Brighton is a residential bayside suburb 11 km south-east of central Melbourne.

In 1840 the British Government's Land and Emigration Commission approved procedures for the sale of ‘Special Survey’ land allotments of eight square miles (5120 acres at £1 each – 2072 ha), chiefly as a revenue-raising arrangement. There were three such sales in the area of future metropolitan Melbourne before special surveys were stopped, they being Dendy's at Brighton (March 1841), Unwin's at Bulleen and Templestowe and Elgar's at Box Hill. All were five miles from the centre of Melbourne, as required by regulations made by the New South Wales Executive Council.

Special survey

Henry Dendy (1809-81) employed Jonathan Binns Were (1809-85), later a prominent stockbroker, as his agent. His special-survey land was bounded by the coastline, North Road, East Boundary Road and South Road. A town was surveyed in the Spring of 1841, defined by the crescent-shaped street layout which remains today, and subdivided allotments offered for sale. Purchasers were few, a financial depression came and Dendy's scheme for emigration and land sales failed. He died a pauper and the Were family acquired the land for highly profitable resale after the depression.


Dendy's town site was initially marketed as Waterville, perhaps because an early settler at Port Melbourne called his area Brighton, probably after the coastal watering place in Sussex, England. However, Dendy soon renamed his land the Brighton Estate, and Dendy's site for his own home was named ‘Brighton Park’. Dendy's choice of land was done carefully, avoiding the swamp at Elsternwick and consisting mainly of good undulating land. After the depression sales of land resulted in Brighton becoming the third most populated town in Port Phillip (after Melbourne and Portland), by 1846. The farming land was sought to supply agricultural produce for Melbourne, so as to lessen imports from Tasmania. Brighton attracted wealthy residents who wanted generous building sites and the prospect of sea bathing.

By 1850 there were an Anglican church (1843), Wesleyan and Catholic churches (1848) and a Methodist church (1851). Schools were opened in the Anglican church (1849) and by the Catholic church in Centre Road (1850). Another was opened in the Wesleyan church in 1855. In 1854 Brighton had a census population of 2731 persons. Brighton had three localities – Big Brighton on the Dendy township, Little Brighton (today's East Brighton around the intersection of Union Street and Hawthorn Road) and Brighton East in the direction of Moorabbin. During the mid-1850s there were rumours of a railway connection to Melbourne. It came in stages: Windsor to North Brighton (1859), the connection to Melbourne in 1860 and North Brighton to Brighton Beach (1861). On 18 January 1859, the Brighton municipality was proclaimed extending eastwards between Dendy's survey boundaries to Thomas Street and Nepean Highway. Bailliere's Victorian gazetteer described Brighton in 1865 as a seaside bathing village and a favourite place of resort, with Kenny's well-fitted bath enclosure, a fine pier, a long sandy beach and an invigorating breeze. The several boading houses were usually full during summer, and there were suburban residents of Melbourne merchants and others. There were five hotels, including the one at Little Brighton, and a mechanics' institute.

Brighton Borough

Brighton had been made a borough in October 1863, and in 1870 parts of Elwood and Elsternwick were added. The creation of the Brighton municipality brought Thomas Bent into Brighton's orbit as its rate collector in 1861. He subsequently was elected to the Moorabbin Roads Board (1863), became the parliamentary member for Brighton (1871) member of Brighton Council (1874), mayor on several occasions and a tireless developer for Brighton. He was the Treasurer and Premier of Victoria, 1904-09. His heritage listed statue by Margaret Baskerville is in Nepean Highway.

Brighton developed three shopping centres – Bay Street, with 65 shops by 1887, Church Street with 17 and Nepean Highway with 16. Away from the town Brighton was market gardens, famed for cabbages.

A volunteer corps was formed in 1860, and the Boer War and the Mafeking relief evoked keen interest. Patriotism was prominent during World War I, and the erection of a war memorial at Green Point, Brighton Beach, in 1927 marked the last land which soldiers saw as the ships took them down the bay to distant fields.

