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 overviews

The following works provide a general overview of Victoria's and Melbourne's settlement and early history and will help set the scene for further in-depth study based on other resources listed in this guide. 

The sesquicentenary of Victoria in 1984 saw the publication of a three volume official anniversary history entitled The Victorians which provides coverage of the foundation and settlement of the colony together with the establishment and development of its infrastructure and its social and political structures:

Early and "first generation" histories

The term "first generation histories" describes histories and accounts of Port Phillip/Victoria written within the first few decades of settlement, in some cases by historians who were themselves among the first pioneers. They can therefore have the freshness and immediacy of eyewitness accounts but may also promote a desired slant or interpretation of events and be dependent on the accuracy of the writer's recollections.

Garryowen's anecdotal history, The chronicles of early Melbourne, 1835 to 1852, for example, was written by journalist Edmund Finn based on his own observations and was published in 1888 (see Garryowen on State Library's ergo website). These volumes have also been digitised by La Trobe University and are available to view online.

Similarly, Alexander Sutherland's Victoria and its metropolis: past and present, also published in 1888, summarises the history of Victoria to that point from the perspective of someone close to the events and people described.

Other examples of such accounts and histories include


There are several useful published bibliographies and guides to assist students and other researchers who are commencing their investigations. Although not recent publications, they may provide a useful starting point as well as assist in identifying key events and supporting documentation. 

Local histories

Local histories are a fruitful source of information on the early settlement and pioneers of particular areas. The following provide a few examples of these:


Many more works on Portland can be found in the catalogue under the subject heading  Portland - (Vic) - History

Port Fairy

Many more works on Port Fairy can be found in the catalogue under the subject heading Port Fairy - (Vic) - History


Many more works on Geelong can be found in the catalogue under the subject heading Geelong - (Vic) - History

On the Barwon, South Geelong, 1850

Detail from On the Barwon, South Geelong, 1850, H88.21/122