The Civilisation of Port Phillip: Settler ideology, violence, and rhetorical possession

Author(s): Thomas James Rogers


Port Phillip's free settlers often said that they were civilising a wilderness. The truth was that the occupied country already had people, laws, politics, and economies. What did 'civilisation' mean to the free settlers? And what was the relationship between civilising and violence? The Civilisation of Port Phillip tracks the violent history of the first years of British settlement in the Port Phillip District, now the state of Victoria. It illuminates the underlying free-settler rhetoric that advocated and abetted violence on the frontier. For the first time, we hear the settlers tell us in their own words what the civilisation of Port Phillip really involved. Frontier violence in Port Phillip involved Aboriginal peoples, convicts, free settlers and colonial officials. This history shows how the lives of these different people interconnected in early Port Phillip, in unlikely friendships, dire misunderstandings, and fatal clashes. It paints a vivid picture of the period drawn from archival records, a thorough re-reading of older histories, and new ideas in the scholarship of violence. As well as sheep and firearms, free settlers brought Enlightenment ideas about civilisation to Port Phillip. When these European ideas were coupled with Australian frontier experience, they manifested in an exterminatory attitude towards people deemed undesirable in the coming colony. The Civilisation of Port Phillip shows how free-settler rhetoric, law, and systems of classification reinforced and sought to justify the violence of the frontier.


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Thomas James Rogers is a historian in the Military History Section at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. He is currently working on projects dealing with Australia's involvement in the Boer War and the First World War. Prior to working at the Memorial, he lectured and tutored at the University of Melbourne and Australian Catholic University. He taught Australian and world history, Australian Indigenous history, and the history of violence. Tom holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne. His research interests include colonial Australian and British Empire history, genocide studies, military and political history, and historical studies of violence.

General Fields

  • : 9780522870602
  • : Melbourne University Press
  • : Melbourne University Press
  • : February 2018
  • : Australia
  • : February 2018
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Paperback
  • : 218
  • : 277
  • : Thomas James Rogers