I’m doing a LOT of travelling as part of my research for my thesis. Recently, I did a trip to Queensland to look at the history of the nineteenth century arcades there. It was a fruitful journey that answered a number of questions that couldn’t be resolved through online research.

It allowed me to visit the sites & understand their location and placement within the cityscape of both the nineteenth century & today, and I also collected reams of information, images, plans, maps, directories, council records and other resources that will assist with my research.

Additionally I was able to gain valuable information through direct contact with the staff of the archives and libraries there that yielded some revelations. Some of the information was contextual and this was vital. Despite growing up in Brisbane, I knew comparatively little about its history compared to Sydney & Melbourne, as that has been  where my history and heritage work has focused up until recently.

There were four arcades constructed in Queensland prior to 1901 – while I say nineteenth-century a lot,  my study actually extends to 1901, in order for me to consider one of these specific Queensland sites, constructed in the year of Federation and on the cusp of the new century that brought great changes to the Australian urban landscape.

Two were constructed in Brisbane and both were the brainwave of enterprising businessman Henry Morwitch, who lived a truly international life throughout the British Empire and beyond. Born in Poland, he migrated to England, then Victoria, followed by New Zealand, back over to Brisbane (with a sojourn in Gympie), then to Sydney and, at the end of his life, returning to Britain. His two arcades were built on the busiest commercial street in Brisbane, Queen Street, in close proximity to each other.

These were the Royal Exhibition Arcade, constructed in 1877 and demolished in the years around World War I, and the Grand Arcade (fronting Queen and Edward Streets), built in 1885 and demolished in parts between the mid 1920s to late 1930s.

Grand Arcade (front right) & Royal Exhibition Arcade (fourth building from rh corner), both featuring wrought iron verandahs, Queen Street, Brisbane, c1908, State Library Queensland.

Both sites are now taken up by commercial buildings featuring similar tenants, although certainly on a different scale. The Royal Exhibition Arcade was on the site of Macarthur Central, a large, recently constructed, shopping centre with diverse shops and eateries. As for the Grand, the Tattersall’s Arcade, part of the Tattersall’s Club buildings constructed between World Wars I and II, sits on the exact footprint of the Grand Arcade.

Macarthur Central, 255 Queen Street Brisbane. Site of the Royal Exhibition Arcade. Nicole Davis, 2014. Macarthur Central, site of the Royal Exhibition Arcade & several other buildings, 255 Queen Street Brisbane. Site of the Royal Exhibition Arcade. Nicole Davis, 2014.

The other two arcades that were built in Queensland were in seemingly unlikely locations, but at the time of their construction represented the progress and modernity of two regional towns that were booming, both economically and in terms of population.

The first was constructed in Charters Towers, nearly 1400 km from Brisbane, in the mining country of Far North Queensland. In 1888 the town was a city with a rapidly expanding population, drawn by rich lure of its gold discoveries and usurping the land of its traditional owners. By 1899 it had a population of 25,000 and was one of the biggest cities in the Australian colonies.

Entrepreneurs in Charters Towers used the gold wealth to create a European-style city, commissioning architects, often from the cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, to design buildings in the manner of the high boom metropolises far to the south. One of these was the Royal Arcade, today known as the Stock Exchange Arcade, constructed in 1888 for businessman Alexander Malcolm and designed by Sydney architect Mark Cooper Day. It was never completely finished due to Malcolm becoming insolvent, and today the back remains open to the land and laneway at the rear. It’s the only remaining arcade from the nineteenth century in Queensland and both it and the town, with its mining history and several heritage sites, are fantastic spots to visit.

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 1.26.52 pm
Charters Towers Stock Exchange building (former Royal Arcade), c1890. Photographer unknown. State Library Queensland

The last site I visited was in Townsville, 140 km east of Charters Towers on the coast. It’s a quite expansive city of 170,000 people. In 1901, the year of Federation, the Earl of Hopetoun, first Governor-General of Australia, opened the large municipal civic buildings constructed on Flinders Street. The structure, which took up a significant section of the block, included a Town Hall, a theatre, a licensed hotel, a market and a shopping arcade.

Unfortunately, not much survives in records nor in the collective memory about this arcade and before I arrived I doubted that it even was a real arcade in the sense that I was defining them. But I found some tantalising evidence in the Townsville City Library that did confirm it was an ‘authentic’ shopping arcade. This photocopy of a cross-section came from the original plans, which certainly existed in the 1990s, but now appear to be lost.

