The Eyre Peninsula has been home to Aboriginal people for over 40 thousand years, with the Nauo (south western Eyre), Barngarla (eastern Eyre), Wirangu (north western Eyre) and Mirning (far western Eyre) being the predominant original cultural groups present at the time of the arrival of Europeans. (Tindale 1974 in DEH 2004a; SATC 1999).
Matthew Flinders was the first European to discover Port Lincoln under his commission by the British Admiralty to chart Australia's unexplored coastline. On 25 February 1802, Flinders sailed his exploration vessel HMS Investigator into the harbour, which he later named Port Lincoln after his native county of Lincolnshire in England. A couple of months later on 19 April, Nicolas Baudin entered the same port and named it Port Champagny.
Sealers had visited the area around 1828 and the mainly French whailing ships were fishing the local bays and island regions by the 1820s and up to the 1840s. In 1836 Governor Sir John Hindmarsh, the first Governor of South Australia, gave instructions to Colonel William Light of finding a capital for the 'New British Provence of South Australia'. He'd been in the colony for four months and in all that time he'd been trying to find a right place for a harbour, and a right place for a settlement.
With boatfuls of immigrants set to arrive and impatient settlers already camping at Holdfast Bay, Rapid Bay and Kangaroo Island, Light was under immense pressure to identify a location with a suitable harbour, sufficient agricultural land and fresh water.
After assessing a number of other potential locations, Light was ordered by England to consider Port Lincoln as a possible site for the capital. While Thomas Lipson had arrived in Port Lincoln earlier and approved of its 'beautiful harbour' and 'fertile land', Light was unconvinced from the beginning as he faced fierce westerly gales, ill-placed islands and rocky reefs on arrival.
Light decided it might be dangerous for merchant ships trying to enter the unfamiliar territory after a long voyage and that there was not enough of what he thought was good agricultural land, and not enough fresh water to sustain a city so he decided to choose Adelaide as the most suitable place for settlement.
Port Lincoln however, proved popular with pioneers and developers, with the first settlers arriving on 19 March 1839 aboard the ships Abeona, Porter and Dorset. On 3 October 1839 Governor George Gawler proclaimed the whole area from Cape Catastrophe to the head of the Spencer Gulf as one district, which he named the District of Port Lincoln.
Local Government formally began on the Eyre Peninsula on 1 July 1880 with the establishment of the District Council of Lincoln. The township of Port Lincoln naturally was included in that area. On 18 August 1921 the Municipality of Port Lincoln was formally proclaimed.
In 1840 one year after settlement, the population of Port Lincoln was 270. There were 30 stone houses, a hotel, blacksmith's shop and a store in the Happy Valley area. Around this time, Edward John Eyre explored the peninsula that was subsequently named in his honour.
In early 1842, local Aboriginal resistance to the British invasion and settlement became so successful that it prompted the near abandonment of Port Lincoln. As a result Governor George Grey ordered a detachment of the 96th Regiment of the British Army under the command of Lieutenant Hugonin to enforce control in the area. After an initial defeat at Pillaworta, the 96th in combination with the Mounted Police and armed settlers were able to restore full British authority by the end of 1843. A section of Native Police were later deployed to the area to maintain this control.
By 1936 the population had grown to 3200 and the town had a first class water supply. The port had become the commercial pivot for the area, providing for its many agricultural and commercial requirements. City status was granted to Port Lincoln on 21 January 1971 and the proclamation was read at the opening of the tenth annual Tunarama Festival on the Australia Day weekend.
The lack of a reliable surface water supply was a factor preventing Port Lincoln from being proclaimed the colony's capital city in the 1830s. Even as a small town, Port Lincoln outgrew its fresh water supplies. It is now largely dependent on water drawn from groundwater basins in the south of the peninsula.
The southern and western parts of the Eyre Peninsula region also share this resource via the Tod-Ceduna pipeline. The Iron Knob to Kimba pipeline completed in 2007 provides limited transfer capacity of River Murray water into the Tod-Ceduna system. Following the development of a long term water supply plan for Eyre Peninsula, the South Australian government is progressing detailed investigation of augmentation options. These including seawater desalination.
