Shipping on the Yarra River

Victoria Dock, Melbourne 1913

During the early years of European settlement in Melbourne (1830s – 1840s) a sand bar at the mouth of the Yarra River prevented the passage of vessels up stream to the small settlement of Melbourne. Large vessels were forced to anchor off Sandridge (Port Melbourne) or Williamstown with passengers and luggage being brought to Melbourne by land or by ferry.

It was described in 1835 by JH Wedge, surveyor with the Port Phillip Association as “a twisted cantankerous river … so choked with the trunks and branches of trees and other obstructions that it renders its navigation a matter of difficulty and delay to even the smallest of coasters.”

It wasn’t long before Melbourne’s commercial community agitated to connect the city and port with a ship canal.

In 1877 the Melbourne Harbour Trust was formed and one of its first activities was to build the Coode Canal. This canal shortened the distance from Hobson’s Bay (the mouth of the Yarra) to the city by 3km and led to the building of new wharves and the construction of Victoria Dock which was opened in 1892.

Growth in the number of vessels along with the increase in trade led to a further development of the port facilities.

In 1906 the Coode Canal was widened and deepened and there were further developments of river wharves and open docks.  Appleton Dock was first planned in 1914, but because of lack of funding, it was not opened until 1958.

This photograph of Victoria Dock, taken in 1913, shows a waterway wide enough for ocean going vessels. In the foreground to the left is the cargo ship Port Hunter, registered in London. Behind a rowing boat with men and a bicycle aboard, then an un-named dredger plus the tug Osprey. In the distance are the masts of a coal hulk – indicating the dominance of steam-power and the diminishing importance of sail.

The photograph was taken by amateur photographer Robert Law (1870 – 1930). Many of his informal shots are held at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria is the peak body for local history in Victoria. It has an active program of exhibitions, monthly Tuesday night talks, a book shop specialising in the history of Victoria, and collections for research.

The RHSV is at 239 A’Beckett Street Melbourne. Open Monday – Friday 10.00 – 4.00pm.

www.historyvictoria.org.au

Everybody is welcome.

Currently on display: Nail Can to Knighthood: The life of Sir Macpherson Robertson.

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