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The Melbourne Club

Entrance to The Melbourne Club (etching)
The Melbourne Club in the 19th Century

Entrance to The Melbourne Club (photo)
The Melbourne Club today

(See also The White Hat Guide to The Walled Garden at The Melbourne Club)

1838 to 1880: from Larrikins to Respectability

Garryowen, a chronicler of early Melbourne tells us:

The Melbourne Club was first mooted in that eventful month of November, 1838, when the first cricket match was played in the colony, at the foot of Batman's Hill. This happened on the 12th, when the necessity for organizing a club was first formally talked over. There was a fair muster of the Melbourne "respectabilities" of the time, and in the course of some casual conversation the Club question cropped up. Of all the gay young fellows sunning themselves on the green grass that day, there are only two of them, Messrs. Benjamin Baxter and Robert Russell, now [1888] alive in Melbourne. Before the next evening a Prospectus was prepared by Mr. Baxter, who succeeded in obtaining several eligible signatures in approval of the project. On the 17th November, 1838, a meeting of all taking an interest in the then hazardous venture was held at the quarters of the military officers at the south side of West Bourke Street, when the formation of a Club was ratified, and the following names were announced as the original members: - Captain Lonsdale, P.M., Dr. Cussen (Colonial Surgeon), Colonel White, Captain Bacchus, Lieutenant Smyth, Messrs. Munday, Powlett, Yaldwyn, Murdoch, Meek, McFarlane, Darke, Bacchus, Jun., White, Arden, Baxter, Russell, Scott, Hamilton, Smythe, and the Ryries (three).

The new-born Club went on slowly but surely, and ere the first week of 1839 passed over, the Port Phillip Gazette, 5th January, thus reports progress: - "On the first day of the year a general meeting of the members of the Melbourne Club was held for the purpose of appointing a committee, and to take into consideration the building of a house suited to the convenience of the service it is intended to be applied to." The list showed nearly fifty names, amongst whom we may mention Mr. Hawdon, to whose enterprise the district is indebted for having opened a communication by land to South Australia. About twenty of the members subsequently sat down to a dinner at the Lamb Inn, laid out on a most splendid scale, comprising all the varieties this infant settlement could afford, Mr. William Meek (Melbourne's first Solicitor) was appointed Honorary Secretary, and the next meeting was held at the residence of Dr. Barry Cotter (Melbourne's first practising physician), north-east corner of Queen and Collins Streets. This was on the 21st February, when the first ballot came off, and Messrs. Arthur Hogue, J. Browne, H. N. Carrington, and Peter Snodgrass were enrolled.

The Club had been three months in existence; the members were increasing; a committee was appointed, and premises were being looked up to do duty until such time as funds would be available sufficient for the erection of a permanent Club-house. But many years were to roll by ere this could come to pass. In June the Club had a house rented, viz., a rough, rakish-looking building at the corner of Collins and Market Streets, where now this old friend, with a very new face, and so much improved internally and externally as to be unrecognizable, appears before the public as the Union Club Hotel. In its original condition it was erected by Mr. J. P. Fawkner, as a third and revised edition of Fawkner's Hotel; but "Johnny" had grown tired of dram-selling, and retired to rusticate and grow grapes at Pascoe Vale, some eight miles from town, on the Moonee Ponds Road, where he had purchased a section of country land. A Club steward was next retained, and two advertisements appeared in the papers, viz., (1) Inviting tenders for Club supplies ; and (2) Wanted a laundress, properly recommended.

And so the Melbourne Club was now fairly started, and its beginning was quiet enough until September, when a row occurred, for the Port Phillip Gazette, of the 21st, announces that two gentlemen staying there (Messrs. Thomas and Cobb) "had fought with their fists over a card-table." In Kerr's Port Phillip Directory, 1841, amongst the local Institutions appears this announcement: - "Melbourne Club, established 1839. President, James Simpson, Esq. ; Secretary, Redmond Barry, Esq.; Club House, Collins Street."

The Club remained at Fawkner's corner for some years, and throughout all its eventful career it never went out of Collins Street from those days to this. Where the Bank of Victoria is now built, Mr. Michael Carr, one of Melbourne' s earliest publicans, purchased a half-acre allotment for �40; but it and its buyer soon obtained a divorce, the freehold passed into other hands, and a large brick house had been erected on the Collins Street frontage. This was occupied by the Port Phillip Bank during its short and troubled life, and when the Bank shut up shop there the Club moved down from the western hill to the flat - then a swampy, uncomfortable place. But the house was more commodious than the one vacated, and it was soon turned into comfortable quarters. Hence again, after a sojourn for years, the Club migrated away far over the crown of the Eastern Hill, at a time when the place was no longer in the bush, but becoming one of the most flourishing and fashionable centres in the city.

How it has fared since, how fat it has grown, and how respectable it has become, it is not for me to chronicle, for I have nothing to do with those modern developments which have been accomplished by the great changes, wrought during the last thirty years, beyond stating that in 1882 there were 465 members on the books, and the premises are now the property of the fraternity, the capital value of the land and buildings being about �5o,ooo.

The Melbourne Club of 1882 is as the staid, comfortable, middle-aged, padded gentleman when contrasted with its boyhood of '42, when it was the rendezvous of the young rakes in town and the harum-scarum, full-blooded, full-pocketed, light-headed scamps from the bush, whose frolics kept it, if not in hot water, in a state of almost continuous effervescence both day and night. If the biography of the old, or rather the young Club could be written, it would unfold a "strange eventful history" - the duels initiated; the practical jokes perpetrated, the nocturnal "wild oats" scattered about the town, in which no mad freak seemed impossible, from the mobbing of a parson to pummelling a policeman, besieging a theatre or unbelling a church, demolishing a corporation bridge, or a wholesale abduction of signboards. Of such eccentricities a more detailed account will be given in [another chapter of The Chronicles of Early Melbourne]. The Old Melbourne Club had many a hard struggle for existence; it had more than once run to the very end of its tether, yet it was always able to pull up just in time to avoid a smash. It seemed to have a charmed life, and so it lived, and struggled, and is now doing well and prospering.

1880 to 1927: A Centre of Influence

(coming soon)

1927 onwards: The Establishment

(coming soon)

Some forthcoming public events at The Melbourne Club:

Most events at The Melbourne Club are for members only and their guests, but just occasionally there is an event that is open to the general public. Those are the ones we list below

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