Early history and foundation
Melbourne Landing, 1840; watercolour by W. Liardet
Before the arrival of European settlers, humans had occupied the area for an estimated 31,000 to 40,000 years. At the time of European settlement, it was inhabited by under 2000 hunter-gatherers from three indigenous regional tribes: the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung and Wathaurong. The area was an important meeting place for the clans of the Kulin nation alliance and a vital source of food and water.
The first British settlement in Victoria was established by Colonel David Collins in October 1803, at Sullivan Bay, near present-day Sorrento, but this settlement was relocated to what is now Hobart, Tasmania, in February 1804, due to a perceived lack of resources.
It would be 30 years before another settlement was attempted.
In May and June 1835, the area which is now central and northern Melbourne was explored by John Batman, a leading member of the Port Phillip Association in Van Diemen's Land (now known as Tasmania), who claimed to have negotiated a purchase of 600,000 acres (2,400 km2) with eight Wurundjeri elders. Batman selected a site on the northern bank of the Yarra River, declaring that "this will be the place for a village". Batman then returned to Launceston in Tasmania. In early August 1835 a different group of settlers, including John Pascoe Fawkner, left Launceston on the ship Enterprize. Fawkner was forced to disembark at Georgetown, Tasmania, because of outstanding debts. The remainder of the party continued and arrived at the mouth of the Yarra River on 15 August 1835. On 30 August 1835 the party disembarked and established a settlement at the site of the current Melbourne Immigration Museum. Batman and his group arrived on 2 September 1835 and the two groups ultimately agreed to share the settlement. Initially the settlement had the native name Dootigala.
Batman's Treaty with the Aborigines was annulled by the New South Wales governor (who at the time governed all of eastern mainland Australia), with compensation paid to members of the association. In 1836, Governor Bourke declared the city the administrative capital of the Port Phillip District of New South Wales, and commissioned the first plan for the city, the Hoddle Grid, in 1837. The settlement was named Batmania after Batman. However, later that year the settlement was named "Melbourne" after the British Prime Minister, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, whose seat was Melbourne Hall in the market town of Melbourne, Derbyshire. On 13 April 1837 the settlement's general post office officially opened with that name.
Between 1836 and 1842 Victorian Aboriginal groups were largely dispossessed of their land by European settlers. By January 1844, there were said to be 675 Aborigines resident in squalid camps in Melbourne. The British Colonial Office appointed five Aboriginal Protectors for the Aborigines of Victoria, in 1839, however their work was nullified by a land policy that favoured squatters to take possession of Aboriginal lands. By 1845, fewer than 240 wealthy Europeans held all the pastoral licences then issued in Victoria and became a powerful political and economic force in Victoria for generations to come.
Letters patent of Queen Victoria, issued on 25 June 1847, declared Melbourne a city.
On 1 July 1851 the Port Phillip District became the separate Colony of Victoria, with Melbourne as its capital.
Victorian gold rush
"Canvas Town", South Melbourne in the 1850s depicting temporary accommodation for the thousands who poured into Melbourne each week during the gold rush.
The discovery of gold in Victoria in mid-1851 led to a gold rush, and Melbourne, which served as the major port and provided most services for the region, experienced rapid growth. Within months, the city's population had increased from 25,000 to 40,000 inhabitants. Exponential growth ensued, and by 1865 Melbourne had overtaken Sydney as Australia's most populous city.
An influx of intercolonial and overseas migrants, particularly Irish, German and Chinese, saw the establishment of slums, including a temporary "tent city" on the southern banks of the Yarra. In 1851, Chinese migrants founded Chinatown, which remains the longest continuously-occupied Chinese settlement outside Asia. In the aftermath of the 1854 Eureka Rebellion, mass public-support for the plight of the miners resulted in major political changes to the colony, including improvements in working conditions across mining, agriculture, manufacturing and other local industries. The various nationalities involved in the rebellion give some indication of immigration flows at the time.
