Melbourne – Do you know its real history?

Originally settled in 1835, Melbourne (then known as Bearbrass – also at the time Bareport, Bareheap, Barehurp and Bareberp) the final naming of the ‘town’ occurred in 1837 with the opening of the Post Office by Governor Bourke of New South Wales.


This time we look at many of Melbourne’s pre Gold Rush buildings, built to service a small agricultural and pastoralist outpost established by John Batman – or John Pascoe Fawkner – take your pick.

Very few such buildings survive, but some do and may find yourself a little surprised at their locations. This article from the Herald Sun, written by Christopher Talbot gives some excellent insights.

Pre-gold rush Melbourne: take a look at the city’s oldest buildings

Melbourne was a crude settlement in 1835.

It grew to only 23,000 people in its first 15 years.

In July 1851, Victoria separated from New South Wales and gold was discovered a few months later — causing the population of the state to explode.

By 1860, the population of Victoria was 700,000 — and the city’s new found wealth resulted in a redevelopment of the city — with many of the pre-gold rush buildings torn down.

Take a walk through Melbourne and discover buildings with links to the pre-gold rush days that managed to survive as Marvellous Melbourne boomed around them.

St James’ Old Cathedral

THE oldest building originally built in Melbourne is St James Old Cathedral which was built in 1839 on the corner of Collins and William streets — and later relocated to King Street in 1914.

Mr Robert Russell, a London architect and surveyor, designed the building, which is made from bluestone and sandstone.

The foundation stone was laid by Charles La Trobe, Superintendent of the District of Port Phillip, on the 9th November 1839.

La Trobe had also brought a gift from Queen Victoria to the new colony, a baptismal font from St Katherine’s Abbey in London, which remains the font at St James’ today.

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Picture of the Melbourne skyline in 1881. St James’ Old Cathedral can be seen in the centre-right of the picture. Picture: State Library of Victoria.

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St James’ Old Cathedral once stood in a different spot. Picture: State Library of Victoria

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The font inside St James’ Old Cathedral was a gift for the new colony from Queen Victoria. It was brought to Melbourne in the 1830s and still resides in the church. Picture: Supplied

On the 29th June 1847, Charles Perry was consecrated in Westminster Abbey in London as Melbourne’s first bishop. He returned to Melbourne and was enthroned at St James’ on January 28, 1848 and it became the Cathedral church of the new diocese of Melbourne.

When Melbourne was booming and one of the wealthiest cities in the world in the 1880s, St Paul’s Cathedral was built and St James’ lost the title of Cathedral and became a parish church.

It was hardly being used in the early 20th Century, and plans were made for it to be demolished, but people protested and it was eventually decided to relocate it to another location.

The church was moved stone-by-numbered-stone to a new site on King Street, opposite Flagstaff Gardens and reopened in 1914.

Minor changes were made during the rebuilding, most noticeably to the third level of the bell tower which became square instead of octagonal.

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St James’ Old Cathedral as it appears today. Note the changes to the bell tower, which was altered when the church was relocated in 1914. Picture: HWT Library

300 Queen Street

THE former residence at 300 Queen Street is one of the oldest surviving houses in the central city area.

The beautiful Georgian building was designed in 1848 and built between 1849 and 1852 for one of Melbourne’s earliest settlers, J T Smith — a publican and theatre entrepreneur who was Mayor of Melbourne seven times during the 1850s and 1860s.

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300 Queen Street was once a stately home owned by a seven-time mayor of Melbourne. Picture: Heritage Victoria

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JT Smith was the first owner of 300 Queen Street. He was mayor of Melbourne seven times. Picture: State Library of Victoria.

The house was next occupied by David Munro between 1879 and 1889 — a successful railway contractor and land speculator who was bankrupted during the economic crash of the early 1890s.

300 Queen Street is a rare surviving example of the simple but elegant Georgian design by two of Melbourne’s earliest architects, Charles Laing and David Ross.

The building is now part of Victoria University.

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300 Queen Street as it looked in 1963 when it was being used as government offices. Picture: Heritage Victoria

Job Warehouse (Crossley’s Building)

JOB Warehouse is one of only a handful of surviving buildings in central Melbourne dating from before the first gold rushes.

