Footscray Wharves and Environs

 Local Institutions

Man does not live on bread and beer alone, and it was not long before other institutions of civilization as we know it came to the small community on the banks of the Saltwater River.

According to the records of St.Monica’s church in Moreland Street a catholic school was operating in a tent near the junction of the two rivers in the 1840s.   The priest mainly served the growing number of Irish immigrants at the time, but other denominations took advantage of the instruction as well.

St.Monica’s priest in the 1980s, Father Gerard Beasley, said the story of the church reflects the story of Footscray in continually being a community open and welcoming newcomers to our land. He says it is interesting that St.Monica’s to this day still caters to a transient population of migrant peoples as it did in its beginnings in the gold rush.  

The church that stands today was built in 1873 and is perhaps the oldest standing church in Footscray and one of the oldest in the Western Region. However there was an earlier building on this site that was the original S. Monica’s. Built in the 1850s.

The first St. Monica’s Church, built in the 1850s
Plaque on the current Church outlining its history in the area.

The defence of the larger community has also been represented on these river banks. Squeezed between the Ship Inn Hotel and Henderson’s Piggery stood a small Navel Battery which can be seen in Samuel Gill’s drawing of the Piggery. Further south, near Grimes Reserve there was also a barracks for the Colonial Army of Victoria at one time.

The picture here also shows clearly the activity along Maribyrnong Street with the Bridge Hotel in the background. Former resident, George Seelaf, said earlier in the century hundreds of people used to promenade along the wharves on summer nights, like they did on St.Kilda esplanade. The wharves were the focus of many family activities and social events in earlier days.

The Naval Battery as it appears in the bottom right hand corner of the painting of Henderson House by S.T.Gill, which can be seen earlier in this web site.
There are a number of old rocks from previous constructions near the corner of Bunbury Street and Maribyrnong Street. We are not sure if any remain from the Naval Battery.

This is a new Chinese Taoist Temple dedicated to the Heavenly Queen Mazu, or goddess of the sea.

Although not in the survey area it seemed a reasonable idea to include the building of a new religious institution not too far upstream from the Hopetoun Bridge.
Statue of Mazu, goddess of the sea