is a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 9 km south-west of Melbourne's central business district in the local government area of the City of Hobsons Bay. At the 2011 Census, Williamstown had a population of 13,203..
Williamstown is approximately 15 minutes by car from Melbourne via the West Gate Freeway or a 30-minute train journey from Flinders Street Station. Ferries from Melbourne's Southgate Arts & Leisure Precinct take approximately 1-hour.
Nelson Place, in the restaurant precinct
Aboriginal people occupied the area long before maritime activities shaped the modern historical development of Williamstown. The Yalukit-willam clan of the Kulin nation were the first people to call Hobsons Bay home..They roamed the thin coastal strip from Werribee to Williamstown/Hobsons Bay.
The Yalukit-willam were one clan in a language group known as the Bunurong, which included six clans along the coast from the Werribee River, across the Mornington Peninsula, Western Port Bay to Wilsons Promontory. The region offered a varied diet to its inhabitants. Not only were shell fish available from the sea, but the many swamps and creeks in the district would have yielded birds, fish, eels, eggs and snakes. Early white settlers in the region noted plenty of kangaroos and possums, which would also have been a source of food.
The Yalukit-willam referred to the Williamstown area as "koort-boork-boork", a term meaning "clump of she-oaks", literally "She-oak, She-oak, many." Around Point Gellibrand people used to be invited to join in ceremony, an indigenous peace festival and food festival where there would be an exchange of water and the leaves of a gum tree as well as feasts of bird meat and fish and shellfish.
The head of the Yalikut-willam tribe at the time of the arrival of the first white settlers was Benbow, who became one of John Batman's guides.
Industrial development, land segregation and a typhoid epidemic saw Aboriginal presence at Point Gellibrand rapidly decline after 1835.
The first European to arrive at the place now known as Williamstown was Acting-Lieutenant Robbins, who explored Point Gellibrand with his survey party in 1803. The mouth of the Yarra River was later inspected in May and June 1835 by a party led by John Batman who recognised the potential of the Melbourne town-site for settlement. The site of what became Williamstown they named Port Harwood, after the captain of one of their ships.
In November 1835, Captain Robson Coltish, master of the barque Norval sailed from Launceston, then crossing Bass Strait with a cargo of 500 sheep and 50 Hereford cattle which had been consigned by Dr. Alexander Thomson. After reaching the coastline of Port Phillip, Captain Coltish chose the area now known as Port Gellibrand, as a suitable place to unload his cargo. Within weeks of the first consignment, a stream of vessels began making their way across Bass Strait. Because of the sheltered harbour, many of these new arrivals decided to settle in the immediate area.
When Governor Richard Bourke and Captain William Lonsdale visited the emergent settlement at Port Phillip in 1837, they both felt the main site of settlement at Point Gellibrand would emerge at the estuary and they renamed it William's Town after King William IV, then the English monarch. It served as the Settlement of Port Phillip's first anchorage and as the centre for port facilities until the late 19th century.
Williamstown was initially considered along with the sites that became known as Geelong and Melbourne for the capital of the new colony at Port Phillip. Although Williamstown offered excellent proximity to anchorage, Melbourne was ultimately chosen due to its abundance of fresh water. Wiliamstown remained an important port of the new colony, and the first streets of old William’s Town were laid out in 1837 with that in mind.
The first land sales in the area took place in 1837. A 30-metre stone jetty was built by convict labour in 1838 where Gem Pier now stands. That same year a ferry service between Melbourne and Williamstown was established aboard the steamer 'Fire Fly'. It was used to convey passengers, as well as sheep and cattle from Tasmania. By 1839, Williamstown had large shipping facilities including a pier and government stores all built by convict labour. During these early times the business heart of the town was centred on Nelson Place. About 100 buildings were built, including two hotels (the Ship Inn and the Woolpack). The first cemetery in Victoria was established at Point Gellibrand at this time.
The first lighthouse, a wooden one with an oil-burning beacon at the top, was erected at Point Gellibrand in 1840. In that same year a water police superintendent was appointed to Williamstown. Williamstown remains the present-day home of the Victorian Water Police.
