By David Thompson, Royal Historial Society of Victoria
The curious passer-by in Lonsdale St may wonder why an old-fashioned pair of wrought iron gates, slung between two stone pillars, stand in splendid isolation beside the modern office buildings at No. 460.
A closer look will reveal the word “Rostella” amongst the moss and other growths near the top of each pillar.
The gates and pillars are all that remain of Rostella, a magnificent mansion that used to occupy 468 Lonsdale St. It was built and owned by Dr (later Sir) Thomas Naghten Fitzgerald, a prominent Melbourne surgeon in the latter part of the 19th century.
Born in Ireland in 1838, Fitzgerald arrived in Melbourne in 1858 as a ship’s surgeon. He soon became acting house surgeon at the Melbourne Hospital. When that appointment finished he opened a private practice and hospital in Lonsdale St and was elected honorary surgeon at Melbourne Hospital in 1860.
In 1867 Fitzgerald built Rostella beside his private hospital. The main part of the house was three storeys high, in Italianate style. As originally built, a tall square tower rose a further two storeys at the left rear corner of the house and was surmounted by a balustraded flat roof.
The main part of the house was later extended westward. The tower was used as a viewpoint by John Noone in 1869 from which to take a series of well-known photographs providing a panoramic view of the surrounding city.
Fitzgerald was also the owner of Chloe, the famous portrait of a female nude by Jules Lefebre. In 1883 Fitzgerald went to Ireland for three years and offered Chloe to the National Gallery of Victoria for exhibition while he was away.
Her display in the gallery scandalised the residents of Melbourne, particularly as the gallery had begun opening on Sundays. After only three weeks Chloe was removed from display and shipped to Adelaide where she met a more tolerant reception.
Back again with Dr Fitzgerald, Chloe hung in Rostella for the next 21 years. Initially she was on a wall in the front salon but was visible from the street. Once again the good burghers of Melbourne were affronted by this display and poor Chloe was relegated to a back room.
Following Fitzgerald’s death in 1908, Chloe was purchased by Henry Young of Young & Jackson’s hotel at the corner of Flinders and Swanston streets, where she has resided ever since.
Fitzgerald was a skillful and resourceful surgeon who was always considerate to his patients. In 1897 he became the first Australian to be knighted for his services to medicine.
Fitzgerald was sent to South Africa in 1900 as a consultant surgeon to the Australian armed forces. Following his return from South Africa, ill health compelled him to resign his hospital positions and cut back his private practice. On a voyage to Cairns in 1908, he died at sea off Townsville.
The private hospital building beside Rostella still stands. It was used for many years by the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
Rostella itself was not so fortunate. From the 1920s, it was used by various Australian Government agencies and the Royal Australian Navy. It was ignominiously demolished in the early 1970s, apparently to provide a car park for the ABC next door.
Only the driveway pillars and gates are left, sole reminders of a beautiful building and a notable man who gave Melbourne Chloe, one of the city’s iconic images.
Captions for three images:
The Rostella gates today.
Rostella in 1881. (Charles Nettleton, photographer. Courtesy SLV).
Rostella in 1963. (John T. Collins, photographer. Courtesy SLV).