History articles

Napier Waller – a great public artist

Napier Waller – a great public artist

By David Thompson Few people passing Newspaper House at 247 Collins St notice the colourful mosaic spanning the exterior of the first floor.  It is the work of Napier Waller, a Melbourne artist who is too little known and some of whose major works are on public view around the CBD. This 1933 mosaic portrays

The “Sands & Macs” – a goldmine

Melbourne historians owe a huge debt of gratitude to a Melbourne publishing company – Sands & McDougall.  Its foremost publication, the Melbourne Directory, is a prime information source for anyone tracing the history of buildings and people in the city and suburbs. The company had its beginnings in 1853. In that year John Sands, an

Colonial defence to history and music

At the corner of William and A’Beckett streets, opposite Flagstaff Gardens, nestles a red brick Art Deco building – one of the few remaining low-rise buildings in a sea of tower blocks. For more than a century, buildings on this site were associated with the defence of Victoria and Australia. To defend the Colony of

Melbourne’s first pop-up theatre

By David Thompson Few theatre-goers pushing through the crowded foyer of the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne take note of the brass plaque beside a door leading to the stalls. The plaque tells how “… George Selth Coppin, Philanthropist and Father of the Theatre in Victoria, Erected the Olympic Theatre on this Site in 1855”. The

“For women, by women” 

By David Thompson The Queen Victoria Hospital opened its doors in 1899 in Little Lonsdale St, near William St.  This was Melbourne’s first hospital for women and children to be staffed by female doctors, and was only the third such hospital in the world. The idea for the hospital came from Constance Stone who was

Livin’ in the ‘70s

If you are feeling discomfited by the Metro tunnelling, take heart, it has all happened before. Back in the ‘70s the City Loop was built with the first sod being turned in 1971 and Flagstaff Station not opening until 1985.  This photo was taken around 1970 just prior to the city loop being built. The

Old Government Printing Office in William Street. Government Printer John Ferres lived in the adjacent cottage.Site now occupied by Supreme Court of Victoria. Image courtesy of State Library of Victoria.

Getting the message out

By David Thompson For society to function, a government needs a means of communicating its rules, regulations and processes with the governed.  Today it is Twitter but in the early days of European settlement around Port Phillip the only means available, apart from word of mouth, was the printed word. Thus even during the first

The forgotten telegraphist

By David Thompson On the William St wall of the Supreme Court building in Melbourne there is a small plaque, ignored by most passers-by, which commemorates one of the most significant events in the history of Melbourne and indeed Australia. That was the opening in March 1854 of the first electric telegraph line in Australia

Where government found a home

By David Thompson Although today Spring St is synonymous with government, in Melbourne’s early days, government was centred on the western end of what is now the CBD. Superintendent La Trobe and other government officials occupied a range of temporary accommodation in the area, including John Batman’s old house near Batman’s Hill. In 1843 James

Melbourne’s first “respectable” theatre

Early theatrical performances in Melbourne usually took place in temporary or makeshift venues and were often of a rowdy and disorderly nature.  John Thomas Smith was a publican, councillor and several times Lord Mayor of Melbourne, and wanted to raise the tone of the theatre in Melbourne. In May 1843 he applied to the magistrates

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