The first census in Williamstown was taken in 1841, with population recorded as about 259 people. However, it is believed the true population was considerably more. There were three hotels in Williamstown by 1841 and most of the men worked at occupations related to the port. Being a busy port, there were numerous lodging houses and a constantly changing population. During 1842 and 1843, there was an economic recession in the Port Phillip District, and Williamstown's population somewhat declined.
In 1842, the appearance of the ship Manilus threw the small colony into a frenzy. The ship's immigrants were part of a British labour scheme that paid captains a bounty to deliver passengers in good health. The captain of the Manilus, known in the Victorian Shipping records as the "Plague ship", would not receive his bounty as forty-five of the ship's 243 passengers had been lost to yellow fever during the journey from Scotland's shores. The sick were taken to a hastily erected quarantine camp. Those that died were buried in a makeshift graveyard.
Also in 1842, the St Mary's School (the oldest continuously operating Catholic school in Victoria) was established in a small timber chapel with a wood shingle roof. Mr. John Wilson was the first teacher–principal. The earliest available record of enrolment figures is 6 boys and 8 girls, in July 1844.
In 1847, Steamboat Pier was built and a permanent customs house was set up. The water police and customs officers remained here until the Melbourne Harbour Trust developed river channels closer to the Melbourne CBD in the 1890s.
A bluestone lighthouse was built in 1849–50 to replace the original wooden one. It only operated as a lighthouse until 1860, when a Pile Light was built and anchored off Shelly Beach, after which it served as a time ball tower..
William’s Town had been a primitive settlement until the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s, but after the gold seekers began to arrive, many from the tin mines of Cornwall, and many more from the Californian gold fields, the settlement’s growth was phenomenal. The first Williamstown Post Office opened on 1 March 1850.
After the separation of the Port Phillip District from the Colony of New South Wales and the creation of the Colony of Victoria, Williamstown was granted municipal status in 1851 and the first Council was elected in April 1856. Meetings were held in the Williamstown Court House, near the corner of Cecil and Thompson Streets. By the mid-1850s, many shops, business and residences had begun to be established in and around Newton (which is now known as Williamstown North). During this period, Williamstown played a key role in the Colony of Victoria and its connection to the world beyond. In 1853, an astronomical observatory was constructed at Point Gellibrand by the timeball tower, but it was moved to the Kings Domain in Melbourne ten years later when the Melbourne Observatory was established.
Australia's first telegraph line began operating between Melbourne and Williamstown on 3 March 1854. At this time, the timeball was moved to the Telegraph Station at Point Gellibrand. The Williamstown Chronicle, the first Victorian suburban newspaper, was established in 1854. The Williamstown Freemasons chapter was also established in 1854.
The first railway in Australia was established by the Hobson’s Bay Railway Company in 1854, and ran from Flinders Street Station to Station Pier in Sandridge (Port Melbourne). It went bankrupt, and this vital part of Victorian era infrastructure was only permanently established in the new colony by the Victorian Colonial Government. The first government line in Australia (1857) ran from Point Gellibrand to Spencer Street, at the western end of Melbourne's "golden mile".
Wealth created by the Victorian gold rush translated into increasingly sophisticated development of the town. By late 1855, agitation began within the local community for a botanic gardens site to be set aside and following a petition to the government from the residents, a ten acre site on the southern foreshore was marked out by March 1856. A recently discovered report in the 1857 issue of London journal The Athenaeum and a reprint of the same article in the Melbourne newspaper The Argus on 16 March 1857, confirms that Edward La Trobe Bateman prepared the design for the Williamstown Botanic Gardens sometime in 1856. Until 1860, the main activity in the gardens centred on the development of garden beds and construction of the path system. Considerable tree planting was undertaken to establish windbreaks. By April 1859, the design had been laid out by municipal surveyor William Bull and a gardener appointed to carry out planting. Plants, cuttings and seeds were donated by the local community as well as Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, the government botanist and recently appointed Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. On 2 January 1860, the gardens, believed to be the earliest intact botanic gardens in Victoria, were opened to the public with apparently little ceremony and by 1865, appeared to be too small to accommodate the influx of local and other visitors coming for day excursions to the seaside suburb. Following petitions from the Williamstown Council, the government reserved additional land for the gardens in 1865 and 1878 so that by 1878, the original ten acre reserve (comprising the gardens and pinetum) had doubled to include what is now known as the Fearon Reserve, named after a local sea pilot and sporting identity Captain James Fearon.
