Williamstown, Victoria

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Williamstown Melbourne.JPG
Nelson Place, in the restaurant precinct
Williamstown is located in Melbourne
Coordinates 37°51′40″S 144°53′06″E / 37.861°S 144.885°E / -37.861; 144.885Coordinates: 37°51′40″S 144°53′06″E / 37.861°S 144.885°E / -37.861; 144.885
Population 13,203 (2011 census census)[1]
 • Density 2,401/km2 (6,220/sq mi)
Postcode(s) 3016
Area 5.5 km2 (2.1 sq mi)
Location 9 km (6 mi) from Melbourne
LGA(s) City of Hobsons Bay
State electorate(s) Williamstown
Federal Division(s) Gellibrand
Suburbs around Williamstown:
Williamstown North Newport Port Melbourne
Altona Williamstown
Port Phillip
Location of Williamstown

Williamstown 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.[1]

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.

Williamstown is also the main town where the Australian Television Program Blue Heelers was filmed.


Indigenous history[edit]

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.[2] 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."[3] 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.

Colonial exploration and settlement[edit]

Williamstown was named in honour of William IV

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.[4]

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.[5][6] 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.[7] 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 lighthouse (later timeball tower) was built in 1849–50.

The first lighthouse, a wooden one with an oil-burning beacon at the top, was erected at Point Gellibrand in 1840.[8] In that same year a water police superintendent was appointed to Williamstown.[9] Williamstown remains the present-day home of the Victorian Water Police.[10]

The first census in Williamstown was taken in 1841, with population recorded as about 259 people. However, it is believed[according to whom?] 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 teacherprincipal. 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,[8] after which it served as a time ball tower.[11]

Victorian gold rush and wheat boom[edit]

Williamstown – Mechanics' Institute (built in 1860)

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.[12]

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.[13] The Williamstown Freemasons chapter was also established in 1854.[14]

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".

Fort Gellibrand was built in 1855 during the Crimean War, to guard against a possible Russian invasion.[15] It was still in use sixty years later for training new soldiers for the Great War.

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.[16]

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.[17]

Williamstown Post Office (the oldest post office building still standing in Victoria) and a Mechanics Institute were built in 1860.[18][19] 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.[7]

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.[20]

CSS Shenandoah incident of 1865[edit]

CSS Shenandoah under repair in Williamstown

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.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23][24]

Victoria's major cargo port[edit]

Railway Pier in 1883

Between 1857 and 1889, the main railway workshops of the Victorian Railways were 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.[25]

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.[26]

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.[27]

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[28] 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.[29]

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.[30]

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.[31]

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.

Early 20th century[edit]

By 1904, the population of Williamstown was about 15,000. The description of Williamstown in the 1904 edition of The Australian Handbook notes that principal hotels in Williamstown at that time were: the Steam Packet, Royal, Newport, Prince of Wales, Yacht Club, Morning Star, and Pier. There were also a further 34 hotels in the area. A 1904 guide to Williamstown promoted angling as one of the city's attractions, though it advised that, for a better catch, it was best to row a little distance out into the Bay.

Williamstown Pier railway station was opened on 8 January 1905. The station existed primarily to serve the Williamstown docks precinct and was the terminus of the Williamstown line.

In 1906, one of the largest undertakings attempted by ship repairers in Australia was successfully accomplished at the Williamstown Dockyard. SS Peregrine, a 1,660 GRT vessel of the Howard Smith Line, was lengthened amidships by 40 feet (12 m). This was perhaps the first jumboising operation undertaken in Australia.[32]

In 1907, Mr Edwin Gaunt (owner of the Alfred Woollen Mills) opened the 'Empress Pavilion' for the entertainment of his workforce. The pavilion was a large building containing novelty rides, a roller skating rink, an ice-cream stall and a stage. Gaunt soon passed the building on to a new owner who established an open-air picture palace in conjunction with the Pavilion.

On 29 August 1908, a visiting American Fleet, consisting of sixteen battleships and six auxiliary vessels, steamed up Port Phillip. This was the famous 'Great White Fleet' of the USN. During the 'Fleet Week' celebrations that followed, a collision occurred in Hobson's Bay on 4 September between the collier USS Ajax and the steamer SS Leura. The latter vessel was crowded with sightseers. The tug James Patterson went alongside and took on board the passengers from the SS Leura. The vessel was towed up the river Yarra for repairs. The Alfred Graving Dock was hastily prepared for USS Ajax, which proceeded there with pumps working continuously to keep down the in-rushing water. USS Ajax was docked and a new stern, 63 feet (19 m) in length, was constructed and fitted.

The Shipbuilding Yard at Williamstown was officially opened by the Governor of Victoria, Sir John Fuller, on Monday 7 April 1913. Soon after the Declaration of War on 4 August 1914, the Commonwealth Government requested the Williamstown Dockyard to undertake the conversion of merchant ships into transports. By 30 November the employment figures at the Dockyard had reached the record total of 1,500 men. Over the next two years, continual disputes between the State and Federal Governments over the use of non-union labour in the Dockyard led to a gradual decrease in the orders for fitting out troop transports.

In 1911, the Williamstown Picture Theatre opened in a building on part of the then future Town Hall site on Ferguson Street.

The Williamstown Hospital was expanded with the addition of the Male Ward in 1911 and the Female Ward in 1917.[33]

Williamstown Sailing Club was formed in 1914, its facilities situation on The Strand at the end of Stevedore Street.

Extensive remodelling of the 1878 Williamstown Primary School building was undertaken in 1915. Between 1915 and 1919, new buildings were added to the former Grammar School building to form a quadrangle, and the new Williamstown High School was officially opened by Sir Alexander Peacock on 15 May 1921.

Heidelberg School impressionist artist Walter Withers painted numerous landscapes of Williamstown around 1910, at a time when fellow Heidelberg School impressionist artist Frederick McCubbin was also painting the Williamstown landscape. Between 1909 and 1915, McCubbin visited Williamstown on numerous occasions and produced sketches and watercolours of the foreshore and the old shipyards. He also produced a major oil painting of the Williamstown docks in 1915.[3]

Inter-war period[edit]

Williamstown Town Hall, Ferguson Street

Williamstown was proclaimed a City on 17 May 1919. Construction of the Williamstown Town Hall on Ferguson Street commenced a year earlier in 1918, but it was not officially opened until 1927.