This amazing collection of buildings, built during a period of intense change for Australia, were unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1978 and today, the current municipal buildings, a typical example of 1980s civic architecture, stand in its place.

Despite the fact that the majority of these arcades no longer exists, seeing the sites on which they stood (and still stand, in the case of the Royal Arcade), allowed me to better understand their placement within the urban environment that no amount of looking at images or maps can provide. I also feel much more illuminated as to their place within the history of the cities in which they were built and the overarching historical narrative of those places.

The experience of road tripping to Charters Towers in particularly was fascinating as the bitumen road from tropical seaside Townsville took me to the dry almost outback of western Queensland and allowed me to understand the true feat of what was constructed in this now small town in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

I’m currently collating all the material and information gathered and this will figure in a longer case study of specific arcades that will contribute to my thesis.

This trip was made possibly by a Graduate Research Arts Travel Scholarship from the University of Melbourne. Lastly, a big shout out to those who assisted so much in my research on this whirlwind two week trip:

Brisbane City Archives

State Library of Queensland

Trisha Fielding and all the staff at Townsville City Libraries (Trisha, a historian, also has a fantastic North Queensland history blog in which she discusses the Town Hall buildings)

James Cook University Special Collections

Charters Towers & Dalrymple Archives Group, especially archivist and curator, Michael Brumby, who was excessively generous with his time and resources, and was willing to have great long chats about history with me.

Charters Towers Library

National Trust Queensland volunteers at the Stock Exchange Arcade and Zara Clark Museum in Charters Towers and the Hou Wang Temple in Atherton

The Stock Exchange Arcade Gallery (which allowed me to see the upstairs of the Royal Arcade)

And to the Royal Hotel and the Stock Exchange Arcade Cafe in Charters Towers, for giving me a luxurious place to lay my head and excellent coffee to fortify me!

Demolition of the Eastern Arcade, 2008. Courtesy Melbourne Heritage Action. http://melbourneheritage.org.au/?attachment_id=245
Demolition of the Eastern Arcade, 2008. Courtesy Melbourne Heritage Action. http://melbourneheritage.org.au/?attachment_id=245

In my previous post I discussed the mix of businesses that occupied the Eastern Arcade during its 50 year existence in it’s intended form. We left off the story in 1926 by which time tenants were all gone and Clauscen & Co’s Furniture Emporium occupied the whole building. But the arcade’s story does not end there.

For the next 83 years it was occupied by a succession of Melbourne homegrown businesses: first Clauscen & Co’s, then Fletcher Jones, later Allans Music and finally Dimmeys. The promenade was built over and it its interior gutted, but its walls and unique façade remained. As an arcade it was largely forgotten and was mainly remembered in the press and popular imagination for its associations with the Haymarket Theatre and the Gun Alley Murder. It was only in 2008, after a hard fought battle by heritage groups, that the entire arcade was demolished and replaced by the Citadines Hotel.

While these dramatic changes occurred within the Eastern Arcade over the space of half a century, two blocks away at the Royal Arcade, things had changed relatively little since it opened in 1870. The same general mix of shops from this time had endured and the arcade had even been expanded at the turn of the century. What were the conditions that rendered the story of the Eastern Arcade so different to its nearby counterpart?

A complex interplay of factors probably acted together to precipitate these changes but the location of the arcade may have played a key role. Initially it seems to have been the 1890s depression that made a significant impact on trade, resulting in a large vacancy rate between 1893 and 1895, followed by a distinct change in the types of shops that occupied it after 1896. Although only two blocks away from the Melbourne’s shopping heart, the block bounded by Collins, Swanston, Elizabeth and Bourke Streets, this distance may have also played a role in the decreasing popularity of the Eastern Arcade. While it is a common claim that the arcades were outmoded by the development of more modern forms of shopping, such as large drapers and department stores, the Victorian Era arcades located in this central section of the city – Block, the Royal and Queens Walk Arcades – continued to be destinations for customers for decades. In fact, for these arcades, the crowds that flocked to the new fashionable department stores built in close proximity to them from the 1890s onwards were probably highly beneficial. The Block and the Royal are still busy thoroughfares today, as well as shopping destinations in their own right and this use of them as a shortcut through the large Melbourne city blocks has long been an advantage.

