Europeans Arrive

Europeans Arrive

In the 1830s European settlers laid claim to vast tracts of what they considered to be unoccupied land across Narrm’s western plains.

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Some of the earliest visitors to Kulin lands were not from Europe at all but Macassans from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.[1] However, by the early 19th century, a succession of white men began venturing into the area. Both John Murray and Matthew Flinders explored Port Phillip Bay in 1802, and the following year colonial government surveyor Charles Grimes came close to what is now Melton.[2]

British explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell were the first white men to travel across the western plains of Victoria. Department of Crown Lands and Survey, Victoria. State Library Victoria.

Around this time, another survey party based at Sorrento recorded a dramatic encounter with Wathaurong warriors defending Country at the Werribee River.[3] In 1824, Hamilton Hume and William Hovell made their mark as the first white men to traverse the western plains. In 1839, a young assistant surveyor to the colonial government, William Wedge Darke, surveyed land around the fledging settlement of Melbourne. This survey became the reference point for the first land sales in the Melton district, which took place in 1840.[4]

The mantle of the first European settler family in Melton is commonly given to the Pyke brothers. The Pyke estate, Pennyroyal Creek, is considered by some as ‘the foundation of the City of Melton’.[5] Another figure sometimes described as ‘Melton’s first settler’ is Edinburgh-born squatter John Hunter Patterson, who came to the mainland from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). In 1836, Patterson established Greenhills station, which still exists today. 

Squatters claimed vast expanses of land in Port Phillip by marking it out for themselves, as did the first European settlers in the Melton district. Samuel Calvert. State Library Victoria, IAN01/08/88/supp/17.

John Aitken was grazing sheep in the area even earlier than the Patterson and Pyke families. Known as ‘the colony’s leading flockmaster’, Aitken played a crucial role in developing Australia’s wool flock.[6] Simon Staughton was another early pastoralist who settled in the Melton district, becoming one of the largest owners of freehold land in Victoria. Staughton’s Exford Estate homestead, completed around 1846, still stands in Melton South as one of the oldest residences in the state.[7] The grand Eynesbury Homestead also belonged to the Staughton family. Other early pastoralists of note include William Cross Yuille and the magnate William John Turner ‘Big’ Clarke. Another important figure is James Pinkerton, and the Pinkerton family name remains prominent in Melton today.

Hannah ‘Grannie’ Watts is one of Melton’s most celebrated and cherished pioneers.

Read Hannah Watts’s story

Born in Ireland in 1831, she immigrated to Australia in 1854 with her first husband, George Byrns. They lived in Melton with their four children until George died in 1860.

It is believed that while travelling to Australia, Hannah assisted the surgeon on board the ship and demonstrated a natural aptitude for the tasks assigned to her. Settling in Toolern Vale with her second husband, William Watts, she assisted local women in an unofficial capacity as a midwife, while also working on the family farm and raising her six children. By 1887, Hannah’s reputation as a midwife had grown to such an extent that she was able to establish her own practice.[8]

In 1894, Hannah moved back to the Melton township and built Lynch Cottage on the corner of Yuille and Sherwin streets.[9] From there she assisted with hundreds of births, recording the details of a total of 442 births between the years 1886 and 1921.[10] She also assisted with the laying out of the deceased.

Grannie Watts is fondly remembered by her descendants and by Melton locals. Hannah Watts Park honours her pioneering work supporting the health and wellbeing of Meltonians.

ABOVE IMAGE: Hannah Watts standing outside Lynch Cottage, where she assisted with the births of hundreds of babies. Library Collection, Melton City Council.

This 1871 watercolour depicts two stockmen camped beside a waterhole. The land in the Melton district was popular with early pastoral settlers, given its suitability to graze livestock. S.T. Gill. State Library Victoria, H5260.

Hunts were part of Melton’s identity from the early days of white settlement.

Read more about hunting in the area

The Pyke brothers are attributed with introducing hunting to the area, with Thomas Henry Pyke importing foxes from England for sport in 1845.[11] The hunts initially started out pursuing dingoes and kangaroos, ‘although emu, for short speedy runs’ were also appreciated, before the importation of foxes and deer.[12]

ABOVE IMAGE: Melbourne Hunt Club, 1895. David Syme & Co. State Library Victoria, IAN01/07/95/12.