By 1858, Williamstown's two hotels had grown to 17. By 1864 there were 26. The Victoria Yacht Club was established in 1856 as yachting on Hobsons Bay became more popular. Also in 1856, a baths complex beside Williamstown Beach was built at the end of Garden Street. The baths were run by Mr Lillington, and was specified as 'ladies only' in 1859..
Not all in Williamstown were becoming wealthy, and with some impoverished settlers turning to crime, floating prisons on the President, Success, Deborah and Sacramento in Hobson’s Bay. By the end of 1853, 455 prisoners were held on these hulks. A fifth hulk, the Lysander, was added in 1854. By 1856 there were over 6,000 prisoners on these prison hulks, some as young as nine years of age.
The first lightship to mark the reef off Point Gellibrand was the former barque New Constitution which the Government purchased in October 1856 for £1050. It took up station on 25 July 1859. In May 1860, tenders were called for construction of a new lightship off Point Gellibrand. The new lightship consisted of two white lights of equal height, 24 feet (7.3 m) apart, and was shown from a temporary anchor in 4.5 fathoms of water. This lightship guarded Gellibrand's Point reef from 1861 until 1895..
Williamstown Post Office (the oldest post office building still standing in Victoria) and a Mechanics Institute were built in 1860. By 1861 Williamstown had 13 slips for boat repairs and building, and pier accommodation for 40 vessels. In 1864, the town boundaries of Williamstown were expanded to take in Newport and Spottiswoode, later to become Spotswood. Piped water from Yan Yean water supply subsequently arrived, allowing more rapid growth..
The Williamstown Racing Club, founded in 1864, was once one of the senior thoroughbred racing clubs in Victoria. Built in 1872, the Williamstown Racecourse, with its large and elaborately decorated grandstand facing out to the sea, was considered one of the finest in Australia. The Williamstown Football Club, an Australian rules football club was formed in 1864..
The Confederate States Navy warship CSS Shenandoah, which had successfully attacked several Union ships in the Indian Ocean, sailed into Hobsons Bay on the afternoon of 25 January 1865. Captain J. I. Waddell said he only wanted to put the ship onto the Williamstown slip for repairs, and to take on food and water. The Shenandoah was forced to wait while the Australians decided if letting the raider into their harbours violated their neutrality. As the only 2 dry docks belonged to the crown, it was decided to rent a dry dock to a private firm who allowed the ship to dry dock, thereby putting the responsibility on the private firm whilst keeping Australia's neutrality..
The visit was ostensibly for a day or two whilst repairs were effected, however she ended up staying for a month. Melburnians flocked to view the raider. Australians were divided over whether to support the ship. The US Consul advocated her arrest. Recruitment of British subjects was something that would not be tolerated. Australia sent 50 troops and 200 police to search the vessel in dry dock for British subjects. Waddell ordered his crew to repel all boarders but offered and had the ship searched several times. Eventually Captain Waddell said that he would surrender his war ship to the British Crown. Australia wanted nothing to do with seizing the Confederate vessel, however this bought enough time to finish repairs and slip the ship back into the water. Forty-two men were actually recruited in colonial Melbourne and this breach of Victoria's neutrality proved costly to the British government.
An 1871 hearing at the International Court in Geneva awarded damages of £820,000 against Britain to the US government for use of the port at Williamstown by the CSS Shenandoah..
Between 1857 and 1889, the main railway workshops of the Victorian Railwayswere at Point Gellibrand, and at their height covered 85% of Point Gellibrand. Imported steam locomotives were assembled at the Williamstown Workshops. After 1889 the extensive workshops were moved to nearby Newport.
By 1870, Williamstown was known as the major cargo port of Victoria, with piers, slipways, shipwrights, and gangs of wharfies, all working along the shore opposite Nelson Place. As well, the Customs Department, pilots, the Victorian Navy, and the Harbour Trust all established bases in Williamstown.
