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AUSTRALIA – GREATER MELBOURNE: Map of the Purchased and Measured Lands, Counties, Parishes &c &c of the Melbourne & Geelong Districts. Carefully Compiled from the Maps in the Survey Office Port Phillip., Respectfully Inscribed with permission to His Honor C.L. La Trobe Esq Superintendent of Port Phillip, &c.&c., by his obedient Servant Thomas Ham. 1849.


An outstanding rarity – one of the foundational maps of Greater Melbourne, a grand and meticulous large format work that more than any other map captures the state of play in the region on the eve of the Victoria Gold Rush (1851-69), detailing the topography, all town sites, rural cadastral divisions (with a gazetteer listing their acreage and their owners, who became Victoria’s ‘elite’), and squatting stations, all predicated upon the best official sources; critically, during the initial stage of the Gold Rush the map served as the  definitive blueprint for locating real estate holdings and for land speculation schemes, as property values skyrocketed, making landowners immensely wealthy overnight; one of the largest, most impressive and influential Australian maps of its era, created by Thomas Ham, Melbourne’s pioneering commercial cartographer – no examples located outside of Australia.


Lithographed map with original outline hand colour, dissected into 36 sections and mounted upon original linen, folding into contemporary brown cloth covers bearing circa mid to late 1850s mapseller’s pastedown label of ‘Edward Stanford’ of London with the title ‘The Melbourne & Geelong Districts of Australia Felix shewing the surveys & c.’ (Very Good, overall clean with light even patina with strong impression and attractive original colours, contemporarily trimmed close at lower left corner shaving a few numerals in gazetteer and printer’s crease in lower right corner with loss to a couple numerals in gazetteer, covers with light shelf-wear, short closed tear to gazetteer on right), 74.5 x 107 cm (29.5 x 42 inches).


1 in stock


What is today Greater Melbourne, today one of the world’s great financial and cultural centres, was during the late 1830s and ’40s considered to be a second-tier locus for colonial development in Australia.  Despite is mild climate, fertile soils, and the presence of the stellar natural harbour of Port Phillip, it was permanently settled by Europeans at only a very late stage, at least by the standards of Eastern Australia.


In the wake of failed colonial ventures in the Port Philip region, the entrepreneur and explorer John Batman, who was based in Tasmania, came to the lower Yarra Valley in May-June 1835, where he claimed to have purchased a 2,400 sq. km tract from indigenous Wurundjeri people.  Choosing the site of modern Melbourne for a town, settlers, as part of the Port Phillip Association, promptly arrived and founded what was briefly known as ‘Batmania’, although in 1837 the town was (mercifully!) renamed Melbourne (after the incumbent British prime minister).


In 1836, the southern part of New South Wales became the Port Phillip District, granting the area limited local self-governance, with what would become Melbourne as its capital.  Other areas for towns, such as Geelong, later the region’s second city (est. 1838), were designated, while the countryside was gradually surveyed along a grid system, with lots sold to eligible colonists.


Between 1836 and 1842, the local aboriginal communities were largely displaced, as settlers occupied the territory.  By 1845, much of the best land had been surveyed and sold to 240 main proprietors (many of whom owned multiple lots, as shown by the property gazetteer on the present map), and these people would become the local elite of the region in the coming generations.


Importantly, many of the Crown lands that had not been sold to private proprietors were occupied by ‘squatters’.  While this term had a broadly negative connotation in England, in Australian history, it generally had a more positive and nuanced meaning.  In the early days of Australia, a squatter was typically a man, either a free settler or ex-convict, who physically occupied a sizeable tract of Crown land, usually in order to graze livestock.  Initially, while squatters had no legal rights to the land, they practically gained the benefits of physical possession and usage through being the first (and often the only) Europeans in the area.  While squatters in England were despised for trying to impinge of the long-held property rights of the crown and rural landowners, squatters in Australia were popularly seen as playing a beneficial role by ‘civilizing’ lands that would otherwise be left to waste in the wilds.

That being said, the Australian colonial authorities initially discouraged granting squatter’s rights in the fear of upending the established British legal property system that had been in force since the time of William the Conqueror.  Eventually, however, the Crown gradually came to value the benefit from the tax revenues paid by the squatters, notably on the large amount of wool they exported to Britain.  Consequently, government officials in many (but not all) regions of Australia came to tolerate, if not officially sanction, the squatters.

Notably, the Port Phillip District remained for a time something of holdout, being slower than the rest of New South Wales to grant key protections to squatters.  A turning point came in 1844, when a large and vocal group of protesters descended upon Melbourne, armed with bagpipes and petitions.  Forming the ‘Pastoral Society of Australian Felix’, they effectively lobbied for the local Crown officials to tacitly support squatting in what would become Victoria.

Melbourne was made a city in 1847, and by the time that the present map was made, it was a steadily growing regional centre with a population approaching 25,000 (it having grown from 10,000 residents in 1840).  In the Port Phillip District, the population was largely concentrated around Port Phillip Bay, having a total population of around 65,000, and was considered an unspectacular area for colonial expansion, greatly overshadowed by the Sydney region.

