The Portsea Camp

Site History

The Boonerwrung people – 40,000 years

The Boonerwrung people were the original inhabitants of Portsea, until the arrival of Europeans residing at the southern end of the Mornington Peninsula. There remain today many middens along the shoreline. In recognition of the presence of the Boonerwrung people, the camp sought out a local aboriginal artist, Bea Edwards, to paint a mural alongside the camp’s main drive. Over 80 metres long by 2.5 metres high, it depicts local plants, birds, sea creatures and land animals. Brilliantly coloured and painted, the mural helps to remind us of Australia ‘s first people and the need for reconciliation.

Early European arrival – 1802

Europeans arrived in the area in 1802 with the first white settlement being built at Sullivan’s Bay, approximately 6 kilometers from the camp in 1803. A large stone statue of Captain Matthew Flinders R.N. is positioned prominently at the camp. Early movement of Europeans to the area was slow with the first permanent residents fishing the abundant waters at the head of Port Phillip Bay and transporting their catch to Melbourne

By the mid 1880’s things were changing. Portsea began to attract weekend holiday makers as ferries from the city arrived at Sorrento pier. Passengers made their way up the hill to the growing village of Sorrento , now the popular home to many galleries and coffee shops, and a cinema.

The camp’s first permanent structure – 1870

The northern edge of the site of the Portsea Camp, Point Franklin, was well known as the home of the Scotsman, John Watson. A somewhat garrulous man, who had migrated from Scotland , he built a small fishing hut just off the Point. Local holiday makers were never impressed by the structure which, they felt, disturbed the view and the ambience of the nearby bathing boxes.

Over the next few years John Watson’s brothers arrived from Scotland and by about 1873 the family had built a small limestone house on the beach.

Contrary to common perception, the ‘Commandant’s house’ (which predates all military structures) is believed to have been built as a holiday house by Frederick John Rose, who established the School for the Deaf in St Kilda Rd. Rose acquired the current site of the house on 1st February 1877 from a Charlotte Phipps who acquired the flat upper area of the camp in March 1874 from the initial Crown Grant recipient and first owner of any of the camp’s area, a James Ford.

The Russians are coming, better build a fort – 1885

By 1885 the fear of war with Russia had increased and the Victorian Government compulsorily acquired the three allotments that make up the camp from John Watson (fort area), Andrew Tobin (oval area), Frederick Rose (the house area) and Charlotte Phipps (Parade Ground area) for a Barracks and gun emplacement. Watson’s land was first to be go into Queen Victoria’s hands in April 1885, followed by the oval area in 1889 and upper areas in mid-1890.

Suspicious vessels entering the Bay and heading towards the city were held over in the sheltered deep water to the camp’s west for examination. Any vessel trying to make a dash past would have the largest gun in Victoria still pounding them with mortar up to 10 kilometers away. The gun that was constructed on Point Franklin was not only 10 inches wide but it was also hidden, only being raised to fire and recoiling back behind the structure of the fort.

With changes in defense strategies, Fort Franklin became obsolete and the guns were removed and sold off as scrap. During the Second World War the site was used as an army base and hospice.

Nepean Historical Society

Fort Franklin – Portsea page 1

Fort Franklin – Portsea page 2

Fort Franklin – Portsea page 3

Fort Franklin – Portsea page 4

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