Recent History of Port Phillip Bay
Settlement at Sorrento in 1803
In 1803 Governor Philip Gidley King was informed from England that more convicts were to arrive at the small settlement in Port Jackson (Sydney). Means of support were already straitened there and he did not want more people at that time.
He sent a Government Order to Lieutenant-Governor Collins to develop, if possible, a new colony at Port Phillip Bay which had been surveyed previously by surveyor Grimes. There was no Victoria then and all the coast south of Sydney was regarded as New South Wales. The naval ship Calcutta left England and sailed via Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope and reached Port Phillip with 300 convicts . Some, of ‘reasonable character’ were allowed to bring their wives and children, so there were 30 women and 10 children with the party. One of those children was John Pascoe Fawkner who later wrote a memoir of his time at Sorrento. In those times, naval ships were frequently used to transport convicts. The Calcutta had 18 guns on the upper deck.
After a limited exploration, Collins decided on present day Sorrento for the settlement as the best of the poor sites available. The settlement was called Sullivan Bay. There was no fresh water nearer than Arthur’s Seat so they sank barrels in the sand a fair way from the beach and collected pure water there.
All were kept busy for a while building huts and planting crops – which didn’t succeed in the sandy soil, and many convicts became discontented and tried to escape, thinking that perhaps Port Jackson was not far to the north. Most of those prisoners were recaptured and one, William Buckley, became famous because he lived with the Wathourong Aboriginal people for 30 years and when found could scarcely remember English.
As the settlement seemed doomed to failure, Lt. Governor Collins wrote for permission to move it to a place on the Derwent River, now called Hobart. Second Lieutenant Tuckey with Charles Prideaux Harris, surveyor, and a crew were ordered to do a complete survey of Port Phillip and return in eight days. They took almost 10 days and this map is this result. If you overlay this map on a modern one of the same size you will find it almost identical.
Tuckey found the entrance to the Maribyrnong River but did not explore it, and sailed for a short distance up the Yarra and then reported to Collins on his return of the scarcity of readily available fresh water, the lack of good soil for crops and poor timber cover.
Evidence for all these activities can be found in the daily record compiled by the various Governors and the log of the Calcutta and reports are to be found in State Libraries in Melbourne and Sydney.
Lt. Tuckey received orders to return to England in the Calcutta and was captured by a French frigate and imprisoned for some years in a French Prison where he wrote a book on “Maritime Geography and Statistics” which can be obtained. He also wrote a book entitled “An Account of a Voyage to Establish a Colony at Port Phillip in Bass Strait on the coast of NSW in HMS Calcutta.”
Later again, in 1816, he explored the Congo River for the government, where he sailed 298 miles up the river but was unable to proceed further and altogether explored 480 miles of the river. Many of the crew died of the fever and Tuckey himself died on his return to the coast. His books are still available.