Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Three Brunswicks

In the inner city of Melbourne, there are three Brunswicks.

The suburb of Brunswick; north of the city and currently undergoing a rapid makeover from solid working class to rampant hipster kingdom. Brunswick Street; the main thoroughfare through Fitzroy, a suburb that made this same transition some time ago. And Brunswick Road; running perpendicular to, and between, both.

The origin of the name 'Brunswick,' as used in these Melbourne places, is no longer clear. It seems fitting that, as there are three places bearing the name, there are also three possible explanations as to how it became attached. It is even possible that there are different explanations for each.

But the suburb of Brunswick was the first of the three to appear in Melbourne, making it likely that the roads were named after it.

Surveyor General Robert Hoddle assessed the area that would become the suburb in 1839 and determined that it was fit for settlement. A broad, rough rectangle of land would be offered for sale, the boundaries of which would be; the newly created Moreland Road to the north, Park Street to the south and Moonee Ponds Creek and Merri Creek to either side. Connecting Moreland Road and Park Street, a narrow road would be built approximately in the middle of the newly designated area, originally called Pentridge Road, and later renamed Sydney Road once it became the chief route out of Melbourne to the north.

The survey plan for the new suburb from 1839. The two creeks are visible at
either end of the division, with numbered lots of land in between.

The land on either side of Pentridge Road was divided into eleven equal sections, each piece running from the road back to the relevant creek (depending on the side). Such was the simple, efficient way that most of early Melbourne was laid out.

Much of the early land sold in this, still unnamed, area went to land speculators, investors with an eye on the future. Melbourne was still small in 1840 when the new land was offered for sale, and the freshly subdivided area 5 miles from the township was not much in demand. But  a few hardy types bought and settled on the properties straight away. One of these was Thomas Wilkinson.

Wilkinson was born in Sunderland County, in England, in 1799 and emigrated to Van Dieman's land in 1833. He worked in Launceston initially, in service of the convicts there and providing religious and moral instruction. This was followed by a short stint on Flinders Island, providing similar services to the local Indigenous population.

Drawing of Thomas Wilkinson, date unknown.

Looking to establish himself, he moved to Melbourne in 1840 in search of fresh opportunities. Wilkinson took a job as a law clerk and within a year had saved a sufficient sum to allow him to buy (in partnership with his friend Edward Parker) one of the new parcels of land north of the city. Wilkinson built himself a small house on the corner of Albert Street and Sydney Road and so became one of the first residents of the new district.

Wilkinson called his new property 'Brunswick.' There are two theories as to why he did this.

The most widely accepted of these is that the name was chosen in honour of Queen Caroline, late wife of King George IV of England.

Portrait of Caroline by James Lonsdale, 1820

Caroline was born Princess Caroline of Brunswick, a region in Northern Germany near Hannover. The German root of the word Brunswick is a combination of two other words; 'Bruno', the eleventh century conqueror of the region, and 'wik,' a German word meaning meeting place. So the area was named after the town Bruno established, which immediately became the central meeting and trading point for the region.

Caroline married George, Prince of Wales, in 1795. It was a loveless arranged marriage, designed for political reasons, and the pair started to live separately after Caroline gave birth to a daughter, Charlotte, in 1796. Both Prince and Princess likely took lovers and had little to do with each other. Caroline left England in 1814 and lived in Italy for a time, returning only in 1820 when George ascended to the throne.

But George was not happy to see his consort return, and immediately began agitating for divorce. As well as the entrenched dislike between the two, George was an unpopular, authoritarian King and Caroline had been installedby the public as the figurehead for a burgeoning reform movement. Caroline was publicly accused of adultery and Parliament set to investigating her fidelity.

The Trial of Queen Caroline, by Sir George Hayter.

Even while accused of, what was at the time, a serious criminal offence, Caroline remained popular with the masses. 800 petitions with more than a million signatures in support of her were lodged during her trial. The House of Lords, charged with the preliminary investigation, found her guilty of an affair with an Italian servant, but their findings were never passed on to the House of Commons for ratification. It was assumed that Caroline's popularity would have ensured their defeat in that house.

