Historical Melbourne buildings 1850

Melbourne buildings 1850-80s

Melbourne state library

In 1853, the decision to build a state library was made at the instigation of Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe and Mr Justice Redmond Barry, Q.C. (Sir Redmond from 1860). A competition was held to decide who would design the new building; local architect Joseph Reed, who later designed the Melbourne Town Hall, Ormond College and the Royal Exhibition Building, won the commission.

On 3 July 1854, the recently inaugurated Governor Sir Charles Hotham laid the foundation stone of both the new library and the University of Melbourne. The library opened in 1856, with a collection of 3,800 books chosen by Mr Justice Barry, the President of Trustees. Augustus H. Tulk, the first librarian, was appointed three months after the opening.

The first reading room was the Queen's Reading Room (now Queen's Hall), which opened in 1859. Temporary buildings built in 1866 for the Intercolonial Exhibition remained in use by the library until 1909, when work began on a new annexe building to mark the library's Jubilee. This new building was the landmark Domed Reading Room, which opened in 1913 and was designed by Norman G. Peebles.

Plans for the original annexe were scaled back due to the money running out and the annexe, to house a new museum were gradually built during the Interwar years in an austere stripped classical style.

The reading dome's original skylights were modified and covered in copper sheets in 1959 due to water leakage.

The library complex also held the State's Gallery and Museum until the National Gallery of Victoria moved to St Kilda Road in the late 1960s, and the current Melbourne Museum was built in the Carlton Gardens in the 1990s.

The library underwent major refurbishments between 1990 and 2004, designed by architects Ancher Mortlock & Woolley. The project cost approximately A$200 million. The reading room closed in 1999 to allow for renovation, during which natural light was returned. The renamed La Trobe Reading Room reopened in 2003.

The redevelopment included the construction of a number of exhibition spaces which are used to house the permanent exhibitions The Mirror of the World: Books and Ideas and The Changing Face of Victoria as well as a display from the Pictures Collection in the Cowen Gallery. As a result of the redevelopment, the State Library of Victoria can now be considered one of the largest exhibiting libraries in the world.

In February 2010, the southern wing of the library on Little Lonsdale Street was reopened as the Wheeler Centre, part of Melbourne's city of literature initiative.

Old Melbourne Gaol

When the Old Melbourne Gaol as built in the mid-1800s, it dominated the Melbourne skyline as a symbol of authority.

Inside the Gaol, dangerous criminals were held alongside petty offenders, the homeless and the mentally ill.

Between 1842 and its closure in 1929 the gaol was the scene of 133 hangings including Australia's most infamous citizen, the bushranger Ned Kelly.


First Melbourne Gaol was built in Collins Street West, but more space was needed.


Second Gaol was built, adjoining the then Supreme Court at the corner of Russell and La Trobe Streets, but this was demolished early in the 20th Century when the Magistrate's Court complex was built.


A new wing (stage one of the third gaol) was built. It was bluestone rather than sandstone, and had its own perimeter wall.

The new design was based on the designs of the British prison engineer Joshua Jebb, particularly the Pentonville Model Prison in London. The building was a model prison and based on the current prison reform theories of the day. In spite of the building and extension work, the Gaol was consistently overcrowded.


Gaol and boundary walls extended.


Present north wing—entrance buildings, central hall and chapel was begun.

17 gaolers' houses built on Swanston Street.


Western cell block, virtually a replica of the present east block, was built to house female prisoners.


Perimeter wall finally completed.

West wing extended into what is now the RMIT site (since demolished).

Hospital was built in one of the yards.


Review of the penal system recommended that the gaol be closed and the prisoners be moved to a more 'suitable' location.


The Gaol was slowly rundown and portions of the original site demolished.


The Gaol was finally closed.

The present Supreme Court building

Towards the end of 1872, the Victorian Government decided that new Law Courts should bebuilt on the South-East corner of William and Lonsdale Streets, Melbourne, a site previously used for government offices. The Public Works Department conducted a competition for the design: that prepared by the Melbourne architects A.L. Smith and A.E. Johnson was held to be the best. Their design was first placed on public view in May 1873.

Old Melbourne Gaol - A Ghost Story!