Between 1872 and 1893 most churches built of wood replaced their buildings – Anglican (2), Presbyterian (2), Methodist (2), and Catholic and Congregational. The Anglican St Andrews church is on the Register of the National Estate and the Congregational church is on the Victorian Heritage Register. In the same period there were numerous private schools, of which Brighton Grammar (1882) survives. Firbank Anglican girls' school was opened in 1909, and St Leonards (Uniting Church) in 1914. A primary school at Brighton Beach was opened for an orphanage in 1878 and was changed to an ordinary school in 1915.

Brighton was described in the Australian handbook 1903:

The Brighton Yacht Club was begun in 1875 and gained the Royal prefix in 1927. There are several tennis and sporting clubs, and the West Brighton club (1881) maintains its dedication to conviviality.

In addition to the train to Brighton Beach there was a tram from St Kilda to Brighton (1906-57), closer to the bay than the train. In 1919 the railway was electrified. These events stimulated house-building as people realised that Brighton was more accessible than had been thought. The subdivisional pace quickened as Toorak and South Yarra filled up, spacious family properties were broken up and motor cars improved accessibility. East of the railway line the tramline down Hawthorn Road, from Glenhuntly to North Road (1925) and on to the Nepean Highway (1937), stimulated house building in Brighton East.

The city of Brighton was described in the 1946 Australian blue book:

Brighton has been noted for patriotism. Apart from the Green Point war memorial there have been the Anzac Hostel convalescent hospital, the Brighton Patriotic Society in aid of the Red Cross and the Comforts Fund and the Air Raid Precautions Association.


Brighton has primary schools at Middle Brighton (1874) and at Brighton Beach (dating from an orphanage school, 1878). A technical school was opened in 1920 near Bay Street and closed in c1995. Xavier College also has a preparatory school at Brighton Beach (1937). In 1990 Brighton municipality had slightly more than one child at a private primary school for every child at a State primary school. The metropolitan ratio was one at a private school for two at a State primary school. Private secondary schools in Brighton had nearly three pupils for every one in a State secondary school. The metropolitan ratio was two pupils in a private secondary school for every three in a State secondary school.

In 2014 Brighton Beach primary school had 422 pupils, Brighton primary school 741 pupils and Brighton secondary college 1182 pupils.


Brighton has many heritage listed houses as well as railway gates at New Street, Middle Brighton and Brighton Beach railway stations (1882, 1889) and the Brighton municipal offices (1959).

Brighton's shopping centres are in Bay Street at the North Brighton railway station and at Church Street, Middle Brighton. Church Street has been likened to Toorak Village by the sea. There are five neighbourhood reserves and more extensive recreational space along the foreshore. The municipal baths are near the pier and the Yacht Club and Port Phillip's last private bathing boxes remain on the Dendy Street beach.

Brighton house block sizes are large, and have provided sites for row houses and flats.

In March 2015 St James' Catholic church (1892) on the corner of North Road and Saint James Close (where paedophile priest Ronald Dennis Pickering worked from 1978–93) was severely damaged when engulfed by fire, leaving only the facade. The church had been heritage listed as a building of State significance in 1984. 

The census populations of the Brighton municipality were:

Census date Population
1861 2051
1871 3059
1881 4755
1891 9851
1901 10,047
1911 12,083
1921 21,235
1933 29,707
1947 39,769
1961 41,302
1971 39,109
1981 35,200
1991 32,230

On 15 December 1994, Brighton city was united with Sandringham city and parts of Mordialloc and Moorabbin cities to form Bayside city.

The census populations of Brighton suburb have been:

census date population
2001 19,912
2006 20,651
2011 20,853

The median age of residents at the 2011 census was 43 years (Australia 37 years).

Further Reading

Weston Bate, A history of Brighton, Melbourne University Press, 1962, 1983

Brighton East and Gardenvale entries