Robe is situated on Guichen Bay, about 350km south east of Adelaide. Nicolas Baudin, a French explorer first viewed the bay in 1802. The township of Robe was later settled in 1802 and Guichen Bay was named in honour of Admiral de Guichen. Surveying by Governor Robe in April 1846 resulted in the county of Robe being roclaimed. Pastoral pioneers legalised their claims and the first sale of building allotments took place in Adelaide.
In 1847 Robe was declared a port and wool began to arrive for shipment. A pioneer agent named George Omerod established himself as Robe’s shipping agent and by 1856 Robe was the second major colonial out-port. Hearing of Robe’s prosperity the town attracted many settlers, and merchants arriving by sailing vessel, bullock wagon or on horseback. In 1857 “Lake of Cakes” sailed into Robe’s Bay with 264 Chinese passengers. The numbers swelled to 17,000 Chinese staying in Robe for a short time to avoid the Victorian poll tax, before paying local guides to take them 150km to the unguarded border and another 400km to the Victorian goldfields.
Several factors in 1870’s led to the decline of Robe as a thriving port. Pastoralists concerned that their leases would not be renewed from the 1850’s led to a decline in trade. Lack of confidence, a poor agricultural season, falling wool prices and construction of the railway to Port Caroline (Kingston) in 1878. “Robe was closed as a port and became a quiet little country village” wrote AH Barrowman. Robe remained relatively unchanged until the 1940’s when the extension of roads and the increasing use of motor transport made it easier for summer visitors and increased its popularity as a tourism destination. Coupled with the development of the Rock Lobster Industry in the 1950’s in response to demand from abroad. Now home to around 1500, Robe continues to offer charm, fine hospitality, and fresh seafood as a popular holiday destination for all.
As a visitor to the town you can still immerse yourself in Robe’s seafaring history – full of extraordinary events and wonderful sites. There are over 84 historic buildings and sites. Special care has been taken to restore most of the original buildings. By walking the streets and visiting these buildings one can relive Robe’s pioneering history.