Williamstown City

The beginning of Williamstown City was a municipal borough, created on 14 March 1856. Its area was 11.3 sq km. The township, 8 km in a direct line from central Melbourne, was twice that distance by road or rail (1859). Both transport routes passed through Newport and Spotswood in the north of the borough, which were sparsely inhabited until the 1880s.

When settlement came to Williamstown’s outlying suburbs it was mostly industrial development. Among them were: Newport railway workshop (1886), employing up to 4000 on 130 acres of land with 33 miles of tracks and sidings; Newport power station (1912) for the electrified railway system; Thomas and Sons’ flour mill (1902) at Newport; Spotswood: Meat canning works (1889); Australian Glass Manufacturers (1890); sewage pumping station (1897); explosives works (1911); oil and fuel bunkers and Harbor Trust Wharf (c1915).

In addition, Williamstown had the Naval Dockyard on Hobsons Bay and woollen mills and scouring works cheek-by-jowl with workers’ cottages.

The borough was proclaimed a town on 2 April 1886 and a city on 17 May 1919. It had an active municipal government in the 1920s, but a third of its occupied land was not rateable (government workshops, dockyard and a rifle range).

Williamstown city was described in 1946 in the Australian blue book:

The opening of the West Gate Bridge in 1978 coincided with an appreciation of Williamstown’s built heritage (some quite neglected), inner urban living in something like a village, access to a city bound freeway, and proximity to bayside promenades. A decline in manufacturing yielded up land for urban renewal, chiefly row houses, in Newport and Spotswood. The railway workshops closed in 1992, becoming a silent heritage site. From being a railway line to a busy port, the Williamstown line was reduced to a shuttle service from Newport in the 1980s.

Williamstown City was united with Altona city and parts of Footscray and Werribee cities to form Hobsons Bay city on 22 June 1994. Its census populations were:

census date population
1857 3542
1861 4492
1871 7126
1881 9034
1891 15,960
1901 14,052
1911 15,275
1921 19,442
1933 22,199
1947 26,471
1954 29,313
1961 30,606
1971 30,055
1976 27,700
1981 26,400
1986 24,200
1991 23,300

Further Reading

Lynne Strahan, At the edge of the centre: a history of Williamstown, Hargren Publishing, 1994

Wealth of a city: an account of the industries of Williamstown, 1947

Marc Fiddian, Rails to Williamstown, Pakenham, 2001

Newport, Spotswood, Williamstown and Williamstown North entries