Richmond, 3 km. east of Melbourne, has been a residential, industrial and residential, and latterly a more residential, suburb. Its western boundary, Punt Road, adjoins Melbourne city and its eastern boundary is the Yarra River, across from leafy Hawthorn. The river curves around to form Richmond’s southern boundary, opposite South Yarra and Toorak. The northern boundary, Victoria Parade, adjoins Collingwood. Richmond was named after Richmond Hill, London. Like its London counterpart it has Kew close by.
Richmond has a prominent hill on its western boundary, known as Richmond Hill but also as Dockers Hill. It is surmounted by four church spires. The land falls away to the river in the east, to the Collingwood flat in the north and to the flat land of Burnley n the south.
Richmond was subdivided into allotments of about twelve hectares by the government surveyor, Robert Hoddle, in 1839. Most were purchased speculatively. Richmond Hill was occupied by Farquhar McCrae (surgeon, suburban speculator) and Joseph Docker. McCrae subdivided his land into smaller allotments in a couple of years, but Docker’s land, from Punt Road to Church Street, backing up to Richmond Terrace, was not all sold until the 1860s. He donated the land on which St. Stephens Anglican church was built.
The main easterly thoroughfare through Richmond was Bridge Road, which crossed the Yarra River to Hawthorn by a punt (1843), and later a bridge. A settlement named Yarraberg was formed, north of Bridge Road and east of Burnley Street, in 1853. It is one of Melbourne’s oldest industrial areas, although at the beginning it was a mixture of villas, tanneries and brickworks. David Mitchell, father of Nellie Melba, began a brickworks there in 1852.
By the mid 1850s Bridge Road had an established retail and service strip between Punt Road and Church Street. Swan Street was slightly less developed, but the Whitehorse Hotel’s outer structure (1849-55) still stands at 250-252 Swan Street.
In 1856 the entrepreneur George Coppin purchased the area known as Cremorne, forming Cremorne Gardens. When the railway entered Richmond two branches diverged from Richmond station on the west side: one went eastwards through Burnley to Hawthorn and the other through Cremorne to South Yarra. Cremorne later became industrialized, the premier landmark being the Rosella jam and sauce factory.
Three church primary schools were opened early in the 1850s: St. James Catholic school (1850) in Abinger Street, off Church Street; St. Stephens Anglican school (1851); and the Wesleyan school (1853), still standing at the rear of the Wesleyan church of the same year at 300 Church Street. Anglican and Presbyterian schools were opened at Cremorne in 1857 and 1862, and a National School in Lennox Street in 1858.
School football teams. Wesley College, c. 1908
(Image courtesy Tony Davies, London. U.K.)
Some notable citizens built in Richmond. Robert Hoddle’s “Millewa” and speculator William Highett’s “Yalcowinna” were incorporated in the Bethesda and Epworth Hospitals in Erin Street. George Coppin moved to Richmond Hill, next to James Henty (son of Portland pioneer, Thomas Henty), who built “Richmond Hill”. Both properties fell to the Pelaco shirt factory.
By 1865, when Richmond’s population was about 11,000 persons, it had bridges across the Yarra to Hawthorn and Prahran (at Church Street), and a private lunatic asylum on the former Cremorne Gardens. There were four tanneries, several quarries (Burnley), wool-washing establishment and forty hotels. The town hall had been built, Richmond having been made a municipality on 24 April, 1855. The Australian Handbook, 1875, described Richmond as –
During the 1870s and 1880s Richmond underwent industrialization and residential intensification, mainly in the form of workmen’s cottages. In the 1860s it was estimated that there were 4,000 Catholics in Richmond, and the completion of the St. Ignatius church gave Richmond its most prominent landmark. It also proclaimed the importance of Irish Catholic influence in Richmond’s municipal politics and parliamentary contests for the next eighty years.
Tram services were opened in Bridge Road and Victoria Street in 1885 and 1886. State primary schools were opened, four between 1874 and 1878, and two more (Richmond North and Burnley) in the next decade.
By the turn of the century Richmond gentility had retreated. The ill-drained southern area near the Yarra River was a haven for slum landlords’ pokey dwellings. The reality of impoverished householders contrasted with the standard descriptions of Richmond such as the one in The Australian Handbook in 1903 –
An exception to the picture of industrial servitude was the Bryant and May match factory (1909) in Church Street. By 1928 the factory provided its employees with dining and recreation rooms, tennis and basketball courts, gardens and a bowling green. Along with other large factories such as Bosisto’s eucalyptus and Hardings crumpets, Bryant and May also gave slap-up Christmas parties.
