Early History and Settlement
The first people to inhabit Altona were the Aborigines of the Bunuron Tribe — they were coast dwellers and had lived here since about 3,000 B.C. The locality was ideal because of the abundance of game in the swamps and the bay. With the coming of European settlement these people, having no resistance to European diseases such as measles, mumps, etc., died out soon after.
Following the explorers, Matthew Flinders (who first gazed over the plains that were to be Altona, from the You Yangs 1/5/1802) and Lieut. Grimes (whose party visited the future Altona in 1803), J. Batman arrived in 1835, bartered 600,000 acres of land, which included all of Altona, from the natives, and with J. P. Fawkner founded Melbourne.
Altona had its first settler soon after in Alfred Langhorne, a nephew of Captain Lonsdale, who, after obtaining a pastoral lease of 248 acres from the N.S.W. Government in 1836 (Victoria was part of N.S.W. until 1851) settled there by 1842 and built the first portion of the “Homestead” in what is now Queen Street, Altona. The area was known as Laverton. This homestead first appears on a map of 1842.
From “Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip” we learn that Alfred Langhorne was born in 1817, travelled overland (presumably from the Sydney area) to Dandenong in 1836, and was overseer for Captain Lonsdale in 1838. He married (Sarah) the same year, then settled at Altona. The pastoral lease was Laverton (Truganina).
A Robert William Wrede selected 125 acres of land in the area now known as Seaholme, and maps show a building there, but little is known about this.
Soon after settling, Langhorne leased large areas of land, so that by 1849 he held 12,488 acres, or 19 1/2 square miles. He bought his first block of 40 acres in 1850 for £176 ($352). Over the succeeding years he purchased more land, including Wrede’s block, so that at his death in 1874 he owned about four square miles.
Over the years the “Homestead” was enlarged, so that by the turn of the century it had assumed its present size, with out-buildings since demolished. It seems also that the Homestead was probably known as “Altona” at least as early as 1861, possibly because of the German ancestry of the Langhorne family, dating back to the days of Oliver Cromwell in the 1 600’s, when the family emigrated to England.
Other settlers followed Langhorne to Altona. They were:— WILLIAM CHERRY in 1844-5 who probably leased the area which contains the lake that bears the family name. From 1855-66 he bought large areas of land that are now Brooklyn, Altona North and East. His holdings at this time were about 3,678 acres. On his death the land was apportioned to his three sons. JAMES lived in the Brooklyn area in “Brooklyn Lodge” WILLIAM Jnr. took the centre section and resided in “Kororoit Park”, the original home, whilst ROBERT lived at “Seaford”, just north of Cherry Lake.
The site of “Brooklyn Lodge” is unknown. “Kororoit Park”, later owned by Mr. Grieve, was near the present BP Depot, but is now only ruins. “Seaford” has also gone. Mr. T. E. Lempriere resided there at the turn of the century, and it was later known as Rowdon’s Dairy Farm.
DAVID ROSS is first heard of as holding land in the Wyndham (Werribee) area in 1844-45. In 1850 he purchased 112 acres near the former S.E.C. briquette depot in Altona North for £1 ($2) per acre. His Homestead”Hatherley” was situated west of the swamp in the depot ground, but nothing now remains.
E. Blackshaw lived at the west end of the road that now bears his name, whilst a Cornelius Welton lived further east along this road. These last two were in residence at least in the 1880’s.
The sources of income of all these early settlers were mainly from dairy cattle, sheep, oats, pigs and fowls.
After Langhorne’s death in 1874 his property passed into the hands of J. J. Phelps. In 1885 land sub-division began around the future Altona. In that year Epsom Estates in the vicinity of the racecourse was thrown open for housing development.
In the west in 1886, Laverton township and estate were founded, and a railway station built. These sales were moderately successful.
Before we pass on to the next phase of Altona’s development, let us pause and see what the future Altona looked like in 1887 . . .
The sanatorium near the racecourse, catering for smallpox victims, is situated just south of the Newport-Geelong line, which serves the new town of Laverton in the west. South of this is the very popular Williamstown Race course owned by a prosperous racing club. Westwards and north of a large swamp, the homestead “Seaford” stands, occupied by Robert Cherry, a Councillor of the Shire of Wyndham (Werribee). South of this swamp and fronting onto Laverton beach is the property and homestead “Altona” owned by Joseph Phelps. This place is popular for picnics from Williamstown.
A couple of fishing craft owned by Williamstown residents lie on the beach. Opposite the sanatorium, north of the Geelong railway line is David Ross’s home “Hatherley”, whilst further north Blackshaw and Welton own properties. Westwards, Mr. Leake at Skeleton Creek has a farm.
This area is known as Wyndham and Laverton Beach and is quite rural in appearance.
Altona’s First Boom
In 1887 Mr. A. T. Clark, a Williamstown businessman, bought “Altona” for sub-division, and formed “The Altona and Laverton Freehold and Investment Co. Ltd.” with capital of £200,000 ($400,000). After laying water mains and signing a contract to build a railway to the Estate, this company sold out to a six-man syndicate in 1888 for £180,300 ($360,600). This group formed “The Altona Bay Estate Co. Ltd.” with capital of £300,000 ($600,000).
The Syndicate included:—
JOHN BLYTH, Merchant and first Commissioner of the Harbour Trust.
JAMES SEVES HOSIE, Gentleman, made his fortune in “The Meat Pie” and Hosie’s Hotel in Melbourne.
DAVID MUNRO, Manufacturer. He built the Altona railway and some of the bridges that span the Yarra in Melbourne today.
HENRY UPTON ALCOCK — the man who made the famous billiard tables.
WILLIAM H. PERYMAN, Auctioneer.
ROSS K. MACARTNEY, a timber merchant.
The Syndicate built a railway to Pier Street, a pier 1,300 ft. long, and laid out the area from Victoria Street (now Millers Road) to Lily Street (now Grieve Parade). Nellie Street (now Civic Parade) was the northern boundary.
This area was called “Altona” after the property, thus Altona township was founded. The first block of land sold was immediately to the left of the photographer of this photo of the Altona Pier about 1920.
Sales of land commenced on 8th September, 1888, with special trains and boats bringing over 3,000 persons to the venue. Land sold for up to £13 ($26) per foot (frontage). Sales were held on successive Saturdays in September, October and November and were successful, but the prevailing land boom burst and Altona’s development stagnated.
All Altona line passenger trains were cancelled after the 14th August, 1890.
Altona’s Second Boom and Civic Life Birth
In 1917 another attempt was made to develop land as residential by the Altona Beach Estates Ltd. To this end they re-introduced a steam passenger service on the Newport to Altona railway on 1st December, 1917.
The Company was successful in its land sales until about 1927. During this period (1915-30) civic life awakened with a Progress Association and school (1916), churches, a Life Saving Club, etc., being formed. Electricity came in 1924, and an adequate water supply and direct representation on the Werribee Council in 1928.
Seaholme suburb and station came into existence in 1921, and land sales in this area were also successful. Altona’s second boom grew to a close in the late 1920’s as another depression set in. The population grew in this boom period from 50 persons in 15 dwellings to 1,722 persons in 403 dwellings in 1933.
Very little secondary industry existed in Altona prior to 1920 apart from a couple of quarries. A brick and tiles works was established near Rose Street for approximately 18 months about 1920. Some shops and houses in Altona built of these materials still stand.
In 1923 the Commonwealth Oil Refineries (now British Petroleum) established a small Refinery north of the Geelong railway. A few other industries commenced in the years prior to World War II, but it has only been since then that industrial development has increased and caused the rapid growth of Altona.