The very emphasis on the area surrounding the Eastern Arcade as an amusement district may have also had an impact. We might surmise that visitors wandered up Bourke Street more for its entertainments than its shops but also that this location affected its reputation among shoppers. The Eastern Market, which had eventually been rebuilt in 1879, and the area surrounding the arcade continued to attract the condemnation of some. One Tasmanian visitor in 1888 commented on the noticeable ‘larrikin element’ in Melbourne and that at the entrance to the Eastern Arcade he had seen

a crowd of 1000, principally of this class … assemble one afternoon … as if by magic, because two policemen were apparently trying to arrest some one. (Launceston Examiner, 8 August 1888, 3)

In the 1890s the Hanover Hall within the arcade itself was a magnet for larrikins wanting a boisterous and boozy night on the town. In 1901 Bourke Street was described as ‘a non-stop vaudeville show’ with a wide variety of entertainments ranging from music halls to shooting galleries (quoted in Kristin Otto, Capital: Melbourne When it Was the Capital City of Australia 1901-27 (Melbourne, 2009: The Text Publishing Company) 47-48). The shooting galleries of the Eastern Market and the presence of an amusement parlour in the arcade itself probably attracted a number of visitors who did not fit the ideal.

Despite the life of the streets around it, the arcade does not appear to have been well frequented, at least during the day, and was seemingly uncared for by its owners. The Melbourne Guide Book of c1895 wrote that it was ‘a quiet recess, wherein is no great sign of business’ (Melbourne: McCarron, Bird & Co, 27-28), while another commentator ten years later hoped that it would be demolished as ‘it [was] time that dirty and dingy arcade was put to some good use’ (The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People, 2 February 1907, 3). The trustees that had owned the building had been apparently discussing turning it into a residential hotel for two decades by 1921 and it is not beyond the imagination that the neglect was intentional. Although clearly on the decline for many years, it may have been its association with the Gun Alley Murder that affected business most significantly in the end. From this time onward, most mentions of the arcade in the newspapers revolve around the murder and the characters involved in it. In the end the Eastern Arcade, rather than being a transformative space for this section of Bourke Street, appears to have been transformed by the city streets around it.

Today very few of the Australian arcades remain. A few well-known examples have operated continuously since the 1880s or have been recently rejuvenated for modern consumers. But the many others, even those that still stand, have largely faded from the collective memory. Some lost popularity and closed relatively rapidly, while others never quite met expectations. Many underwent changes during the twentieth century to the physical fabric of the building and/or the mix of tenants in order to attempt to make them viable or in step with architectural fashion. Numerous examples were demolished during the course of the twentieth century and even into the twenty-first. Some, like the Eastern Arcade and the Prahran Arcade were transformed into buildings that would hold one large business, demolishing its individual stores and, in the case of the former, covering over its distinctive gallery space.

In the 1930s Walter Benjamin, in his work on the Parisian arcades, emphasised the idea of examining the afterlife of buildings within the city. He contended that, by examining the multiple historical layers of a site, we could better understand its place in the development of the city and by extension the history of the city that surrounded it. He used the arcades as a lens not only to tell the story of the nineteenth century but also to interrogate the social structures of his own era.

Examining the historical trajectory of the Eastern Arcade, we can see some of the changes that were inherent in the city surrounding it during a 100 year period. Not only from the 50-year period in which it operated as a shopping arcade and the changes in businesses, goods and inhabitants therein, but also from its subsequent histories, including the battle to retain it before its demolition in 2008.

While the contemporary discourse surrounding the arcades at the time of their construction makes it clear that these sites were intended as refined, elegant leisure spaces for middle-class clientele many, like the Eastern Arcade, reveal a more complex story. From websites, brochures and commissioned histories to heritage assessments to more serious historical studies, most promote an imagined view of the arcade, often focusing on the nineteenth century context and eschewing the afterlife of these sites. Marketing campaigns for those arcades that have been restored to or preserved in their so-called ‘original forms’ understandably focus heavily on such nostalgic perceptions in order to promote them as unique shopping experiences. The website for the Royal Arcade, Australia’s oldest, typifies the general bent of current popular discourse surrounding them:

Historical – Charming – Beautiful – Timeless. There are few words which can describe the feeling and olde-style charm captured in the Royal Arcade. Since 1869, the arcade has acted as a hub between Melbourne’s, Bourke St Mall, Little Collins Street and Elizabeth Street; The Royal Arcade houses some of the most well-known and beautiful shops in Melbourne (http://www.royalarcade.com.au/)

Unlike the Block and the Royal, which had maintained their existence as an arcade since their inception, the Eastern took a different trajectory; but the changes in tenants, architectural fabric, eventual transformation and even its demolition do not diminish its significance. Rather, I would contend that the histories of sites such as this are vital to our understanding of the development of urban space from the nineteenth century until today.