It was build in 1848-49 as a two storey row of brick shops that stretches from Crossley Street to Liverpool Street.

It remains mostly as it appeared when first constructed, except for the shop windows and some minor changes to the facade.

The part of the building at 60-62 Bourke Street was built by a well-known butcher William Crossley as a shop, slaughter yard and residence.

The Crossleys trained many of Melbourne’s leading butchers in the 1880s.

Distinguished landscape painter Eugene von Guerard also lived in no. 56 in 1857 and 1858, one of Australia’s leading colonial artists who helped establish the Victorian Society of Fine Arts.

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It’s not much to look at, but Job Warehouse — also known as Crossley’s Building — is one of the oldest buildings in Melbourne. Picture: HWT Library.

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Job Warehouse has barely changed since it was built in 1848. Picture: HWT Library.

 Former Black Eagle Hotel

THE former Black Eagle Hotel is the oldest surviving building in the former red light district once known as “Little Lon”.

It was built in 1850 by William Kennon as a pair of two-storey bluestone and brick houses, but was probably used as a hotel from the beginning — though it was not described as such until 1853.

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The former Black Eagle Hotel’s customers would have included the men who frequented Madame Brussel’s brothel, which was two doors away. Picture: HWT Library.

The building was listed officially as a pub in 1853 and the first licensee was William Brandt, who held it until 1858, when Kennon took over the license until the hotel was purchased by the Melbourne Brewing and Malting Company in 1882.

The pub would have been busy and profited greatly from the activity at the infamous Madame Brussel’s brothel, which was two doors along the street.
The pub closed down in 1908, along with many others in the city, following the Licenses Reduction laws of 1906, and after this was home to various businesses.

It was a lodging house for some years and from 1918 was occupied by a Chinese cabinet maker, W H Chinn.


In 1919 the property was purchased by the printer Joshua McClelland who in 1920 built a large single-storey brick printing shed at the rear and operated it as a printing business until 1977.

The building has been restored and is now used as a shop on the ground floor with storage and office space above.

The rear facade is incorporated into the new office building called 50 Lonsdale.

There are remnants of early twentieth century painted signs on the corner of the building, and internally some original floor and ceiling joists remain.

Some of the walls are lined with illustrations taken from nineteenth century newspapers and magazines which is covered by was mid-to-late-Victorian wallpaper, now partly burnt off.


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Some of the original Victorian wallpaper inside the attic of the former Black Eagle Hotel, which was built in 1850. Picture: Hertitage Victoria.

Oddfellows Hotel

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The former Oddfellows Hotel on Little Lonsdale Street is one of the oldest buildings in Melbourne. Picture: Heritage Victoria.

THE former Oddfellows Hotel is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the City of Melbourne.

It is significant for its association with Melbourne’s Little Lon district, home to the city’s poorest residents and many immigrant groups, particularly the Chinese.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the area was notorious for its poverty, crime and prostitution.

The Oddfellows Hotel was constructed in stages between 1848 and 1853, started by carpenter Henry Charles Wills, who built a single storey cottage with a carpenter’s yard for himself.

He then built a large house with a cellar and 15 rooms — part of which became the Oddfellows Hotel.

The hotel lost its license along with many others in the city with the Licenses Reduction laws of 1906 and closed in 1912.

After the hotel closed the whole building became a furniture manufacturing workshop and in 1914 the property was bought by the well-known merchant Cheok Hong Cheong, a missionary and social reformer in the Chinese quarter of Melbourne.

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The former Oddfellows Hotel was once used by Chinese furniture makers. Image: State Library of Victoria.

The building was occupied by Chinese cabinet makers until 1948 when it was acquired by the Commonwealth Government.

The building was restored in the 1990s with the interior rearranged for commercial use, and in 2005-06 an extension was added at the rear and the interiors were largely gutted as part of its conversion to a bar and restaurant.

The building’s original facade is largely intact, and it is a now rare demonstration of the commercial buildings once common in the city.

