This body was formed in 1877 to improve facilities for shipping. Restricted berthing space and the shallow and tortuous course of the Yarra River meant smaller craft only could approach the city from Port Phillip Bay. Larger vessels moored at Hobsons Bay. Early improvement envisioned a ship canal, river works and docks at West Melbourne. The problem was who should undertake such works, and at whose expense. The Melbourne Chamber of Commerce advocated a trust like those on the Thames (London), the Mersey (Liverpool) and, especially, the Clyde, the latter run by Glasgow's leading merchants. Rival localities opposed the measure. Williamstown's member of parliament, Alfred Clark, warned that if ships were to be taken up the river then 'grass will grow on the piers and streets of Williamstown'.
The Trust reflected Melbourne mercantile interests and faced a hostile incoming administration and political deadlock involving the two houses of parliament. British engineer, Sir John Coode, was commissioned, but not until 1883 when a coalition government united opposing groups, did his planned works proceed. The Yarra was deepened and cleared of obstructions, and in 1886 the Coode Canal was formed, straightening the river's meandering lower course. By the 1890s an extensive program of public works was underway, including Victoria Dock (1891), the draining of Sandridge Lagoon and a deep-water channel to Port Melbourne.
In the 20th century the Harbor Trust oversaw the development of the Port of Melbourne. The Trust's membership was reduced to five in 1913, with representatives from the chambers of Agriculture and Commerce, exporters and ship owners, dispensing with those from municipal government. By 1927 the Trust employed more than 1000 men and ran the eighth largest deep-water port in the British Empire. After 1945 new facilities were developed downstream, including Appleton (1956), Webb (1960) and Swanson (1969) docks. In 1978 the Trust was reconstituted as the Port of Melbourne Authority. Subsequent restructuring in 1997 saw the Melbourne Port Corporation take over property and assets, the Victorian Channels Authority berthing responsibilities, and Melbourne Port Services privatised and put out to tender.