I argue that the layers of these spaces are essential to our perception and understanding of the past, even more so than their original newly-built form and that the idealised perception of nineteenth-century arcades disguise many aspects of their histories, rendering them and our urban history in a one-dimensional, mummified form.

With heritage buildings being regularly demolished in Melbourne, partly based on the argument that the original fabric has been lost, perhaps we must consider that it is not only the original fabric but the accretions of layers of fabric that are just as essential to our understanding of our city.

A passage from the 1852 Illustrated guide to Paris described the arcades as:

a recent invention of industrial luxury … glass-roofed, marble-paneled corridors extending through whole blocks of buildings … Lining both sides of these corridors, which get their light from above, are the most elegant shops, so that the arcade is a city, a world in miniature, in which customers will find everything they need (in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 19)

The ideal of the arcade was that of an elegant modern bourgeois leisure space for promenading, where one could see and be seen and indulge in the consumption of luxury commodities. This idealised representation developed early in their history and continued to be perpetuated with each new example constructed. The emphasis on luxury, elegance and modernity is seen repeatedly in descriptions of the arcades in literature and the popular press. Newspaper reports about the arcades in Australia often emphasise this ideal, describing in great detail their handsome architecture, rich fixtures and fittings, modern conveniences and engineering, and the elegance, variety and beauty of the stores, merchandise and visual displays to be found within. The shops that lined their pedestrian ways were specialist retailers and similar types of stores are seen repeatedly in each new arcade that opened in Australian cities. They provided a diverse and sometimes surprising range of wares: from household goods to clothing and accessories, from luxury items to foodstuffs.

While the popular perception of the arcades often envisages these sites as retail spaces, they provided a far more diverse social and cultural role within the city than as simply a place to shop. Truly intended to be cities in miniature, they were designed as elegant social spaces that were idealised versions of the streets outside, housing an enormous diversity of tenants, including shops, refreshment rooms, wine bars, offices, studios, theatres, and galleries ensuring that they were busy late into the night. In keeping with this, the Eastern included space for two hotels, a theatre, a restaurant, dining hall and purpose-built photographic studios. The arcades were also important centres of public leisure and pleasure with a diversity of activities available within, including musical entertainments, exhibitions, displays, and other refined and educational amusements. Their location at the heart of the city also meant that these spaces were also key sites for the gathering of people during important celebrations and commemorations.

View of the Eastern Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne, NJ Caire, 1877. State Library of Victoria
View of the Eastern Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne, NJ Caire, 1877. State Library of Victoria

The Eastern Arcade, in Bourke Street Melbourne, was built in just six months. By 5 December 1872, just prior to opening:

the major portion of the shops [were] already let, and the others … sought after by numerous applicants daily. The proprietors have wisely decided not to let any of the shops to offensive businesses, such as butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, &c. (Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, 5 December 1872, 239)

This report shows a deliberate attempt to limit the types of tenants that could operate within the arcade, probably with the intent of keeping the coarser sights and smells that typified the immediate area of Bourke Street from invading the idyllic and luxury world that the arcade owners hoped to convey.

Tenancy records do not exist for the Eastern Arcade but some of the best resources for a comprehensive glimpse of the makeup of retailers and other businesses within are the city directories, which listed individuals and businesses in Melbourne and its suburbs. Supplemented by other sources, particularly newspaper advertising and articles, the directories provide a way to track changes in the makeup of the arcade’s tenants and the product of their businesses throughout its history.

The types of businesses found within the Eastern Arcade in its early years were similar to ones found in the city streets outside. But those in the arcade formed an assemblage that all had a particular emphasis – on the luxury, the exotic and the modern. While locally produced clothing, accessories, manufactured goods and foodstuffs were prominent, imported commodities also played a significant role in these businesses, demonstrating the international nature of the trade that circulated the globe between Australia, Asia, Europe, the Americas and Africa in the late nineteenth century.

In late 1873, 70 individual spaces were listed in the arcade, including 63 shopfronts on the ground floor and gallery, Mayall’s Photographic Studio, the Eastern Arcade Hotel, with its public bar fronting Bourke Street, and the Apollo Hall, an entertainment and theatre space. A significant number of businesses, 30 in all (60%) displayed and offered some type of commodity for sale. One third of these sold bespoke fabric, clothing and accessories and included a draper, dressmaker, tailor and umbrella maker. There were also businesses that sold large appliances for both commercial and domestic use, including an agent for the locally made Walkers Gas Stoves, agents for the popular Little Wanzer sewing machine, imported from Canada, and Blazey’s music salon, offering purportedly the finest pianos from England and Europe.