In 1919, when Melbourne was struck with the dreaded Spanish flu, the Williamstown Primary School was closed and used as a makeshift hospital for the ill.

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.

In 1930, a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into certain matters affecting the municipal government of the City of Williamstown.

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.[11]

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.

Post-war period[edit]

Entering the post-war period there were homeless families living in dire conditions in makeshift shanties and tents in Williamstown. The Housing Commission of Victoria developed the Champion Road (Williamstown North) and West Newport estates during the mid to late 1940s. These estates represented a new approach to housing provision to address criticism of the poor quality of earlier estates. The semi-detached, gabled houses arranged in mirror-image pairs within the Champion Road Estate were constructed of red or clinker brick or stuccoed concrete walls.

In 1945, Williamstown defeated Port Melbourne in the Victorian Football Association's Grand Final, starting a golden era for the Williamstown Football Club during which its senior team played in 16 finals series, including 10 Grand Finals.

In 1946, the Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club wrote to the Borough of Queenscliffe, suggesting that there was a need to establish a Surf Life Saving Club in Point Lonsdale.

Also in 1946, nine Williamstown residents met to form the Williamstown Little Theatre Movement. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Williamstown Little Theatre had several homes in Williamstown; from the Mechanic's Institute to the Williamstown Town Hall Supper Room and the former Missions to Seamen building in Nelson Place. In 1967 the theatre company moved into its current venue, a converted bakery on Albert Street.[34]

In 1948, an electoral redistribution saw Williamstown included in the new Australian Federal electoral Division of Gellibrand, named after Joseph Tice Gellibrand (1786–1836). It was proclaimed in 1949 and was first won in that year by the Australian Labor Party candidate, John Michael Mullens. He held the seat until 1955.[35]

The Rotary Club of Williamstown has established in March 1949.[36]

Williamstown Migrant Hostel[edit]

After World War II, hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and assisted migrants came to Australia from Britain and Europe. Assisted migrants were guaranteed accommodation by the Australian Government and displaced persons who were assisted had to 'work as directed' for two years after their arrival. Government hostels were set up in a number of places in Victoria, including Williamstown. Williamstown Hostel (renamed Wiltona after 1969) opened in 1949 based at the Williamstown Racecourse. Migrants were housed in huts that had been used by the army during its occupation of the course during World War II. By 1952 there were 800 migrants here, mostly from Central Europe.


The destroyer HMAS Anzac was commissioned at Williamstown Naval Dockyard on 14 March 1951 under the command of Commander John Plunkett-Cole RAN.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the popularity of Williamstown declined and it was viewed as a run-down industrialised centre.

The Department of the Army took control of the Fort Gellibrand site in 1959 and continued to use it predominantly as a proof range. Repeated requests from the local community for proof range activities to cease eventually succeeded in 1962. Thereafter the Fort became an administrative centre and a holding depot for stocks for proof ranging at other Defence sites.

The Merritt Rifle Range at Williamstown was the rifle-shooting venue for the 1956 Olympic Games.

In 1958, the Williamstown and Newport Anglers Club was granted extra land and a new clubhouse and boat storage facility were officially opened on 18 November 1961.

In May 1962, the City of Williamstown annexed 83 hectares (210 acres) from the Shire of Altona.

Fort Gellibrand became the training and administrative centre for the 2nd Commando Company in 1966 and has continued to remain in this use since that time.

The Pile Light fire of 1976[edit]

The Pile Light anchored off Shelly Beach in 1860 was destroyed in 1976 when it was hit by the Melbourne Trader, a vessel of 7,000 tonnes. The force of the collision snapped the piles at waterline area, the light was sheared off its piles at water level, pushed 7 metres (23 feet) sideways, and was left hanging precariously on several of the remaining piles. The engine room and lower deck were submerged and the house and light tower were balanced on a knife edge, threatening to topple over into deep water. At the time the piles were 70 years old and their diameter had diminished from 2 feet (0.61 m) to about 9 inches in the tidal zone thus reducing the strength of the piles. The harbour master of the day was not prepared to risk any of his men to secure or repair the structure, as it was considered to be on the brink of tumbling into the sea, so reluctantly Ports & Harbours gave the order to set fire to it at 11 am on 23 June 1976.[17]

Rifle range residential redevelopment and nature reserve[edit]

In 1987, the Victorian Government's Urban Land Authority purchased the former rifle range at Williamstown (comprising an area of around 110 hectares) from the Commonwealth Government for $11.7 million.

The development of the estate was accompanied by extensive public consultation, which emphasised creation of open space for passive recreation and preservation of the coastal strip. The coastal area had been virtually untouched by European settlement due to the 'protection' offered over the years by the active rifle range.

The Authority developed 60 hectares of the estate for housing and related commercial and community activities. Residential allotments were progressively released for sale from May 1991. The historic armoury building of the old rifle range was preserved, refurbished and is now as a funeral home set in a large formal garden owned and operated by Nelson Bros Funeral Services, the oldest family owned funeral company in Victoria.

The remaining 50 hectares was reserved for the protection of the surrounding environmentally sensitive area. This area, now known as the Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve[37] consists of open grasslands for passive recreation, two wetland lakes, the saltmarsh and mangrove conservation area, Wader Beach and the Kororoit Creek.


Nelson Place, Williamstown

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.

