East Melbourne

East Melbourne is a residential and commercial suburb which retains a number of religious and institutional buildings on land grants made during the nineteenth century. It borders central Melbourne’s Spring Street, and its other boundaries are Victoria Parade, Hoddle Street/PuntRoad and the Yarra River.

The Government surveyor, Robert Hoddle, prepared a plan for East Melbourne in 1837, with roads correctly running north-southand east-west on contrast to the skewed directions of central Melbourne’s streets which took their axis from the direction of the Yarra River. Hoddle’s plan had a grid layout north of the extension of Flinders Street, i.e. WellingtonParade, and the north-south Police and Government Paddocks from WellingtonParade to the river. The plan was not implemented, and settlement leap-frogged East Melbourne to Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond.

An early resident of East Melbourne was Charles La Trobe, Superintendentof the Port Phillip District, who was obliged to buy at auction the landhe had chosen at Jolimont, off Wellington Parade, as the place on whichto erect his transportable dwelling. He bought the land at his opening bidin 1840. La Trobe’s cottage survives on a reserve across the Yarra River,near the Botanic Gardens.

Numerous reservations were made for churches and schools, particularlyalong Albert Street. Two early ones were St. Peters Church of England, GisborneStreet (formally opened 1848), on the spot known as Eastern Hill, and onthe other side of Gisborne Street , the St. Patricks Cathedral and school.On an adjoining block to the south the Presbyterian, Lutheran and Unitarianchurches were given reserves, and Melbourne’s first Scotch College was alsobuilt there. Eastwards, at Eades Street, land was reserved for the CatholicParade College (named after Victoria Parade), and a Presbyterian institutionwhich became Presbyterian Ladies’ College (1875).

These reservations are north of a larger reserve which became Fitzroy Gardens. To the east of the Gardens the Church of England was granted land on which were built Bishopscourt (the Bishop’s Palace) and Holy Trinity Church (1864). Land was put aside for Government institutions along Spring Street. On the north-east corner of Spring and Albert Streets land for a school was set aside. On that site the National Model and Training Schoolwas opened in 1854, becoming a continuation and high school (1905-33), before being replaced by the Australian Medical Association’s College of Surgeons(1935). To the south a reserve for a legislative assembly was laid out.

South of Wellington Parade the land comprised the Police Magistrate’sand Government Paddocks, initially occupied only by Captain Lonsdale’s residencesouth of Spring Street and by the La Trobes. By the mid 1860s five recreationalovals were marked out: the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Richmond Cricket Ground, East Melbourne Cricket Club ovals (two), and an oval in Gosch’s Paddock,south of Swan Street. In addition the Hobson’s Bay Railway Company had ane asement to Richmond (1863) over the park and the Friendly Society’s Gardens (now Olympic Park), and Scotch College oval were marked out. Lastly therewere the Victorian Volunteer Engineer’s Depot and Gustav Techow’s National Gymnasium, west of Jolimont.

When the La Trobes left Victoria, Sir James Palmer (former owner of the Hawthorn punt and Mayor of Melbourne), bought their property. Private streets were laid out, including two named Agnes and Charles after the La Trobe’s children, and a quiet residential precinct emerged, save for a footwear factory with the La Trobe’s cottage in its back yard until the ricketty remains were saved in 1959.

Most of the East Melbourne land left for private occupation was sold in 1852-3, and the land east of Simpson Street was sold in 1858. ResidentialEast Melbourne was convenient for Parliamentarians and Government officialswhen the Parliament was transferred from St. Patrick’s Hall to the new reservein 1856. It was also convenient for City merchants and professional people.The most famous was Cliveden Mansion, opposite Jolimont railway station.Built in 1887, the mansion was replaced by the Hilton Hotel in 1969.

