Early history of Victor Harbor


The area of Victor Harbor was populated by the Ramindjeri people who hunted and
gathered in the region they called ‘Wirramulla’.for thousand of years prior to
European settlement. The fertile lands supported huge animal populations while the
waters were sheltered and rich with life.
Granite Island (Kaiki) the indigenous name had a great spiritual significance as does
the southern right whale, with the local aboriginal population.
The first non-indigenous inhabitants of the area were fishermen, whalers and
sealers, seeking an easy catch. Some were to jump ship and settle in the area.
Ridgway William Newland, a Congregational clergyman from the south of England,
led the first true party of settlers to Encounter Bay in July 1839. The group comprised
his family, some relations and friends along with several skilled farm workers and
their families.
Newland obtained letters of introduction to Governor George Gawler from Lord
Glenelg, Secretary of State for the Colonies. Gawler told Newland that the village of
Adelaide was becoming overcrowded, that most of the nearby land had been taken
up and splendid land was available at Encounter Bay for only one pound an acre.
In 1839 Newland took his advice and transported the first 30 settlers to the area who
arrived on the Lord Hobart and established a settlement at Yilki.

Whaling stations continued trading until around the mid-1860s, but bigger profits
were to be had from boats carrying wheat and wool down the Murray River to the
port of Goolwa. Since Goolwa was unsuitable for ships, a 12km railway was
built to connect with Port Elliot in 1854 creating Australia’s first public
railway. But Port Elliot was also found wanting so a safer, more sheltered
port in the lee of Granite Island was chosen. The railway was extended
from Port Elliot to Victor Harbor in 1864.
The horse drawn railway was extended along the Causeway to Granite
Island in the mid-1860s to service large American and European clippers.

By the 1880s, 25,000 bales of wool from western New South Wales and
Queensland were being paddled down the Murray, freighted by train to
Victor Harbor and then shipped to the world. But railways killed the river
trade in the 1890s – and Victor Harbor’s history as a holiday destination
began.