Bacchus Marsh is the largest rural area in the local government area of Shire of Moorabool. Traditionally a market garden area, producing a large amount of the region's fruits and vegetables in recent decades it has transformed into the main commuter town on the Melbourne-Ballarat corridor with its affordable starter homes proving popular. It was named after one of its original inhabitants, Captain William Henry Bacchus, who saw the great value of this locality as it was situated on two rivers — the Lerderderg and Werribee.
One of the first white men to reach the Bacchus Marsh valley was pastoralist Kenneth Scobie Clarke (c. 1806–79), a native of Sutherland in Scotland. Clarke was a manager for the Great Lake Company of Van Diemen’s Land and arrived in the Port Phillip District from George Town on 25 March 1836. Captain Bacchus credited Clarke as being the first man to shear sheep in Victoria, although the Hentys had arrived in Portland with their sheep some two years earlier.
On 29 November 1836, Clarke headed west from Port Phillip with a large flock of sheep, arriving in the Bacchus Marsh district a few days later. He built a hut on the west bank of the Lerderderg River near Darley, and lived there until early 1838. According to pastoralist George Russell, Clarke had acted on information obtained from Mr Aitken, an Edinburgh man, who was most put out when he discovered that Clarke had beaten him to the Pentland Hills run.
In 1838, Englishman Captain William Henry Bacchus (1782–1849, originally of the 2nd Royal Surrey Militia) and his son William Henry Bacchus junior (1820–87) also brought sheep from Tasmania and came to the district which now bears their name. On their arrival, Clarke made an arrangement with them and ceded his run, moving to the nearby hills known as the Pentlands. The then very swampy valley was not really suitable for sheep, as they were prone to footrot. Clarke stayed in the district until 1840 or 1841, and later went to New Zealand, where he died in 1879.
The township was originally known as Ballan, a Post Office opening under that name around July 1844 (Bacchus Marsh from July 1, 1850). The Bacchus Marsh Road District Board was proclaimed on 30 September 1856, with one of its first tasks being to construct a gravel road through the town, as at that time the road was barely passable in winter. Bacchus Marsh was created a district on 14 October 1862, and the Road Board was the governing body until the Shire of Bacchus Marsh was proclaimed on 23 January 1871. The railway came to Bacchus Marsh on 15 February 1887, and the through line to Ballarat was built in 1890.
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