East Melbourne has several open spaces. The largest, first named FitzRoy Square, was initially a dumping ground for refuse until handed overto the council in 1855. The council had the good fortune to engage a landscape gardener, James Sinclair, who laid out the Fitzroy Gardens. Some twentieth century additions to the Gardens include Cooks’ cottage (i.e. Captain JamesCook’s parents’ cottage), Ola Cohn’s fairies’ tree, sculpted from a bluegum, and a model Tudor Village presented in appreciation of Victoria’s assistance during Britain’s postwar food shortages. Nearby are the Treasury Gardens,laid out on a former reserve for Government offices. They, too, had beena dumping ground until a large gully was filled in during the 1870s. There are also two small neighbourhood parks, Darling Square and Powlett Reserve.

The easterly Albert Street/Victoria Parade corridor has several notablebuildings additional to those for which Crown reservations were made. Closest to central Melbourne is the I.C.I. building, built in 1958 and Melbourne’s tallest until 1961. Proceeding east there are (or were) the Salvation ArmyTraining garrison (1900), Jewish Synagogue (1877), Baptist Church and offices(1855), Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s Building (1892, with a look-out toweron Eastern Hill), and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital (1878). Furthereast is the Victorian Artists’ Society and Conservatorium (1892), and theMasonic Centre on the site of the old Presbyterian Ladies’ College.

Eastern Hill and vicinity had the Model School, Scotch College, PresbyterianLadies’ College, a Jewish School, St. Patricks College and Parade College.Only the last-mentioned survives in East Melbourne.

The Victoria Brewery (1854) grew to occupy a large site in Victoria Paradeat Powelett Street, but it was decommissioned in the 1980s and convertedto apartments in the next decade.

The medical industry’s strong presence in east Melbourne is evident fromdoctors’ rooms along Albert Street and the Mercy and Freemason’s Hospitals(1935 and 1937), in Clarendon Street. St. Andrews Hospital (1934), is onthe old Scotch College site in Lansdowne Street.

Despite all these institutional uses, residential occupation has beenstrong in East Melbourne. This had been evident in church attendances andin the opening of the Yarra Park primary school (1874) in an area whichwas subdivided from Yarra Park in 1881. The Victorian Infants’ Asylum wasgiven land in this subdivision, evolving to the Berry Street Babies’ Home,which has widened to child and family care.

East Melbourne’s residential building stock was mature by the 1890s depression,and gradually declined in desirability as mansions were internally convertedto flats and cottages were let go. By the early postwar years the prospectof redevelopment was evident, and municipal and private improvement endangeredthe urban fabric. When the Melbourne council cut down some mature elm streettrees, it galvanized the formation of the residents’ East Melbourne Group. This coincided with the publication of the ground-breaking Early Melbourne Architecture (1953), followed shortly by the National Trust (1956). Attentionwas focused on East Melbourne’s built heritage and nearly all of East Melbournewas specified as an historic precinct in the Register of the National Estate,1981. Fifty buildings were separately registered. Over seventy buildingsand structures, including the I.C.I. building, are on the Victorian Heritage Register.

East Melbourne’s building stock was enlarged during the 1990s when theYarra Park school and adjoining land was used for apartments, and when therailways yards west of Jolimont were reduced. The railways had taken theland in 1921 when it was the East Melbourne Cricket ground and part of YarraPark, and when the stabling facilities were withdrawn the land was sold for private-sector housing.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground dates from 1853, having also become a homeground for several football clubs. It has a seating capacity of 100,000,and its curtilage was enlarged when light towers were erected for nightevents (1984).

On the other side of the railway line part of Flinders and Yarra Parks was taken in 1985 for the National Tennis Centre, the Government’s initiative to replace the Kooyong venue. These mass entertainment facilities, together with those at Olympic Park, draw very large crowds. Train services from Richmond and Jolimont and tram services along Swan Street and WellingtonParade carry many patrons, but private cars cause traffic and parking congestion. East Melbourne’s streets have intersection roundabouts and resident-only parking. Residents gain respite from urban congestion with handsome road verges and the Fitzroy and other gardens.

East Melbourne’s median house prices from 1987 to 1996 were about 160% above the median price for metropolitan Melbourne.

Its census population in 1986 was 4,349 persons.

Further Reading:

  • Burchett, Winston, “East Melbourne, 1837-1977: People, Places, Problems”,Craftsman Press Pty. Ltd., 1978.

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