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Camperdown is a historically significant rural town in Western Victoria, Australia, 194 kilometres south west of the state capital, Melbourne. At the 2006 census, Camperdown had a population of 3541.

Traditional owners

The Djargurd Wurrung people are the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land around Camperdown and district. For tens of thousands of years they successfully occupied the area as a semi−nomadic hunter gatherer society.

The Djargurd Wurrung consisted of 12 clans, sharing a common language and strong cultural and family links, but each with its own territory and traditions. The Camperdown area was the territory of the Liwura Gundidj clan.

Within 10 years of the coming of the Europeans in 1838, most of the Djargurd Wurrung had been driven from their land and their numbers were in steep decline. Their way of life had been destroyed forever.

Isabella Dawson with Aborigines, c1865

European settlement

The first European settlers to arrive in the Camperdown district were the Manifold brothers; John, Peter and Thomas.

After discovering the rich land of the area during an exploratory trip in late 1838, the English born Manifolds relocated from their property in Van Diemens Land, later renamed Tasmania, in January 1839. They built a crude hut and base on the north side of Lake Purrumbete, a freshwater crater lake a few kilometres east of present day Camperdown. Their vast holding at one time covered around 100,000 acres. John wrote to his mother: ´We are at last got to the land we wished for... it is a beautiful place, and cannot be surpassed by any I have ever seen´.

Other squatters soon followed and by the early 1840´s, most of the land in the Western District of Victoria had been taken up.

Manifold bothers with staff at Purrumbete, c1865

Conflict with Aborigines

European settlement was met at times with violent resistance by the traditional aboriginal landowners, but the so called "frontier war" was all but over by 1843. The Djargurd Wurrung were soon overwhelmed by the Europeans with their superior weapons.

In 1839, there was a notorious massacre at a place now called Murdering Gully, at Mount Emu Creek, west of Camperdown. Almost an entire clan of the Djargurd Wurrung was wiped out.

Land dispossession, starvation, disease and massacres, all contributed to a rapid decline in the Aboriginal population. In the 1860´s, most surviving members of the Djargurd Wurrung were forced, or pressured to move to an Aboriginal Mission at Framlingham, about 40 km west of Camperdown. Their descendants survive and thrive to this day.

Mount Emu Creek

Wombeech Puyuun, c1818 − 1883

Wombeech Puyuun, also known as Camperdown George, was the last member of the Liwura Gundidj clan still living on his ancestral land at Camperdown, to die.

Wombeech Puyuun died in February 1883, at the age of about 65. At the time of his death, his friend and Aboriginal Guardian, James Dawson was on a trip to his native Scotland. On his return he was shocked to learn that his friend had been buried in an unmarked grave in a boggy section of the Camperdown cemetery.

After an unsuccessful appeal for public support to finance a memorial in the cemetery, Dawson had a granite obelisk erected at his own expense. He personally re−buried the remains of Wombeech Puyuun at its base. This 7 metre tall obelisk remains as a unique memorial to Wombeech Puyuun and the Aborigines of the district.

Wombeech Puyuun, c1875 and Aborigines monument, 1883

Camperdown develops

In the 1840´s, a small township grew about 2 km north of present day Camperdown. It was named Timboon, an Aboriginal word meaning ´mussel shell´. The site of this township was found to be too wet and boggy.

In 1851, Government surveyor Robert Dunbar Scott was sent to the district to locate and survey a more suitable site for a town. Scott camped near the present site of Camperdown´s Hampden Hotel in the foothills of Mount Leura.

In his diary, he wrote: ´I awoke to the musical chorus of the magpie and kookaburra singing from a tree−belt which sparkled in the sun as jewels set in a seemingly endless countryside. There are miles of fertile plains, hills and valleys surrounding the mount - all suitable for development.´

Victoria Lieutenant−governor, Charles La Trobe chose the name for the new township while on a visit to the area in 1854. It is said that while on a kangaroo shoot with local squatter, Niel Black,
La Trobe named the town Camperdown in honour of the
Scottish naval hero Admiral Adam Duncan, Earl of Camperdown.

The first house in the new township was erected by David Fenton in 1853, where the Commercial Hotel now stands.

Camperdown has since developed into the major service town for the Corangamite Shire.

Early Camperdown, c1860 (etching)

Built heritage

Over the years, Camperdown has benefited immensely from the patronage of the Manifold family and the wealth created by the wool and dairy industries. This wealth is reflected in the town´s beautiful tree lined avenues, numerous monuments and fine historic buildings.

In the period 1880 − 1930, there was a transition from simple wooden structures to more substantial "bricks and mortar".  Many of Camperdown´s notable historic buildings were erected during this time.

The town is renowned for its beautiful Avenue of Elms, planted in 1876.

The Avenue and all the monuments along it, are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

The most prominent and significant structure in the Avenue is the gothic style Clock Tower. Built in 1897, this is acknowledged as the finest free standing Clock Tower in Australia.

Clock Tower and Elms, 1930 and Post Office, c1930

Natural heritage

Camperdown is located within a magnificent, volcanic landscape. The area is famous for the concentration and diversity of its (long dormant) volcanic features. Close to Camperdown are basalt plains, hundreds of shallow lakes formed by the blocking of streams by lava flows, many scoria cones, and deep crater lakes.

Camperdown sits on the lower slopes of  Mount Leura, which together with nearby Mount Sugarloaf are part of a large extinct volcanic complex known as the "Leura Maar".

To the west are the deep volcanic crater lakes Bullen Merri and Gnotuk.

To the east is Lake Purrumbete, the site of the first European settlement in the district.

Camperdown, Mt. Leura and Mt. Sugarloaf, c1890

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