Formerly a potable water resource fed by the Tod River, the Tod Reservoir was taken offline in 2001–2002 due to concerns about rising levels of agricultural chemical contamination and salinity.
Port Lincoln has a number of places listed on the South Australian Heritage Register, including:
At June 2015 Port Lincoln had an estimated urban population of 16,147. Aboriginal people make up 5.6% of Port Lincoln's population.
Port Lincoln has a contrasting coastal landscape, ranging from sheltered waters and beaches, to surf beaches and rugged oceanic coastline. The Great South Australian Coastal Upwelling System brings cold, nutrient-rich water into nearby waters of the Great Australian Bight and Spencer Gulf. These upwellings support lucrative fisheries, including that of the southern bluefin tuna and sardine.
Port Lincoln has a semi-arid climate with warm, dry summers and mild, moist winters. January temperatures average 16 °C (60.8 °F) to 26 °C (78.8 °F), while in July temperatures range from 7 °C (44.6 °F) to 16 °C (60.8 °F). Winter days are cool and cloudy, with frequent light drizzle and showers. Cold fronts cause periods of heavy rain and colder temperatures in winter, and violent storms can occasionally roll in from the southern ocean. Summers are mild to warm with cool sea breezes keeping the temperatures generally below 30 °C (86.0 °F). However, on rare occasions a severe blast of heat from the deserts to the north can cause several days of temperatures well over 40 °C (104.0 °F). Rainfall in summer is limited to very infrequent showers or thunderstorms and sometimes during summer, no rain occurs at all. Snow has never been recorded and frost is a very rare occurrence, usually happening only on clear winters nights away from the coast. Extremes have ranged from 46.1 °C (115.0 °F) to −0.3 °C (31.5 °F), while the wettest month on record was June 1981, recording 200.4 millimetres (7.9 in).
Port Lincoln is located in the federal Division of Grey, the state electoral district of Flinders and the local government area of City of Port Lincoln.
The economy is based on the huge grain-handling facilities (with a total capacity of over 337,500 tonnes), the canning and fish processing works, lambs, wool and beef, and tuna farming for the Japanese market. Home of Australia's largest commercial fishing fleet, Port Lincoln now has a thriving aquaculture industry that farms the following species: southern bluefin tuna, yellowtail kingfish, abalone, mussels, oysters, and experimentally, seahorses and spiny lobsters. Before the advent of aquaculture, the main fishing was for southern bluefin tuna. Frank Moorhouse recommended the South Australian government lend the Haldane family 20,000 pounds which they used to build a super vessel. The MFV Tacoma was Australia's first purpose-built tuna fishing vessel. It revolutionised the industry and began catching the fish off the coast of Port Lincoln in the early 1950s.
The city also functions as a regional centre for government administration, corporate services and commerce to Eyre Peninsula; however, many state government functions are gradually being withdrawn as they become more centralised in Adelaide. During the early years of this century, housing demand has led to a boom in property development, both residential and commercial.
A proposal by Centrex Metals to export iron ore through an expanded facility at the existing Port Lincoln wharf was approved by the South Australian Government c. Oct 2009. The proposal was abandoned by the company following strong public opposition. The chief public concern was the potential harm that spillage or dust plumes might cause to the profitability or reputation of the region's dominant seafood industry.
Port Lincoln is a centre for tourism, due to the scenic beauty and coastal locality. Ready access to both Spencer Gulf and the Great Australian Bight mark Port Lincoln out as a blue water playground for yachting, scuba diving, shark cage diving and game fishing.
Lincoln National Park, Coffin Bay National Park and Kellidie Bay Conservation Park are within easy driving distance.
Port Lincoln is the terminal station for the Eyre Peninsula Railway, a narrow gauge (1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)) railway which consists of three lines – Port Lincoln to Kevin, Cummins to Buckleboo and Yeelanna to Kapinnie.
