The Vineyards of Moorabbin

Vineyard in Victoria, c1920.


When the Port Phillip District was separated from New South Wales, the Brighton Estate was the greatest grape producing locality in Victoria with an industry that began when Henry Moor, a solicitor, introduced the wine with plants brought from the Camden Estate in New South Wales early in 1848 to establish a five-acre vineyard on South Road. Moor’s success at grape production was so marked that after three years had passed and his first fruit appeared, there was a tendency for the country from the bayside to East Boundary Road and from South to North Roads to become dotted with vineyards while trestle vines became the fashionable insulation that shielded the outer walls of homes from the sun.

By the mid-1850’s the land between Port Phillip Bay and East Boundary Road was yielding more grapes a year than any other area in Australia until the neighbouring Parish of Prahran got busy and excelled the efforts of the Parish of Moorabbin. Jointly however, Moorabbin and Prahran in 1856 produced 157,000 pounds of grapes between them, representing two-thirds of Victoria’s output for the year and at a time when this state was the major grape producer in Australia.

A few years after the founding of Cheltenham, which took place in 1852, William Bruton (an early resident) recorded that this locality was also rich with vineyards; he could remember the vines being wiped out, but he could not recall the name of the disease or insect responsible. Whatever the cause, the vineyard era which provided table grapes, raisins, and wines to meet the mounting needs of an expanding gold rush population, lasted long enough to see the gold fever go into a decline as the prospector moved out of the goldfields and the mining companies moved in.

Then the vines began to decline, and the Parish of Moorabbin reverted to being largely a market gardening locality after six very successful years of growing grapes and making enough wine to satisfy the distribution needs of the Brighton Brewery.

Although figures suggest that annual wine production rose above the two-hundred-gallon mark at its peak in 1855, no records are known to exist for 1858. Perhaps the drop-in manufacture to 15 ½ gallons as recorded in 1857 was a sad enough figure to put the one surviving vigneron out of business.

Tom Sheehy

Reprinted from mooroobin, Volume 1 No 2, 1979

4 March 2020
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