Victoria's early history, 1803-1851

A guide to researching the history of Victoria's foundation and early settlement based on published and digitised sources.

General sources

The arrival of Europeans in Victoria irrevocably changed the lives of the many Aboriginal groups inhabiting the area. Initial conciliation gave way to European arrogance and Aboriginal resentment stemming from the settlers' exclusive idea of property.

Following John Batman's "purchase" of a portion of Aboriginal land the arrival of the pastoralists spelled the end of Aboriginal First Nations peoples' traditional way of life. Whilst various tribes resisted the takeover of their lands they were no match for the well armed and determined Europeans and the inevitable result was loss of life and dislocation.

The system of Aboriginal protectorates introduced in 1836, and presided over by George Augustus Robinson from 1839, collapsed under the pressure of the settlers' land hunger and was scrapped within a decade. Reserves also failed, and whilst the missions provided a refuge for many people it was necessary for them to conform to strict rules which undermined their traditional way of life.


General histories

Regions and localities

Primary sources

George Augustus Robinson

George Augustus Robinson was appointed Protector of Aborigines at Port Phillip in 1839 after serving as Protector in Van  Diemen's Land. He spent nearly eleven years at Port Phillip, but his work there was not impressive.

His handling of the affairs of the protectorate was weak, anything of value coming from his sub-protectors, although he made several noteworthy overland journeys to South Australia, New South Wales and the Murray valley, the day-to-day record of these in his journals giving valuable information about the tribes and the state of the country he traversed:

The journals of George Augustus Robinson, chief protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate - editor Ian D. Clarke

The papers of George Augustus Robinson, chief protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate - editor Ian D. Clarke.

The Port Phillip protectorate was abolished on 31 December 1849.

Black Robinson, Protector of Aborigines by Vivienne Rae-Ellis offers an interesting re-evaluation of George Augustus Robinson's life and work.

Collins Street, 1840

Collins Street, Town of Melbourne... 1840

Detail from Collins Street - Town of Melbourne, Port Philip [i.e. Phillip], New South Wales; H245333

View of Collins Street looking west with a group of Aboriginal people in the foreground surveying the scene.

State Library's ergo website

The State Library's ergo website provides students with information about formative events in Victoria's history and includes the following useful links:

Tarnishing the Crown - the European appropriation of Aboriginal lands

Indigenous rights -  the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights in Victoria

Aboriginal trackers - the use of Indigenous trackers by European settlers and colonial authorities

Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872

Indigenous populations of Australia and the Torres Strait actively resisted British colonisation from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.   Massacres of Indigenous Australians were designed to eradicate opposition. They were carried out secretly with few perpetrators brought to justice. The University of Newcastle's website, Colonial massacres in Australia, 1788-1930, presents a map, timelines, and information about massacres in Eastern Australia from 1794 -1872. It is the result of a project funded by Australian Research Council and undertaken at University of Newcastle.