A SAINT IN THE SLUMS -
SOCIAL REFORMERS OF OLD MELBOURNE


[Meyer Eidelson]

When Robert Hoddle surveyed Melbourne he didn't want a repetition of 'The Rocks' area in Sydney which had become a slum with its narrow lane ways, so he didn't include lanes in his plan. However after gold was discovered in Victoria the population in Melbourne exploded and the poor collected in 'Little Lon,' the block bordered by Exhibition (Stephen), Spring, Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale Streets, and other areas.

Meyer Eidelson, historian and author, was President of the St. Kilda Historical Society for eight years and conducts walking tours of Melbourne. He discussed conditions in the early slums of Melbourne and the social reformers who helped the poor.

By the mid 1850s there were 80 named lanes and 112 rights of way in Melbourne. Relatively few remain. Some, like George Street, have been incorporated into modern buildings. George Street ran between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale Streets with another entrance to it from Exhibition Street. These three entrances today form the entrances to the building which occupies that site.

Lanes provided access for residents, food deliveries, and the 'night man.' The poor in 'Little Lon' lived in a maze of cottages and shops. The congestion gave them a sense of security in what was an awful place to live. It was filthy and smelly with typhoid fever prevalent. Even the ice cream factory used contaminated water. People had to pay a baker to cook their Sunday roast.

One of the few surviving cottages was John Casseldon's shoe shop at No. 18 Casseldon Place. Madame Brussels ran her brothel at No. 4 Casseldon Place and not far away in Crossley Street, originally called Romeo Place, William Crossley had his home and slaughter house.

Welfare groups moved into the area. In 1885 Emma Silcock instigated the 'Church of England Mission to the Streets and Lanes' which later became part of 'Anglicare Victoria.' The Salvation Army provided hostels for abandoned women, relief depots, unemployment bureaus and schools. They made a 'map of debauchery' which showed all the hotels in Melbourne. Mary MacKillop opened a Providence Centre for women at 45-47 Latrobe Street.

Mary MacKillop foundered the St. Joseph's Order of nuns and around 1860 established schools in the eastern states of Australia. She opened the Poor School in Cumberland Place which ran between Little Lonsdale and Latrobe Streets near Spring Street. Other schools for the poor were St. Peter's, St. John's, Hornbrook and the Ragged School which was on the corner of Latrobe and Exhibitions Streets. Where today we find the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons building in Spring Street, the school which was to become Melbourne High School and MacRobertson Girls High School was built.

Constance Stone, who studied medicine overseas because women weren't admitted to Melbourne University, became the first female doctor in Victoria. With her sister and cousin, who studied medicine in Melbourne, she opened a free dispensary clinic in Latrobe Street, which became the Queen Victoria Hospital.

The people of Melbourne had a great need for cabinet makers, many of whom worked in the Little Bourne Street area. The building which today houses the Chinese Museum was originally a furniture factory owned by the Cohen brothers who were Jewish. This area however was where the Chinese immigrants lived. Cheong Pengnam was a Chinese immigrant who converted to Christianity in Beechworth in 1862 and then brought his entire family to Melbourne. He worked as Cantonese interpreted in the Chinese Mission in Ballarat before moving to Melbourne in 1872 and becoming a fruit merchant. His son Cheok Hong Cheong studied theology and became a Presbyterian ruling elder in the Anglican Chinese Mission in Little Bourke Street. An amalgamation with the Church Missionary Association caused many disagreements and Cheong moved a short distance away to 123 Little Bourke Street where he opened the Anglican Chinese Mission of the Epiphany. Cheong's congregation moved also and eventually the Presbyterians were forced to close their church. Cheong was an enthusiastic advocate for Chinese immigrants and spent much time in court fighting for them.

Another character who considered all people equal was Edward William Cole. His bookshop at the Eastern Market did so well that he took over as lessee of the whole market. With irresistible enticements to stall holders the market became so profitable that the Council resumed control. Cole then opened his famous Book Arcade in 1883. It not only housed a huge collection of books but it was a place of entertainment with bands, jugglers, animals and a tea house staffed by Chinese people. Cole was eccentric, travelling around Melbourne accompanied by his monkey and he married after advertising for a wife in the newspaper. He was a great advocate for Japanese people in Australia, writing books, and making complaints in Parliament and in the media.

To Meyer Eidelson, the building on the corner of Exhibition and Little Lonsdale Streets tells the history of Melbourne, especially the north-eastern section. Originally a synagogue and school, it has been a State School, a Salvation Army Hostel, an unemployment bureau, a Methodist relief centre, a free kindergarten, a creche for children of women working in factories in World War 1, and now it is a restaurant called the 'Trunk Bar.' In its courtyard is a heritage listed 150 year old Coral tree.

[Meyer Eidelson]

( The above is a report on Meyer Eidelson's address at the General Meeting on 10 November 2011 )

Contributed by Jan Hanslow ( PPPG Member No. 1057 )


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