A golden beginning

June 8, 2023 BY

Market Square was established by Geelong Town Council as a farmer's market. The clock was a gift from second mayor of Geelong James Austin. Photo: Geelong a Short History

The dawn of this decade was an exciting time for a young and growing Geelong.

Gold had been discovered near Ballarat, and Geelong – being the nearest seaport for that district – was ideally placed to take advantage of the boom time’s traffic and commerce.

The local population boomed as well. By the mid I850s, Geelong had more than 23,000 people and was thought to be the fourth-largest town in Australia. The period, however, also saw blatant jealousy from Melbourne, including schemes such as the issuing of a false map given to the area’s new arrivals purporting to show the quickest road to the goldfields as being via Melbourne.

In this new climate of challenge and opportunity, James Harrison, editor and proprietor of the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, wrote in an editorial that, because the Geelong business community lacked a representative organisation, its concerns over issues in Geelong were not being addressed by the government of the day. He argued, therefore, that a chamber of commerce was needed before Geelong’s commercial interests could be effectively advanced.

Nine days later, at a public meeting, the Geelong Chamber of Commerce was established. The Chamber was only the second to be founded in Victoria

The Governor of Victoria, the Earl of Hopetoun, laid the foundation stone for the Geelong Post Office’s new building. Photo: Geelong Heritage Centre


The Chamber wasted no time in taking action. Indeed, the Chamber’s very first Annual Report in 1854 detailed progress on several major initiatives. These included the accelerated dredging of the harbor, an important step forward that would allow commercial vessels drawing 14 feet (4.3 metres) to pass over the sandbar within the port by the end of the year.

The Report also proclaimed that the promised electric telegraph between Geelong and Queenscliff was scheduled for August. In addition, a powder magazine had been built to shore up the large stocks of gunpowder that had accumulated in the town.

Meanwhile, Geelong’s newfound wealth was being evidenced in the city’s architecture and in advances to infrastructure. A railway line between Melbourne and Geelong, for example, had been completed. Thus the Port of Geelong now had road, rail and steamship links to the capital. By the late 1850s, with its existing links to Melbourne and Ballarat, Geelong was firmly established as a significant transport hub for the entire region.