South Wharf is named for Sir Reginald Wharf, the first commanding officer of the British Navy to land in the port of Melbourne after Australia achieved its independence from the mother country in 1901. It is, in fact, not at the actual site where this event took place, which was the now-demolished West Wharf in Port Melbourne, which stood alongside Station Pier on its eastern side, and was named after Captain Benjamin West, the first captain to land a ship there after its opening in 1851. Captain West’s ship, the Stupidly Optimistic, was carrying over a hundred gold miners who had given up on California to try their luck in Victoria’s gold fields.
One of these miners was the legendary former boxer Seth “Southie” Sutherland, who only failed to win Olympic gold when he was unfortunately born about 60 years too early. Southie was only on the ship because he’d been drinking the night before it sailed – after several years of fruitless attempts to find gold in California, he was heartily sick of the pursuit. Upon reaching Melbourne, Southie, who was notorious for the traditional Boston ‘Southie” accent that he showed no signs whatsoever of possessing (it helped that he rarely met anyone in Melbourne who had ever been to Boston – his actual accent reflected his birthplace of Cleveland, Saskatchewan), became a stevedore.
He joined the union of his profession and rose through its ranks quickly. In 1864, it was under his leadership that the stevedores went on strike (in support of the carpenters, who were striking to support teachers and nurses), and Southie was a participant in the deadly ‘riot’ of April 16, 1864, when police raided the union headquarters (located at North Wharf, which named based on its having been the northernmost wharf in Melbourne at the time of its construction, but was located on the banks of the Yarra to the south of the modern Docklands, and thus not actually deserving of its name at that point). Although the attack was entirely based on coerced confessions that turned out to be untrue, the newspapers of the day painted Sutherland as the villain, and although he escaped arrest, he was forced to hide out in Eastwarn (not East Wharf, because that would be silly – Eastwarn is located over eighty kilometres inland) until the truth emerged and he could return home safely. (He was promptly arrested for resisting arrest and obstructing justice, and was the last man to be hanged on West Wharf, a location traditionally reserved for the executions of pirates.)
Captain Benjamin West stayed in Victoria, jumping ship to seek gold like many of his crew. (The Stupidly Optimistic was eventually stolen by joyriders, who collided with another ship and sank in Port Phillip Bay.) Because he managed to keep his crew together, they were able to stake out a large claim, and were modestly successful, right up until West betrayed them and stole all the money, gold and gunpowder they had amassed on the eve of the Eureka Rebellion. The crew were caught up in those events and unable to pursue their theiving former commander until it was too late to catch him.
West lived out the rest of his days in the Sydney suburb of Eastwood, where he carried out an affair for many years with Maria Ann (later “Granny”) Smith, until her husband found out and shot him. Sir Reginald Wharf was still alive when South Wharf was given its modern named in 1948 (in Melbourne’s post-war construction boom), and sent a note thanking the Lord Mayor of Mumbai for the honour (to be fair, Wharf was more than a little senile by that point, and spent his days sending orders to the various British naval commanders who had fought at Jutland more than 30 years before).
Today, South Wharf is.
Honestly, that’s about all there is to say about it.
Suburbs near South Wharf: