• Swanston Street from the Bridge

    Swanston Street from the Bridge 1861

    Henry BURN

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    The intersection of Swanston and Flinders Streets is, in effect, the gateway to the city of Melbourne and has always been a hub of civic life. Burn shows the south-east corner, the present-day Federation Square site, occupied by the Coroner's and Registration Office for Births, Deaths and Marriages.

    Well-dressed people promenade along the street and a bullock team can be seen in the distance. Burn shows Melbourne's impressive buildings, St Paul's Church (which was removed in 1885 to make way for St Paul’s Cathederal) and the spire of Scots Church on the right. The Johnston Bridge Hotel, on the left, is now Young and Jacksons Hotel. The stock grazing on the banks of the Yarra contrast with the steam engine just visible on the right (and the Jolimont rail line), illustrating the growth of this rapidly developing city.

  • Princess

    Princess 1889

    Arthur STREETON

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    Princess & ‘Burke & Wills’ was painted in Spring Street, Melbourne, in close proximity to the artist’s studios in Grosvenor Chambers, located at 9 Collins Street. It shows the north of Little Bourke Street corner of the Princess Theatre (1886) and Charles Summers’s Burke and Wills statue of 1865, moved to this site in 1886. A black-clad figure stands at the foot of the monument. The painting combines Streeton’s interest in the development of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ with his preoccupation with the representation of light and atmosphere.
  • Melbourne 1888

    Melbourne 1888 (1888)

    Frederick McCUBBIN

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    Melbourne in 1888 was exhibited by McCubbin at the Victorian Artists' Society in November 1888. The painting was subsequently cut in half. The left section remained with the McCubbin family until 1960 when it was presented to the National Gallery of Victoria; the right half has recently come to light.

    McCubbin’s Melbourne in 1888 reveals the considerable progress made in redeveloping the port of Melbourne between 1882 and 1888. This view shows the large vessels that travelled up the Yarra River to the turning circle in front of Customs House.

    In the left half of the painting the spires of Scots Church, the Independent Church and St Enoch's are visible; and in the right half the unfinished St Paul's Cathedral is depicted. A realistic description of the distant city was not McCubbin's prime interest, rather the depiction of the golden light and haze that suffused the buildings, and the smoke and steam surrounding the activity in the harbour.

  • Melbourne from the Botanic Gardens

    Melbourne from the Botanic Gardens 1865

    Henry GRITTEN

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    Henry Gritten was an itinerant artist who painted urban topographical views in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania in the 1850s and 1860s. Arriving in the colonies in 1853, Gritten immediately set out for the goldfields in Bendigo, but soon returned to Melbourne. He painted numerous views of the developing cities in which he lived, along with this view of Melbourne from the Royal Botanic Gardens, which was executed in 1866.

    Melbourne grew dramatically in size and population during the 1850s as a result of the gold rush in Victoria. The rapid growth of a middle class saw an increased demand for views of the city, which was met by artists such as Gritten and Henry Burn. Their images catered to the pride of Melbourne’s citizens in the development and prosperity of their burgeoning city.

  • Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

    Botanic Gardens, Melbourne (c. 1876-1880s)

    Nicholas CAIRE

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    Nicholas Caire was one of Australia’s best known nineteenth-century photographers. In 1878, Caire moved to Melbourne, setting up his photographic operations in Bourke Street, and quickly became one of the city’s leading commercial photographers.

    Caire specialised in producing views of picturesque scenery selling the resulting prints in albums or portfolios such as ‘Views of Victoria’. He also took advantage of the craze for postcards at the end of the century and published thousands of his photographs in this format.

    This photograph depicts Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens in the late 1800s. The gardens were established in 1846 by Lieutenant Governor Charles La Trobe beside the Yarra River. Over the next 60 years this swampy site was transformed into the world-famous gardens we know today.


Seeing colonial Melbourne

Since the founding of Melbourne in 1835, artists have played an integral role in recording the growth of the city and their work offers us a rich archive of images of Melbourne in the making.

  • From town to city

    Melbourne’s proud citizens wanted views of their blossoming city to adorn their homes, allowing artists such as Henry Burn to specialise in topographical painting.18

    Henry Burn's view (Swanston Street from the bridge 1861), painted 26 years after Melbourne’s settlement, shows the town in the process of becoming a bustling city. Burn shows the south-east corner of the Swanston Street and Flinders Street intersection – the present-day Federation Square site. Swanston Street is a dusty thoroughfare travelled by horse-drawn carriages and drays. Well-dressed people promenade along the street and a bullock team can be seen in the distance.

  • Marvellous Melbourne

    In the decade between 1881 and 1891, Melbourne’s population almost doubled to 473,000 and there was a massive increase in building activity. Significant buildings constructed included the General Post Office (1885), Gothic Revival bank (today the ANZ bank) in Collins Street (1883–84) and Princess Theatre in Spring Street (1886).

    Arthur Streeton’s Princess & ‘Burke & Wills’ 1889 records William Pitts’s Princess Theatre, as well as Charles Summers’s Burke and Wills memorial statue, now located in the City Square.19

    In the 1880s, Melbourne boasted the busiest port in the country. Frederick McCubbin’s Melbourne in 1888 reveals the considerable progress made in redeveloping the port between 1882 and 1888. Rather than a detailed description of the city, McCubbin’s concern has been to capture the atmosphere created by the steam, smoke and soft light.20

  • Victorian gold rushes

    The making of Melbourne was inextricably linked with the Victorian gold rushes of the 1850s. The wealth of the gold fields attracted a large number of people to Melbourne making it the largest city in Australia by 1860. Public buildings were built, including the Melbourne Public Library (1856)15 , University of Melbourne (opening to students in 1855)16 and National Gallery of Victoria (1861), and the city was beautified with parks and gardens.

    Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens were established in 1846 by Lieutenant Governor Charles La Trobe. This work by Henry Gritten shows the gardens as they appeared in 1866. Nicholas Caire’s photograph of the same subject is taken some ten years later.

    Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens were created by the colonial government in the burst of activity following the gold rush, with Edward LaTrobe Bateman commissioned to produce designs for the garden in 1856.17This painting of Fitzroy Gardens by John Mather was purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1894.