Port Lincoln was also the port terminus for the privately owned standard-gauge Coffin Bay tramway that operated from 1966 to 1989 to carry lime sand to the port at Proper Bay on the south side of the town for BHP. It was used as flux in blast furnaces.
Port Lincoln Airport is located a few kilometres north of the city. Regional Express and Qantaslink provide multiple daily flights to the state capital of Adelaide.
The Port Lincoln Bus Service operates Monday to Friday from 9.00 am to 4.30 pm with separate morning and afternoon services. The morning service runs to a fixed route timetable and services Lincoln North and Lincoln South.
Long distance bus services are operated by Premier Stateliner with multiple daily services to Adelaide and Port Augusta.
The book Blue Fin by Colin Thiele was set in Port Lincoln, with the movie of the same name filmed in nearby Streaky Bay.
Some of the shark scenes of Jaws and ANZAC Cove scenes in Gallipoli were also filmed near Port Lincoln.
The first edition of Australian Survivor, the Australian version of the popular US television series, Survivor, was filmed at Whalers Way, south of Port Lincoln, in 2001.
The Discovery Channel documentary series Tuna Wranglers (2007) and Abalone Wars were both filmed in and around Port Lincoln.
Port Lincoln was visited in 1939 by English travel author Eric Newby, while he was crew in the 4-masted barque Moshulu, which anchored outside of Boston Island. Moshulu had taken 82 days to sail to Port Lincoln from Belfast in ballast (a fast passage for a windjammer), but there was no grain to be had there, even though Moshulu waited at anchor for most of January. The crew was given shore leave in Port Lincoln, encountering large amounts of Australian wine. Moshulu eventually carried on to Port Victoria for cargo. During the 1939 season, Passat and Lawhill were also present at Port Lincoln. Newby wrote about his experiences on the round-trip from Ireland to South Australia in his book The Last Grain Race (1956), and several pictures of Port Lincoln as it appeared in 1939 are included in his photo-essay of his voyage, Learning the Ropes.
On the TV show Neighbours, the Brennan brothers, Tyler, Mark and Aaron, are originally from Port Lincoln.
Port Lincoln has two local commercial radio stations, 89.9 Magic FM and 765 AM 5CC (the first local commercial station) broadcasting out of their Washington Street studio. It is also served by ABC West Coast SA on 1485 AM which broadcasts out of the Civic Centre on Tasman Terrace. It's also served by Triple J and ABC Radio National from Tumby Bay and satellite uplink from Melbourne respectively. ABC News Radio is also available on 91.5FM. It also receives KIXFM 87.6.
Port Lincoln has one local newspaper, the Port Lincoln Times, a Rural Press publication. The Port Lincoln Times is published on Tuesdays and Thursdays and is printed in Murray Bridge at the high-tech Rural Press printing centre.
Free to air TV stations available in Port Lincoln are ABC, SBS, Southern Cross GTS/BKN (formerly Central Television), the Nine Network and Southern Cross Ten. Also available is Foxtel pay TV.
Port Lincoln is twinned with:
Weightlifter Dean Lukin, who won the Olympic Gold Medal in the Super heavyweight division at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, was a tuna fisherman who shot to fame as a weightlifter in the 1980s. After finishing his career he returned to run the family fishery business. He also won Gold at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, and the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.
Many Australian rules football (AFL) players have come from Port Lincoln, including Eddie Betts, Graham Johncock, Peter Burgoyne, Shaun Burgoyne, Byron Pickett and Lindsay Thomas.
Tony Santic, the owner of Makybe Diva (the only horse to win the Melbourne Cup three times) is a tuna farmer in Port Lincoln. A life-sized bronze statue of The Diva by artist Ken Martin stands on the town's foreshore.
Australian netball player Lauren Nourse began her career in Port Lincoln at age 7. In 2008 she was a member of the gold medal-winning Australian side at the Auckland World Netball Championships.
Visually impaired Paralympic cyclist Kieran Modra was born in Port Lincoln.
2016 Summer Olympics Olympian Kyle Chalmers, son of Brett Chalmers.