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The first occupants of Williamstown were two Aboriginal clans. The first was the Marin-balluk who was responsible for the area between Kororoit Creek and the Maribyrnog River, the second was the Yalukit-Willam who were responsible for the 5km strip at the top of Port Phillip Bay. Both clans formed part of the Kulin nation.

In 1835 John Batman was sent by a group of Tasmanian capitalists and he negotiated with the Wurundjeri tribe the purchase of all the Western Plains, this allowed the permanent settlement in Port Phillip to begin. With him, John Batman, brought men, 500 sheep and 50 cows, as the area was perfect for livestock. Within 3 years over 55,000 sheep, 2,000 passengers and hundreds of cows and horses had brought to Williamstown.

Williamstown was officially named on March 29th 1837 by Governor Bourke and was called William’s Town (named for King William IV, the Sailor King). William’s Towns biggest problem was a lack of fresh water, but in 1864 the Yan Yean piped water supply arrived solving the issue and allowing for industry and growth.

Nelson Place was the first street of Melbourne and was named in 1837 by Governor Bourke after Admiral Lord Nelson. Governor Bourke named Thomson Street and Ann Street, after his daughter and her husband, that same visit.

The finding of gold brought a huge influx of immigrants hoping to make their fortune and return home. Those who had arrived earlier began to desert their jobs, Governor Latrobe deplored the collapse of the public service and the population. He worried about the empty government offices, the lack of police and the chaotic supplies. However, many returned quickly due to the exhausting work for little or no rewards.

In September 1866 the first 50 street lights of Williamstown were lit, these were gas lights that had to be lit and extinguished every day by hand. However by the 1920’s most of these were electric.

By 1860 there were 27 hotels operating in Williamstown, the selling of alcohol was illegal at this time but many of these hotels ignored this law until licenses had to be obtained. As well as the hotels there were numerous shops, a bank, a railway service, a lighthouse (which became the Time ball Tower in 1862), and a church. The first school was set up in 1842, St Marie’s (later named St Mary’s) Catholic School, which is still in operation today. The Botanical Gardens first opened in 1860 as well.

By 1886 the town’s population had grown so much that a “Town” Council was declared and on 17th May 1919 the Council moved into the new Ferguson Street Town Hall Offices and Williamstown became a “City”. The Town Hall, behind the municipal offices, officially opened in 1927 as a memorial to the soldiers of World War One.

Williamstown Hospital began admitting patients in 1894 and was originally only set up for 4 patients; however it was constantly used as a casualty station. The hospital has grown with the population. In 1905 Williamstown’s first silent picture theatre opened.