The history of Victoria

Indigenous history

Before the arrival of Europeans, Victoria was home to over 30 Indigenous language groups. These language groups were each made up of many communities such as the Wemba Wemba, Yorta Yorta, the Gunai Kurnai (from the Gippsland area) and the Kulin Nation (of central Victoria).

Aboriginal people in Victoria used rock, bark, wood and sand as mediums for painting, carving and drawing. Rock art records dreaming stories, depicting humans, animals and other designs. Art was, and still is, important to Aboriginal life in Victoria.

European arrival

The Englishman Lieutenant David Collins first arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788. The First Fleet was made up of 11 ships carrying British convicts and their officers. After returning to England for a time, Lieutenant Collins ventured to the Port Phillip district (present-day Victoria) in 1803, where he attempted to settle a new penal colony. The free settlers and the marines were not happy with this location, so Victoria was abandoned and Lieutenant Collins moved on. Eventually, in 1804, he settled instead in Hobart, Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land).

Members of the Henty family were the first European settlers to settle in Victoria, arriving in Portland Bay in 1834. They had previously settled in Western Australia and Tasmania, but after unsuccessful attempts at farming they moved to Victoria.

Although the Henty family were certainly the first settlers in the Victorian countryside, it is arguable whether it was John Batman or John Pascoe Fawkner who settled Melbourne. John Batman arrived in Port Phillip in 1835 and sought out the local Indigenous leaders in an attempt to buy their land. John Fawkner’s ship arrived in Port Phillip three days before his rival, although he himself was held up in Launceston. Fawkner eventually established Melbourne’s first pub, hotel and newspaper.

The first immigrant ship arrived in Port Phillip in 1839; and in 1851 Victoria separated from New South Wales. During the 1850s gold was discovered in Victoria creating a gold frenzy. The Gold Rush brought large numbers of settlers to Victoria hoping to make their fortune. Instead they were met by the often horrible conditions in the goldfields where, for most, gold and wealth were more myth than reality.

Victoria by numbers*

  • The total population of Victoria is 6,244,200.
  • Melbourne (the capital city of Victoria) has an estimated population of about 4.67 million people.
  • 49.2 percent of Victorians are male and 50.8 percent are female.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders account for 0.8 percent of the Victorian population.
  • The top five ancestries for people in Victoria are: English, Australian, Irish, Scottish and Chinese.
  • The top five languages (other than English) spoken in Victoria are: Mandarin, Italian, Greek, Vietnamese and Arabic.
  • The top five countries of birth (other than Australia) for people in Victoria are: England, India, China, New Zealand, and Vietnam.
  • Victoria has a total area of 227,416 km2 which accounts for 3 percent of Australia’s total land mass, and makes it the smallest mainland state.
  • Victoria’s coastline is 1800 km long and borders Bass Strait, the body of water that separates the mainland from Tasmania.