Heritage buildings and sites[edit]

  • Williamstown Landing Place (Syme Street). The eastern end of Commonwealth Reserve was used as an early landing place to unload stock as early as 1836, and was probably near or on the subsequent site of Gem Pier. This led Governor Bourke to recommend the installation of quay facilities here in 1837. Around that time, Nelson Place was occupied by primitive wharves, substantial warehouses, blacksmiths, carpenters, merchants, watermen, pilots and customs officers who occupied structures built of split timber and bark. Originally there was only a narrow strip of land between the Road and the high-water mark, until the foreshore land in this area was reclaimed by the Melbourne Harbour Trust from 1879 to 1881 to create the Commonwealth Reserve.
HMAS Castlemaine berthed at Gem Pier
Jetty at Williamstown in Summer.
  • Gem Pier & Commonwealth Reserve (Syme Street and Nelson Place). A 30-metre stone jetty was built by convict labour in 1838 where Gem Pier now stands at the end of Syme Street. Permanently stationed at Gem Pier is the Bathurst class corvette HMAS Castlemaine (1942) – a World War II minesweeper which was built at the local shipyards. It is now used as a maritime museum. Aside from the ship itself there is a collection of nautical memorabilia and exhibits within its confines. Another historic ship the Enterprize sails from Gem pier evey month. Bay cruises and returns trips to Southbank also depart from Gem Pier. Commonwealth Reserve is located in the heart of historic Williamstown, on the foreshore adjacent to Gem Pier. The park was originally a mudflat adjacent to the Bay, before being reclaimed. The planting style consists of formal avenues of elms. A number of heritage items are located in the reserve including the Tide Gauge House (formerly at Point Gellibrand), the anchor of HMS Nelson and the Wilkinson Drinking Fountain.[38]
  • Tide Gauge House (Nelson Place). Built by convict labour at Point Gellibrand in 1857 to house one of three tide gauges that arrived from England in 1855, the bluestone Tide Gauge House is associated with the origin of the Australian Height Datum. The tide gauge continued to operate where it was originally constructed until 1943 when silting up of the site reputedly interfered with its operation. The filling in of the boat harbour in 1955 required that the building be moved to its present site in the Commonwealth Reserve.
  • Former Bank of Australasia (189 Nelson Place). Designed by Reed and Barnes and constructed by Pearce and Murray in 1876–77, this was the eighth branch to be constructed for the Bank since its incorporation in 1835 and is believed to be the first suburban example. The bank reputedly paid £47 per foot frontage for their site, conducting an extensive examination of the soil conditions before building. Accommodation was provided upstairs for the manager and between 1877 and 1902 the bank managers were William Pestell, Henry Crossley, and John Davies. It became a branch of the ANZ bank in 1951. Today the building is occupied by Alexander's Restaurant.
  • Former Bay View Hotel (175 Nelson Place). Described at the time of its construction as 'a reflex of internal comfort' as well 'as a marked improvement' to the architecture of Nelson Place, this hotel was designed by Gordon McCrae and built by Mr Ingham in 1910, soon after the establishment of the Licenses Reduction Board in 1906. As with many other Williamstown hotels (refer to 39 Cecil Street, 3 Electra Street) there was an earlier wooden hotel of the same name on the same site. The building is now used as a restaurant.
  • The Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain (Cnr Syme Street and Nelson Place). Inaugurated on 17 October 1876 by the Bishop of Ballarat, Dr Thornton, in the presence of the Mayor of Williamstown, ministers of all denominations and over 2000 people, the Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain is the earliest known memorial drinking fountain in Melbourne. The cast-iron drinking fountain, imported from Possilpark, Glasgow where it had been cast in the Saracen Foundry of Walter Macfarlane & Co, had been paid for by public subscription to commemorate the Reverend George Wilkinson, the local Anglican minister who had died the previous year. The elaborate canopy comprises four columns rising to form arches with decorated mouldings, encircling ornamental shields, one of which reads 'Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain 1875', inscriptions on two sides of 'Keep the pavement dry', and carvings of griffins, all surmounted by a richly decorated dome culminating in a crown. The pedestal and basin are also highly decorative, including carved reptilian creatures on the pedestal. The original copper water beakers were removed about 1935.
  • Former English, Scottish and Australian Bank (139 Nelson Place). Also known as the Mission to Seaman, and now occupied by Breizoz Crêpes, this building originally housed the second suburban branch of the fifteen ES&A banks known to have been built in Victoria. It was the first major purpose built bank branch in Williamstown.
  • Williamstown Customs House (Cnr Syme Street and Nelson Place). A stuccoed structure erected from 1873, to designs presumably by the Public Works Department of Victoria, the building is architecturally significant as a fine and relatively intact example of conservative Classical revival style architecture. It served as a Customs House, offices and residence.
  • Jacks & McIntosh Boat Repair Facilities (120 Nelson Place and 36 Syme Street). One of the first private boatbuilders in Williamstown, Jacks and McIntosh boatbuilders and shipwrights were located at the end of Thompson Street in 1841. Immigration and Harbour Master's Offices had taken over the site by 1856 and a stone jetty had been built in the NE corner of the site diagonal to the current shoreline. By 1877, the site was occupied by both a 'yacht club', and the water police situated in the site's SE corner with a jetty on the eastern waterfront. By 1894, the Nelson place end of the site was occupied by the water police with an associated jetty, boat ramp or slipway. The site is now occupied by the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.
  • Williamstown Immigration Office and Depot (120 and 123 Nelson Place). These offices were established in Nelson Place near the corner of Thompson Street in the mid to late 1850s to process new arrivals during the gold rush.
  • Craigantina (125–129 Nelson Place). Comprising three two storey shops and residences, Craigantina was constructed in 1886 for John Harker Craig. The City of Williamstown rate books show Mr Craig as the owner of this site in 1885–86 when it was described as containing a house with a Net Annual Value of £65. By the following year, the new buildings are described; the larger corner building was occupied by Mr Craig himself, while the others were rented to a draper, Andrew J Aitkens, and a baker, Frederick Woods. Mr Craig was a Williamstown City Councilor between 1887 and 1891, and served a term as Mayor in 1888–89.