Fancy goods dealers were extremely popular in arcades and elsewhere and there were four located in the Eastern Arcade in this year. The diversity of goods available in these shops is demonstrated in the advertisements of Chinese merchant and importer Fong Fat, who was one of the first tenants to open in 1872. He ‘obtained all the newest novelties in China goods expressly for the Arcade’, which included carved ivory pieces, crockery, silk and cotton, fans, firecrackers, tea, ginger, and possibly tobacco, coffee, sugar. There were also two watchmakers and jewellers, a rubber stamp manufacturer, a gilder and painter, and Henry Watts an award-winning perfumer. Three other businesses had luxury consumables – a confectioner, a tobacconist and the India & China Tea Company, which sold exotic sounding blends like ‘Emperor’s Bouquet’ and ‘Mandarins Choice’. Health and beauty were the focus of other tenants, who included a chiropodist, a hairdresser and phrenologist, Professor Hume. A handful of other shops in the gallery level were used as offices by a designer, an architect, a mining agent, and the office of Hiram Crawford, the American owner of the arcade, who was also a well-known coach operator.

Despite the assurance that there would be no noxious trades such as grocers, in the end there were two grocers, including Rankin & Co, which took up four stores. Another potentially noxious and noisy business was the shop of the bird fancier David Kinnear, a long-term tenant who ran the business until 1895. In 1893 the City Health Inspector received a complaint from another shopkeeper about the “‘erection of incubators and chickenhouses’ within the arcade, citing that it was unhealthy for the business proprietors and would “oblige them to leave”‘ (Encyclopedia of Melbourne citing Public Record Office Victoria, VPRS 3181/P0000/Unit 676, File 4084, 29 September 1893 at http://www.emelbourne.net.au/biogs/EM01785b.htm). It may have been that the building’s owner had to lower his principles in this regard as, despite reports to the contrary, there was almost a 20% vacancy rate in the year after it opened.

Over the course of the next twenty years the arcade housed a similar mix of businesses with some slight shifts. The directories reveal that rapid turnover in tenants was not unusual and some businesses only lasted a year before another moved in. A common occurrence in many arcades, including the Eastern, was to see one proprietor leave and another take their place in the same type of business. Advertisements show that proprietors would sell their whole business, including fixtures, fittings and stock, allowing easy mobility for the new proprietors to simply move in and start trading, taking advantage of the fact that this was a known business probably with regular customers.

In some arcades, such as the Royal Arcade further down Bourke Street, the combination of businesses stayed extremely static, sometimes for decades, suggesting that there was a deliberate policy by the arcade owners to maintain a particular mix that proved successful and might attract the broadest range of customers. Indeed, some of the Eastern Arcade’s tenants also stayed for many years, such as Madame Weigel’s American paper patterns, made in Richmond; The Melbourne Tailoring Company; and Youl’s Hosiers. Others only remained a year or two.

In the early 1890s some visible changes begin to occur. Most noticeable was the rise in vacancies, probably as a result of downturn in trade due to the 1890s depression, fuelled by the collapse of the land boom of the late 1880s. By 1893, 54% of the shops were vacant and this situation continued for several years. During this period the decision was made to significantly update the architecture of the arcade in keeping with more modern styles. In early 1894 the entire façade of the building was demolished and rebuilt and while the interior layout probably remained relatively untouched, the interior fixtures and fittings may have been modernised. Some businesses remained after the renovations, but a distinct change in the types of establishments becomes more obvious towards the end of the century and by the early 1900s the mix of tenants had completely changed from that of earlier years. There were fewer selling commodities and less of an emphasis on luxury goods, with a rise in tradesmen and service providers. These included diverse businesses such as music teachers, a picture frame maker, a signwriter, a printer, Meyers, the botanic druggist, and a journalist.

Of those that still sold commodities there were notably less selling clothing and accessories. In the 1870s these had accounted for around 20% of businesses but by 1900 there were only five, two of which were theatre costumiers. At the turn of the century, Bourke Street’s continued character as the heart of Melbourne’s entertainment district was reflected in the businesses within the arcade. Those involved in the theatre and music industries significantly increased and included music schools, dancing rooms, a theatrical agent and several theatrical costumiers, including Ford & Son, which occupied six shops in 1901. In 1914 the Kansas-born Whitney Bros’, who owned concessions at Luna Park, opened their Joy Parlour, an amusement arcade that took up nine storefronts on the ground floor. By the early twentieth-century, the carnival of Bourke Street had well and truly invaded the space of the arcade.