Furious that his will was not carried out, George excluded Caroline from his coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey. When she tried to attend, her way was blocked several times by soldiers loyal to George. Shortly afterward, Caroline became seriously ill and deteriorated steadily over the next few weeks. She died on 7 August 1821, aged 53, and was buried in her native Brunswick. Her exact cause of death is unknown and speculation ranges from cancer to poisoning at the hands of George's agents. Caroline's sudden death caused some disturbances in England and further entrenched George's unpopularity with sections of his people.

A young Thomas Wilkinson lived through this period of English history and undoubtedly Caroline's tragic story would have had an impact on him, as it did many others at the time. So it is believed that he named his new property on the other side of the world as a small tribute to the late Queen Consort.

But other theories have been floated as well.

The second of these also relates to royal goings on in England. After the death of George IV, Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. In 1840 she married Prince Albert and there is some thought that Brunswick was named after the Prince's German royal house. This appears on several websites I have seen, as well as in  the official written history of Brunswick, commissioned by the Moreland Shire Council (Brunswick: One History, Many Voices, edited by Helen Penrose).

Victoria and Albert in 1840.

But in regards to this idea we can be certain; Brunswick is not named after Prince Albert, as he was from the German house of Saxe-Coburg. Although it is worth adding that the first two streets in the new area, Albert Street and Victoria Street, running at ninety degrees from Pentridge Road, were named after the newly married royal couple. News of their nuptials would have reached Australia just as the suburb was being sketched out and divided (the south Melbourne suburb of Albert Park is also named after the Prince).

The third possibility for Brunswick's naming comes from the VICNAMES website, an official Government body that maintains a database of Victoria's place and street name origins. The entry for Brunswick reads:

Named after Captain George Brunswick Smyth, 50th regiment. He was in charge of mounted (military) police in Port Philip, 1839.

This explanation also appears on the Yarra Council website, in their own list of name origins, for Brunswick Street and so is not easily dismissed. But how or why this police captain would have got his name attached to a new suburb is unclear. Another landholder in the region, a neighbour of Wilkinson's, named WFA Rucker was known to have been a friend of Smyth's, and there is speculation that Rucker may have adopted the name of his friend for the new area.

But hard evidence of this has remained elusive. Acknowledging this theory in Brunswick: One History, Many Voices, Gillian Sansom writes that the oldest records the council has show the name Brunswick attached only to Wilkinson's property, not Rucker's. The council seem certain as to their preferred theory of the name origin, as their historical marker on Albert Street indicates:

In any case, Wilkinson attached the name Brunswick only to his farm, which was one among many in the new area. How did it come to be adopted by the suburb as a whole?

Tom Wilkinson was an industrious man; hard working and talented in a variety of areas. The small house that he built for himself doubled as the area's first church and post office, and he oversaw and helped finance permanent, purpose built, replacements for both. He also leased the first land used by shopkeepers along Pentridge Road and Albert Street, which dramatically increased the economic viability of the area. And he started, and for a time edited, the new suburbs first newspaper. He dominated the region to such an extent that it was only a short progression for people to start referring to the whole district by the name attached to Wilkinson's farm.

So it seems reasonably certain that Brunswick, the suburb, was named after Princess Caroline and that the two nearby streets with the same name were named after the suburb. Brunswick Road as it ran close to the southern boundary of the area, and Brunswick Street as it would have been a major route North from the city towards Brunswick at the time it was built.

A sketch of Brunswick St by Sarah Bunbury, 1841.

One final trivial footnote on the Origin of the name Brunswick. In 1914, after the declaration of war by England against Germany, the North Brunswick Progress Association lobbied the local council to change the name of the area, complaining about that they did not want to reside in a suburb with a German name. The council's respsonse is not recorded.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Melbourne's First Movie Screening

Located at 235 Bourke Street, the rather drab Tivoli Arcade:

Functional and thoroughly unlovely, it's hard to imagine that this same location was once home to one of Melbourne's grandest and most popular theatres. In 1872, the Prince of Wales Opera House occupied this location, featuring an elaborate design and seating for more than 2000 people.

The Prince of Wales interior, circa 1872.

As was usual at the time, the Prince of Wales presented a wide variety of live entertainment; everything from vaudeville and three penny opera, to live music, drama, comedy and novelty acts. Among others, the first performances of HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance in Australia were staged at the Prince.

In 1895 Harry Rickards, a former actor who had previously performed at the Prince, took over the building and re-named it the Melbourne Opera House. Rickards would continue to present a similarly varied bill as before, now augmented by his own troupes of minstrels and vaudeville acts, but was always on the lookout for new attractions. He was particularly keen on novelty acts; anything that was new and different that he could use to generate publicity.

