History of East Melbourne

East Melbourne and Jolimont reflect a fabulous history of Victoria with their grand houses of the gold rush era standing between terrace houses and workmen’s cottages all with beautiful gardens. Cast iron lacework adorns the houses and bluestone cobbled lanes lead to old coach houses and brick dunnies.

Postcode 3002s history began in 1835 with the foundation of the city of Melbourne. In 1837 Robert Hoddle, the senior surveyor included East Melbourne in his original plan for the city. The first 3002 resident, in a prefabricated house shipped out from England and erected on the land behind where Wellington Crescent now stands was Captain William Lonsdale who was appointed Police Magistrate in 1836 in response to Melbourne’s rapidly growing population. Lonsdale’s house was demolished to make way for the railway.

Shortly after in 1839, Superintendent Charles La Trobe (later to become Lieutenant Governor) arrived in Melbourne with his Swiss wife Sophie and young daughter Agnes. The population of Melbourne at this time was around 3,000 and La Trobe having decided that the conditions in town were unsavoury purchased 12 ½ acres of land amongst the gum trees in what is now Jolimont.

Popular urban myth is that Mrs La Trobe, on seeing the land supposedly said “Quel Joli Mont”, but it is now known the La Trobes named their land after one of Sophie’s family homes in Switzerland where they spent their honeymoon. The La Trobe house or cottage was prefabricated and imported from England in two parts. The restored cottage can now be seen in the King’s Domain and La Trobe’s early history can be remembered in Jolimont Square in Wellington Parade South, the original location of his house and garden, Sophie Lane, named after his wife and Agnes and Charles Streets named after his children.

From the beginning East Melbourne was seen as a desirable address. Anglican Archbishop Perry having selected a part of it, in 1848, as the site for his residence Bishopscourt and future Anglican cathedral. Bishopscourt is special in East Melbourne for both its age, begun in 1849, and the size of its grounds. It is the oldest home in East Melbourne and is unique for remaining true to its original intention as the home of Anglican Archbishops. The Cathedral was originally planned to be built on the corner of George and Clarendon streets.

The first land sales in East Melbourne took place on 6 June 1852, just eleven months after the discovery of gold. The population was growing fast. Between 1851 and 1857 it quadrupled, and the need for land and housing was pressing. The first private house was built in 1853 for Englishman Henry Cooke at 180 Clarendon Street. His home, named Egglestone Villa is now the site of the Freemasons Hospital.

Many of the early houses were constructed of wood or iron and no longer survive. Some of those built in brick and stone can still be appreciated today. Terrace houses were built as investments to be rented to the flood of immigrants, some were built by owner/occupiers: people whose work was in the city, typically lawyers, merchants and civil servants or maybe pastoralists wanting a city base.

The 1880s saw a period of great prosperity in 3002 and many grand mansion houses were built, some of which still remain today. Many of these mansions were turned into rooming houses in the 1920s and the ensuing years.

Most fortuitously the proposal in 1954 to destroy much of East Melbourne and Jolimont to make way for an inner city ring road did not eventuate!

In the 1960s and 1970s too many of the old mansions were lost to the wrecker’s ball and replaced with blocks of flats or car parks. The construction of the Park Hilton Hotel saw the demolition of Cliveden, a four storey Victorian era terrace and the largest mansion in Melbourne.

During the 1990s the Wellington Crescent development at Jolimont, modelled on a Georgian village, created one of inner city Melbourne’s first exclusive enclaves. Many of the remaining mansions and terraces were placed on heritage registers and subdivided into apartments. The Victoria Brewery was also converted into apartments, one development named Tribeca after the Manhattan neighbourhood of New York.



In 1858 the first game of Australian rules football was played at Richmond paddock and in 1877 the first test cricket match between Australia and England was played at the MCG, which was built in 1853.

In 1956 the Melbourne Olympic Games were held at the MCG, with the Commonwealth Games being held in 2006. The Cricket World Cup will be held there in 2015.


Notable residents and their residences

Sir Benjamin Benjamin, the first Jewish mayor of Melbourne, first mayor to be knighted and first Jew to be knighted. Canally, Cnr. George and Powlett Streets.

Sir William Clarke, pastoralist, cattle-breeder, politician and philanthropist. Cliveden, cnr. Clarendon Street and Wellington Parade and Rupertswood Sunbury.

Francis Hare, Police Magistrate, who had figured in the pursuit of the Kelly gang tenant Janet Terrace, 92-96 Hotham Street owned by Sir William Clarke and named after his second wife.

Philip Nunn, of the Buckley and Nunn department store. After his death his three daughters continued to live in the house until the last died in 1968 – a hundred years in the one family. Claverings, 120 Powlett Street.

Mary Brown, whose husband, Gavin, was one of the founders of the Melbourne Stock Exchange. Crathre, 118 Gipps Street.

The Ashes and Ivo Bligh, captain of the English cricket team who played against the Australians at Rupertswood and won. Bligh was given the original ashes by either Lady Clarke or Florence Murphy. History seems to be divided on exactly who handed over the ashes and exactly what was burnt to create them! Bligh went on to marry Florence and people like to think the ashes inhabited the house with them, when they rented 121 Powlett Street.

John Monash, his wife and young daughter. Monash was a civil engineer , but he later became a 1st WW Hero, and as General Sir John Monash, he can be seen on the $100 note. Boarders at Crathre, 118 Gipps Street.

Frederick Baker, the actor (stage name Frederick Federici) who died on stage at the Princess Theatre and whose ghost is said to haunt the theatre. Nepean Terrace. 128-132 Gipps Street.

Constance Stone, who became Australia’s first female doctor in 1890. Chrysalis, 179 Gipps Street.

Winston Burchett, local historian and author of two books on the history of East Melbourne. The father of Stephanie Alexander, cook, restaurateur and food writer. Chrysalis, 179 Gipps Street.

Eugene von Guerard, well known colonial artist and teacher at the National Gallery of Victoria in the late 1800s. Little Parndon, 159 Gipps Street.

Joan Lindsay, author of Picnic at Hanging Rock and husband Daryl Lindsay, once director of the National Gallery of Victoria. 107 Powlett Street.

Peter Lalor, who led the Eureka Stockade uprising at Ballarat in 1854, and was later Speaker in the Victorian Parliament. 85-87 Powlett Street.

Clement Hodgkinson, deputy surveyor-general who designed the Fitzroy and Treasury Gardens. 157 Hotham Street.

Margaret McLean, one of the founders of the Victorian branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and instrumental in many other women’s organisations. Hers was the first signature on the ‘Monster Women’s Suffrage Petition’ of 1891, though she signed as ‘Mrs. W. McLean’, not ‘Margaret McLean’. She has a Lane named after her, near where she used to live at Torloisk, 118 Vale Street.

East Melbourne has an active Historical Society.

Phone: 03 9415 7570
Fax: 03 9415 7570
East Melbourne 3002
152 Powlett Street