29 November 2016

Rare Australian Colonial architecture in Melbourne

Convict architect Fran­cis Greenway left valuable gems of Australian Colonial architecture in Sydney that emphasised the power and authority of Australia's colonial masters. Thus his Colonial Period of architecture in Australia 1788-1840 came at the latter half of the Georgian style of building. This style was typ­ified by symmetrical facades, windows which were arr­an­ged vertically and a scale relating well to the humans who used the building.

The roots of the colonial style were in classical Roman architecture. Verandas were added to suit the harsh summers of Australia and this made Aus­t­ral­ian Colonial Georgian a version of the original European and English styles. Early public buildings were constructed around the importance of influencing community and civic identity. There was a sentimental attachment to the idea of public space with a city square ringed by great civic buildings 'to the glory of god and humanity'.

St James Old Cathedral, 
Melbourne's Central Business District

Collins St Baptist Church, 
Melbourne's Central Business District

But Melbourne was not settled as early as Sydney ... or Tasmania's towns. The first attempt at settlement in the most southern part of the Australian continent had been made way back in 1803 by Lt David Collins but it must have been a bit rough; Collins and his men decided to move to Tasmania where the group eventually settled in Hobart in Feb 1804. It was not until the Henty brothers landed in Portland Bay in 1834, and John Batman fixed the location of Melbourne, that the Port Phillip District was officially declared a settlement in 1837.

Convicts were not allowed into Melbourne so the first ships that arrived at Port Phillip in the late 1830s were full of free immigrants. Being a young set­t­lement, and a late starter in architectural design, Mel­bourne has far fewer Colonial Georgian and Regency buildings than Sydney and Hobart. Nonetheless the colony of Port Phillip District formally separated from NSW and became a state (Victoria) with its own parliament in 1851.

Victorian Regency architecture WAS built in Melbourne and a few rare examples still survive. The Anglican St James Old Cathedral is the oldest church in Mel­bourne and one of only three buildings in the central city which predate the 1850s Gold Rush. The church's foundation stone was laid in Nov 1839 by Charles La Trobe, Superintendent of Port Phillip District which itself was then only 4 years old. Designed by town surveyor Robert Russell, the church had restrained Georgian features in local bluestone.

One of the founders of Melbourne, John Batman, was among the sub­scribers who paid for the church. It was built at the corner of Collins & William Sts, opened in 1842 & completed in 1847, although the tall, octagonal, Romanesque tower came later. This is a rare Melbourne example of a Colonial Georgian style building, having simple design, pleasing proportions & Greek detailing at the doorways. The style reflected Robert Russell’s experiences in Sydney, especially cont­em­poraries Francis Clarke and Francis Greenway's work.

In 1848 St James became Melb­ourne's Anglican Cathedral, until the more centrally located and elaborately designed St Paul's Cathedral was consecrated in 1891.

Designed by John Gill, the Collins St Baptist Church 1845 is the oldest Baptist church in Victoria. Unlike most Melbourne churches of the period, which were either Gothic or Romanesque, this Collins St church was in the form of a classical Greek temple, with four Cor­in­thian columns facing lovely Collins St, one of the most important streets in the Central Business District. The steps and lamp standards enhance the building's classical grandeur. To fit in with the Baptist dislike of decoration in churches, the interior had plain plastered walls.

Banyule Mansion in Heidelberg
a suburb of Melbourne
completed 1846

Como House in South Yarra, in Melbourne
Originally built 1847 and expanded at least twice more

Banyule Mansion 1839-46 was built in the Flemish Gothic revival style. It was built overlooking a creek, just when Heidel­berg was emerging as a separate town on the northern edge of Melbourne! Also designed by the ar­chitect John Gill and built by the Englishman Joseph Hawdon, Banyule was a wond­er­ful piece of archit­ecture, similar in style and size to many of Sydney's early government buildings: gabled parapets, corner pinn­ac­l­es, bay window and porch and chimneys. Believed to be Victoria’s oldest ex­t­ant col­onial mansion, the original large estate has since been broken up.

Como 1847 was a typical grand residence in Como Ave, South Yar­ra. It was built for Edward Williams, the colonial advocate who became a Supreme Court Judge in 1852. The original Como was already grand by the standards of its time, but later it was vastly enlarged. It was added to in 1855 by land speculator John Brown, showing the affluence that Melbourne enjoyed in the gold rush era. This beautiful estate was sold 1874 to pastoralist Charles Armytage. Later generations of the family lived in Como, until it was sold to the newly formed National Trust of Australia in the 1950s.

