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Captain Lonsdale’s Census of Port Phillip 1836








The romantic story of Port Phillip settlement remains unique in the history of British colonisation. Through an extraordinary sequence of events a group of law-abiding British flockmasters, owners of approximately 42,000 sheep, 200 cattle, and some horses, forced the Crown to regard untenanted bush lands as legally constituted grazing areas and still more extraordinary to proclaim a few scattered sod and slab huts, built on the banks of a river, and tenanted by less than 200 people, the nucleus of a city, the city of Melbourne, which has now in less than a century a population of more than one million. The Government in Sydney warned the flock masters off the lands describing them in the Government “Gazette” as ” trespassers.” The Tasmanian and Australasiatic Review, ” March 13, 1836, was filled with gloomy foreshadowings. Escaped convicts would occupy Port Phillip, find it a “city of refuge” and the place would become a “den of thieves.” The “Review” was partly correct in its surmises. The aborigines, sole surviving primitives of the neolithic age, with a child’s instinctive dramatic feeling brought to the settlement the gunshot bodies of two of their murdered women. With them also were five of their gins, who had been wounded, and otherwise ill used, by men engaged in the bush collecting wattle bark for shipment to Launceston.


The blacks begged for justice. They were given a Government proclamation stating that men guilty of offences against the aborigines (their number was estimated at 800) of the southern most parts of New Holland would be sent to Sydney for trial before the Supreme Court. Since aborigines were not allowed to speak or to tender evidence in court, the blind goddess Justice was unable to hear their side of the story. Only the white man reached her ears with his loud voiced tale. An old record, beginning in December 2, 1841, lies before me, wherein at different times nine men were charged with murder of aborigines at Portland, Lake Hindmarsh, Muston’s Creek, near Hexham and other place. At every trial save one the accused white man was found “not guilty.” In the case of the ninth he received two months’ imprisonment on February 23, 1848. Obviously since that was the state of Port Phillip after 12 years of civilisation’s veneer, the Port Phillip district in the year 1836 must have needed policing without any delay to enable the authorities in Sydney to act with judgment they required official information regarding the settlement and to obtain such data they sent in May of the same year George Stewart, a police magistrate stationed at Goulburn, to make a special report.


Captain Lonsdale’s Census.


Stewart’s summary showed that 177 people were settled at Port Phillip, namely, 142 men and 35 women. Stewart calculated that £80,000 would buy every interest in the straggling place. The value of the dwellings had very little to do with his extraordinarily high estimate of values, since they consisted only of three weatherboard dwellings, two slab huts, and eight huts built of turf. Stewart did not give the number of tents. The tally of sheep was 26,500, cattle mustered 100, and horses numbered 57. Following the receipt of Stewart’s report there came into this more or less lawless environment Captian William Lonsdale, who had been appointed police magistrate for the Port Phillip District by Governor Bourke on September 9, 1836, at an annual salary of £250. He arrived at Port Phillip on September 29 in H.M.S. Rattlesnake. Biographically little is known of Captain Lonsdale beyond his official career in the colonies, which ended after he had attained the position of the first Colonial Secretary of Victoria in July, 1853. He begin his career as a lieutenant in the 4th King’s Own Regiment, and he first saw Sydney on December 4, 1831, when he was an officer of the guard of the convict ship Bussorah Merchant. He died in London, aged 68 years, on March 28, 1864, Lonsdale street, and Mount Martha, named after his wife, who was the youngest daughter of B. Smith, of Launceston, are two Victorian place names associated with his memory.


