watercolour of Portland Bay

George W Jackson, View of Portland Bay, 1835-36

The Henty brothers Edward, Francis, Stephen and John have been credited with establishing Victoria’s first permanent European settlement in Portland, Western Victoria. Edward first visited the area from Van Diemen’s Land in 1832, in search of pastoral land and returned in November 1834 on board the Thistle to permanently occupy land and farm sheep. By 1837 he had been joined by his three brothers, who began importing merino sheep and fruit trees, and also became involved in whaling.

While the brothers settled in Portland, they were joined progressively by new wives, all of whom were required to establish themselves in this unknown place. Much that is known of these women is tied to the happenings of domestic life, from the birth of children to their presence on the homestead. While their birth and death dates are often known, what do we know of what happened in between?

Jane Henty (1817–1906), née Pace, is believed to be the first European woman to settle permanently in Victoria. Jane was the daughter of Captain Walter Pace of the East India Company’s fleet, who immigrated to Fremantle, Western Australia with her parents and two siblings. The family met twenty-two-year-old Stephen Henty (1811–72), who would marry eighteen-year-old Jane two years later. Stephen and Jane departed Fremantle and arrived in Portland Bay in December 1836, of which she writes:

My husband and I arrived at Portland Bay in 1836, though he had made some trips previously with stock, etc. It was on a Sunday night when we landed, by moonlight; I was carried on shore through the surf by a sailor, and safely landed on terra firma. On reaching the homestead, a comfortable dwelling composed of four rooms with kitchen and dairy, a bright log fire was burning, table spread with a large pot loaf, butter, piles of eggs, and tea. My brother-in-law, Frank Henty, met me at the door saying, “Welcome Mrs. Stephen.” I said, “My name is Jane Henty, your sister.”

The Henty family diaries detail the movements of the brothers in Portland Bay and the surrounding region; however, their wives are scarcely mentioned. In 1968, the Library acquired a photocopy of Jane’s memoirs ‘Old memories’, [MS 8511] in which she writes about life in the settlement and her experiences:

Edward had not travelled inland, but my husband never rested until he had gone all through the interior, cut a track through 15 miles of forest land with two men and a dray, and arrived on the banks of the Wannon. He used to be absent for weeks at a time, causing me great anxiety.

portrait of Mrs Edward Henty

Mrs Edward Henty, c1865

Edward Henty (1809–78) married Anna Maria Gallie in 1840 at Melbourne’s St James Church. On 31 October the couple sailed to Launceston to meet his family before arriving in Portland. The couple moved to Muntham, a pastoral run of around 57,000 acres, and the homestead was known for its generous hospitality. In William Westgarth’s Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne & Victoria he writes about meeting her at Muntham:

Young, ladylike, beautiful, she received me with that high courtesy which sets one at ease by the flattering impression that in these squatting solitudes it is rather the visited than the visitors who are the obliged parties … Thirty-four more years have since elapsed, and yet I must still hope to meet her once more in that country which has become so great, and which is, in so special a sense, her own.

This post is a two-part series on the wives of the Henty brothers. See also Part 2, which will focus on Mary Anna and Francis Henty, whose stories featured in the Changing face of Victoria exhibition in 2018, as well as John Henty and his wife Eliza.

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This article has 12 comments

  1. Loved hearing about these women and await the next instalment.

  2. Very interesting to read what it was like for the wives. Thankful for this insight

  3. Very interesting and finally we are being told about these brave, hard working women.

  4. “My name is Jane Henty…”

  5. Karolina Franczak

    I teach about the settlement of Port Phillip and the impact of settlement … and it is almost always with a masculine voice. So thank you for this new perspective!

  6. My article on the Henty memorial stained glass window at St Stephen’s Church, Portland.

  7. Do you know if the Hentys had a hotel in Bourke St., Melb at any stage? My family has stories of working there.

    • Hi Lyn,
      I don’t know off the top of my head, but I have forwarded your query to a librarian who will be in touch.
      Best, Hannah

    • Hi Lyn,
      A librarian looked into this for you but unfortunately was unable to find evidence of a hotel owned by the Hentys in Bourke Street. Perhaps some of our blog readers might contribute an extra piece of this puzzle! Wishing you all the best on your search.

  8. See my book about pioneer Geelong/Bellarine settlers Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcomb:
    Bev Roberts (ed) Miss D & Miss N, an extraordinary partnership, Aust Scholarly Publishing in association with State Library of Victoria.
    Plus associated articles in various publications.

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