Outward Letter Books – concerning the survey of the Port Phillip District (VPRS 6)

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Surveying the Port Phillip District in the colony of New South Wales and in the early years of the State of Victoria

View of Melbourne 1840, watercolour by Robert Hoddle

Melbourne, Port Phillip, Racecourse and Survey Office (1840), by Robert Hoddle, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H259

The surveying of the Port Phillip District was part of a huge combined effort by British officials to map the still greatly-unknown continent of Australia. During his exploration expedition of 1835-6, surveyor general for New South Wales, Major Thomas Mitchell crossed the Murray river and travelled south, encountering a region of such fertility and promise that he called it "Australia Felix", inspiring subsequent settlement.1 In the new settlement of Port Phillip, surveyors were mainly responsible for deciding the location and shape of public facilities - roads, ports, bridges, reserves and access to water. They recommended where the future cities of Melbourne and Geelong should be located, and how all farms and townships should be laid out for sale.2

Hoddle's town plan for Melbourne
Robert Hoddle’s grid plan for the town of Melbourne (shown within the surrounding terrain of the Port Phillip District), 1837. PROV, VPRS 8168/P2 Historic Plan Collection, Unit 6166, Sydney M8, Town of Melbourne

The major correspondents whose letters constitute VPRS 6 include: governor of NSW Sir Richard Bourke; superintendant Charles Joseph La Trobe; surveyor general Thomas Mitchell; surveyors Robert Hoddle and Charles James Tyers, assistant surveyors William Wedge Darke and Robert Russell.

Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) has published a book on this topic, including a comprehensive selection of documentary material, with useful citations: Surveyors' problems and achievements 1836-1839 - Public Record Office Victoria (Vol. 5 of Historical Records of Victoria: Foundation Series). You can find this in the resource library in the North Melbourne Reading Room of the Public Record Office Victoria, as well as the collection of the State Library of Victoria.

For further information on this topic, see Related Resources on this wiki entry.

Series Description

This series consists of the books into which outwards correspondence was transcribed with details of the addressee, the date and the registered number. Matters dealt with concern the survey of the Port Phillip District (including the delineation of the boundaries of the original counties), the survey and sale of land including requests for Special Surveys, the leasing and licensing of surveyed land and matters relating to the administration of the survey departments and their personnel. Correspondents consisted of the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District, later the Lieutenant-Governor and Colonial Secretary, the Surveyor-General of New South Wales, other surveyors employed and members of the public including officials of organisations desirous of grants for special purposes. Some survey reports and diaries are included as are copies of returns and circulars.

Other outward correspondence may be seen in VPRS 5 Outward Registered Correspondence to the Surveyor-General. More examples may be found in VPRS 44 Inwards Registered and Unregistered Correspondence and as returned attachments in Inwards Correspondence series for this agency. Inwards Correspondence (including VPRS 2877 and VPRS 2878) in response to these letters may assist in providing further information.


VPRS 6 Unit 1: Letter from Hoddle to the Surveyor General of Sydney 10th April 1837

Outward Correspondence - Robert Hoddle to the Surveyor-General, Sydney, 10 April 1837. PROV, VPRS 6/P0, Unit 1

Physical Format

VPRS 6 consists of six volumes (letterbooks). The first consignment (P0) contains five volumes and the second and final consignment (P1) contains one. All volumes have an alphabetical index at the front of the volume. In the P consignment, Units (volumes) 1 and 2 have indexed the name or office of the addressee, the date of the letter, the registered number, the page upon which the transcription appears and a summary of the subject. Units 3 and 5 have indexed the name or office of the addressee and the page upon which the transcription appears. Unit 4 contains only letters addressed to the Lieutenant-Governor as denoted by the letter 'A' before the registration number. This unit is indexed by the person or locality which was the subject of letter and the page.

The unit in the P1 consignment is alphabetically indexed by name of addressee and the page.

Links to Records in PROV's online catalogue
Plus links to selective transcriptions available on PROV wiki

PROV VPRS 6/P0, unit 1

PROV VPRS 6/P0, unit 2
PROV VPRS 6/P0, unit 3
PROV VPRS 6/P0, unit 4
PROV VPRS 6/P0, unit 5
PROV VPRS 6/P1, unit 1

Related Records

PROV VPRS 4 - Inward Registered Correspondence, police magistrate Port Phillip District (Captain William Lonsdale)

PROV VPRS 5 - Outward Registered Correspondence to the Surveyor General

PROV VPRS 97 - Inwards Correspondence (Surveyor General's Department)

PROV VPRS 8168 - Historical Plan Collection

PROV VPRS 8600 - Survey Field Books

PROV VPRS 16685 - Surveyor's Field Books, Black Sequence

Transcription and Digitisation The index to the first and earliest volume has been transcribed. This transcription is avaiable on a PROV wiki page here.

All six volumes in VPRS 6 are being digitised by PROV in an effort to conserve the originals and provide easier access to the information within the records. This project is currently ongoing.

Related Resources

Biography of Robert Hoddle


  • Surveyors' problems and achievements 1836-1839 - Public Record Office Victoria (Vol. 5 of Historical Records of Victoria: Foundation Series)


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