Colonial Melbourne. Lithographs (1886)

Although Sydney is the older town, Melbourne is justly entitled to be considered the metropolis of the Southern Hemisphere… it is in the Victorian city that the trade and capital, the business and pleasure of Australia chiefly centre. The headquarters of nearly all the large commercial institutions which extend their operation beyond the limits of any one colony are to be found there. If you wish to transact business well and quickly, to organize a new enterprise–in short, to estimate and understand the trade of Australia, you must go to Melbourne and not to Sydney… The actual production does not take place in Victoria, but it is in Melbourne that the money resulting from the productions of other colonies as well as of Victoria is turned over. It is Melbourne money chiefly that opens up new tracts of land for settlement in the interior of the continent, and Melbourne brains that find the outlets for fresh commerce in every direction. There is a bustle and life about Melbourne which you altogether miss in Sydney. The Melbourne man is always on the look-out for business, the Sydney man waits for business to come to him. The one is always in a hurry, the other takes life more easily (Richard Twopeny Town Life in Australia: 1883).

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Passengers by ocean-going vessels to Melbourne land either at Sandridge or Williamstown, small shipping towns situated on either side of the river Yarra, which is only navigable by the smaller craft. A quarter of an hour in the train brings the visitor into the heart of the city. On getting out he can hardly fail to be impressed by the size of the buildings around him, and by the width of the streets, which are laid out in rectangular blocks, the footpaths being all well paved or asphalted. In spite of the abundance of large and fine-looking buildings, there is a rather higgledy-piggledy look about the town (op. cit.).

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Of the public buildings, which are scattered in considerable numbers about the town, the largest are the New Law Courts, which have just been erected at a cost of £300,000. They contain 130 rooms, and provide accommodation for the Supreme Court, the County Court, the Insolvent Court, the Equity Court, and for the various offices of the Crown Law Department.

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Still more elaborate and magnificent are the Parliament Houses not yet completed, the front alone of which is to cost £180,000.

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… everyone will agree to admire the classic simplicity of the Public Library, erected some twenty years ago … The Library is absolutely free to everybody, contains over 110,000 volumes, and has accommodation for 600 readers. An interesting feature is the large newspaper-room, where scores of working-men can be seen reading papers and magazines from all parts of the world (op. cit.).

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Other fine buildings are the Government Offices, the Town Hall with its enormous organ, the Post Office, the International Exhibition – all built on a truly metropolitan scale, which is even exceeded by the palatial hugeness of the Government House, the ugliness of which is proverbial throughout Australia … (op. cit.)

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The Roman Catholics have built a fine cathedral, but it is not yet finished. The Church of England is collecting money for a similar purpose. Meanwhile the prettiest church belongs to the Presbyterians (op. cit.).

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A walk down Collins Street or Flinders Lane would astonish some of the City Croesuses (op. cit.).

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The Observatory contains one of the largest telescopes in the world (op. cit.).

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If you are a man of leisure you will find more society in Melbourne, more balls and parties, a larger measure of intellectual life–i.e., more books and men of education and intellect, more and better theatrical and musical performances, more racing and cricket, football, and athletic clubs, a larger leisured class than in Sydney … The Melbourne races attract three or four times the number of visitors that the Sydney races do; all public amusements are far better attended in Melbourne; the people dress better, talk better, think better, are better, if we accept Herbert Spencer’s definition of Progress. There is far more ‘go’ and far more ‘life,’ in every sense of these rather comprehensive words, to be found in Melbourne, and it is there that the visitor must come who wishes to see the fullest development of Australasian civilisation, whether in commerce or education, in wealth or intellect, in manners and customs – in short, in every department of life (op. cit.).

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The Victoria Racing Club of Melbourne may fairly claim to be the premier club in Australia, and in the perfection of its arrangements and of the course at Flemington, it stands a head and shoulders above any European club (op. cit.).

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Altogether, the public buildings of Melbourne do the greatest credit to the public spirit of the colonists, and offer substantial testimony to the largeness of their views and the thoroughness of their belief in the future of their country. There is certainly no city in England which can boast of nearly as many fine buildings, or as large ones, proportionately to its size, as Melbourne. And this is the more remarkable, remembering that even in the existing hard times, masons are getting 10s. 6d. a day of eight hours, and often a very dawdling eight hours too (op. cit.).

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Sources of images:

Picturesque atlas of Australasia: 1886

Cassell’s Picturesque Australasia: 1887–89

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