Tens of thousands of settlers and diggers poured into Victoria following the discovery of gold in 1851. But by then, the Colonial Period of architecture in this state was largely over. What a shame gold wasn't discovered 10 years earlier - Melbourne might have been a more Georgian city.


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I never knew that Melbourne possessed these early architectural gems. I can't pick a favorite, because each one you show has its own special style and features, but the Banyule house looks like it would be a fun place to live. Is it open to the public now, or still private?

Dina said...

The gold rush brought a heap of new money into Melbourne, Ballarat, Bendigo and everywhere else. If only all the gold rush buildings survived.

bazza said...

Hi Hels. The Banyule Estate looks like a lovely residence. I see that it was sold last year for $5.2 million! That looks like a bargain to me. I think Como Housed influenced (or was influenced by) the Grand Cricket Pavillion Style!
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Hels said...


Banyule over the decades has been state-owned and was an art gallery for a long time, before being sold to a family in mid-1990s. It was renovated by that last family and was then sold on its 2.2 acres in 2015 to a new family. So I am assuming that Banyule will not be open to the public any time soon.

Read about the tortured planning issues re Banyule over the last 5 years.. in one of my favourite blogs, "The Resident Judge of Port Phillip".

Hels said...


The Victorian gold rushes throughout the 1850s and 1860s changed the goldfield cities totally; you can still see the monumental architecture and gorgeous public gardens in Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine. But Melbourne was a bit remote from the goldfields, so the diggers only moved south to the capital city (with their money) after they ended their search for gold. Melbourne's new civic beauty was due to the erection of many lavish buildings in the 1850s and later. It was using this transferred gold wealth that impressive buildings, up to four storeys high, went up on both sides of Collins and Bourke streets, for example. They are still a delight.

Hels said...
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Hels said...


I haven't heard the architectural expression Grand Cricket Pavilion Style before, but I can guess exactly what it means :) I would call the first incarnation of Como as Australian Regency, although Heritage Victoria calls it Pre-separation (from NSW) Colonial Georgian 1836-50. The two later renovations look more Italianate, especially the verandas with cast iron balustrading and the parapet-tower behind. As with all great pavilions, the open and airy view over the enormous gardens is spectacular.

The $5.2 million for Banyule was a very fair price, given that it is in an outer suburb, a long way from Central Melbourne. The same size mansion and land in an inner suburb would cost 10 times as much. And even then, it would be on a quarter acre block.

Andrew said...

I like the term Grand Cricket Pavilion Style. It paints an instant picture in my mind. I am happy to leave Georgian to Hobart and Sydney. I like our Victorian architecture but I just wish more of it was kept.

Hels said...


I also love Victorian architecture, but the good times had to come to an end, of course. The financial world caved in with the Crash of 1893. The civilised world ended with the war in 1914. Architecture would never be as optimistic again.

mem said...

hello , I enjoyed your article . I actually think that the oldest house in private hands is in Pascoe Vale South and was built by Farquahr McCray in about 1841 .I cant remember its name but it was sold in the last couple of years . It is a very simple but large homestead style house . Not as big as Banyule but on at least a couple of acres. There are some very interesting houses around there . One is a portable double storied mansion which dates from the 1850s . It is Walhalla street . Absolutely wonderful house . I think originally it sat down near the Merry creek in Brunswick and was owned by Mr De Carle who had a store on Sydney Road to equip the gentleman Miner !!

Hels said...


Many thanks. You are so correct about Wentworth House in Pascoe Vale South. The original 1842-3 version of this house was a very simple, single storey Colonial Georgian house built from stone. Subsequent renovations made the house bigger and more complex.

I have lived the majority of my adult life in Melbourne without seeing one of our oldest extant homes. That will be sorted next week!

mem said...

When you do that go to Walhala street which runs off Moreland road . Up near the top of the hill on the right is the portable double story house I talked about . I read about it in a wonderful exhibition of photographs of the historic houses of Moreland a few years ago .

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Hels said...


Australian architecture was often very beautiful, wasn't it? I wish more had survived.