The 1803 Collins Settlement of Sorrento Victoria

Blog Post 1: David Tutchener

This is the subject of my Directed Studies research project at Flinders University as a part of my Graduate Diploma in Archaeology.

Okay I live in Victoria (I’ll just apologize now, sorry) so I based a relevant research project around the little known 1803 Settlement of Sorrento. This was Victoria’s and in fact Australia’s first official attempted settlement outside of Port Jackson. There were a number of British sealing and whaling stations based around Bass Strait, but these were fairly basic camps without official approval. The 1803 settlement is a moment of failure in Australia’s early frontier history as it barely lasted a year because there was inadequate fresh water nearby. It is a period of the nations past that involved violent conflict with indigenous groups, convict labour and exploitation. The same group of convicts, free settlers and Royal Navy Marines later travelled to Van Diemen’s Land and set up the successful colony later known as Hobart.

One of the biggest mysteries of the settlement is the whereabouts of the 1803 Sorrento Graves. The settlement site is based in a small bay with a bluff on each side, named for their feminine shape (imagine being a 19th Century explorer), the Eastern and Western Sisters (See Map). There are currently four marked graves on the Eastern Sister, but a total of sixteen people died during this short settlement. The question remains, where are their bodies? This research project aims to create a background report that synthesizes historical information and a recent geo-survey of the area in order to later perform subsurface archaeological testing that can hopefully help solve this mystery.

General Map of Sullivan’s Bay, featuring the Western and Eastern Sisters:

2 responses to “The 1803 Collins Settlement of Sorrento Victoria

  1. This is definitely a fascinating subject that is often overlooked in Victoria’s early colonial history. Location of the other 12 bodies will undoubtedly add to our understanding of what the first settlers had to endure in a harsh foreign land.
    I understand from reading some previous reports on this subject that there are a number of buildings/structures within the area that are rumoured to possibly be situated on top of these burials and have been a major factor in not being able to locate the other 12 bodies. Has any further ideas been formulated to suggest where the other bodies may be buried based on the historical and geo-survey data?

  2. liquidpersonality

    Hi Mark, this is a great topic to work on and there is some hope yet that we can find the other grave sites. It seems that, despite the historical data and the geo-survey data the only real way to find out about the graves will be to dig it…