  • Former Royal Hotel (85 Nelson Place). The grand scale of the Royal Hotel is a consequence of change to Victoria's licensing laws in 1877, which required hotels to have a minimum of 30 rooms of minimum dimensions to be licensed. The architect of the brick hotel, completed by 1893, was hotel specialist T. Anthoness and the builder was Henry Hick.
  • The Old Morgue (Ann Street). Now situated in the old Port of Melbourne Authority site, the former morgue is one of Williamstown's early structures, important architecturally but more especially for its role in Williamstown's history. The Georgian style building is believed to be the first morgue erected in Victoria (at its original location near Gem Pier in 1859) and was constructed in bluestone with convict labour. The building was subsequently relocated three times.[39] Access to the Morgue is by appointment or through historical tours.
  • Williamstown Dockyards, including Alfred Graving Dock (Ann Street and Nelson Place). A number of historically significant piers, slipways, docks and shipyards have been located in the Williamstown Dockyards precinct. Slip Pier was built in 1858 and was used in conjunction with the Government Patent Slip. It was later known as the Lady Loch Jetty after the similarly named Government steamer. The pier and Government Patent Slipway were demolished in 1919. In 1858, the Victorian Government recommended that a reserve be set aside for a graving dock and dockyard. Construction commenced in 1868, and was completed in 1874. The dock was designed by William Hardell for the Public Works Department, and it was the largest structure of its type in the southern hemisphere. The Dockyard Pier, originally known as Dock Pier was constructed in 1874 for use with vessels engaged in pre/post docking in the Alfred Graving Dock. In the 1870s, the railway department contracted for the construction of a new pier to meet increased demand imposed by wool and later grain handling. When completed in 1878, it was initially referred to as the Western Pier, but was later renamed New Railway Pier. It was rebuilt in 1915 and 1927 and was renamed Nelson Pier in 1923. The pier and surrounding land was purchased by the Commonwealth in 1967, and use of the facility declined. Demolition work began in 1979 due to its poor condition. Nelsons Pier West was constructed in 1978 to replace the nearby Nelson Pier. It provided two cranes and two berths for the refitting and outfitting of warships. Reid St Pier was constructed for the Melbourne Harbour Trust for exclusive use with its own floating plant in September 1891. It was later used to house the tug fleet, and was rebuilt in 1949.
  • Former Oriental Hotel (55 Nelson Place). There has been a building (Skelton Oriental Building) on this site since about 1850 when Benjamin Skelton built his corner building after purchasing land from the Crown in 1849 - Section 1, Allotment 8. The large 3 storey flat roof with ornate parapet building was built before 1852 when it appears in a drawing of Williamstown by the famous artist, engineer and surveyor Edward Snell (designer of the Geelong Melbourne Railway). The drawing was later printed in 1854 by Quarrill as a Lithograph. http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/album/albumView.aspx?acmsID=861240&itemID=981173 With Benjamin Skelton taking a mortgage in June 1851 to develop the land with second substantial building on the Nelson Place frontage of Allotment 8, it seems that the Skelton Oriental Building is in fact pre the mortgage of June 1851 making it importantly one of the few pre-separation buildings. Pre-separation is an important heritage period which is before the Colony of Victoria separated from the Colony of NSW on 1 July 1851 and that period is pre Gold Rush too (September 1851). It is a unique building in design as well as age - the oldest remnant three storey building (dwelling or hotel) in Victoria. It was built at the same time as the Time Ball Tower and the Ann St Pier (both c 1849) at a time when Nelson Place was water front with beach onto Hobsons Bay long before the shipyards. Save Williamstown has been trying to make sure this building is not demolished by developers who have acquired the land, by nominating it for the Victorian State Register. It is unknown what the first use of the building was but from its structural layout it is thought to have been a dwelling with a commercial opportunity on Nelson Place frontage for shop, store, accommodation, food service or bank etc. but with the Gold Rush it is believed to have become a private boarding house which Artist Edward Snell refers to in his journal as staying "in a private boarding house - only 27 in one room queerest lodgings I've been in yet floor covered with beds and hammocks slung to the rafters"... The first owner Benjamin Skelton died suddenly in March 1853 and his widow married Henry Cox one month later. From 1853 the Skelton Oriental Building became known as the Cox Family Hotel. During 1854 Henry Cox planned to change the building into a licensed hotel and from 1856 it became the 'Barkly Arms' until 1881/2 when it was named the 'Oriental Hotel". In the early 1990s it became known as the Willy Tavern but has since closed. As the oldest 3 storey building in Victoria the community and the City of Hobsons Bay council have supported its state registration. It became under threat of demolition when VCAT (the planning tribunal which determines appeals by developers against council decisions) determined in December 2013 that Nelson Place Development was to be permitted to demolish it. Save Williamstown continues fighting to preserve the heritage of this unique building Oriental Hotel.
Restaurant themed after the RMS Titanic, 1 Nelson Place.
  • Former Prince of Wales Hotel (1 Nelson Place). Originally constructed c.1857, possibly to a design by Charles Laing, this is one of the oldest hotels and public buildings in Williamstown. It was first owned by the surgeon John Wilkins. Today it is occupied by the Titantic Theatre Restaurant.
  • Gellibrand Pier and Breakwater Pier (off Battery Road). The Gellibrand Railway Pier was constructed between 1854 and 1859 by the Melbourne Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway Company. The first stage of the work, undertaken by contractors Musson and Bourne, involved the construction of a solid embankment, some 244 metres long, into the bay, part of which is now covered by the approaches of the existing pier. In 1857 contractors Evans Merry & Co built a 183-metre timber extension. The original two major wings on each side of the Pier were altered and extended until their removal sometime between the early 1880s and 1894. The Pier was remodelled and extended in 1963 to take tankers. Breakwater Pier was constructed as a timber breakwater with an embanked approach from 1859 to 1861 by contractors McKay and McDonald. The Pier, which incorporated an earlier (1857) octagonal tide gauge house, was constructed over an existing stone pier which had been built by convicts in 1852–53. The pier structure was designed as a two level structure on the landward end to allow access to the tide gauge house on one level with the railway on the other level. The side of the pier was straightened in the 1880s and it was lengthened in 1933–34. The pier was remodelled in 1954 to take tankers, at which time the tide gauge house was relocated to Commonwealth Reserve.
