Melbourne Harbour Trust

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The Melbourne Harbor Trust was established in 1877 to operate and improve shipping facility in Melbourne's ports and harbours.

Creation of the MHT[edit]

In the 1860s and 1870s, agitation for the establishment of a trust on the lines of those on the Thames in London, the Mersey at Liverpool and especially that on the Clyde (which was run by Glasgow's leading merchants), came predominantly from the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. However, Williamstown and Geelong interests opposed the measure, while Alfred Clark (Williamstown member of parliament) warned ...if ships were to be taken up the river then grass will grow on the piers and streets of Williamstown. The Trust reflected Melbourne mercantile interests but the new government was hostile towards it.[1]

Prior to its establishment there had was little co-ordinated management or development of Melbourne ports facilities, with only some hap-hazard wharves and jetties constructed along the Yarra River, as Sandridge (Port Melbourne) and at Williamstown, Victoria. Vessel movements and berthings, navigational aids, and wharfage rates, were previously the responsibility of the Ports and Harbours Branch under the Department of Trade and Customs.[2]

The Trust, as it became known, was only created after several boards of inquiry into means to improve access for shipping to Melbourne and a specific Act of Parliament in 1867.[3] The first election and appointment of fifteen Commissioners, who represented various interests in the Port, was held on 30 March 1877, with a meeting on 11 April 1877 to elect office bearers.

British engineer, Sir John Coode, was commissioned to advise on port improvements. Coode produced a scheme involving a large dock basin (Victoria Dock) and straightening the river through a new cut, now known as the Coode Canal. However, the works could not commence until 1883 when a coalition government united the previously opposing groups. Under Coode's Plan, heavily modified by the Trust's own engineer, Joseph Brady,[4] the Yarra was deepened and cleared of obstructions, and the Coode Canal was excavated, opening in 1886, straightening the river's meandering lower course. Excavation of Victoria Dock was underway in 1891, opening in 1896, the Sandridge Lagoon was being filled and the deep-water channel to Port Melbourne was being dredged.[1] Dock construction under the original Harbour Trust scheme continued into the 1920s.[5]

By 1927 the Trust was employing more than 1000 men Melbourne was the eighth largest deep-water port in the British Empire. After 1945 new facilities were developed downstream, including Appleton (1956), Webb (1960) and Swanson (1969) docks,[1] each of which was named after chairman of the trust William Thomas Appleton (1859-1930), chairman 5 April 1911 to 22 January 1913; John Percival Webb OBE chairman from 27 May 1941 to 31 August 1971; and Victor Swanson,1960-72.[6][7]

Other commissioners and chairmen included the following:

  • Sir William Murray Mcpherson 30/5/1902 - 22/1/1913 & 4/2/1913 - 20/2/1914
  • William Thomas Appleton 28/11/1906 - 22/1/1913 & 4/2/1913 - 16/2/1930 Chairman 5/4/1911 - 22/1/1913
  • James Arthur Boyd 4/2/1913 - 12/4/1941
  • Henry Meeks 21/2/1914 - 6/8/1922
  • William Andrews 15/8/1922 - 1/9/1924
  • Francis Duncan 9/9/1924 - 22/1/1951
  • George Kermode Chairman 29/8/1934 - 30/6/1940
  • Charles A Phayer 4/2/1937 - 30/6/1947
  • Aubrey Duncan Mckenzie Chairman 1/7/1940 - 3/3/1960
  • John Percival Webb Chairman 27/5/1941 - 31/8/1971
  • Albert George Allnutt 1/7/1947 - 30/6/1950


The purpose of the trust was provide for the Regulation, Management and Improvement of the Port of Melbourne and certain portions of the River Yarra Yarra and certain portions of the Saltwater River....[including the regulation of the trade of the port with respect to such matters as landing of shipping of merchandise, arrivals and departures of vessels, wharfage of port facilities, [and] improvements to the port.[2]

Development and Reconstitution[edit]

Two additional Commissioners were appointed on 14 November 1883.[8] and up to 1900 the Melbourne Harbor Trust Commissioners were responsible to the Commissioner of Trade and Customs and afterwards to the Minister for Public Works. there was a major reconstitution of the Trust in 1913 whereby seventeen elected Commissioners were replaced with five Commissioners appointed by the Governor-in-Council. These five included a full-time Chairman and four representatives of ship owners, exporters, importers and primary producers. the Trust also gained responsibility for the railway piers at Port Melbourne and Williamstown from 1 December 1913, bringing all the wharves, piers and jetties within the Port of Melbourne under the one authority. A sixth Commissioner was appointed to represent port workers in 1954, perhaps indicating the growing influence of the Dockworkers Union.[2]

Port of Melbourne Authority[edit]

The Harbour trust was reorganised in 1978 to form the Port of Melbourne Authority, in line with modern organizational naming practice around the world, although its functions did not change geatly. It moved from its Market Street head office to the World Trade Centre (Melbourne) in 1983. Subsequent restructuring in 1997 saw the Melbourne Port Corporation take over property and assets, the Victorian Channels Authority berthing responsibilities, and Melbourne Port Services privatised and put out to tender. The Port of Melbourne Corporation was formed on 1 July 2003, taking over the Melbourne Port Corporation, and the Victorian Channels Authority.[9]


Maintenance workshops erected in Williamstown.[10]

The Trust operated a series of dredges including:

  • Bunyip 1879-
  • G. Ward Cole Iron screw dredging steamer c1890
  • PIONEER Sand dredge c1940s[11]
  • John Nimmo 1887-1931
  • Sir William McPherson 1912-1949
  • Melbourne [12]
  • D. Mclennan 1925-1949
  • George Kermode Twin screw Steam bucket dredge 1941-1976
  • Mathew Flinders Cutter suction Dredge c1960-1985

The North and South Wharves were extended downstream, and in the 1930s-1950s Appleton Dock was reconstructed and extended, followed by Swanson Dock, and Webb Dock.[13]


Other sources[edit]

  • The engineering of the Port of Melbourne, Peter Milner, 6th National Conference on engineering Heritage 1992.
  • Jubilee history of the Melbourne Harbor Trust : compiled from the original records of the Trust and from the Victorian Hansard, Benjamin Hoare, 1927, Melbourne Harbor Trust Commissioners Jubilee Report.
  • Port of Melbourne, 1835-1976 Olaf Ruhen, 1976
  • Review of the organisational structure of the Melbourne Harbor Trust, John S. Taylor, 1975 Thesis (MBA)--University of Melbourne, 1975. Typescript (photocopy) ...At Baillieu Library
  • The development of the Port of Melbourne 1877-1971 Sanay Yarnasarn, Thesis : 1974

Coordinates: 36°51′00″S 144°58′41″E / 36.85°S 144.978°E / -36.85; 144.978