major mitchell web
Meeting of Major Mitchell and Edward Henty, Portland Bay, 1836. Lithograph by J. MacFarlane for the Education Department of Victoria. Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Collection.

Encountering Europeans in what he believed was unchartered territory was the last thing Major Thomas Mitchell expected. But encounter them he did when he reached south-west Victoria and Portland Bay on 29th August 1836.

Major Mitchell's 1836 surveying expedition through New South Wales and Australia Felix, now Victoria, is regarded as the most significant of his four journeys through Australia. Not only did it map significant portions of western Victoria, it also saw the very first surveying of the countryside now known as the Glenelg Shire.

After having explored and mapped the Grampians region during early August, Mitchell and his party followed the Glenelg River south, entering the Glenelg Shire region north of the town of Casterton.

 

Major Mitchell Swap Card web

Swap card – Major Mitchell at Portland. Acquired 2011. Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Collection.

As one would imagine, the expedition had already faced many challenges – atrocious weather, difficult muddy terrain, hostile dealings with Aborigines – so the encounter with the Hentys in Portland Bay must have been a welcome distraction, and the hot meal and soft beds they provided very well received by all.

After entering the Glenelg Shire region and travelling on from Casterton, on August 17th one of the party was sent to examine the Glenelg River to ascertain whether their boats could be launched. On climbing a tree, he found the body of water was very large "like the Murray" and that it was excellent for boats. Mitchell had previously described it as the finest body of fresh water he had seen in Australia.

 

Major Mitchell and Australia Felix web

Major Mitchell and Australia Felix – from a series of booklets produced by the Education Department in 1961.

They launched and rowed south, meeting the coastline between Cape Bridgewater and Mt Gambier west of Portland, Mitchell naming the area Discovery Bay. Mitchell was said to be disappointed the river mouth was not a good site for a harbour, so the party rowed north again before heading south-east on foot through Heywood and on to Portland Bay.

It was in late August when the party first heard the distinctive sounds of the sea. But when they reached the ocean, but it was the cattle and horse hoof prints they found in the sand and the distinctive sounds of rifle shots that caught their attention.

 

Major Mitchell and Australia Felix page 30

Major Mitchell’s 3rd Journey, from a booklet produced by the Education Department in 1961.

Knowing the bay area would be frequented by whalers but that it was not yet inhabited by white men, Mitchell's party feared the worst – pirates. And the story goes that on first contact with the expedition, the Hentys at first feared Mitchell's party to be bushrangers.

But the misunderstanding was quickly settled when Mitchell met Frank Henty on Monday 29th August 1836, and he took them home to meet his three brothers, providing the party with a home-cooked meal and a bed for the night, something they were least expecting.

But what a lovely surprise it must have been.

Mitchell's expedition party was warmly farewelled by the Henty brothers the next day, sent on their way with as many fresh vegetables as they could carry.

 

What words were exchanged during that initial meeting between Frank Henty and Major Mitchell on the beach at Portland Bay on Monday August 29, 1836?

What did the Surveyor General report back to his superiors after the meeting, and how did the Hentys recall this unusual encounter?

Where did Major Mitchell and his team of men travel to from Portland?

To find the answers to all these questions and more, visit Glenelg Shire Council's museum and research centre History House, where you will find documents and information about Major Mitchell's 1836 journey through the Glenelg Shire.

 

And you'll also find passionate volunteers willing to share their immense knowledge with you!

 

History House – Museum and Research Centre
Cliff Street, Portland VIC 3305 (PO Box 409)

Phone: (03) 5522 2266

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Open daily 10am-noon and 1pm-4pm. Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day.