With the wealth brought in from the gold rush and the subsequent need for public buildings, a program of grand civic construction soon began. The 1850s and 1860s saw the commencement of Parliament House, the Treasury Building, the Old Melbourne Gaol, Victoria Barracks, the State Library, University of Melbourne, General Post Office, Customs House, the Melbourne Town Hall, St Patrick's cathedral, though many remained uncompleted for decades, with some still not finished as of 2018 .
The layout of the inner suburbs on a largely one-mile grid pattern, cut through by wide radial boulevards and parklands surrounding the central city, was largely establishedRoyal Mint, and (in 1861) Australia's first stock exchange.
In 1855 the Melbourne Cricket Club secured possession of its now famous ground, the MCG. Members of the codified in 1859, and Yarra rowing clubs and "regattas" became popular about the same time. In 1861 the city hosted the first Melbourne Cup race. In 1864 Melbourne acquired its first public monument—the Burke and Wills statue.
in the 1850s and 1860s. These areas rapidly filled with the ubiquitous terrace houses, as well as with detached houses and grand mansions, while some of the major roads developed as shopping streets. Melbourne quickly became a major finance centre, home to several banks, the
With the gold rush largely over by 1860, Melbourne continued to grow on the back of continuing gold-mining, as the major port for exporting the agricultural products of Victoria (especially wool) and with a developing manufacturing sector protected by high tariffs. An extensive radial railway network spread into the countryside from the late 1850s. Construction started on further major public buildings in the 1860s and 1870s, such as the Supreme Court, Government House, and the Queen Victoria Market. The central city filled up with shops and offices, workshops, and warehouses. Large banks and hotels faced the main streets, with fine townhouses in the east end of Collins Street, contrasting with tiny cottages down laneways within the blocks. The Aboriginal population continued to decline, with an estimated 80% total decrease by 1863, due primarily to introduced diseases (particularly smallpox), frontier violence and dispossession of their lands.
Land boom and bust
The decade of the 1880s was one of extraordinary growth, when consumer confidence, easy access to credit, and steep increases in the price of land, led to an enormous amount of construction. This 'land boom' was followed by a severe economic crash in the early 1890s which lasted until the end of the century. During the boom, Melbourne had reputedly become the richest city in the world, and the largest after London in the British Empire.
The decade began with the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880, held in the large purpose-built Exhibition Building. In 1880 a telephone exchange was established and in the same year the foundations of St Paul's, were laid; in 1881 electric light was installed in the Eastern Market, and in the following year a generating station capable of supplying 2,000 incandescent lamps was in operation. In 1885 the first line of the Melbourne cable tramway system was built, becoming one of the world's most extensive systems by 1890.
During a visit in 1885 English journalist George Augustus Henry Sala coined the phrase "Marvellous Melbourne", which stuck long into the twentieth century and is still used today by Melburnians. Growing building activity culminated in a "land boom" which, in 1888, reached a peak of speculative development fuelled by consumer confidence and escalating land value. As a result of the boom, large commercial buildings, coffee palaces, terrace housing and palatial mansions proliferated in the city. The establishment of a hydraulic facility in 1887 allowed for the local manufacture of elevators, resulting in the first construction of high-rise buildings; most notably the APA Building, amongst the world's tallest commercial buildings upon completion in 1889. This period also saw the expansion of a major radial rail-based transport network.
In 1888, the Exhibition Building hosted a second event even larger than the first, the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, spurring construction of numerous hotels including the 500 room Federal Hotel, The Palace Hotel in Bourke Street (both since demolished), and the doubling in size of the Grand (Windsor).
A brash boosterism that had typified Melbourne during this time ended in the early 1890s with a severe depression of the city's economy, sending the local finance and property industries into a period of chaos during which 16 small "land banks" and building societies collapsed, and 133 limited companies went into liquidation. The Melbourne financial crisis was a contributing factor in the Australian economic depression of the 1890s and the Australian banking crisis of 1893. The effects of the depression on the city were profound, with virtually no new construction until the late 1890s.