The fate of the Melbourne region was utterly transformed by the discovery of gold in 1851, that led to the Victorian Gold Rush (1851-69).  The promise of riches caused an international sensation, as thousands of Europeans, Australians, and some Americans, flocked to the region in search of riches, either from gold itself, or, from profiting from the influx of people.  Anticipating great change, the British government agreed to the demands of the people of the Port Phillip District to separate from New South Wales.  On July 1, 1851, the Colony of Victoria was formally created.

The transformation of the region was astounding.  The population of Victoria grew from 75,000 in 1851 to 500,000 in 1861.  Melbourne went from having 29,000 residents, in 1851, to over 123,000, in 1854, and becaming one of the most vibrant places on earth.

Fittingly, the Victorian Gold Discovery Committee wrote in 1854:

“The discovery of the Victorian Goldfields has converted a remote dependency into a country of world wide fame; it has attracted a population, extraordinary in number, with unprecedented rapidity; it has enhanced the value of property to an enormous extent; it has made this the richest country in the world; and, in less than three years, it has done for this colony the work of an age, and made its impulses felt in the most distant regions of the earth.”

For several years, the output of gold from Victoria exceeded that of every region of the world, save for California.  Victoria’s greatest annual yield, in 1856, was 3,053,744 troy ounces.  The Victorian Mines Department would subsequently estimate that between 1851 and 1896, a total of 61,034,682 ounces of gold was mined in the colony.  Many individuals and corporations made astounding fortunes, not only from mining itself, but also in providing services and products to the rapidly expanding population.

Importantly, many of the owners of the properties depicted on the present map (whose names are listed on the gazetteer), became wealthier than their wildest dreams overnight, as land values skyrocketed.  Former subsistence farmers suddenly owned property worth more than townhouses in the best parts of London!  The families of these landowners comprised Victoria’s elite for many generations.  Moreover, many squatters were able to hold claim to the land the occupied, making them wealthy, so creating something of a “Squattocracy”. 

The Present Map in Focus

The present large format and beautifully lithographed map is the ultimate cartographic record of the Melbourne-Geelong region on the eve of the Victorian Gold Rush and the astounding boom in population, development, and land speciation that it triggered.  It is dramatically more detailed and accurate than any other printed map of the region from the period, predicated upon the best official information from the Survey Office of the Port Phillip District, and was drafted and published by Thomas Ham, Melbourne’s pioneering, and premier mapmaker.

The map embraces the heartland of the Port Phillip District, the entirety of today’s Greater Melbourne region, with the city of Melbourne in the upper right-centre, and Geelong in the lower centre.  The map captures the topography of the region with great assuredness, and features a wealth of detail, precisely delineating the coastlines, charting the rivers, and expressing ravines and hills by hachures, while lakes and swamps are likewise depicted.

The vicinities of Melbourne and Geelong are shows to have been surveyed into political jurisdictions, townsites, townships and numbered cadastral lots which had, in recent times, been acquired by members of the emerging landed oligopoly.


The ‘Reference’, in the bottom centre, explains the symbols used to identify the various elements of development, including county boundaries (green lines), parish boundaries (pink lines), settled district boundaries (yellow lines), Sections of Land measured for Sale (blank surveyed squares), Lands purchased from the Crown (surveyed squares shaded black), Town & Village Reserves (blue surveyed spaces), Squatting Stations (hollow dots), as well as Surveyed Roads and Bush Tracks.

While most the surveying system of the settled land around Port Phillip followed the even grid pattern like that favoured for some decades in North America, some areas, owing to their specific development needs, follow other forms (such as the strip-surveyed lots in the Jika Jika township, just to the north of Melbourne).  In other cases, some lots are of an enlarged or irregular shape, being ‘special surveys’, lands with specific uses mandated by the crown.

Importantly, the dark shaded lots, which were already occupied by proprietors, are clustered immediately around Melbourne and Geelong, while many of the surveyed areas beyond, being blank cadastral lots, are ‘paper townships’, still awaiting settlement, with many of the areas along the margins being home to squatters.  Beyond that, the hinterland remains a virtual wilderness, penetrated by a few roads, and dotted with the odd named European homesteads.  Amazingly, within only a couple years or so of the map’s issue, all the paper townships and the countryside beyond would be fully claimed or settled, as tens of thousands of people arrived in the region, hoping for a gilded future.  As such, the map represents a critical snapshot in time – before everything suddenly changed.

A lovely feature of the map are the vignettes of the ‘Union Bank of Australia, corner of Collins & Queen Streets, Melbourne’, upper right, and the ‘Union Bank of Australia, Geelong’, lower left, being branches of an institution that played a critical role in the development of the Melbourne region (and who were clearly sponsors of the map).

An extremely important and fascinating feature of the map, of profound value to academics and enthusiasts of Victorian history, is the property gazetteer that runs along both sides of the work.  Categorized by township and relating to the numbering of the cadastral lots in each on the map, is a comprehensive list of all the rural landowners in the Port Phillip region, with the acreage of each lot.  One will notice that many of the 240 families that made up the region’s landed elite owned multiple properties, ensuring that they soon became very wealthy upon the advent of the Gold Rush, which caused property prices to skyrocket to stratospheric levels.

