In November 1834, six months before Melbourne was first settled, Edward Henty arrived at Portland Bay on the south coast of what was then known as the Port Phillip District. Just two weeks after his arrival, his workman Robert Crowley began to till the soil for Victoria’s first crop of potatoes. The plough that was used to begin the first farming venture in Victoria still exists and is in a museum in Portland.
Although visited by whalers and fisherman, there was no permanent settlement at Portland Bay (now Portland) prior to the arrival of the Henty brothers. The Henty family had attempted to settle at Swan River (Western Australia) and in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) but were not able to obtain the land they wanted. This first farming venture at Portland was illegal, as the English government restricted settlement to areas within reach of Sydney. The Hentys had made several requests in Britain for permission to farm in the Port Phillip District; all were refused.
The family finally decided to “squat” on the land. Edward Henty, then aged 24, arrived in Portland Bay on 19 November 1834 after a rough voyage from Launceston. His boat, the Thistle was twice blown back to King Island and many of his livestock were lost during storms. The cargo of the Thistle included 2500 bricks, three kegs of nails, a bundle of saws, chain and tools, timber to build houses, as well as cattle, pigs, dogs, turkeys, plants and vines.
Also on the manifest were two casks of beef, two casks of pork, four bags of flour, two bags of sugar, one chest of tea, two bags of oats, one bag of salt, ten bags of potatoes and one bag of peas. The party supplemented their food stocks by shooting local game and catching fish and eels, while waiting for the boat to return with additional stores.
The plough used to turn the first sod at Portland is recorded in the Thistle’s manifest. According to one newspaper article it was presented by Edward Henty to plough-maker Mr. Hugh Lennon in 1879. However, since Edward died in 1878 this is clearly an error. The plough changed hands several times through the 20th century and was eventually acquired by Portland’s History House in 1970.
Edward Henty was later joined by three brothers, John, Stephen and Francis. At first farming and then whaling on the coast, the family later opened up lands to the north and became famous for their merino sheep. Edward was a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1856 to 1861.