1839 - 1851

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.

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.

Mr Manton writes to La Trobe about developing the Yarra River's infrastructure. Click on the image to read the transcription. 


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.

"I have the honour to inform you that His Excellency the Governor approves of the...site for a Post Office". Click on the image to read the transcription.
Melbourne Post Office, 1841.

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.

A Supreme Court was built and Melbourne's first Resident Judge, Judge John Walpole Willis, arrived in March 1841.

4 December 1840

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.

Colonial architect, Mortimer Lewis writes to Superintendent La Trobe about the gaol for Melbourne. Click on the image to read the transcription.
Melbourne in 1841 from the south side of the Yarra River.

22 July 1841

The Governor of New South Wales approves of the establishment of a market in Melbourne.

"His Excellency's approval of the [market] will appear in the next Government Gazette". Click on the image to read the transcription.

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.

The site of the market can be seen here on Hoddle's original design for Melbourne.
This letter details the concerns felt by settlers in the Port Phillip District in the 1840s. Click on the image to read the transcription.

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”.

"It is my duty as Residing Magistrate to report to Your Honor, that the Gaol is inconveniently full, and likely to become still more crowded". Click on the image to read the transcription.

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.

Judge Willis later writes to La Trobe on 23 March 1843 about the Melbourne Incorporation Act. Click on the image to read the transcription.
Henry Condell is the first Mayor of Melbourne (1842-1844).

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.

Letter to La Trobe stating five persons from the Port Phillip District are to be elected to the Legislative Council. Click on the image to read the transcription.

24 January 1844

Report shows that 26 convicts are “illegally at large” in the Port Phillip District.

Clerk of the Bench addressing the number of convicts in the district. Click on the image to read the transcription.
Robert Russell's depiction of Batman's Hill from the south side of the Yarra in 1844.

14 August 1845

The growing town of Melbourne applies for an Inspector of Schools.

"The Mayor and Town Council of Melbourne will have it in their power to appoint an Inspector of Schools". Click on the image to read the transcription.
20 March 1846 - La Trobe lays foundation stone of the Melbourne Hospital.

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.

Assurance is provided by the Colonial Secretary that the petition will reach the Queen. Click on the image to read the transcription.
1848 - Plan of the newly created Botanic Gardens by surveyor Ridoutt following its establishment in 1846.

February 1849

Gold is discovered near Maldon and the Pyrenees.

1850 - Replacing the old wooden bridge, the new Princes Bridge is completed and Superintendent La Trobe officially opens the Yarra River crossing.

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.

1 February 1851 - Earl Grey advises Queen Victoria to appoint Superintendent La Trobe as Victoria's Lieutenant Governor. Click on the image to read the transcription.
Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe.

24 March 1851

The newly established Colony of Victoria is to create its own Legislative Council separate from New South Wales.

November 1851 - The first Legislative Council of Victoria meets at Saint Patrick's Hall in Bourke Street.

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.

Credits: Story

Writer, Curator and Researcher  — Jason Smeaton 
Transcription Assistance — Daniel Wilksch
Producing Editor — Kate Follington

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Translate with Google