EARLY MELBOURNE ARCHITECTURE


Architectural Historian, Allan Willingham, brought the early Port Phillip District alive with his talk on the early buildings of the Port Phillip District.

The first buildings were very primitive and not meant to be permanent. They were mostly made of local bush timbers like she-oak and lined with canvas, the latter sometimes being white washed. This made a fairly water tight construction. Fireplaces were of stone and floors were mostly on the ground being made of rammed earth. With the addition of blood and lime the floors gained a polished appearance. Saw mills in Melbourne took their timber from close to the city and gradually logged farther out as more timber was required.

The government camp of 1836 was made up of temporary buildings brought from Sydney, and some soldier's huts, whilst the most important prefabricated building to be brought out to the Port Phillip District was the cottage lived in and paid for by Charles Joseph La Trobe.

Where the Crown Casino now stands on the edge of the Yarra River, the first brick works was established. Bricks were originally hand made in timber moulds, which were sometimes lined with metal. Plugged clay was slopped into moulds and then tamped down. When the mould was removed the brick maker's thumbprint was left on the brick. The bricks were dried out in the sun.

An attractive soft red sandstone was found in Melbourne's first quarry which was located on the site of the present day Fitzroy Gardens. St. James Old Cathedral, designed by Robert Russell, was made of this stone. Bluestone was not used in the very early days, as it was too difficult to mine.

Following the wool collapse of 1841, the economy gradually improved again, attracting immigrants who had architectural and building skills and thus buildings were of a more solid construction. Although many terrace houses and churches were built using designs in pattern books, most small private buildings built in the 1840's - 1850's were designed by a small group of architects.

The "Melbourne Building Act" proclaimed in 1849 covered the Central Business District. It compelled builders to use fireproof materials on external walls, to provide damp courses and ventilation under buildings, and to organize drainage and collection of water. Some communities outside the Central Business District, like Fitzroy, adopted this Act whilst other areas such as Richmond, Collingwood and parts of Emerald Hill did not and were full of timber cottages, many of which burnt down.

Today, it is possible to date old buildings accurately by the materials used. Nails for example were very distinctive. Still standing in Colac is a wool shed which has roofing tiles patented in 1843 by Morwood & Rogers. These tiles, 4ft. x 2ft. in size, with ribbing to add strength were popular in country areas and have survived because they were so well galvanised.

Clerks of Works from Sydney designed the earliest government buildings such as the Old (temporary) Gaol but the remotemess of Port Phillip didn't attract ideal men and insubordination, drunkenness, bribery and disrespect for the distant administration were common. Charles Leroux was intoxicated daily whilst Robert Russell, who also enjoyed a bit of a drink, was dismissed as surveyor and replaced by Robert Hoddle.

Henry Ginn was the most successful Clerk of Works. From Sydney he was sent back to London to organize a constant supply of building materials including such items as fire grates and brick moulds. He later became Colonial Architect in Victoria and had a profound influence on pre-separation Victoria. Amongst other buildings, Ginn was responsible for the Cape Otway Lighthouse.

Architecture constantly changes. The 1840's city was replaced in the gold rush days of the 1850's. This 1850's city also disappeared, leaving very little behind of the early Port Phillip District. Those who were present to hear Allan's address were given a wonderful book "Port Phillip Colonial 1801 - 1851, Early Government Buildings and Surveys in Victoria" by George Tibbits and Angela Roennfeldt which is full of Port Phillip District history, both written and pictoral.

[Port Phillip Colonial 1801-1851]

(The Above is a Report on the Address by Allan Willingham
at the General Meeting on 10 September 2005)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow ( PPPG Member No. 1057 )


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