As white settlers arrived in greater numbers and made their mark on the land, Kulin life was radically disrupted. Newly erected fences restricted free movement and vital waterways became inaccessible. Flora and fauna that were important sources of food were quickly decimated by the presence of thousands of sheep and other livestock pounding the earth with their hard, cloven hooves.[13] European diseases wrought havoc amongst Kulin people, as did alcohol.[14]

Frontier violence in the Melton area was particularly brutal. Mount Cottrell is one recorded massacre site, where a band of Wathaurong families were killed in a reprisal attack for the murder of Charles Franks and Thomas Flinders.[15] Settler Ned Wedge gave an account of the fate of groups of Aboriginal people in the Werribee area: ‘Oh, they all disappeared one night; they stole a bag of flour containing arsenic; their yells could be heard a mile off’.[16]

An Aboriginal family from the Bacchus Marsh area, c. 1878. They are likely from the Wathaurong or Woi wurrung language groups. Photographer: Fred Kruger. State Library Victoria, H41139/84.

Within a few years of the European incursion onto Kulin Country, local tribes faced annihilation, making the invasion, as one historian has described it, ‘one of the fastest land occupations in the history of empires’.[17] As early as 1838, the Kurun jang balug were reduced to a small group forced to seek refuge with neighbouring clans.[18] These few survivors were soon forced off Country to face a life under the control of missionaries and state ‘protectors’.

The decimation of Kulin ways of life marked the beginning of a challenging new chapter for the people who had thrived on their traditional lands for millennia. First Nations people have fought ever since to keep their families together and maintain their connection to land and culture. For the newcomers, however, settlement marked the beginning of a promising life in a new home, as Melton began to develop and prosper.


[1] Richard Broome, Aboriginal Victorians: a history since 1800, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005, pp. 90-91.

[2] Broome, Aboriginal Victorians,2005, pp. 90-91.

[3] Broome, Aboriginal Victorians,2005, p. 5.

[4] Biosis, ‘Rockbank Precinct Structure Plan (PSP 1099)’, 2013, p. 15.

[5] Moloney et al., ‘HO82 – Melton Valley Golf Course’ in ‘Shire of Melton Heritage Study Stage Two – Volume 4 – Heritage Overlays 051–086’, Shire of Melton, Melton, 2006, p. 1.

[6] David Moloney, David Rowe, Pamela Jellie, Sear-Jane Peters, ‘Shire of Melton Heritage Study Stage Two – Volume 2 – The Environmental Thematic History’, Shire of Melton, Melton, 2007, p. 23.

[7] ‘Exford Homestead’, Victorian Heritage Database,, accessed 2 December 2021.

[8] Rebecca Hart, ‘Where There’s a Will: using deceased estate documents to inform family history’, History in the Making, vol. 4, no. 2, p. 17,, accessed 6 December 2021.

[9] ‘Hannah “Grannie” Watts: a look at the woman and her hospital’, Melton: yesterday & today CD-ROM, Melton & District Historical Society.

[10] Rebecca Hart, ‘Where There’s a Will: using deceased estate documents to inform family history’, History in the Making, vol. 4, no. 2, p. 19,, accessed 6 December 2021.

[11] Joan Starr, Melton: Plains of Promise, Melton Shire Council, Melton, 1985, pp. 204, 211.

[12] Australasian, 27 May 1937, p. 4.

[13] Broome, Aboriginal Victorians, 2005, p. 20.

[14] Broome, Aboriginal Victorians, 2005, pp. 24-25.

[15] The University of Newcastle, ‘Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1930’,, accessed 29 November 2021.

[16] Werribee Banner,8 February 1962, quoted in Moloney et al., ‘Shire of Melton Heritage Study Stage Two – Volume 2’, p. 20.

[17] Broome, Aboriginal Victorians, 2005, p. 54.

[18] Ian D. Clark, Aboriginal languages and clans: an historical atlas of western and central Victoria, 1800-1900, Department of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, 1990, p. 383.