hunting for history: Williamstown, Victoria

I decided to take a drive out of Melbourne City towards Hobsons Bay – Williamstown, a peaceful suburb with vast waters around it.

It first began with an interest in the name Williamstown. A quick chat with the folks at the Visitor Centre gave a better understanding – Governer Bourke and Captain Lonsdale had named the settlement area after the English monarch King William IV with intentions to create a capital city at Williamstown. However, the lack of adequate water supply resulted in the use of Melbourne as government centre instead. Today you’ll find a Bourke Street and Lonsdale Street in the CBD too.

I took a short walk from where I left the car towards Point Gellibrand, the first landing place of Victoria’s white settlers and also a first burial ground of Williamstown. Most iconic was the Timeball Tower; it had a history as a wooden lighthouse, then a bluestone lighthouse in 1849, and finally its current state as a timeball tower from 1861 to 1926. I’ll admit that this was the first time I learnt the use of a Timeball Tower – at 1pm daily the ball would descend down its shaft. This allowed ships to reset their chronometers (the ship’s timepiece).

If you’re lucky like I was and visited on a Sunday some time between 11am – 3pm, you’ll find a hidden treasure somewhere amidst the ship-building sheds – an amazing Maritime Museum at Seaworks! I was pleasantly surprised with my find as I wandered around the city’s nooks and crannies. You wouldn’t be expecting a grand location with lots of beautiful ceilings, but there’s a trove of historical items and ship models for viewing in a small cosy place, and all it takes is a gold coin donation. The nice folks there told me much about the maritime history at Williamstown, including the evolution of boat-repair processes and more!

That’s not all there is to Williamstown – if you’ll like to check out the site of the ‘Shenandoah’ Incident, look at the Armstrong cannons that stand dutifully on The Strand to guard against the Tsar’s warships, or simply take a walk round the city’s pubs and churches, make sure you plan a day or two at the home of the Victorian Navy of Williamstown!

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