The historic township of Sorrento is around one and half hour driving distance from Melbourne CBD, located in the Mornington Peninsula. Being the first European settlement in Victoria, it has a unique place among Coastal towns. Sorrento’s main street, Ocean Beach Road is known for its heritage listed lime stone buildings, but the town has redefined itself as a shopper’s paradise with its range of fashion and speciality stores.
In 1802 Lieutenant John Murray in the Lady Nelson arrived at Port Phillip Bay and at Point King hoisted the united colours of Great Britain and Ireland and claimed it for the British Crown. The British Government was impressed by their reports of the coast and decided to settle convicts there anticipating the French might claim the territory for themselves. In April 1803, the HMS Calcutta and the transport ship, Ocean sailed from England to establish a penal settlement at Port Phillip. Lieutenant David Collins was responsible for the settlement and established a site at Sorrento calling it ‘Hobart’ Settlement at the insistence of NSW Governor Philip Gidley King. They reached the coast on 10th October and on 14th October 1803, a party of marines and convicts pitched tents about a mile south east of the Present Sorrento Pier. 402 people including 18 free settlers, 17 married women and seven children were among it. John Pascoe Fawkner, who was later regarded as one of the founders of Melbourne were also among the children. Collins named the bay, “Sullivans Bay”. after the Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, John Sullivan.
But the settlement was a failure and on 30th January 1804, Lady Nelson and the Ocean sailed again, leaving the coast of Victoria, with settlers aboard to seek fresh pastures. 20 days later, New Hobart was born again on the banks of Derwent river in Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land). 35 years later, once again in 1839, a party of lime burners from Melbourne arrived in Sorrento and founded the township.
The aboriginal name for the peninsula where Sorrento now stands was ‘Bullanatoolong’ which means stretched out Kangaroo skin. The area was frequented by Bunurong people who came here for its abundant seafood.
Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Irish nationalist and later Premier of Victoria, built a holiday house at Point King and named it Sorrento, from some fancied resemblance to the birth place of 16th century Italian poet, Torquato Tasso.
Sorrento is indebted to Actor – politician – entrepreneur George Coppin, for much of its early development. From the 1870’s to 90’s he was engaged in creating business ventures to develop Sorrento as a seaside resort. The companies in which he was a partner, invested in Sorrento Tramway which carried visitors from Sorrento Pier to Back Beach and in ferries bringing visitors from Melbourne. Sorrento tramway company operated horse drawn and steam trams to take day trippers from Pier to Back beach or Ocean Amphitheatre.
His companies purchased much of what became the newly located centre of Sorrento and built the Continental Hotel, a guesthouse, sorrento baths and introduced a seasonal ferry service from Melbourne. The steam tramway started in 1889 continued till 1921.
The Sorrento Pier was built in 1870, and George Coppin formed Sorrento and Queenscliff navigation company. Paddle steamer Golden Crown was his first ship to run regular excursions from Port Melbourne to Sorrento and Queenscliff. He, then established Bay Excursion Company and introduced luxury paddle steamers. Paddle steamers ferried between Melbourne and Sorrento until 1942. The largest among the ferries, ‘Weeroona’, had a carrying capacity of more than 1900 people.
Sorrento Band stand was built in 1902 and was opened in March 1903. It was used by visiting paddle steamer bands for passenger entertainment
What to do in Sorrento?
Sorrento has turned itself into a shopping destination with its range of fashion stores, galleries and antique shops. It has Pubs, restaurants, cafés and produce stores for visitors within the township centred around the Ocean Beach Road.
Sorrento has some of the best beaches and the crescent shaped Sorrento Front beach is famous for its water quality. Koonya ocean beach has views of beautiful sunset and is famous for fishing and surfing. Diamond Bay is popular with families. The Sorrento Ocean beach has a popular rock pool and is ideal for experienced surfers.
The iconic Rocky arch at Sorrento back beach was popular with photographers. But the arch collapsed in March 2016. Click the link for beaches near Sorrento https://beachsafe.org.au/vic/mornington-peninsula/sorrento
Sorrento Portsea Artists Trail
This walking trail was created to help visitors experience the stretches that inspired artists like Albert Tucker, Roland Clark, Sir Arthur Streeton , Isacc Whitehead and many more.
Sorrento has many historical buildings well preserved and still operating as normal.
Built in 1876, the hotel was originally called the Mornington Hotel but was renamed Koonya in 1952, which is an aboriginal name for Seagull. Located at the Esplanade
Built in 1876, for Continental Hotel Company with George Coppin as Managing Director, it was considered as a fashionable place to stay in its early years. Located at Ocean Beach Road.
The first story of the building was erected in 1886 for Lentell family and was taken over by David MacFarlan and William Stringer. Stringer family carried on the business until 1970. Located at Ocean Beach Road
With an extensive dance floor, shop spaces and residential spaces, Athenaeum was built in 1894, for Isaac Bensilum as an entertainment hall.
Located at Coppin Road, this lime stone villa was built as a holiday home for George Coppin in 1873 by John Farnsworth.
The former butcher’s shop
Located at Point Nepean Road, it was built for former Victorian Premier Charles Gavan Duffy in 1876. From 1877, the property was owned by butchers. Now it is a private residence.
Located at Hotham Road, first section was built and license granted in 1872.
It was built in 1869 for John and Jenny Watts. It was relocated to NHS Museum site and is viewable during museum opening hours. The Cottage was originally situated in Holyrood street.
Opened in 1877, this building was converted to a museum in 1967 . Located at Melbourne Road.
Swim with dolphins
Dolphin Swims provides amazing marine animal experiences with wild Bottlenose dolphins and Australian Fur seals in Port Phillip Bay. Dolphin Swims depart from Sorrento Pier near the ferry terminal on the Mornington Peninsula.
Moonraker Dolphin Swims
Polperro Dolphin Swims, Esplanade, Sorrento VIC, Australia
Phone +61 3 5988 8437
There are many charter fishing trip providers operating from the Sorrento Pier.
Take a Ferry to Queenscliff
There is a ferry service operating from Sorrento Pier to Queenscliff. Passengers can take their cars along with them.