Ship to shore

16 March, 2011

Sailing ships at Sandridge (Port Melbourne) Railway Pier, c1880.
Sailing ships at Sandridge (Port Melbourne) Railway Pier, c1880.
Image: C Nettleton Studio
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: Where did ships coming into Melbourne land before Station Pier was built?

Answer: Before Station Pier and the railway line into the centre of Melbourne were completed in 1854, immigrant ships simply anchored in Hobson’s Bay. Passengers from the ship, along with their luggage, were then ferried in small boats from the ship to the nearby shore. Some were able to take the steam ferry, up the Yarra to the centre of Melbourne, while others may have been towed or rowed up the river. The unluckier ones simply had to make their way overland to the settlement. Many ships carrying assisted migrants did not anchor in Hobson’s Bay at all but landed in at Geelong, Warrnambool, Port Fairy and other coastal locations west of Melbourne. From here, these migrants often gained employment on properties in the local area.

There had been smaller jetties at a nearby site at Port Melbourne for over a decade. In 1839, Wilbraham Liardet built a small jetty on the beach of his property. This spot became a ‘fashionable resort’ to which Melbourne residents came to enjoy the sea breeze and refreshments (Barnard p10). In 1849 the New South Wales Government called for tenders for materials to build a better pier in this location and, by 1852, the Sandridge Town Pier was operating. But these earlier jetties were not designed to take the ships and large amounts of immigrants that were flooding into Melbourne at the start of the Gold Rush. Neither did the current practices of ferrying passengers or sending them overland work with these numbers arriving and the idea of a new pier with a railway line to town was conceived.

Further reading

Barnard, Jill, Welcome & farewell: the story of Station Pier (Melbourne, 2004).

Museum Victoria, Station Pier: gateway to a new life (Melbourne, 2004)

Ruhen, Olaf, Port of Melbourne: 1835 – 1976 (Stanmore & North Melbourne, 1976)

Comments (2)

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Lawrence James Blake 29 June, 2014 03:04
I have details of ancestors who emigrated to Port Philip in 1852. The vessel was called 'The Emily' I've seen the passenger list and know that they are on there. However I do not know what the ship would have looked like. Do you have an example of an 1852 emigrant ship? It weighed 580 tons.
Discovery Centre 29 June, 2014 13:02
Hello Lawrence! Whilst I have responded to your emailed enquiry with a more detailed response, anyone doing similar searches would be advised to start with Trove, a powerful image search tool hosted by the National Library of Australia.
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