To Found a New Colony.

The lands around Westernport had been praised by Hume and Hovell in their overland expedition in 1824. London was concerned that French naval exploration would lead to a settlement the south and west coasts of the continent. In November 1826 with his background of 20 years military service Wright was recalled to Sydney by Governor Darling to take charge of the expedition to settle at Westernport and with secret orders to prevent any attempt by France to raise the tricolour in what is now Victoria. [This expedition is very fully accounted by Keith Bowden in The Westernport Settlement (Halstead Press Sydney 1970). Gov Brisbane had already used a unit of the Buffs under Captain Barlow to assist Captain Bremer RN found a settlement on Coburg Peninsular in Northern Australia and another under Captain Stirling to explore Moreton Bay.]

Two French vessels had visited the south coast of Australia in 1825 and L'Astrolade earlier in the year. The British Admiralty had concerns that the French may attempt to claim parts of the continent outside British sovereignty. As a result Darling somewhat reluctantly decided to send parties to Westernport in Victoria and King George Sound in Western Australia. On the 9 November Samuel and William Hovell with a detachment of the 3rd Regiment and 21 convicts sailed in the colonial brig Dragon . At the time HMS Fly commanded by Captain Wetherall was in Port Jackson and promptly offered his services to assist Wright.(HRA p. 892) Major Lockyer, who had accompanied Wright to Hobart in 1823, and Lt. Robert Stirling set off for King George Sound (Albany) at the same time. Stirling had accompanied the Surveyor-General Oxley to explore the Moreton Bay area in 1823. In preparing for the expedition it is likely that Stirling had informed Wright that Oxley had surveyed Westernport twenty years before and was not impressed. Wright probably set out with no great expectations that he would find the area more attractive.

The weather was bad and the journey took 16 days. Extensive mud flats made approach to the shore difficult except at high tide. The party spent three days on the Dragon off the northern shore of Phillip Island (near the present town of Rhyll) while Wright obtained a preliminary, but not favourable impression of the area. While Wright established a camp Wetherall had his men clear a site on the island for Fort Dumaresq, named after Darling's brother-in-law. The guns were set up on Red Point and the site was claimed for the Crown on December 3 with a salute of 21 guns. Wetherall, whose view of the potential was more favourable than that of his military colleague set to chart the approaches and describe the geography.

The initial survey prompted a relocation of the camp to eastern side of the Bay a short distance east of the site of the present town of Corinella. From there Wright studied the area in detail and on January 3 1827 set out on a longer expedition with Hovell. He planned a town with one major street running half a mile inland. Wright concluded that -
'the very small quantity of good land ... and the sterile, swampy and impenetrable nature of the country .... lead me to believe that it does not possess sufficient capabilities for colonisation on a large scale. Having thus fulfilled, as far as was practicable, the intentions of Government, I considered my continuance at the Settlement altogether unnecessary.'

When Wright arrived he found a party of sealers on Phillip Island who told him that the Astrolabe under D'Urville had been there a few days earlier but had left. The party did not encounter the French and Wright was not required to follow the 'secret orders'. Peaceful contact was made with the aborigines. Captain Wright remained at Westernport from 10 December 1826 until the new settlers were established when he handed over to Lt. Burchell. Burchell continued the development with a timber mill and a brick works which allowed further construction of buildings. Barracks, blacksmith shop, a house for the commandant and a hut for a hospital were aligned along Wright's Street. Hovell's task was to evaluate the surrounding country and he undertook a number of extensive expeditions including visits to Port Phillip. His reports to Darling were quite positive and for his services he received a grant of 1280 acres. Darling accepted the negative reports of Wright and Wetherall and downplayed Hovell's in order to avoid extending the his lines of communication and supply. Darling's unfavourable report on the settlement reached London as concern over the French threat had faded away and the settlement was abandoned in January 1828 leaving thousands of bricks neatly stacked ready for use.