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.

The 1803 Sorrento settlement at Sullivan Bay

The Sorrento settlement was intended to provide a British base against possible French intrusion into the recently discovered Bass Strait, a refuge from bad weather for sealers and a secondary settlement for the increasing number of convicts, especially Irish rebels, arriving in Sydney.

Colonel David Collins, formerly judge-advocate of New South Wales, commanded the expedition comprising convicts, marines and free settlers, which landed at Sullivan Bay near modern Sorrento in October 1803.

Difficulties arising from lack of fresh water, poor soil and timber, together with conflict with the local Aboriginal population, led to Collins recommending that he move to the Derwent River in Van Diemen's Land, and receiving permission, he left in two shiploads on 30 January and 20 May 1804

Detail from Sullivan Bay, Port Phillip 1803, H25956


Primary sources/collected documents

Sullivan Bay Historical Series

Original documents relating to the Sorrento settlement edited by Richard Cotter and published by the Friends of the Collins Settlement, Sorrento:

The 1826 Western Port settlement

In 1826 concern over possible French ambitions in the region prompted the Colonial Office in England to instruct Governor Darling in NSW to establish a settlement at Western Port, with convicts to supply a labour force and pave the way for future settlers.

This resulted in the second abortive official attempt at settling the coast of Port Phillip as misleading information regarding the correct location of the proposed site meant that the surrounding area was not as favourable as first believed.

This, together with the realisation that fears concerning the intentions of the French were unfounded, led to the abandonment of the settlement soon after. For further information see:

State Library's ergo website

The Library's ergo website provides students with information about formative events in Victoria's history and includes provide useful overviews of the 1803 Sorrento and 1826 Western Port settlements:

Settlement at Sullivan Bay

Settlement at Western Port

Barrel from first settlement at Sullivan Bay, Sorrento ca 1803

Barrel from first settlement at Sullivan Bay, Sorrento ca 1803H12524. This barrel was one of those sunk into sand just above high water mark to collect water which was brackish but drinkable.