The foundation stone of the Alfred Graving Dock was laid on 4 January 1868 by HRH Prince Alfred, KG, Duke of Edinburgh, who arrived in the Royal Navy's first ironclad, HMS Warrior. Large excavations were necessary before the construction of the dock commenced. It was necessary to build an immense cofferdam, consisting of two curved walls, 1,000 feet (300 m) in length, constructed of hardwood sheeting five inches (127 mm) thick. It was completed in July 1869, when boilers, engines and pumps were placed in position and pumping operations commenced. The cofferdam continued to perform its important function until March 1872, when following a south westerly gale, a portion of the north western area collapsed, and the dock was flooded to within four feet of the top of the masonry. It was subsequently discovered that the cofferdam in this section was erected over a vessel that had been sunk at the spot some years before. Four weeks elapsed before repairs were completed. When the water was pumped out, it was found that the masonry had not been appreciably damaged. The graving dock was completed on 14 September 1873, but the dock caisson was not finished and in position until February 1874. HMCS Nelson was the first to enter it (in 1874). Following the opening of the graving dock, many ships of various sizes and types were docked and repaired over the next 30 years.
The Alfred Graving Dock is historically significant as the first graving dock in Victoria and the third in Australia at that time, for its role in the development of the shipping industry in Port Phillip, for its continuous use as a Dockyard since its completion and for association with William Wardell during his term as Inspector General of the Public Works Department.
Williamstown Baptist Church was officially founded in 1868, though a congregation had begun to form eight years earlier in response to an advertisement in the Williamstown Chronicle dated Saturday, 24 November 1860. Baptismal services were performed at the back beach at Williamstown from 1861 through to 1868, the first being performed 10 March 1861 by the Rev. David Rees of South Yarra. The Oddfellows' Hall was rented for services from December 1868. The Presbyterian schoolroom in Cecil Street was later used, followed by the Temperance Hall from April 1870. The Tabernacle, now the Church of Christ on Douglas Parade, was used after this. In January 1876 services reverted to the Oddfellows' Hall. In 1884 the Baptist Church building on Cecil Street was officially opened.
In 1873, the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, founded in May 1853 as the Port Phillip Yacht Club, moved to its present site at 120 Nelson Place, adjacent to Gem Pier.
Williamstown North Primary School was established in 1874 and in that same year part of the market reserve was purchased from the Williamstown Council by the Education Department in order to build the Williamstown Primary School No. 1183. The school had first opened in 1873 at the Mechanics Institute, with increasing numbers of pupils necessitating the leasing of additional rooms for classrooms in the Temperance Hall in 1875 and the Methodist Church in 1876. In 1877 tenders were called for the erection of a new school building, a bluestone neo-Gothick edifice which was completed in 1878. Prior to its completion, children not enrolled in private schools in the area were taught at the Mechanics’ Institute. A model of the school was sent to the 1878 Paris Exhibition, and it was cited as the best school in the Australian colonies.
A rifle range was opened at Williamstown in July 1876. This became the focal point for target rifle competition in Victoria for over a hundred years.
A Sailor's Rest establishment was built on Nelson Place in 1878, but for those sailors who sought more intoxicating entertainment there were innumerable local hotels.
In 1885, the prison hulks moored off Williamstown were ordered to be broken up. Success escaped this fate. In 1890, it was bought by entrepreneurs and fitted out as a floating museum with lifelike wax figures wearing prison clothes and manacles to depict the sensationalised stories of the convicts who had filled its cells while a prison hulk.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Williamstown was promoting itself as a holiday destination and 'health resort'. Its purity of air and seawater and the 'extent and natural beauty' of the Williamstown Beach (the Back Beach), combined with the adjacent Botanic Gardens were extolled as the perfect place for a summer retreat.
The Williamstown CYMS football club was formed in 1886 and remains one of the oldest sporting clubs in Australia.
The Hobsons Bay Yacht Club, situated on Nelson Place at the end of Ferguson Street and adjacent to the pier, was established in 1888.
The foundation stone for the Masonic Hall for the Excelsior Lodge of Industry in Williamstown was laid by Sir WJ Clarke Bart LLD MLC on 16 August 1890. Designed by the prolific local architect, CJ Polain, it was constructed by local contractor, Robert Thomas Leak and completed by 1891. The design incorporated elements that expressed its Masonic function such as beehives (symbols of industry) and tablets.