De facto Capital of Australia
At the time of Australia's federation on 1 January 1901, Melbourne became the seat of government of the federation. The first federal parliament was convened on 9 May 1901 in the Royal Exhibition Building, subsequently moving to the Victorian Parliament House where it was located until 1927, when it was moved to Canberra. The Governor-General of Australia resided at Government House in Melbourne until 1930 and many major national institutions remained in Melbourne well into the twentieth century.
In the immediate years after World War II, Melbourne expanded rapidly, its growth boosted by post-war immigration to Australia, primarily from Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. While the "Paris End" of Collins Street began Melbourne's boutique shopping and open air cafe cultures, the city centre was seen by many as stale—the dreary domain of office workers—something expressed by John Brack in his famous painting Collins St., 5 pm (1955).
, a symbol of progress and modernity in post-war Melbourne
Height limits in the Melbourne CBD were lifted in 1958, after the construction of ICI House, transforming the city's skyline with the introduction of skyscrapers. Suburban expansion then intensified, served by new indoor malls beginning with Chadstone Shopping Centre. The post-war period also saw a major renewal of the CBD and St Kilda Road which significantly modernised the city. New fire regulations and redevelopment saw most of the taller pre-war CBD buildings either demolished or partially retained through a policy of facadism. Many of the larger suburban mansions from the boom era were also either demolished or subdivided.
To counter the trend towards low-density suburban residential growth, the government began a series of controversial public housing projects in the inner city by the Housing Commission of Victoria, which resulted in demolition of many neighbourhoods and a proliferation of high-rise towers. In later years, with the rapid rise of motor vehicle ownership, the investment in freeway and highway developments greatly accelerated the outward suburban sprawl and declining inner city population. The Bolte government sought to rapidly accelerate the modernisation of Melbourne. Major road projects including the remodelling of St Kilda Junction, the widening of Hoddle Street and then the extensive 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan changed the face of the city into a car-dominated environment.
Australia's financial and mining booms during 1969 and 1970 resulted in establishment of the headquarters of many major companies (BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, among others) in the city. Nauru's then booming economy resulted in several ambitious investments in Melbourne, such as Nauru House. Melbourne remained Australia's main business and financial centre until the late 1970s, when it began to lose this primacy to Sydney.
Melbourne experienced an economic downturn between 1989 and 1992, following the collapse of several local financial institutions. In 1992, the newly elected Kennett government began a campaign to revive the economy with an aggressive development campaign of public works coupled with the promotion of the city as a tourist destination with a focus on major events and sports tourism. During this period the Australian Grand Prix moved to Melbourne from Adelaide. Major projects included the construction of a new facility for the Melbourne Museum, Federation Square, the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre, Crown Casino and the CityLink tollway. Other strategies included the privatisation of some of Melbourne's services, including power and public transport, and a reduction in funding to public services such as health, education and public transport infrastructure.
Since the mid-1990s, Melbourne has maintained significant population and employment growth. There has been substantial international investment in the city's industries and property market. Major inner-city urban renewal has occurred in areas such as Southbank, Port Melbourne, Melbourne Docklands and more recently, South Wharf. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Melbourne sustained the highest population increase and economic growth rate of any Australian capital city in the three years ended June 2004. These factors have led to population growth and further suburban expansion through the 2000s.
From 2006, the growth of the city extended into "green wedges" and beyond the city's urban growth boundary. Predictions of the city's population reaching 5 million people pushed the state government to review the growth boundary in 2008 as part of its Melbourne @ Five Million strategy. In 2009, Melbourne was less affected by the late-2000s financial crisis in comparison to other Australian cities. At this time, more new jobs were created in Melbourne than any other Australian city—almost as many as the next two fastest growing cities, Brisbane and Perth, combined, and Melbourne's property market remained highly priced, resulting in historically high property prices and widespread rent increases.