One of Lonsdale’s first administrative acts was to have a census of the inhabitants of the settlement compiled. The work was entrusted to Constable James Dwyer, one of the three constables at Port Phillip. Dwyer was engaged on the census work from October 27 to November 9, 1836. He received £3/10/ for his services, which money was an addition to his wages as a policeman of 2/3 a day, supplemented with a military ration. His superior officer, the first district constable, Robert Day, received in wages only 3/ a day. These constables came to the settlement on October 5 in the brig Stirlingshire. In the brig was the “Government Establishment” of Port Phillip Settlement, namely, the officers of the Customs, R. S. Webb and J. Macnamara, assistant surveyors, Robert Russell, F. R. D’Arcy, and W. W. Darke; commissariat officer, Skene, Craig and Ensign King, with a detachment of 4th Regiment and 30 convicts. Tools and building material for Government offices formed a portion of the brig’s cargo. The convicts were to be employed in forming the newly surveyed streets of Melbourne, in building, and on other works. From the original paper, “New South Wales, Census of the Year 1836. Abstract of the returns of the population at Port Phillip,” I have copied the names of the settlers. According to Dwyer’s enumeration, the settlers in Port Phillip numbered 43. The addition of their families and servants increased the total to 224. Men numbered 178, boys 8, women 23, girls 12. Lonsdale supplemented these figures when he wrote to Sir Richard Bourke. In view of the constant arrival of new settlers, which he reported as being 50 to date, together with the numbers on the “Government Establishment,” the sum total of residents at the settlement was increased in November, 1836, to 364.


Roll of the Pioneers.


In view of the approaching centenary, the publication of the available names of these first pioneers will probably be of interest to their descendants and to others. The figures indicate the number of persons in the family group:-


William Winberry, 2;


John Batman, 13;


John Hyland, 2;


Michael Leonard, 1;


James Gilbert, 2;


Henry Batman, 4;


James Ross, 2;


William Diprose, 1;


C. L. J. de Villiers, 2;


George Scarborough, 1;


George Slater, 3;


George Smith, 4;


Michael Carr, 4;


George Goodman 2;


James Newman, 1;


Oliver Adams, 3;


Alexander Thomson, 8;


Sam Smart, 2;


George McKillop, 5;


Thomas Hood, 4;


Barry Cotter, 12;


Kenith Clarke, 3;


John Wood, 5;


Charles Wedge, 9;


John C. Darke, 5;


D. R. Mollison, 4;


Thomas Roadknight, 7;


Charles Swanston, 6;


Thomas Manifold, 4;


John Malcolm, 6;


David Stead, 10;


E. D.  Ferguson, 7;


George Evans, 3;


George Stewart, 2;


John Aitken, 4;


Hutton and Brown, 3;


Richard Brodie, 4;


John Brock, 4;


William George Sams, 4;


Richard Cook, 4;


David Barclay, 1;


William Buckley, 1.


Buckley was the “wild white man” who for a short period, was paid £60 a year as an interpreter of the aborigines. Names appear in this list which have “never been listed” in current histories of Victoria, though their owners bore the burden of the adventure equally with those whose names recur in Victorian records. No adequate attempt has been made, so far as I know to identify the first 23 women pioneers in the settlement — those forgotten wives of “the rude forefathers of the hamlet.” Some of them are known to students, of course, such as Mrs. Batman, Mrs. Gilbert, Mrs. Lancey, and Mrs. Louisa Humphries, born in London in 1813. Mrs. Humphries lived to tell in her 92nd year her story of Port Phillip, wherein she arrived with two children on September 14, 1837. She saw John Batman, crippled and sick, being wheeled about the settlement in an invalid’s chair. Mrs. Humphries’s husband worked for Fawkner as a bricklayer. Information regarding some of these women may yet be forthcoming from their descendants. Messrs R. V. Billis and A. S. Kenyon have recorded the names of the better-known women pioneers, some of whom held pastoral licences, in their informative book “Pastures New.” The Lonsdale census of residents at Port Phillip has notable omissions, but these gaps occurred to the nomadic habits of the settlers.



  1. Pioneers of Port Phillip; The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) 13 August 1932: 9.
  2. Settlement at Port Phillip, from Scots Hotel (1836/37); Robert Russell (1808-1900); Courtesy State Library Victoria