  • Williamstown Lighthouse or Timeball Tower at Point Gellibrand (Battery Road). Built in 1855 by convict labour, this bluestone tower originally operated as a lighthouse and still operates as a timeball. The tower is part of the Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park,[40] which is managed by Parks Victoria.
  • Fort Gellibrand (Battery Road). A 2.8 hectare site located near Point Gellibrand at the southernmost tip of Williamstown, Fort Gellibrand is of historical importance to the State of Victoria for its association with the development of defence strategies for the colony in the nineteenth century and for its association with the convict hulk period of the penal system in the colony. The Point Gellibrand shore batteries were first developed as part of an immediate defensive system for the city and port of Melbourne, prior to the establishment of batteries at the Port Phillip heads. The fort site contains the only remaining visible physical evidence of the system of four battery positions at Point Gellibrand from this period. The batteries at the fort were upgraded in the 1870s and 1880s, and the fort remained an integral part of the defensive system for Port Philip up until the late 1880s and 1890s. Today, the Fort is home to a reserve commando regiment of the Australian Army, the 2 Commando Company of the 1st Commando Regiment.
  • Williamstown Beach (The Esplanade). The wide, sandy beach is 880m long and faces almost due south, receiving waves during strong southerlies that are sometimes large enough to surf. The most popular break to surf is called "hunchback". It is a large but inconsistent right hand point/beach break just off the rock pier that works best with low tides and strong southerly winds. The beach is fronted by an attached bar that widens to the west. At low tide, it can be a 100 metres wade before you can swim off the bar. A foreshore reserve is located at the eastern end and contains the Anglers Club, the pier, a car park, a park and a picnic area. Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club is located at the western end where the bar is relatively shallow and it is safest to swim. Close to both Williamstown and Williamstown Beach railway stations, this is a very accessible and popular beach.
  • The Williamstown Dressing Pavilion (The Esplanade). Constructed at Williamstown Beach in 1936, the pavilion is an architecturally significant early example of European Modernism applied to the design of a pavilion structure by two then relatively unknown architects Arnold Bridge and Alan Bogle.[41]
  • Former Lawn House (92 The Esplanade). In 1889–90 Williamstown's prolific contractor, John Garnsworthy, built this house for his own use and lived there for at least the following fifteen years until the construction of his last residence, 'White House', at 5 The Strand. Mr Garnsworthy performed a number of large civil contracts throughout the State as part of the firm of Garnsworthy & Smith. These include the first contract for the costly formation of the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes (1883 for £13,328) and the Warrnambool breakwater (1884). Locally, his firm constructed part of the MMBW pumping station and the Melbourne Glass Bottle Works complex, both in Spotswood. Mr Garnsworthy was also on the first 'election' committee for the Williamstown Cottage Hospital after its incorporation in 1893.
  • The Williamstown Hospital (Railway Crescent). The Williamstown Hospital was opened on its present site in 1894. Enlarged and extended many times over the years, only part of the original building still survives and is only partly visible from Stewart Street.
  • Williamstown Croquet Club Pavilion (Victoria Street). Designed by Morsby & Coates and constructed in 1930, the Williamstown Croquet Club pavilion illustrates the development of Victoria Street as a fashionable middle class enclave in Williamstown during the Interwar period.
  • Williamstown Station precinct (Ann and Thompson Streets). The Williamstown railway station building and platform canopy, brick toilet block, timber and corrugated iron shed, platform, the Ann Street footbridge and the Thompson Street road bridge are all listed on the Victorian Heritage Register as it is the only substantially intact station precinct remaining from the original construction period of the Williamstown railway line. Builders Kerr, Hodgson and Billings commenced work on the timber building in 1858. Williamstown railway station is of architectural significance as the second oldest railway station in Victoria to survive relatively intact and as the oldest timber railway station building to survive in the State. The strap-work truss and timber Ann Street footbridge with cast iron step stringers and columns was installed c 1883. The Thompson Street Road Bridge was also part of the initial works on the Williamstown line in the 1850s, and the bluestone construction of the abutments is indicative of the stone quarrying industry already established at Point Gellibrand at that time.
  • Williamstown Mechanics Institute (Electra Street). One of Hobsons Bay's most historic sites, the foundation stone of the present building, originally a Mechanics Institute was laid in 1860. The institute now houses the Williamstown Historic society and a wealth of memorabilia about the local area and its development through the years, in addition to the thriving Williamstown Musical Theatre Company (WMTC) which has a vast history itself and stages various Musicals, Revues and Festivals throughout the year. www.wmtc.org.au
  • Excelsior Lodge of Industry Masonic Temple (Electra Street). Located close to the Mechanics Institute, this single-storey, red brick hall with a symmetrical Classical facade provides a powerful illustration of the importance of Masonic associations in the development of the Williamstown community during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
  • Park House, former Presbyterian Manse (27 Lyons Street). Designed by architect David Ross and built in 1856, this two-storey bluestone Georgian building was purchased in 1886 by Henty Hick and renamed Park House.
  • Former George Hotel (Lyons Street). An original timber building established in 1863 was replaced by the present building in 1872. The first licensee was George Gobal, a local councillor who served as Lord Mayor in 1879–80. The hotel was delicensed in 1927 and became a rooming house until 1978.
  • Former City of Williamstown Municipal Offices and Town Hall (Ferguson Street). The former Williamstown Municipal Offices uses an austere form of Italian and French Renaissance typical of the 1920s in Melbourne, were opened by the State Governor, Sir Arthur Stanley, in May 1919, almost one year after the foundation stone had been laid by the Mayor of Williamstown, Cr C Knowles on 5 June 1918. Following the amalgamation in 1994 of the City Williamstown with the City of Altona (and parts of other municipalities) the majority of municipal and administrative functions were transferred to the civic centre at Civic Parade, Altona. The buildings are currently undergoing restoration.