By 1921 businesses in the Eastern Arcade began to disappear from the Sands & McDougall Directories, one of the primary sources of information about tenants in the building. Although not listed as vacant, their absence indicates that businesses were closing down or that business was not sufficient that they were willing to spend the money on the listing. The arcade had, according to one source in 1924, ‘been notoriously neglected’ (The Argus, 12 June 1924, 14) and one of its tenants Madame Gurkha, a phrenologist, when taken to court for debts in the same year testified that her business was extremely unprofitable. By 1925, even the hotel was vacant, and only a handful of businesses remained including: long term tenants Meyers Botanic Depot; Duncan McIver, hairdresser; Pain & Co Theatrical Costumier; as well as a theatrical agency, a floor polisher, a cleaning company, an advertising agent and a shopfitter. By the next year the tenants were all gone and Clauscen & Co’s Furniture Emporium occupied the whole building.

Next post: The Afterlife of the Eastern Arcade

The next several posts will introduce you to an extended version of a paper that I gave earlier in the year at the University of Melbourne. It explores one of the forgotten arcades of Melbourne – the Eastern Arcade on Bourke Street and forms the beginnings of a case study that should help me to coalesce some of my ideas on the themes I’m going to look at in Chapter Two. The chapter will concentrate on the retail shops that were present in the arcades in Australia, exploring the types of shops, what goods they sold & what they tell us about the circulation of goods between Australia and the rest of the globe. It also tries to illuminate some of the changes that these spaces underwent during their history and their relationship with/how they were affected by the city streets around them and broader developments within the immediate urban space & beyond. This is still very much a work in progress, so any feedback would be totally appreciated!

… the sooner the arcade is demolished the better. It had an unenviable reputation. The locality will go up several steps of the ladder of dignity if a theatre be built there*

Eastern Arcade Promenade, 1922. Victoria Police Museum. https://www.policemuseum.vic.gov.au/past-exhibitions-events

A photograph from the Victoria Police Museum shows an empty arcade; it appears dirty, dusty and down at heel. Despite the gloom, the glass panes in the roof let in a surprising amount of light and allow us glimpses of its interior. Shopkeepers’ signs can be seen along the promenade: J. Meyers Botanic Druggist, a costume hire shop, a barber and numerous unreadable signs in the lower promenade and upper galleries. At the end of the building a sign proclaims its location: The Eastern Arcade. This somewhat melancholy image towards the end of its commercial life and was taken for police evidence in the December 1921 murder of a twelve-year-old girl, allegedly carried out in the arcade’s wine shop. On December 30, 1921 The Gun Alley Murder, as it came to be known, sent shockwaves through Melbourne and indeed the whole of Australia. Soon after, a small article in the Argus newspaper suggested that ‘the sooner the arcade is demolished the better. It has an unenviable reputation. The locality will go up several steps of the ladder of dignity if a theatre be built there’ (The Daily News, 25 May 1922, 4). Within four years, the arcade’s tenants were gone and the site was entirely occupied by a furniture store. This supposed reputation and its end was in stark contrast to the high hopes that had been entertained for it when constructed just over fifty years before.

Given the popular ideas of the nineteenth-century shopping arcade as a refined, dreamlike place for middle class visitors to indulge in the purchase of luxury goods, this characterisation of the Eastern Arcade by the Argus may initially seem surprising. Today, Melbourne’s nineteenth-century shopping arcades are among its best-known heritage sites, attracting locals and tourists alike. Their marketing and presentation places a heavy emphasis on their role as an ‘authentic’ representation of the idealised nineteenth-century shopping arcade. But does an examination of the history of the Eastern Arcade, and the businesses and people that inhabited it, validate these idealised representations? What does its historical trajectory – from vaunted site of elegant shopping, leisure and pleasure to one of supposed undesirable characters and unenviable reputation – tell us about the role that these spaces played within the urban environment of the city?

This paper is part of a broader project that explores the social history of shopping arcades built in Australian cities and towns between 1853 and 1901. Through an examination of the people and businesses that inhabited them, it contends that the arcades were significant sites of modernity within the urban landscape. It argues that they were inextricably connected with the metropolitan life that surrounded them and that their histories frequently transgressed the stereotypes with which they were labelled. Perhaps most importantly, it challenges the constructed ideal of the arcade as a rarified and exclusive shopping space and argues that this stereotype elides their complex, diverse, multilayered and sometimes uneasy histories. This paper explores these themes through a case study of one of its forgotten specimens: the Eastern Arcade.

