History of Warrnambool

Brief History of Warrnambool

It has been estimated that there were 3,500 aborigines in the Western District in the 1840s. Today some descendants of these people still live in our area.
Nicholas Baudin, the French scientist and navigator, sailing in the Geographe, was credited with being the first European to sight Warrnambool Bay. He marked the landmarks on his charts that are today named Tower Hill and Point Pickering but made no attempt to land. Sealers and whalers trawling along the coast were reported to have landed in Warrnambool Bay in the 1830s but none stayed for any length of time.
In 1836 Major Mitchell, the explorer, reported in Sydney after his expedition to western Victoria that it was 'ready for the immediate occupation by civilised man'. Following this the first settlers moved into the Warrnambool area. In the late 1830s the Bolden and Allan brothers occupied, respectively, the western and eastern sides of the Hopkins River near its mouth and they were followed by such pioneers as Thomas Manifold at Grasmere, Henry Foster and Thomas Strong on St Mary's, Mark Nicholson on Falls of Hopkins and others. These early settlers agitated for a port to be established and Superintendent La Trobe of Melbourne, after visiting the area a number of times, allocated 250 acres of land for a town to be named Warrnambool. The meaning of the aboriginal name is not clear but it comes from Mt Warrnambool which is east of the present city. William Pickering surveyed the new town in 1846, and named the streets in the original 250-acre grid. The first land sales took place in Melbourne in July 1847 and today this event is regarded as the birth of our city.
Early in its history the local limestone was extracted for building purposes and this industry continued for over 80 years. The first building erected in the town was the Warrnambool Hotel at the north-east corner of Banyan and Merri Streets intersection; early public works included the road cutting through Flagstaff Hill near this corner and the diversion of the Merri River between Levy's Point and its mouth to reclaim the swamp land. In the later 1800s the Port of Warrnambool was a very busy place with the creation of two jetties serving regular coastal traffic for both passengers and cargo. The chief exports were wool, wheat, potatoes and, later in the century, dairy products. The 1880s were a boom time with the presence of several resident architects transforming the face of the town with the new buildings featuring bay windows, protective verandahs with iron lace adornments and carved barge-boards. Many of these buildings, both residential and commercial, survive today. The year 1890 saw the completion of the Breakwater thirteen years after construction began, the coming of the railway and the building of the ambitious Ozone Coffee Palace (sadly burned down in 1929). By the early 20th century Warrnambool was confirmed as a major market town and the centre of burgeoning industries with the establishment of the Nestles Factory at Dennington (now Fonterra), the Warrnambool Cheese & Butter Factory, the Warrnambool Woollen Mill and, after World War 11, the Fletcher Jones and staff. The influence of the port had already waned with the advent of the railways and the port was officially closed in 1942.
Today, despite the demise of the Woollen Mills and Fletcher Jones Factory complex, Warrnambool is the prosperous centre of an internationally-important dairy industry. Education and health care have become of major importance and such tourist drawcards as the coastal scenery, the local beaches, the winter whale season, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, the May Racing Carnival, Premier Speed Way, the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycle Race and the Fun4Kids Festival, ensure that Warrnambool is a fine city to visit. It is also a great place for the permanent residents.