A Brief History of Mornington.
Updated: Jan 12
Originally roamed by the Boonwurrung/Bunurong people, Mornington was first visited by Matthew Flinders in 1802. Occupation of the area really began though with the first European settlers who made the area their home in the 1840s and sought timber, fishing and pastoral leases. At that stage the area was called Schnapper Point.
Back in the mid 1850s, Major General Edward Macarthur, the administrator in Victoria, was handed a petition signed by more than 70 entrepreneurial townsfolk on the Mornington Peninsula requesting a pier be built at Schnapper Point as a vital link with Melbourne. It stated that “…we would respectfully call your attention to the fact that Schnapper Point presents considerable temptations to the tourist or invalid, who would readily avail themselves of its advantages except for the difficulty of approach”.
They petition did the trick, and a 46-metre pier was built in 1858 at an estimated cost of £8,761. The pier quickly fed into the social and economic heart of the Mornington Peninsula, with fishing boats, supply boats, paddle steamers and twice-weekly ferries full of visitors driving the growth of Schnapper Point. The area was renamed as Mornington in 1861 after the 2nd Earl of Mornington who had been British Foreign Secretary from 1809-12.
Mornington quickly became the major commercial and legal centre for townships and rural communities across the Peninsula as well as a popular bayside destination for holiday makers and day tourists, with Steamers from Melbourne stopping at the jetty and the train running daily from 1889. The opening of the railway gave the township easy access to Melbourne via Frankston and helped with its commercial and residential development. Later the railway was an important service for Balcombe Army camp for transporting troops and equipment.
Significant hotels were developed as well as smaller guest houses to accommodate the growing influx of holidaymakers, especially once the road to Frankston was built, carrying the first motorists and buses (replacing the Cobb and Co coaches). The wealthy of Melbourne began building beautiful homes in the area and a number of private and government schools flourished, including Mt Eliza Secondary College, Mornington Secondary College, Padua College, Toorak College and Peninsula Grammar.
Today Mornington enjoys a warm and vibrant village atmosphere and is a rapidly growing commercial centre for communities across the Mornington Peninsula. It is the largest township south of Frankston, located between the exclusive beachside suburbs of Mount Eliza and Mount Martha. The area’s busy Main Street offers an exciting cosmopolitan street scene and pays homage to the township’s history, all the way from the seaward end to Nepean Highway.
Mornington is a cosmopolitan seaside suburb that offers more than a kilometre of shopping with over 370 retail outlets, including designer boutiques, interiors and homewares stores, sidewalk cafes and restaurants. The town centre initiates at the foreshore with the marina, and the street’s historical landscape starts at the Old Post Office Museum where you can collect a self-guided walking tour brochure. Main Street Mornington is loved for its historical walk, which includes the tiny 1860 Court House and the more imposing Grand Hotel.
The township is well known for its historical and cultural tourist attractions and it also boasts the well-patronised Mornington Racing Club and a local favourite, the Mornington Country Golf Club. Other attractions include:
Mornington’s Historic Railway
Operated for just over 100 years, the railway was opened on 10th September 1889 as the Mornington Junction (now Baxter) to Mornington railway line. The last service ran on 20th May 1981. It’s been partially restored by the Mornington Peninsula Railway Preservation Society Inc. which operates it as the Mornington Railway. It's heritage passenger cars, steam and diesel locomotives make it a real family favourite.
The imposing 1863 Beleura with its magnificent gardens is well worth a visit (make sure you book) and The Briars Park with its more modest 1840s homestead houses a priceless Napoleonic Collection. There’s a 96-hectare wildlife reserve where you can stroll along walking tracks and boardwalks.
Court House, 1860
The oldest public building in Mornington, the tiny Court House was host to the Mornington Court of Petty Sessions, held here until 1988. The original Lock Up was officially declared a gaol in 1862, but 20 years later it was used mainly to hold the accused overnight (or during court sessions).
Old Post Office, 1863/64
Just over the road from the Old Court House is the Old Post Office, built in Palladian Italian Renaissance style. The invention of the telephone in 1876 ultimately led to Mornington’s first telephone exchange opening in this building in 1905. The Post Office occupied the building for 100 years, transferring ownership to the Mornington Shire in 1964, becoming a museum and home to the Mornington and District Historical Society four year later.
The Old State Savings Bank
Next door to the Old Post Office, the bank and residence was built in picturesque Swiss chalet style (yes, quite odd really). The timber construction was completed in 1912, and since 1954 the building has been through a number of incarnations. It’s now home to a bright and breezy cafe, with the original pressed metal ceilings, fireplaces and some vintage furnishings.
The Mechanics Institute
Located a little further along the Main Street is the Mechanics Institute which was one of many in the British colonies that provided education for the working man. In front of the building, in the shade of two large plane trees, is the large Westminster Bollard. It was a gift to the Shire of Mornington from the City of Westminster in London.
The Old Bank
On the opposite side of the Main Street at number 62 is a stately Italian Renaissance style building built in the early 1890s during the post gold rush boom when bank directors felt they should work in appropriately grand surroundings. Three different banks occupied these premises but now it serves as a fine restaurant.
The Grand Hotel
The Gold Rush and the 1880s boom put a lot of money into a lot of pockets. Designed by noted architect William Pitt (who also designed Melbourne’s Windsor Hotel) the Grand Hotel was built in 1892.
One of the most loved aspects of Mornington today is the community market, held every Wednesday on Main Street on a Wednesday. From early morning until early afternoon, in most weather conditions, this colourful market offers locals and tourists an amazing variety of the home-made and the home-grown. We’re talking fruit and vegetables, plants, soaps and candles, clothing, toys, jewellery and so much more, all with a festival atmosphere. It’s been operating for over 30 years and is Victoria’s longest running street market.
There’s so much to love about Mornington.