The facade of the 'Melbourne Opera House.'

A technological marvel, invented in France and unveiled the same year that Rickards leased his new theatre, was about to provide him with a sensational show business opportunity.

The Lumiere Brothers (Auguste and Louis) were born into the photographic trade. Their father, Claude-Antoine, ran a large photographic plate and film development firm near Lyons. Both brothers went into the family business after attending university and showed an immediate aptitude for photographic processing, helping to refine and advance the still developing medium.

The Lumiere Brothers
Inspired by Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope, a viewing device that flashed a series of still images in sequence into a single eyepiece and so gave the impression of movement, the young brothers soon set themselves an ambitious new task; to design and build a 'moving picture' camera, capable of capturing live action, developing it and then broadcasting it onto a screen for mass viewing. Their creation, dubbed the Cinematographe, is undoubtedly one of the defining inventions of the modern age.

A drawing of Edison's 'Kinetoscope.'

A photo of the Lumiere's 'Cinematographe'

The first major public screenings involving the Cinematographe took place in Paris in September 1895, where the Lumiere's screened short films they had shot themselves. Amazed audiences flocked to the 1 minute long silent projections, which depicted scenes from everyday life, and the new marvel spread like wildfire.

Within a year, the movies would make their way to Australia.

Carl Hertz; magician and
cinema pioneer
Carl Hertz was an American born magician based in England, who had toured the world extensively and had already had success in Australia. He had seen the Lumiere's invention when it arrived in England early in 1896.

Visiting the UK and looking for acts, Rickards booked Hertz for a series of dates later in 1896 and Hertz, concerned that his act was not significantly different from what he had previously presented in Australia, was determined to bring a Cinematographe with him. Such was the the sense of wonder attached to the new motion picture process that presenting it as part of a magic show seemed a natural association.

But the Lumiere's agent in London, Felicien Trewey, had been instructed not to sell the devices under any circumstances. After repeatedly being rebuffed by Trewey, Hertz then turned his attention to Robert W.Paul, a British inventor who had viewed the Cinematographe and come up with his own version, which he imaginatively named the Theatrograph. While similar in design and construction, Paul's version was less sophisticated and was considered inferior to the Lumiere's model, in terms of both film quality and projection.

Nevertheless, Hertz was determined to have one of Paul's machines. Again told that they were not for sale, Hertz convinced Paul to show him his workshop and demonstrate the workings of the device in person. In his autobiography, Hertz recollects:

He (Paul) took me on to the stage and showed me the whole workings of the machine. We were there for over an hour, during which I kept pressing him to let me have one of the machines. Finally I said,

'Look here! I am going to take one of these machines with me now!'

And with that, I took out a hundred pound in notes, put them into his hand, got a screw driver and unscrewed one of the machines from the floor. The next day I sailed for South Africa, with the first Cinematographe that had ever left England.

Paul would later claim that Hertz had 'stolen' the machine from him. It's also interesting to note that Hertz referred to the machine as a Cinematographe which, strictly speaking, it wasn't. Although it would be billed as such during its tour of the Southern Hemisphere.

After a stopover in South Africa where he performed a few dates, and so became the first man to show moving pictures in that country, Hertz arrived in Melbourne in early August 1896. His series of magic shows commenced at the Melbourne Opera House on the 15th and he unveiled his version of the Cinematographe to a select private audience on the 17th. Hertz had five short films to show:

Highland Dances

Street Scenes in London 
Trilby Dance
Military Parade
Soldier's Courtship

This last had been shot by Robert Paul himself on the roof of the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square, and Hertz's showing of it casts doubt on the inventor's claim that they had had a falling out. While Soldiers Courtship was an early attempt to shoot a movie with a simple, comic narrative, and Trilby was a scene from a play, popular at the time, the rest were documentary style depictions of the titular events.

And just as everywhere else that the cinema had ventured, they caused an immediate sensation. Especially once they were incorporated into the magician's public act, as they were from the 22nd onward.  August 22nd 1896 then becomes a red letter day in the history of the Arts in Australia; the first public movie screenings in this country.