SLV 1888
Section of ‘Standard plans of the city of Melbourne’, showing Eastern Market at top right with Eastern Arcade to its left. Mahlstedt and Gee, surveyors and draughtsmen, Melbourne and Sydney, 1888. State Library Victoria. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/126848

On 5 June 1872 architect George R. Johnson advertised for ‘tenders for the ERECTION of an ARCADE, Bourke-street east, for H. A. Crawford, Esq’ (The Argus, 5 June 1872, 3) that would run between Bourke and Little Collins streets and was situated next to the Melbourne City Corporation’s Eastern Market. The tender was won by builder George Cornwell, who had also constructed the previous building on the site, the Haymarket Theatre, an icon of the Melbourne theatre scene, large centred in this area of the city and which was destroyed by fire in 1871. The Eastern Arcade, as it was to be known, would be the fourth of its kind in the city of Melbourne, after the 1853 Queens Arcade, 1854 Victoria Arcade and the 1870 Royal Arcade, although only one was still in operation – the Royal Arcade two blocks away.

The new arcade was in an apparently highly advantageous position for attracting customers, located on one of Melbourne’s busiest streets, at the heart of its entertainment district, and next door to the Eastern Market – a hub for citizens of all classes both night and day.

The market gardeners, live animal sellers and grocers selling a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs occupied the space on Wednesday and Saturday morning followed by the hay salesmen, while some poulterers, butchers, fruiterers, potato salesmen, oyster sellers and fishmongers seem to have been permanently present. Other types of businesses were also present, including an ironmonger, a nurseryman & florist, a shoemaker, a hay salesman, and the notable bookseller, E. W. Cole. The market was a centre for the sale of produce and goods but was also renowned as an entertainment quarter. On Saturday nights it was turned into Paddy’s Markets, with household goods, bric-a-brac, and cheap clothing for sale, alongside oyster sellers, hot food carts, musicians, magicians, the pigeon exchange. The market had also developed as a centre for evangelistic speeches on Sundays. Numerous newspaper articles describe the life and colour of the immediate surrounds of the Eastern Arcade both during the day and at night. One portrays the atmosphere on market days, when the proprietors of produce and other goods entirely took over Bourke Street:

The pavement is edged with live chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys, with cases of new-laid eggs, with trays of cowslip-hued butter and pens of youthful porkers … All these things, however, though pleasant to the carnal eye, and though suggestive of rural scenes and rustic abundance, do strike one as misplaced, and as inconveniently obtrusive in the principal thoroughfare off the city, one of the avenues to which is blockaded, on certain days of the week, with hay-carts ; while on Wednesdays and Saturdays the south side of Bourke-street, from the Poly-technic to Stanford’s, is occupied by a continuous line of country wains and drays, overflowing with fruit, vegetables, poultry, and dairy produce. … By daylight, all is animation in the Eastern Market. Surburban [sic.] greengrocers, fruit hawkers, restaurant-keepers, thrifty housewives, costermongers, and a miscellaneous gathering of purchasers who admit of no satisfactory classification, are skimming the cream off the produce exposed for sale, and carrying away with them in carts, in cabs, on trucks and in bags and baskets, the bloom, the freshness, and the fragrance of the market. What remains seems to have lost the odour and the savour of the country. (Charles Rooking Carter Victoria, the British el Dorado or Melbourne In 1869 (London, 1870: Edward Stanford) 31-35)

At night, particularly on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Bourke Street was packed with people from all walks of life, soaking in the urban atmosphere. One newspaper correspondent took a Friday night turn around Melbourne, exploring its various streets and observing their denizens. As he strolled Bourke Street he ‘felt a sort of contentment in mixing with the busy crowd, and even looked upon the rough shouldering of rollicking larrikins in the light of companionship.’

At the Eastern Market he stops at the stall of Chinese Cheap John who enthralled the diverse crowd which included ‘the dirty loafer … side by side with the comfortable mechanic … and the professional thief … in tempting proximity to a comfortable and ponderous female, anxious to catch the vendor’s eye to make a bid for a Lilliputian mirror’ (Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, 20 May 1873, 68). In 1868 Marcus Clarke’s ‘Peripatetic Philosopher’ described the scene and compares it with the major streets and public leisure places of the European cities.

