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(3016, 8 km SW, Hobsons Bay City)

A residential suburb located on a peninsula at the mouth of the Yarra River, Williamstown is bounded by Hobsons Bay to the north and Altona Bay to the south. When Governor Bourke inspected the embryonic settlement at Port Phillip Bay in May 1837, he ordered surveyors to lay out two towns. Melbourne was to be named after Britain's Prime Minister, while Williamstown, with its deep harbour and port facilities, was to be named after the reigning monarch, King William IV.

Before the construction of a landing pier and wooden lighthouse in 1839, new arrivals had to wade ashore. Construction of Gem Pier, once known as 'The Jetty', commenced in 1839 but was not completed until 1847. A naval dockyard formally known as the Alfred Graving Dock and State shipbuilding yard was completed in 1874. Its dry dock facility, reputedly the largest in the southern hemisphere, was one of the most expensive infrastructure projects undertaken by the Victorian colonial government.

In the 1850s a number of penal hulks were anchored in Hobsons Bay to house the overflow of prisoners produced by the gold rush. Two prisoners who served time on the hulk Success were the bushrangers Captain Melville and Dan 'Mad Dog' Morgan. On 26 March 1857 John Price, Inspector-General of penal institutions, was battered to death by convicts following a prisoner mutiny. Convict labour from the hulks was used to build the harbour breakwater while the prison hulk Deborah was used as a reformatory school for children from 1864.

A stockade was built on shore in 1853 and a gun battery and observatory erected in 1854. Australia's first telegraph connected Melbourne and Williamstown, whose transformation from seedy maritime village into a substantial settlement was confirmed when it was declared a separate municipality in 1856. The streets had been sealed, kerbed and widened and many substantial buildings had been erected. A single-storey bluestone structure, currently in Anne Street, is one of the State's earliest morgues, originally located close to Gem Pier and moved several times before reaching its present location. Other historic sites include the Time Ball Tower located opposite the beach in Nelson Place; the Tide Water Gauge House; Fort Gellibrand, developed between 1860 and 1990 and restored in the 1990s; and the Williamstown Botanic Gardens. A new customs house was built in 1873, the year a steam ferry at Newport was established by the local council. The borough of Williamstown was declared a town in 1886 and a city, incorporating Spotswood and Newport, in 1919.

Access to southern and eastern suburbs and the city centre, previously provided by ferry services across the Yarra, was markedly improved with the completion of the West Gate Bridge in 1978. Williamstown underwent a residential renaissance, its historic housing proving attractive to renovators, while in the 1990s a large number of houses was built on the decommissioned Williamstown Rifle Range. Williamstown's population peaked at 30 606 in 1961, and has fallen since, although the number of private dwellings has increased.

Apart from the Newport Power Station, built amid controversy over its environmental impact near the western end of the West Gate Bridge in the late 1970s, Williamstown's shoreline with its piers and recreational sailing facilities, has remained much the same from 1900 to the present and its historical maritime precincts and restaurant and café strip in Nelson Place make the town a popular destination for tourists and day-trippers. On 22 June 1994 Williamstown was amalgamated with Altona and parts of Footscray and Werribee to form the City of Hobsons Bay.

Peter Christiansen

Strahan, Lynne, At the edge of the centre: A history of Williamstown, Hargreen Publishing, Melbourne, 1994. Details