The films were so popular that Rickards was soon promoting them above Hertz's name on the advertising material (although perhaps Hertz was compensated for this by being mentioned twice?):

Crowds flocked to the screenings and the films were the talk of the town.

Their success was so great that Rickards would almost immediately set about sourcing another Cinematographe (or, realistically, any such similar device he could lay his hands on).  Once he had obtained one, which was dubbed 'The Second Edition,' Rickards set sail for Sydney, determined to capitalise on the time when he was the only promoter in Australia with moving picture machines. He set up a series of screening dates in that city, commencing mid September.

Hertz, whose original series of shows was meant to incorporate Sydney with the Cinematographe still included as part of his act, now found himself performing only his magic when he moved on from Melbourne. But he would take his projector with him when he left Australia to continue his tour around the south Pacific, screening films to stunned audiences in Fiji and Japan, among other exotic locations.

But  the motion picture screenings he and Rickards had presented in Melbourne had been enormously popular and had changed the entertainment culture in the city, and the country, for good. By the end of the year, three more Cinematographes, one of them a genuine Lumiere designed model, would be in operation in Melbourne, such was the demand for the moving pictures. They were so prominent in the city that a local newspaper would note:

The country visitor who returns home from Melbourne still in ignorance of the marvels of the Cinematographe must have gone nowhere and seen nothing.

                                                              - 'The Australasian,' 7 November 1896.

The movies had arrived in Australia.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Victoria's First European Settlers

Beside the Yarra will normally keep this blog confined to Melbourne History topics, but I was away in Port Fairy over New Years and felt that a small diversion was in order. For this small coastal town, about 300 km's south west of Melbourne, is one of the oldest settlements in the state and, as such, has a rich history.

It is interesting to note that Melbourne, while Victoria's capital, was not the first place in the state to be settled by Europeans. In 1834 Edward Henty, a British farmer who had settled in Van Diemen's land, brought his family and stock to Portland Bay on Victoria's south coast and established a farm there. A few months later Henty was joined by his brother and the first kernel of a town was established. 

Etching of Edward Henty in the 1860s.

A drawing of Portland Bay from 1852.

John Batman would sail into the Yarra and establish what would become Melbourne a year later, in 1835.

But even Portland may not be Victoria's oldest settlement. 

The south west coast had been an attractive destination for adventurous young men since the beginning of the 19th century. With seals and whales in abundance in the ocean, and kangaroos on the land, fisherman and trappers were able to make a good living from the area. A number of temporary camps sprang up to support these fledgling industries, dotting the rugged coastline.

John Brabyn Mills was born in Launceston in 1810 and grew up on a farm in the Northern part of Van Diemen's Land. Hungry for adventure, John (and his younger brother Charles, born in 1812) left home as a teenager and went to sea. The south coast of Victoria, a short if treacherous voyage across the straits to the north, was an obvious destination for someone like Mills.

Captain John B. Mills as an older man.

According to local tradition, Port Fairy, east of Portland,  had been discovered in 1810 when captain James Wishart sailed his vessel, Fairy, into the harbour to shelter from a storm. This story has it that John Mills would later sail with Wishart and the older captain would pass on his charts of the area to Mills. Charts which indicated Port Fairy. This lead to Mills visiting the area himself and establishing a camp there in 1826.

But all the details of this story have been questioned, to varying degrees. It is not known exactly when John Mills first came to the Port Fairy area, nor when he established himself there, nor how permanent his camp was when he did settle in the area. It is not even known when Wishart bestowed the name Port Fairy on the harbour, although most historians think it likely it was later than 1810.

Mills' camp certainly seems to have been less well organised than Henty's farm further along the coast, which is why Henty is normally considered Victoria's first European settler. But there is still a view that John Mills should occupy this place in history. His grand niece Olive Mills stated:

John and Charles Mills, who settled permanently in Victoria in 1826 and remained there until the death of Charles in 1855 and John in 1877, should be recognised as Victoria's first settlers.

And this latter part of the story can certainly be confirmed.

Another ambitious young man, John Griffiths, established a whaling station at Port Fairy in 1835 and shortly afterward founded a town on the Moyne River that fed into the Bay.

A sketch of 'Belfast' from 1856.

Port Fairy, 1857

Griffiths named the town Belfast, after his place of birth, a name it would bear until 1887.

