Point Nepean is at the western end of the Mornington Peninsula, 60 km south of Melbourne. It is opposite Point Lonsdale (Queenscliff), and the two points form the entrance to Port Phillip Bay.
Point Nepean was named in 1802 by Lieutenant John Murray after Evan Nepean, Secretary of the British Admiralty. In 1837 Edward Hobson took up a pastoral run which included Point Nepean and about half of the Mornington Peninsula. Within 15 years Point Nepean's use was radically changed when sailing ship passengers were quarantined there because of typhoid. The ship, Ticonderoga, is commemorated by Ticonderoga Bay on the northern side. Two years later (1855) a sanatory or quarantine station was gazetted and in 1859 a hospital and staff quarters were completed.
In 1867 consideration was given to fortifying the entrance to Port Phillip Bay to stop naval invasion. A temporary battery was constructed at Point Nepean in 1878, which was strengthened with more guns in 1884. During the 1880s defence construction was intensified, with fortifications at Queenscliff, Fort Nepean at the tip of Point Nepean and at Eagles Nest, 1 km east of Point Nepean. (The latter was to direct fire towards Bass Strait.) Later a battery was built at Fort Franklin, Portsea (later the site of the Portsea children's camp). The plan of the fortifications was to defensively shell an invading naval force in Bass Strait (from Eagles Nest and the later Fort Pearce, 1918-42), and to shell any vessel which successfully entered the bay by crossfire from Forts Queenscliff and Nepean. If a vessel evaded that route and chose the South Channel, offshore from the Mornington Peninsula, it faced crossfire from Fort Franklin and a battery on an artificial island, South Channel Fort. Port Phillip was considered among the best fortified places in the British Empire. Its sole shot fired in anger, with any significant result, was across the bows of the German ship Pfalz at the outbreak of World War I. The shot was re-enacted during the World War I centennial commemorations in Fort Nepean on 5 August 2014.
Millions of pounds were spent on underground ammunition storage – the brickwork is a credit to the building profession – gunnery and barracks. A jetty was built in Port Phillip Bay to land supplies. A third battery, pointed southwards, was built at Cheviot Hill for World War II, but aerial bombing rendered the whole scheme redundant after the war.
The quarantine station was intensively used for clearing returning service personnel after World War I, but received reduced use during the next few decades. In 1952 it was reserved for an army officer cadet school, and later for the School of Army Health.
Point Nepean has an historic cemetery and there was a school for children held in Quarantine (1889). Many of the burial plots are unmarked, but ones identified include early settlers, shipwreck victims, military personnel and deaths at the Quarantine Station.
Census figures for Point Nepean are small, but there have been large numbers of people kept there. Between November 1918 and August 1919 nearly 12,000 ship passengers were quarantined, and additional huts were built in 1919 for returned service personnel during the influenza pandemic.
In December 1967 Point Nepean gained international recognition when the serving Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, was drowned while swimming off Cheviot Beach. In 1976 he was commemorated by the creation of the Harold Holt Marine Reserve, which includes all the waters around Point Nepean. In 1988 the Point Nepean National Park was created.
About half of Point Nepean is excluded from the park because of unexploded ordinance. The old quarantine station and the Army Medical School can be inspected, and both have museums. A visitors' centre has been built at the entrance to Point Nepean and all of the fortifications can be visited. In 2009 control of the 90 hectare quarantine station at Point Nepean was transferred from the federal to the state government.
Development at the Point Nepean national park was proposed in 2014 and included a health retreat, marine education centre, the University of Melbourne's National Centre for Coasts and Climate, and luxury accommodation. The Napthine government signed a 50-year lease (with an option to extend) with Point Leisure Group, scheduled to begin in July 2017, which covered the historic Quarantine Station site and stretched 64 ha to include car parks, the Parade Ground, Wombat Oval and Jarman Oval. After strong community opposition the incoming Andrews Labor government moved to review the lease.
The Point Nepean statistical area, including Portsea, Sorrento, Blairgowrie and Rye, had the following census population:
Harry Breidahl, A guide to Point Nepean's past, Department of Conservation and Environment, 1992
Richard Cotter, A short history of the Nepean peninsula Sorrento and Portsea, Red Hill South, 2004
Discovering historic Point Nepean, Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands, 1988
Frances O'Neill, Point Nepean: a history, Ministry of Housing and Construction, 1988
S.M. Power and others, Analysis of the heritage significance of the Commonwealth holdings at Point Nepean/Portsea, Monash University, 1985
J.H. Welch, Quarantine station Point Nepean Portsea, Nepean Historical Society, 1968