The Yacht Club Hotel was built in 1892 at 207 Nelson Place, a site previously occupied by an iron-framed 'wooden' hotel called the Lord Clyde. It was owned by Carlton and West End Breweries, later the Carlton Brewery Ltd.
The Williamstown Hospital opened in 1894 when the community responded to the increasing risk of accidents from a busy port, the railway workshops and the growing industrial area of Newport, Spotswood and Footscray to establish Melbourne's first suburban public general hospital.
Williamstown Central Tennis Club was established in 1896 on a site at the corner of Ferguson Street and Melbourne Road.
The Williamstown Lacrosse Club was founded in 1898 at a meeting in the Williamstown Baptist Sunday School called by Arthur Whitley (son of the Minister). Arthur Whitley became the first Captain and Fred Scott the first secretary.
In 1899, the bodies that had been buried at Point Gellibrand were exhumed and reburied within the 70 acres (280,000 m2) of land on Champion Road that had been gazetted as the Williamstown Cemetery in 1857..
In 1920, the Williamstown railway line was electrified.
The Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club was formed in 1922. Its clubhouse, at the western end of Williamstown Beach, was built much later, in 1935.
The Williamstown Croquet Club was formed on 18 October 1926 at a meeting in the Town Hall attended by Williamstown's Lord Mayor Councillor JJ Liston. A committee of nine was elected with Mrs. Liston as President. Many of the 39 lady members at the next meeting in December 1926 were prominent in Williamstown as the wives of local businessmen and city councillors, including the horse racing Underwood family, and the Keigs who owned Williamstown's largest department and haberdashery store. At this time women could play sport at the Williamstown Ladies' Bowling Club in Lyons Reserve (which had its own greens and pavilion next to the men's club), and at the Williamstown and Esplanade Tennis Club. However, croquet offered a more socially exclusive club for its members. Williamstown Council assisted the Club by offering land in the Victoria Street Council reserve and in January 1927, the Town Clerk confirmed the land was large enough for two A class Pennant Lawns. In July 1927, the Club paid a 200-pound contribution towards the Council's cost of establishing the lawns, which were officially opened in February 1928. The Clubhouse was opened on 19 December 1929 by the mayoress, Mrs AG Paine.
Situated within foreshore parkland adjacent to the Williamstown Football Oval, the Williamstown Lawn Tennis Club pavilion was opened in September 1928.
The Williamstown and Newport Anglers Club was formed in 1933 and rented premises at 221 Nelson Place, moving next door to 223 in March 1935. In August 1939 the club was granted a site on the Esplanade and in 1941 a clubhouse was opened. A jetty and slipway were built the following year.
In 1934, the bluestone time ball tower (the former lighthouse) was extended by 30 feet (9.1 m) with a circular brick tower on top. The extension was then painted with a coat of aluminium paint and it was re-established as a lighthouse due to the loss of singularity against the light of the City behind the Point Gellibrand Pile Light. It was electric, gave a green and red light, had a visibility of 15 nautical miles (28 km) and operated as a lighthouse from 1934 to 1987.
A fierce storm struck Williamstown in 1934. The timber sea baths, which had stood at the eastern end of Williamstown Beach, were destroyed. The Williamstown Dressing Pavilion was constructed at the sea baths site in 1936. It was constructed as part of a sustenance works program. Also constructed as part that program was a pool on The Strand, near the Williamstown Sailing Club.
In 1936, the Royal Victorian Motor Boat Club (now known as the Royal Victorian Motor Yacht Club) was granted by the Melbourne Harbour Trust a lease to use land for clubrooms at 260 Nelson Place, a site formerly used as a woodyard.
Racing at Williamstown Racecourse ceased in 1940. The course, like the Melbourne Cricket Ground, was used to house troops. Racing was due to recommence after the war’s end, but fire destroyed the two grandstands..
In the past decade Williamstown has received a face lift and become a major tourism drawcard. It retains the coherence and charm of a maritime village, due, in no small part, to the many historic buildings. A proliferation of cafes and restaurants are a major feature of Nelson Place which runs adjacent the foreshore while boats, yachts and dinghies decorate the shoreline and ships sail through the estuary en route to the Port of Melbourne.
The 2006 census puts the number of occupied private dwellings in Williamstown at 5,035, states that 66.5% of occupied private dwellings were family households, and the number of families is given as 3,372. The 2006 Census data also shows that 74.6% of persons usually resident in Williamstown stated they were born in Australia. Other common responses within Williamstown were: England 4.8%, New Zealand 1.5%,Scotland 1.2%, Italy 1.1% and Greece 0.8%. The data also showed that 88.5% of persons usually resident in Williamstown were Australian citizens, 19.6% were born overseas and 0.7% were overseas visitors.
Williamstown is within the Victorian electoral district of Williamstown. The 2007 by-election was triggered by the resignation of Steve Bracks as both Premier of Victoria and the Member for Williamstown. Wade Noonan successfully contested the election with 61.7% of the primary vote. The Liberal Party did not contest the seat in 2007.
The November 2010 State Election saw a very different result with a huge swing against the government. The ALP's primary vote was 46.75% (compared to 61.7 in 2007), with the Liberal Party polling 32.5% of the primary vote.
The community had been very vocal in the lead up to the election in their opposition to plans for a modern, high-rise and high-density development planned by Evolve Development, which if built would overlook the Point Gellibrand Coastal Park and Historic Williamstown (former Naval) Shipyards. 2010 saw major protests and community rallies in Williamstown against the Minister for Planning's (Justin Madden) decision to rezone the former Port Phillip Woollen Mill site (owned by the O'Brien family) and adjacent land to RESIDENTIAL without allowing the responsible authority (Hobsons Bay City Council) to manage the planning process. This exclusion of the community in deciding the outcome of the historic Point Gellibrand site and being seen to support inappropriate development in this historic precinct saw a swing away from the government greater than the state average even though the local member, Wade Noonan, publicly supported the community in their stand against the high-rise, high-density development. The community is now (as at December 2010) waiting to see if the new Coalition Government will in fact honour their campaign pledges re inappropriate development in Williamstown and throughout the state..
State High schools in the area include Bayside Secondary College and Williamstown High School, (Pasco and Bayview Street Campuses). In 2008 Williamstown High School’s new $11 million Bayview Street campus development won the Victorian Premier's Sustainability Award. Students are able to compare their resource usage on a daily basis and between other facilities as an integrated energy monitoring system has been installed displaying water, gas and electricity consumption on screens around the school.
There is a strong maritime feel to Williamstown, created by both the presence of the Williamstown Lighthouse, BAE Systems (ship building yard proprietors) and the many yachts floating on Hobsons Bay. The Williamstown Sailing Club, Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, Hobson's Bay Yacht Club, and Royal Victorian Motor Yacht Club are all located on Nelson Place.
The Williamstown Seagulls are a semi-professional Victorian Football League team that plays at Burbank Oval. They have won 13 VFA/VFL Premierships, and were also crowned League Championship Cup winners in 2011 and 2014.
Williamstown CYMS Football Club is the senior amateur football club of Williamstown. It is located down the road from Burbank Oval at the scenic Fearon Reserve adjacent to the Williamstown Botanic Gardens at Williamstown Beach. The CYs were formed in 1886 and currently field three teams in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) winning back to back premierships in both senior and reserve grade in 2008–09.
The Williamstown Juniors Football Club fielded 17 teams in the WRFL for 2007, the highest of any club. Notable AFL players from Williamstown Juniors are Daniel Giansiracusa of the Western Bulldogs, and Ben Davies of the Collingwood Magpies and North Melbourne Kangaroos.
Williamstown Cricket Club is the third oldest in Victoria having run continuously since 1852. The Club run four senior sides as well as a women's team and nine junior sides. Williamstown Cricket Club compete in the Victorian Sub District Cricket League and ended season 2006/07 as Premiership Champions.
Williamstown Imperial Cricket Club is located on the Fearon Reserve closest to Williamstown Beach with three senior sides holds the Williamstown & District Cricket Association record of 7 consecutive A Turf Premierships.
The Williamstown Magic Basketball Club and Williamstown Cannons Basketball Club both field many junior teams in the Altona Bay Basketball Association.