Smaller factories, however, were usually not so generous. Another landmark was the Wertheim piano factory in Bendigo Street, subsequently the Heinz tinned foods factory (1935) and the GTV9 television studio (1955).
Richmond’s premier retailing landmark is Dimmey’s store in Swan Street. Built in 1907, the clock tower and the copper ball on top (1908-16) are widely recognised. Despite business failure in the early 1990s through a costly merger with Forges of Footscray, the Dimmey’s name has been retained in the refloated drapery business.
Like its neighbour, Collingwood, Richmond Football Club has fiercely loyal supporters. The “eat ’em alive” club known as the tigers had won ten premierships by 1997. It joined the Victorian Football League in 1908.
The slum abolition movement completed its first project in 1941 when it built on the land which had been leased to John Wren for the Richmond Racecourse. Consisting mainly of clinker-brick duplexes the estate is between Bridge Road and the GTV9 building, and its street names commemorated Richmond councillors. A high-rise public housing project in north-west Richmond, between Church and Lennox Streets, was completed during the 1960s. It later became part of the housing area occupied by immigrants from South East Asia, which signalled the transformation of the Victoria Street shopping strip to a predominantly Vietnamese business area.
The Richmond Town Hall and surrounding areas have contained significant elements of social history and material culture. Until the 1980s the Town Hall area had the police station, a post office, Richmond baths and oval, a technical school (1926), a girls’ high school (1926) and a primary school (1875). The Town Hall was the scene of intense contests between the Labor and Democratic Labor parties, the scene of Labor-dominated municipal politics and it was the venue for meetings of trade unions. Family dynasties ruled the council and monopolized council seats, got friends and relatives council jobs, and were finally defeated by an enquiry into election rigging (1981). Reform-minded candidates contested municipal election after the Council had a spell under a State-appointed commissioner. Physically the area changed with the closure of the three schools near the town hall, but a nearby open-air Saturday morning street market continued, providing cheap fruit and vegetables for the locals.
Richmond High School was opened in 1920 in a silvan site beside the Yarra River, looking across to Hawthorn’s historic St. James precinct. The girls’ high school near the Town Hall was transferred to the high school, amidst much acrimony, and renamed the Melbourne Girls’ College. In 1982 Richmond had six State primary schools plus one in Yarra Park, next to its border. Ten years later there were three. One of the primary school sites, along with the second technical school, had been converted to a TAFE.
There are three Catholic schools. Two of them, St. Ignatius primary and The Vaucluse Convent secondary school for girls, are on Richmond Hill, adjoining the ecclesiastical neighbourhood which is a conservation area on the Register of the National Estate.
Between 1961 and 1991 the population of the Richmond municipality declined by about 11,000 persons to just under 23,000. Previously crowded family cottages were purchased by couples and a degree of gentrification entered Richmond. The change was reflected in house prices and the revitalization of shopping strips, particularly Bridge Road. Clothes-conscious young residents and bargain-conscious shoppers made Bridge Road the factory-seconds shopping capital of Australia. Eateries also traded well. Victoria Street scarcely had a non-Vietnamese shop sign, and attracted locals for food stuffs and others wanting a well-priced Vietnamese meal. Jesuit Publications, not out of place in Victoria Street in a Catholic Vietnamese community, began publishing an influential monthly in 1991, named after its back lane, Eureka Street.
Between 1986 and 1996 the median house price in Richmond went from 93% of the median for metropolitan Melbourne to 136%. This remarkable change, however, contrasted with the fact that 60% of Richmond’s children were in families on a welfare benefit or classed as working poor.
Richmond’s public open space is mostly in its southern and eastern areas. Its football club headquarters are in Yarra Park in neighbouring Melbourne. The eastern-area parklands are described under Burnley.
Richmond municipality’s census populations were 7,071 (1854), 23,405 (1881), 40,442 (1911), 35,213 (1954) and 22,789 (1991).
On 22 June, 1994, Richmond city was united with Collingwood and Fitzroy cities to form Yarra city.
Wertheim Piano Factory, Bendigo Street, Richmond, Later the GTV 9 Studio. Postcard dated 1912
- “Copping It Sweet, Shared Memories of Richmond”, City of Richmond, 1988.
- McCalman, Janet, “Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond 1900-1965”, Melbourne University Press, 1984.
- O’Connor, John and Thurley, “Richmond Conservation Study, Commission of the City of Richmond”, 1985.
- Stirling, Alfred, “Old Richmond, The Hawthorn Press”, 1979.