Melbourne was first settled in 1835. It started off as a grazing settlement for Tasmanian farmers. Two years later it was recognised by the colonial government as a settlement and named Melbourne.

Over the next fifteen years, the number of settlers grew to about 23,000 (Melbourne)/70,000 (Victoria). Tensions with the colonial government in New South Wales grew. In July 1851, Victoria was proclaimed a separate colony and, serendipitously, gold was discovered a few months later. The population exploded. Less than ten years later (1860) the population of Victoria was 700,000 - a tenfold growth.

The pre-gold rush town was swept away. Most of it had always been pretty makeshift. Melbourne's major civic buildings (Old Treasury, Parliament House, the Supreme Court, the Library, Customs House, parts of the University of Melbourne) were then all solidly built from the wealth that the gold brought over the next twenty years or so.

But there are still a very few traces of life before the gold came.

There are eight buildings in or near the Melbourne CBD that still have a link back to those days. Today we went on a photographic trip...

Larger versions of the photos below can be seen at my gallery here. The buildings are presented in a logical walking order.


The Baptist Church in Collins Street was first constructed in 1845. I understand that it now looks fairly different to the original. The original brickwork has been covered, and I think the front has been changed. So it might be fair to say that this is a pre-gold rush building in spirit only.


The Job Warehouse is a Melbourne classic. It's situated in the reasonably trendy Theatre end of Melbourne. But the Job Warehouse has withstood change. For as long as most people can remember it has been stuffed with more fabrics than one building can reasonably be expected to hold. I have it on good authority from someone who tried to buy something from the store that sometimes customers are treated as interlopers. The long term proprietor died in 2005, but somehow the building has not yet been turned into a trendy bar or up market apartments.

The Job Warehouse is a worthy building to be included in the pre-gold rush list.


Up at 45 Lonsdale Street we have the building that was formerly the Black Eagle Hotel (and now appears to be a gift shop). It seems that Melbourne's recent enthusiasm for small bars is really just a return to the traditions of the town's early days. It wouldn't have surprised me at all if this building had turned out to house a trendy bar.


Tucked away at 33 Little Lonsdale Street, we find another early pub. Oddfellows. This is one of a small number of old buildings from Little Lon's days as a vibrant slum area that have survived the redevelopment of the block by the State and Federal Governments to allow the erection of large office buildings. Beware trying to take photographs of Casselden Place from within the precinct. Building guards will warn you off, for fear that you may be up to some nefarious purpose. (But, politely, they will tell you that you are allowed to take photos of the 'heritage' buildings.)


The next pre-gold rush building is St Francis' Roman Catholic Church. My source tells me (obscurely) that the pre-gold rush part of the church is only the Transept and the Nave. If I understand those terms correctly, the Transept is the cross ways bit, and the Nave is the long bit... which kind of implies the whole church? The same source tells me that, just like the Baptists, the Catholics have covered over their original brickwork. This is probably because Melbourne's earliest bricks were pretty shoddy, and tended to crumble.

St Francis' is one of the earlier buildings: first constructed in 1842..


Next we come to 300 Queen Street. Now: this is a proud looking building. It was erected in 1848.


A couple of years ago, I saw this building on the corner of King and Latrobe street an thought "that little building looks very old". Which turns out to have been well spotted on my part. It was erected in 1850-1.

In about 1989, just before it was swallowed up by the Commonwealth Bank, the State Bank of Victoria peppered historic buildings in Melbourne with small blue plaques. The plaque on this building records that it has been in the same family since 1899, and that in 1989 it was restored as a tea house by the granddaughter of the original owners.


St James' Old Cathedral is the last building on our tour. It's a little bit of a cheat. It was erected in 1842, so it certainly predates the gold rush by about a decade. But it has been moved. It used by be on the north west corner of Collins and Williams Streets. In a rare early bit of preservation, instead of being knocked down in 1914, it was picked up and moved, brick by brick to its current location at the corner of Batman Street and King Street: opposite the Flagstaff gardens. So it's no longer strictly in the CBD. But it started off in the centre of town, so I guess it counts.

It is called an "Old Cathedral" as a bit of a courtesy title. It was originally Melbourne's Anglican Cathedral. But then the rather more spectacular St Paul's was built. So St James' got downgraded to an Old Cathedral.

There are other old buildings in Melbourne. Latrobe's Cottage, for example, and a couple of farm houses or churches in the suburbs. But I believe that these are the only pre-gold rush buildings in the CBD. If anybody knows of any others, please let me know!


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Anthony Holmes October 7th, 2007 11:44:57 PM

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