The present map, more than any other work, during both the eve of the Gold Rush and, critically, during the early days of the boom itself, would have served as the blueprint for Crown officials, prospective settlers, and land speculators to locate currently occupied properties, as well as the most promising lots and areas for future development and investment.  In this way, it is a foundational document in the modern history of Greater Melbourne.

Thomas Ham & the Early Map Publishing Industry in Melbourne

Thomas Ham (1821 -1870) was the father of cartographic publishing in Victoria, printing maps in Melbourne well in advance of the Gold Rush.  Ham was a native of Devon, England, and immigrated to Melbourne in 1842, arriving with his parents and two brothers.  His father soon became an important figure in town as the minister of the Collins Street Baptist Church.

Thomas had apprenticed as an engraver and lithographer in England and showed great natural aptitude for his profession.  He benefited greatly from the fact that, during the early 1840s, he was one of the only people in Melbourne with any experience in printing, and so in 1843 he was contracted to engrave the corporation seal for the Town of Melbourne.  He soon incorporated a business on Collins Street and became the official government printer in Melbourne, as well as fulfilling commissions from various banks and businesses.  Philatelists also value Ham’s work, for he engraved the first Victoria stamps.

Thomas and his brothers had a keen and skilled interest in land speculation and as early as 1845 they held titles to properties in the countryside beyond Melbourne.  Ham’s contacts in government and in the settler community gave him unrivalled access to the latest geographic intelligence on the region.  He realized the urgent need for a general map of the ‘Port Phillip District’ (later Victoria) and issued a Map of Australia Felix (1847), which was importantly the first locally-produced map of the region.  This map lived on as the highly popular and influential Ham’s Squatting Map of Victoria (first issued in 1851, and running into several updated editions, with the last published in 1864).

Ham also issued maps focused upon Melbourne and its environs, including the present Melbourne and Geelong Districts (1849), by far and away his largest and most impressive work; Map of the Suburban Lands of the City of Melbourne (1852); and Plan of the City of Melbourne (1854).

From 1850 to 1852, Thomas, with his brothers, Theophilus and Jabez, published the Illustrated Australian Magazine, the first Australian periodical with images.  Thomas also issued important views of the Gold Rush, including Ham’s Five Views of the Gold Fields of Mount Alexander and Ballarat, drawn by D. Tulloch (1852), and the plates within The Diggers Portfolio and The Gold Diggers Portfolio (1854).

In 1853, Ham and his brothers opened a successful real estate firm that became known as C., J. & T. Ham.  In 1857, seeking to capitalize on the specific needs of the mining industry, he joined Victorian Geological Survey Office, where he made pioneering geological maps of the region.

Not unlike the situation in California a few years earlier, the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851 brought about a mass influx of people, wealth and talent that fostered a thriving local print industry, as well as a unique and rich visual culture.  From 1856, several other mapmakers were established on the Melbourne scene in an effort to satiate the cartographic needs of prospectors and land speculators.

Melbourne map publishers enjoyed a major inherent advantage over the established firms in London, such as James Wyld.  They had access to late breaking information and the most up to date surveys from both the colonial archives, as well as private sources, such as mining and real estate concerns.  The Melbourne printers were able to expeditiously add critical new information to the updated versions of their maps, a process surely aided by their firsthand knowledge of the region.  By the time similar information reached London, months later, it was arduously incorporated into new editions of maps, yet by the time these works were shipped to Australia, this ‘new’ information was, in many cases, already stale.  Thus, the comparatively rough and ready Melbourne printers often produced superior (ie. more accurate, current and useful) regional maps compared to those produced by the eminent London publishers.

In 1860, Ham moved to Brisbane where he became the lithographer and later the Chief Engraver of the Queensland Survey Office.  The highlight of his tenure there was his Atlas of the Colony of Queensland (1868).  Ham and his business partners also developed sugar plantations on the Albert River.  Thomas Ham died at Brisbane on  March 8, 1870, highly regarded for his work as a mapmaker and printer and wealthy from his land dealings.

A Note on Rarity


The present map is one of the outstanding rarities of important Australian cartography.  Indeed, all Pre-Gold Rush Victorian imprints tend to have been issued on only very small print runs, owing the small population of the region at the time.


We can trace institutional examples of the map held by the National Library of Australia (2 examples); State Library of New South Wales and the State Library of Victoria (2 examples).  However, we are not aware of any examples outside of Australia.  Moreover, we cannot locate any sales records for other examples since one was offered by Francis Edwards (London) in 1948.


References: National Library of Australia: (2 examples:) Rex Nan Kivell Collection Map NK 10500 and 912.945 HAR; State Library of New South Wales: 84/152 , Z/M4 821gbbd/1849/1; State Library of Victoria: (2 examples, both filed under:) MAPS LB 821 BJF 1849 HA; OCLC: 221686383, 220918617.

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