  • Former Williamstown City Council Electricity Supply Department (Bath Place). A near original example of an Interwar industrial building, the Williamstown City Council Electricity Supply Department building was designed for the Council by architects Frederick Morsby and HF Coates and constructed in 1929. This building in one of only two identified in the municipality that were directly associated with the Electricity Supply Department; the other is a former substation building in Stevedore Street.
  • Former Punshon's Store (Ferguson Street). Designed by C. J. Polain, construction of this General store with cellar and roof garden was completed in 1890.
  • Former Melbourne Savings Bank (Ferguson Street). This building, now a residence and Dive shop, was opened as a branch of the Melbourne Savings Bank on 14 February 1887. It became a branch of the State Savings Bank of Victoria or 'State Bank' in 1912. In 1991 it became a branch of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia until 30 June 1995.
  • The Williamstown Rowing Club (End of Stanley Street, The Strand). Whilst the Rowing Club began in 1869, it did not purchase this site until 1875. The boathouse was added in 1876.
  • Ruffle's Pier (The Strand). Pilot Thomas Ruffle built a stone jetty on the Strand, angled to the shore to reach deep water, sited nearby the present Anchorage Restaurant. His residence, Maxwelton, was located across the road from it. Ruffles advertised a ferry service in September 1856 and 1860, established at North Williamstown, to ply between his pier and Dalgano & Co. wharf, and to service steamers plying the Yarra. Ruffles died after an argument with locals over theft of stone from the pier structure. The wooden upper section of the jetty was removed sometime after his death in 1863 and before the construction of Barber's Pier in 1879.
  • Mandalay (24 The Strand). This two-storey, colonial, Georgian derived style house was erected to the designs of surveyor William Bull in 1858 for ships chandler captain William Probert. Constructed of stuccoed bluestone, Mandalay is representative of the substantial houses which lined Hobsons Bay in the nineteenth century, many with their own piers across The Strand.
  • Craigdoon (14 The Strand). Constructed in 1876–77 for Peter Murray, who sold groceries, wine and spirits at his shop in Nelson Place, three doors west of Ann Street, from the late 1860s. Mr Murray remained in this house until at least 1910, adding five rooms from 1885 onward.
  • William Thomas Liley's House (12 The Strand). This stone house with six rooms was built in 1862 for one of the longest serving pilots on the harbour, William Thomas Liley. He owned the house and resided there until after 1896. John Garnsworthy lived here for a time early this century prior to building the 'White House'.
  • Terrace Houses (10–11 The Strand). These two brick houses, each of six rooms, were built in 1881 for Samuel David Thomas, who had earlier been a successful gold miner and property speculator. He retained ownership of both houses until at least 1896, living in 10 and leasing 11 to various professional gentlemen, including Alex Wilson, an engineer; Richard Dowman, a Councillor; Robert Williams, a contractor; and a sea captain, Walter Vincent.
  • Cast iron fence and gates of Maritimo (8–9 The Strand). On this site in 1885, William H Croker, a local solicitor who specialised in maritime law, built his impressive boom-style towered mansion. He named it 'Maritimo'. It is presumed that the fine cast iron fence was constructed sometime soon after. Maritimo was demolished in 1973, despite a long and concerted battle by local residents and conservation groups to save it, but the early front fence was saved.
  • White House (5 The Strand). Prominent Williamstown builder, John Garnsworthy (by then retired), commissioned this initially seven room stuccoed concrete house in 1907 at a reported cost of £1100. The villa was designed by him and erected under his supervision. The foundations alone cost £200, apparently in a bid to defeat the uncertain footings which had caused severe cracking in most of Williamstown's major masonry buildings. He employed a similar approach in the Modern Buildings.
  • Ferguson Street Pier (Intersection of Nelson Place, The Strand and Ferguson Street). Initially called the Rosny Pier, tenders were called to construct this pier in 1924. Due to a dispute between over jurisdiction, the shoreward bluestone section of the pier was built by the Williamstown City Council, and the seaward end was built by the Melbourne Harbour Trust. In 1965, the Hobsons Bay Yacht Club was granted permission to moor its vessels on the south side of the pier, and has since expanded to occupy both sides of the pier. The pier was reconstructed in 2002/03.
  • Harts boatbuilding yard (Nelson Place near Ferguson Street). Sandwiched between the Ferguson St Pier and The Dredging Depot, it constructed small boats and yachts. The boatyard was offered for sale in 1893, and the land appears to have been purchased by the Hobsons Bay Yacht Club, who still occupy the site.
  • Former Port Health Officer's residence (231 Nelson Place). Listed in the Victorian Heritage Register, this former residence and surgery is a distinctive and important example of a classical Revival town residence. It was built in 1852.
  • Blunts Boatyard and Slipway (Nelson Place). A rare operating example of the many small scale boat-building and repairing businesses which have operated on the Williamstown foreshore from the 1850s on, the Blunt family boat building business has operated continuously on this site in Williamstown since the 1880s. The site is entered in the Victorian Heritage Register.
  • Wlliamstown Navy Sea Cadets depot (Nelson Place, between Pasco and Parker Streets). The White Brothers operated a slipway here from at least 1877. The slipway was built on the northern side of the site, with a jetty the same length to the south. The facility is known to have been still operating in 1894. Substantial land reclamation was undertaken at the site sometime prior to 1907. Early photographs show the long pier still standing on the site in c 1925.
Steam Packet Hotel
  • The Modern Buildings (213–215 Nelson Place). In 1909, on the former site of a timber auction rooms and wood merchant's yard owned by John Morgan, two concrete masonry shops and residences were erected by Williamstown builder John Garnsworthy. His tenants included a boot maker, a boot seller, and a watchmaker. The site is now occupied by Hobson's Choice, a restaurant.
  • Former Advertiser Building (205 Nelson Place). Built between 1885 and 1888 for the proprietors of the Williamstown Advertiser, it served as both a printery for the newspaper and a shipping exchange. The building features a richly decorated facade with a frieze depicting William Caxton.
  • Former Williamstown Post Office (Cole Street). Built in several stages, beginning in 1859 just after the municipality was constituted, the Post Office typified public works design of the period. Extensive alterations transformed the building in 1895.
  • Steam Packet Hotel (corner Aitken and Cole Streets). A two storey Classical Revival structure built in 1863 (to replace an earlier building), the Steam Packet Hotel was first opened in the mid-1850s.