Having suffered financial losses in the shipping trade, John Mills took a position as Belfast's harbour master in 1851, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1871. The cottage he lived in during these years, one of Victoria's oldest, is still intact on the Port Fairy harbourside. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Melbourne's Eccentric Laneway Names


Perhaps Melbourne's most famous laneway is also one of the newest, as 'AC/DC Lane' was so named only in 2004. The name is a tribute both to the legendary Australian rock band and to the prominent position rock music holds in the city's psyche. The lane itself has existed since 1895 and was known as 'Corporation Lane' until it adopted it's current moniker. The current street sign has proved popular with AC/DC fans; it was stolen six times within two years of being put up, before it was more securely attached to the wall on the lane's edge.


This through alley in Chinatown dates from the 1840's, and so is nearly as old as the city itself. The cosmic sounding name is actually taken from a slang term for Chinese people, 'Celestials,' used in Australia in the 19th century. Celestival Avenue was so named when the first Chinese merchants started using the alley for business in the 1860's.

Celestial Avenue in 1972


Initially called 'Healy Place,' this was renamed Coverlid Place after Henry Coverlid, a British migrant who operated a barber shop on the corner of Coverlid and Little Bourke for about 30 years from 1870. Once a busy thoroughfare, featuring a number of restaurants and bars across the years, the only tenant today is an adult movie theatre.


Connected to AC/DC lane via a U-bend, Duckboard Place takes its name from the building at the lane's entrance; 91 Flinders Lane, AKA Duckboard House. 

Built between the wars and now used as an office building, after World War II Duckboard House was a popular returned serviceman's club. A 'duckboard' was a temporary wooden walkway, placed across muddy or boggy ground, common in Army camps of the period.


Built in the 1890's, Equitable Place takes it's name from the Equitable Life Assurance Buildings which used to stand on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins streets, and so backed onto the laneway.

Drawing of the Equitable Life Assurance Building from 1894.

In a historical footnote, the builder of the Equitable Life Assurance Building was David Mitchell, the father of Dame Nellie Melba.


Another lane named after a building, Exploration Lane takes it's name from the Exploration Hotel, which stood nearby on Little Lonsdale Street in the 1860's. The hotel was named to mark the ill fated cross country expedition of Burke and Wills.

A house in Exploration Lane, 1935.


Louis Kitz was a Swiss imigrant who arrived in Australia in 1853. A jack of all trades, Kitz worked as a silversmith and watchmaker before finding success in the wine business, eventually operating several profitable stores in the city (one of which was near the lane that bears his name). Kitz was also one of the entries in the first Melbourne phone book, which contained listings for only 12 people.


Research to date has not been able to source the origin of the name of this short alleyway off Little Bourke Street. A query lodged with the Melbourne City Council revealed that they no longer have a record of it's origin either. This page will be updated once the mystery has been solved...


Another lane dating from the early years of the city, this handsome throughway was originally known as Millers Lane. In 1856, the Niagara Hotel opened here, and was such a success that the street was soon renamed after this establishment. The owners of hotel had chosen the name Niagara as this was the name of the ship they arrived in Melbourne in. 

The Niagara Hotel, circa 1912.

Home to various businesses - confectioners, plumbers and restaurants among them - Niagara Lane was largely rebuilt in 1887 and turned into well appointed residences, making it one of the most desirable addresses in the city. The individual residences were sold in 1923 and converted into apartments, the function they serve to this day.


This was not on my list of eccentric laneway names when I started researching this piece, as it does not appear on any maps of Melbourne. And there's a good reason for this; Ozimek Lane is not an official street name. This tiny alley runs west off Hardware Lane and is fronted by a large office building, the owners of the which, Ossie Investments, have dubbed the lane behind their property 'Ozimek,' as a sort of shortened, slang version of their business name. The photo above shows a fake street sign that the company have apparently had made up themselves and erected on the wall behind their building. Melbourne City Council have removed these signs from this location before. The actual laneway in question, really just an access point to the rear of the building, is unnamed.


Similar to Merlin Alley, I have been unable to source the origin of the name of this lane running between Little Bourke and Bourke Streets. The investigation continues...


Named after Dutch born brush maker Jan Zevenboom, this laneway housed his factory, the first brush making works in the Southern Hemisphere, for many years. Zevenboom later served as a Melbourne City Councillor.

The Zevenboom building, corner of Little Lonsdale and
Zevenboom Lane, pictured in 1946.