State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 34 October 1984


Manuscripts in the National Library of Australia Relating to the Settlement of Port Phillip

The National Library of Australia's Manuscript Section houses only a few collections relating to the settlement of Port Phillip, but although few in number they are invaluable sources for the researcher interested in the period.
Prior to the arrival of John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner, there had of course been that abortive attempt at settlement under the leadership of David Collins in 1803. This was faithfully documented by the clergyman Robert Knopwood in the diary which he kept from the day of the departure of H.M.S. Calcutta from Spithead on 24 April 1803. On 2 February 1804 Mr Knopwood saw Wilson's Promontary fade into the distance as he stood on the deck of Ocean bound for Van Dieman's Land. The events of that early period of authorized European settlement together with Knopwood's observations are recorded in his diary, the original of which is held by the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. The National Library holds a typescript copy of the journal (NLA MS26) entitled “Journal of the proceedings on board His Majesty's Ship ‘Resolution’ commanded by the Honble A.H. Gardner Captain … from the first day of January 1801 to the twentysecond day of July 1802 [with] A journal of the proceedings of His Majesty's Ship ‘Calcutta’ olim ‘Worley Castle’, commanded by Dan Woodriff Esquire, Capt. between the 24th of April 1803 to the arrival in Port Phillip Harbour, New South Wales, Sunday October the 9th, 1803”. The last entry in the journal is in fact for 31 December 1804.
In 1977 the Tasmanian Historical Research Association published the second portion of the journal, comprising entries for 24 April 1803 to 31 December 1804, in The diary of the Reverend Robert Knopwood 1803–1838, edited by Mary Nicholls.
John Batman is poorly represented in our collections, the only items relating to his Port Phillip venture being not originals, but photoprints supplied by courtesy of the State Library of Victoria some years ago. These comprise copies of the deed of 6 June 1835 concerning 600,000 acres of land acquired by Batman at Port Phillip from eight aboriginal chiefs. The deed was witnessed by James Gunn, Alexander Thomson and William Todd.
The manuscript which is undoubtedly of greatest interest to scholars studying the foundation of Port Phillip is John Pascoe Fawkner's “Journal of preparations for departure to and proceedings at Port Phillip” (NLA MS3224). This contains entries from Saturday, 18 July 1835 to Wednesday, 8 August 1836, documenting the activities of Fawkner from the date of purchase of his ship Enterprise through the early days of settlement at Port Phillip. The journal came into the Library's possession as part of the collection of the great Australian bibliographer Sir John Ferguson.
The journal has been published as Melbourne's missing chronicle (Melbourne, Quartet Books, 1982), edited by C. P. Billot. Mr Billot's introduction describes in great detail the journal as physical artifact, its contents, and its significance. Through Mr Billot's scholarly activities, the content of this journal is now readily accessible to all those seeking to read a contemporary account by the man who regarded himself as the founder of Melbourne.
William Strutt, a notable Australian artist,
executed in 1851 a fine portrait of Fawkner which is very highly regarded by art historians. Held in the National Library's Pictorial Collection, it is a very lifelike portrait which captures the likeness and character of the subject in an especially appealing manner. The Library was honoured to lend the painting to the Australian National Gallery for inclusion in its inaugural exhibition in 1982.
The National Library also holds the private journal of John Henry Norcock, a naval officer (NLA MS5896). This was purchased by the Library in 1978. The journal records Norcock's period aboard HMS Rattlesnake, under the command of Captain William Hobson, which sailed from Sydney on 21 September 1836 bound for Port Phillip, with Captain Lonsdale, his wife and daughter aboard, “for the purpose of forming a settlement at Port Phillip in Basse's Straits, a place which is said to possess all the good qualities of soil, climate, situation etc. to render it a flourishing colony”. The Rattlesnake arrived at Port Phillip six days later, and remained there till 11 December 1836. Norcock comments on 27 September (remember, he had only been in Port Phillip one day) “The Climate I need scarcely add is one of the most salubrious in the world, and as this was the commencement of Summer we all felt and duly appreciated its healthful influence”. A survey of Geelong harbour was undertaken by a party from the Rattlesnake, commencing on 6 October 1836, the same day which saw the arrival from Sydney of the Stirlingshire, loaded with stores and equipment “for building houses and otherwise settling in due form this place as another Town of New South Wales”. Norcock writes fondly of the Lonsdale family as well as of Port Phillip, where the bay had also been surveyed by the Rattlesnake. An interesting entry is that for 30 October 1836, when Norcock writes “The Pinnace brought on board several beautiful black swans which are very numerous in this part of the World — their flesh is excellent food and their down (which is white) is very valuable”.
In all, Norcock enjoyed his tour of duty at Port Phillip and had only praise for the soil, climate, topography and the fledgling settlement. His journal is a very readable account by an observant onlooker and adds to our knowledge of that important period of Melbourne's history.