Williamstown Primary School

Primary schools in the area include St. Mary's Primary School, Williamstown Primary School and Williamstown North Primary School.

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.

The Junior School at the Williamstown campus of Westbourne Grammar School is housed in the National Trust classified Victorian mansion "Monomeith" at 67 The Strand.

Places of worship[edit]

St Mary's Catholic Church
  • St Mary's Catholic Church (Cecil Street)
  • St Andrew's Presbyterian Church (Cecil Street).[42]
  • Holy Trinity Anglican Church (Nelson Place). A Gothic Revival style bluestone church constructed to the designs of architect Leonard Terry between 1871 and 1874 to replace an imported prefabricated iron structure erected in the 1850s. It is distinguished by its two roof pitches, large west window, varied window forms and proportions generally. A five bay church with side aisles and nave, it was not erected to its planned size and the projected tower and spire were never built.[43]
  • St John's Uniting Church, formerly Methodist (Electra Street).[44]
  • Williamstown Gospel Mission Church (Electra Street)
  • St Stephen's Uniting Church (179 Melbourne Road)
  • Westgate Vineyard Church (meeting in the former Stevedore Street Uniting Church building) (57 Stevedore Street, east of Douglas Parade). A Gothic Revival style bluestone church designed by architect Joseph Schneider and built c1870. The proportions of the lantern and spire to its base and the detailing of the enframed storey are unusual.[45] Westgate Vineyard Church moved from Yarraville to Williamtown in October 2011 and is part of the Association of Vineyard Churches in Australia
  • Church of Christ (Douglas Parade)

Industry, commerce and tourism[edit]

Former Missions to Seamen building in Nelson Place

Representative of Williamstown's maritime history, large scale maritime industry dominates Williamstown's piers precinct and a maritime theme characterises the Nelson Place tourism precinct.

BAE Systems Australia's Marine division (formerly Tenix) has operated out of Williamstown dockyards for nearly 20 years, during which time it has built Anzac-class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy, and will also conduct completion of the Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Dock ships.[46]

The Nelson Place tourism precinct offers some of Melbourne's best waterfront eateries, many catering for al fresco dining and some with spectacular views of Melbourne's city skyline through the masts of bobbing boats on the foreshore. Also located on Nelson Place is a diverse range of arts, crafts and other speciality shops.

Around the corner from Nelson Place there is a local retail sector operating on Ferguson Street and Douglas Parade. Ferguson Street has a mix of restaurants, cafes, two hotels and a range of retail shops. This mix of small retail businesses extends around the corner into Douglas Parade.

In Williamstown North there remains a rump of railway engineering industry. There is also a light-industrial/commercial park.

Arts, culture, sports and recreation[edit]

Arts and culture[edit]

The Williamstown Festival, held each year in March/April, is the major Community Festival for the Western Region of Melbourne. It celebrates and promotes the unique identity of Williamstown, focusing on its spectacular seaport setting as well as the community's vibrant cultural life.

A number of history tours operate regularly around Williamstown, visiting historic sites, abandoned morgues, cemeteries and hidden laneways.

Now in its seventh year, the Williamstown Literary Festival (held in May) is a popular local cultural event focusing on literature, drama and writing which presents established and emerging writers and literary figures.[47] There is a strong focus on local participation, with the annual Peoples Choice awards showcasing aspiring local writers and poets. The annual Ada Cambridge short story prize gives local scribblers another opportunity to strut their literary stuff and is unique to the West.

A maritime museum is located on board the World War II minesweeping corvette HMAS Castlemaine, which is tied up at Gem Pier adjacent to Commonwealth Reserve.

Williamstown Little Theatre, open since 1946 and located at a converted bakery at 2–4 Albert Street, is one of the leading non-professional theatre companies in Melbourne.[34] The Westside Short Film night is an ongoing monthly event, now in its 6th year.

Williamstown has also been used in a number of Australian television shows including The Henderson Kids II with a number of local landmarks used.

Sports and recreation[edit]

Royal Yacht Club of Victoria
Hobsons Bay Yacht Club (Established in 1888)

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,[48] Royal Yacht Club of Victoria,[49] Hobson's Bay Yacht Club,[50] and Royal Victorian Motor Yacht Club[51] 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.[52] 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[53] and Williamstown Cannons Basketball Club[54] both field many junior teams in the Altona Bay Basketball Association.

Williamstown is also home to a local soccer club, Williamstown SC. Established in 1981, Williamstown SC's home ground is JT Gray Reserve on Kororoit Creek Road. The First and Reserves Teams play in FFV's Men's State League and the Club also has Juniors from 4 year olds upwards and a Masters Team of over 35 year olds. The Club is proud to be the first Victorian Team to fulfil it's pledge to the FFV and VicHealth's anti-racism campaign "Don't Stand By. Stand Up.". The Club also promotes Girls Soccer through The Annual Lightning Cup (a local school initiative for 10-12 year olds)and undertakes at least one event each year for local community outside the Club such as Relay For Life.[55]

Lacrosse, a minor sport in Australia is also popular in Williamstown. Three clubs, the Williamstown Lacrosse Club, Williamstown Women's Lacrosse Club and Newport Ladies Lacrosse club all use the Fearon Reserve as their club house and home field.

For the 1956 Summer Olympics, the city hosted the pistol and rifle portion of the shooting and the shooting part of the modern pentathlon events.[56]

International tennis star Mark Philippoussis grew up in Williamstown. Other notable sports stars who live in the area include Australian Football League players Chris Grant and Rohan Smith both of the Western Bulldogs in the Australian Football League.

The Hobsons Bay Coastal Trail runs through Williamstown and is a very popular trail with recreational users. A section of the trail is used by the Hobsons Bay Running Club for their monthly handicap.

Scouts Australia has a Sea Scout and a Scout group in Williamstown.


Williamstown railway line

Williamstown is serviced by three railway stations: North Williamstown, Williamstown Beach and Williamstown, all on the Williamstown line.

There are three bus routes which connect Williamstown with surrounding suburbs.