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The former Oddfellows Hotel as it appears today. The building has been a pub among a host of other things, and is one of the oldest buildings in Melbourne. Picture: Google Maps

Cook’s Cottage

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A photograph of Cook’s Cottage in Great Ayton in England before it was moved to Melbourne. The cottage is technically the oldest building in Melbourne. Picture: State Library of Victoria.

This inclusion may be contentious — but the oldest building in Melbourne is technically Cook’s Cottage in the Fitzroy Gardens.

The house was built by Captain James Cook’s father in 1755 in Great Ayton in England, and in 1933, the last owner of the cottage, Mrs. Dixon put it up for sale.

It was suggested that it would make an ideal focus piece for Victoria’s centenary in 1934, and wealthy Melburnian Russell Grimwade puts plans in motion to secure it as a centenary gift for the state of Victoria.

Mrs Dixon wanted the cottage to remain in Britain and had rejected offers from wealthy Americans, but she was eventually persuaded by Grimwade on the premise that Australia was still “in the Empire”.

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Russell Grimwade bought Cook’s Cottage and moved it to Melbourne in 1934. Picture: Screen Australia.

In 1934 it was moved brick-by-brick from Great Ayrton to Melbourne, shipped in 253 crates complete with an ivy cutting which had grown on the original building.

Today the cottage is covered by the same original ivy.

The site in Fitzroy Gardens was selected and construction work was completed in six months — when the cottage was handed over to the Lord Mayor H. Gengoult Smith by Russell Grimwade on the 15th October, 1934.

The cottage has undergone two restorations. The first in the late 1950s and the most recently in 1978, when it was decorated with period furniture and surrounded by an 18th Century style garden.

Captain James Cook never actually lived in the house but it’s thought he would have visited his parents there from time-to-time — or at least we hope he did.

The cottage was vandalised in 2014 and the exterior was spray painted with “26th Jan Australia’s shame”.

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Cook’s Cottage as it appears today. The ivy on the outside of a building was grown from a cutting that grew on the building before it was moved. Picture: HWT Library.


It would seem that even Cook’s Cottage has a somewhat tenuous grip on being the home of Captain James Cook. The truth is that it was his childhood home.

To get a real sense of the grandeur, largess and excess generated by the Gold Rush times, the following boom and the ongoing pastoral wealth, the video ‘Old Melbourne: Heritage Buildings, Mansions and Markets’ gives us a wonderful insight into the city’s historic development.

Many of these homes and locations have been discussed and written about in previous blogs by Balance Architecture + Interior Design.

Now take a walk back through time and ponder what was once there and what is now there.

In 1835, 20,000 people from the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung and Wathaurang tribes of our first Nation indigenous peoples lived here in the Greater Melbourne Region as hunter gatherers. In under 200 years look what has now evolved.

In some regards Melbourne has retained many interesting and important heritage buildings. The period from about 1960 until 1985 saw much of the city’s valuable heritage destroyed.

It is often stated that Melbourne is considered the world’s most liveable city. Is it? One of our staff was involved in beautifying the Bourke St Mall over nearly a 10 year period from 1998 through to 2008 when the new mall layout was completed.

His observations are telling.

“The city is limited in the light it receives during daylight hours. Tall buildings create massive wind tunnels. It is as if we have built a man-made mountain. Peregrine Falcons prey upon pigeons that live at the lower levels. The streets are bitumen, stone and concrete with steel features. In summer nothing can actually live in these conditions. Flower displays may only last a few weeks even when watered and fertilised.”


Think of the future. We are leaving a strange heritage. What would we offer as the ‘markers’ of our time here? Which locations? (Federation Square? Southern Cross Station? Docklands?) What will future generations make of our time and our contributions to posterity, to heritage.

Is ‘it’ there or have we ‘missed the boat’?

You be the judge.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

One thought on “Melbourne – Do you know its real history?

  1. I love your articles. I have a friend who is “old Melbourne”. I keep telling her about your posts and how she should get in touch with you. She is an amazing historian. Her grandfather Patrick McCaughan built the Rialto. Her maternal grandfather built Norwood at Brighton. Her Name is Sandra Luxton and her email is She would love to talk to you.


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