merino Downs station is still in the hands of Henty descendants.
Government land in Portland was sold in 1840 with 70 town blocks being purchased immediately and many surrounding “suburban” blocks. Pastoral leases for inland areas were authorised from 1839. By 1842 the town had a temporary Presbyterian, Anglican and Wesleyan Methodist churches, a cemetery, a newspaper, a school house, hotels ( the Commercial Inn, the Portland Hotel, the Portland Inn and the Steam Packet Inn), a jetty and commercial enterprises. Customs duties were levied on the port trade. The main street along the foreshore Bentinck Street was named after the family name of the Dukes of Portland. The Customs House was completed in 1850; the Court House was built 1845; the Catholic Church 1848; the Presbyterian Church 1849; the Botanical Gardens began 1854; the Anglican Church 1856; a tramway to Heywood opened 1860; the Town Hall opened 1865 and a new Wesleyan Church opened 1865. In terms of population Portland grew quickly with around 1,200 residents in 1851 and around 3,000 by 1854. Today Portland has 10,700 residents.
As the major regional port railway lines from the interior were especially important to Portland. The tramway to Heywood opened in 1860 but soon became a railway line. The Portland Railway Company was formed in the town in 1872 and they raised funds for a railway to Hamilton and another to Coleraine. The company folded one year later. But the government built a railway line to Hamilton in 1878 and in 1889 they proposed a railway to the Wimmera – Horsham and Mildura. The first section of the railway from Hamilton to Horsham opened in 1911 to Cavendish and the line only got to Horsham in 1920! Meantime a rail link to Mt Gambier across the border was demanded by the residents of both Portland and Mt Gambier. The SA government opposed the idea and resisted for many years. The rail line was first suggested in 1900 and the Victorian government did a survey for the line in 1901. But it was 1912 before the two states agreed on rail lines crossing the border at Mt Gambier and at Pinnaroo. Work started on the line from Heywood to Mt Gambier in 1914. The line finally opened in October 1917.
Links between Mt Gambier and Portland had always existed. Captain Grant had charted both areas as had Flinders and Baudin. In 1839 Edward Henty tried to establish a sheep run at Mt Gambier but the SA government ordered Henty off the land. They then allowed Evelyn Sturt to become the first landowner near Mt Gambier. Many pastoral runs near the border crossed the border. Robertsons of Struan had land both sides of the border as did the Austens of Penola. In 1862 in response to perceived financial neglect of the Mt Gambier region by the SA government, and the desire for separation from Melbourne in Victoria, the Princeland movement emerged. Edward Henty was behind the formation of the West Victorian Separation league to create a new colony with the capital in Mt Gambier and the main port at Portland. The colony was to be named after Prince Albert (Princeland) and a petition was sent to the Colonial Office and to Queen Victoria. 1,500 signatures were collected but the proposal required the agreement of two states so it languished in London. The movement started with a report in the Portland newspaper on 2 January 1862 followed by another in the Advertiser on 4 January 1862. The new province would have 24 million acres from Victoria and 4 million from SA with a population of 74,000 and an annual revenue income of £330,000. The Geelong newspaper supported the movement but jealousy of Portland was reported as the cause of opposition to the proposal from the residents of Port Fairy. People in Portland argued that of the £300,000 paid in tax and revenue to the government in Melbourne only £100,000 was ever spent in the region and of £36,000 raised in Mt Gambier only £16,000 was ever spent there. Public meetings were held in towns from Penshurst to Penola with Mr R Horne arguing for the proposal and soliciting signatures for the petition. The SA government to give an additional member of parliament to the Mt Gambier district and proposed the upgrading of roads and the building of a courthouse, police station and Post Office in Port MacDonnell and elsewhere. The Border Watch newspaper in Mt Gambier opposed the idea of Princeland but suggested the colonies ought to have a federal parliament and a union a bit like the American Union which was at that time fighting a Civil War over secession! The SA parliament passed a motion opposing secession of Mt Gambier in May 1862. By October English newspapers were reporting no widespread support of the secession movement in SA and Vic and so it was unlikely that Westminster and the Queen would consider a petition which was not widely supported by the local people or the state governments. Thus the Princeland secession movement died in October 1862 but the term was used in the region for the next twenty years.
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