The principal road connections from Williamstown are Kororoit Creek Road leading westward toward Altona and two roads which head northward to Newport and Spotswood, namely Douglas Parade and Melbourne Road. The latter connects to central Melbourne via the West Gate Bridge.[57]

Notable residents[edit]

  • The Hon Dr Steve Bracks AC, former Premier of Victoria and former MP for Williamstown


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Australian Bureau of Statistics (31 October 2012). "Williamstown". 2011 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 10 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Waldon, Steve (4 November 2003). "Our cups runneth over". The Age. Retrieved 27 January 2008. 
  3. ^ a b Countrytowns Productions Pty Ltd. "The Artists – Walter Withers". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  4. ^ The Sydney Morning Herald (8 February 2004). "Williamstown". Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  5. ^ Letter from Lonsdale to Bourke 21/10/1836 in The Victorian Historical Magazine vol 11 no 4, June 1927, page 207
  6. ^ The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, 1835 to 1852: Vol1; Garryowen, 1888
  7. ^ a b Hobsons Bay City Council. "History of Hobsons Bay". Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  8. ^ a b City of Hobson's Bay. "Heritage Study: Thematic Environmental History" (PDF). Retrieved 6 February 2008. 
  9. ^ Department for Victorian Communities. "Group VRG 10 – Police". Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  10. ^ State of Victoria. "Victoria Police – Water Police". Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  11. ^ a b "The Williamstown Lighthouse and Time Ball Tower". Lighthouses of Victoria. Lighthouses of Australia Inc. Retrieved 6 February 2008. 
  12. ^ Premier Postal History. "Post Office List". Retrieved 11 April 2008. 
  13. ^ Australian Suburban Newspapers' Association. "A Bit of History". Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  14. ^ Hobsons Bay Leader. "Williamstown hall more open, by design". Retrieved 1 November 2009. 
  15. ^ Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. "Commonwealth heritage places in Victoria". Archived from the original on 18 January 2008. Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  16. ^ http://www.heritage.vic.gov.au/page_239.asp?submit_action=detailed_result&ID=239&KW1=Williamstown&query=e82db8dc6517362a4a25678b00095532/bcf6dbc08a84ccdbca2573da00721681?OpenDocument&Highlight=0,Williamstown
  17. ^ a b "The Point Gellibrand Lightships & Pile Light". Lighthouses of Victoria. Lighthouses of Australia Inc. Retrieved 6 February 2008. 
  18. ^ Picture Victoria. "Williamstown Post Office and Telegraph". Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  19. ^ Hobsons Bay City Council. "Williamstown Mechanics Institute". Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  20. ^ Victorian Football League. "Williamstown Football Club – The Seagulls". Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  21. ^ Last Flag down
  22. ^ Last Flag Down
  23. ^ Department of the Navy. "CSS Shenandoah (1864–1865) – The Seagulls". Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  24. ^ Australian Heritage. "Historical Towns Directory – Williamstown". Retrieved 3 February 2008. 
  25. ^ "3.4.3 Railway Workshops" (PDF). Hobsons Bay Heritage Study – Volume 1b: Thematic Environmental History. Hobsons Bay City Council. October 2003. Retrieved 17 November 2008. 
  26. ^ Australian Heritage. "Alfred Graving Dock". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  27. ^ Williamstown Baptist Church and Beth Tephillah Ministry Centre. "The History of Williamstown Baptist Church 1868 – 2004". Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  28. ^ Williamstown North Primary School. "Williamstown North Primary School – Our School". Archived from the original on 28 August 2007. Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  29. ^ Williamstown CYMS Sports Club. "Williamstown CYMS Sports Club – Home Page". Archived from the original on 29 August 2007. Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  30. ^ Western Health. "The WIlliamstown Hospital". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  31. ^ Williamstown Lacrosse Club. "Williamstown Lacrosse Club – Club History". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  32. ^ Naval Historical Society of Australia. "The Southern Base of the RAN". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  33. ^ Western Health. "The Williamstown Hospital". Retrieved 6 February 2008. 
  34. ^ a b Williamstown Little Theatre. "Williamstown Little Theatre – About Us". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  35. ^ Commonwealth of Australia – Parliamentary Library. "Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia". Archived from the original on 28 November 2007. Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  36. ^ Rotary Club of Williamtown. "Rotary Club of Williamtown – About Us". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  37. ^ Parks Victoria. "Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve". Retrieved 26 April 2008. 
  38. ^ Hobsons Bay City Council. "Commonwealth Reserve, Williamstown". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  39. ^ Australian Heritage. "Morgue (former)". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  40. ^ Parks Victoria. "Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  41. ^ http://www.heritage.vic.gov.au/page_239.asp?submit_action=detailed_result&ID=239&KW1=Williamstown&query=e82db8dc6517362a4a25678b00095532/4ac8ea806ae665a4ca2573da00724146?OpenDocument&Highlight=0,Williamstown
  42. ^ Williamstown Presbyterian Church. "Williamstown Presbyterian Church". Archived from the original on 23 March 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2008. 
  43. ^ Australian Heritage. "Holy Trinity Anglican Church". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  44. ^ Williamstown Uniting Church. "Williamstown Uniting Church". Retrieved 26 April 2008. 
  45. ^ Australian Heritage. "Uniting Church". Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  46. ^ Press release 069/2009 by the Hon. Greg Combet AM MP Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science, Thursday, Amphibious ships official keel laying ceremony, Navantia's shipbuilding yard, Ferrol, Spain, 24 September 2009
  47. ^ Williamstown Literary Festival. "Williamstown Literary Festival". Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  48. ^ Williamstown Sailing Club. "Welcome to Williamstown Sailing Club". Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  49. ^ Royal Yacht Club of Victoria. "Royal Yacht Club of Victoria Home Page". Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  50. ^ Hobson's Bay Yacht Club. "Hobson's Bay Yacht Club Home Page". Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  51. ^ Royal Victorian Motor Yacht Club. "Royal Victorian Motor Yacht Club Home Page". Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  52. ^ Cricket Victoria. "Williamstown Cricket Club". Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  53. ^ PulseTec. "Williamstown Magic Basketball Club". Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  54. ^ Williamstown Cannons Basketball Club. "Williamstown Cannons Basketball Club". Retrieved 2 March 2008. 
  55. ^ http://www.fcwilliamstown.com.au and submission created by Secretary Williamstown SC
  56. ^ 1956 Summer Olympics official report. p. 45.
  57. ^ Melway Greater Melbourne Street Directory (Map) (32 ed.). Melway Publishing. 2005. p. Map 55–56. ISBN 0-909439-06-0. 

External links[edit]