Do you ever walk down Bourke-street on a Sunday evening? I do, and am bewildered weekly. I have attempted comparison with the Plaza Mayor, with the Boomjees, with the Roccio, with the Haymarket – in fact with all the streets that I have seen, read of, or dreamt of – but I have not arrived at a satisfactory conclusion … I think Bourke-street is unique. I want to know why Bourke-street is always crowded on Sunday evening … I am curious to know what brings all these people out. It is difficult to walk on the footpaths on a Sunday evening and sometimes the road is crowded with couples. The town looks like the Greenwich fair during a total eclipse, and I sometimes wonder that the merry-makers do not roll down the hiss after the manner of Richmond. (The peripatetic philosopher (Melbourne: George Robertson, 1869) 63-66)

Other shops on Bourke Street boasted equally diverse trades and businesses. The Sands and McDougall Directory for 1872 lists the ruins of the Haymarket Theatre and in the same section of the street, between Russell and Stephen (now Exhibition) Streets are listed a variety of businesses, which mixed retail trade with manufacturing – the American importer, a chemist, an ironmonger and lamp warehouse, a bookseller, a hat manufacturer and tailor, a bootmaker, seedsman and florist, draper, pastrycook, tobacconist and billiard saloon, grocer, hotel, fancy repository, fishmonger and oyster dealer, wine rooms, a plumber, a pawnbroker, hairdresser and more. The area had also been centre of Melbourne’s entertainment district since the 1840s and a cluster of theatres and other entertainments were to be found nearby. On Bourke Street alone, these included the newly rebuilt Theatre Royal, the newly opened Opera House, the Royal Colosseum, the Polytechnic-hall with its theatre shows and exhibitions such as the Cyclorama of the Franco-Prussian War, Kreitmayer’s Waxworks and a variety of more low brow entertainment hotspots. Restaurants and drinking establishments such as the Theatre Royal’s Café de Paris, the Nissen Café, Hummun’s Hotel, the Bendigo Hotel, the Spanish Restaurant enabled imbibing throughout the day and night. The experience of a night out at the theatre, bar and restaurant was accompanied by all manner of street entertainers and sideshows, snack vendors and coffee-stalls to keep people amused and satiated.

Eastern Market on Saturday Morning, Illustrated Melbourne Post, 2 August 1862. State Library Victoria. http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-88/fig-latrobe-88-055b.html

But, coupled with the portrayal of the area as the lively bustling district of excitement, was a moral distaste for the activities, events and smells that went along with it. While some romanticised the street scenes, others complained of the stench that went with market’s rotten vegetables, livestock dung, decaying debris littering the street, and the stench of urine wafting out from nearby laneways. Others despised the noise and supposed inconvenience of the many hawkers selling their diverse wares in the city, including those that clustered around the theatres and market of Bourke Street. Newspaper reports and letters to the editor visualised it as a den of vice with gambling, drinking, pickpockets, larrikins and prostitutes, causing disturbances and discord for the honest citizens who visited it. These tropes in the newspapers were a favourite for Melbourne’s reporters such as Marcus Clarke and John Stanley James (alias Vagabond), who were influenced by European writers such as Balzac, Baudelaire and Dickens, and wrote about the city’s ‘Lower Bohemia’, titillating the middle class readers with stories of the lower orders of society.

Others echoed this construction of the low life of the city, particularly in letters to the editor that complain about the dangers of the street in the area. One correspondent to the editor deplores what he saw in the Eastern Market one Saturday night:

The Legislature have lately been occupied with the question of what shall we do with our larrikins; but the encouragement that our city corporation is showing, by allowing the Eastern-market to be converted into a gambling rendezvous must in a great measure conduce to the evil. I walked through the market on Saturday night, and saw four skittle-alleys doing a very large business. They mostly were attended by youths from 14 and upwards. … having travelled a great deal, must certainly say that in no British dominions would gambling on such a large scale as I saw there be allowed in any public market; for no doubt it has a very great tendency towards demoralising our youths, for the money they earn and ought to take home finds its way into the pockets of the proprietors of these alleys, who care not where it comes from. (The Argus, 30 May 1871, 6)

‘The Eastern Market on Saturday morning is a place very much affected by pickpockets, as amid the stir and bustle going on there is ample opportunity for the safe exercise of their calling’ and newspapers regaled the public with cases of pickpockets being brought before the courts and sent to jail. Others complained about Bourke Street being the city’s biggest urinal with the lanes around the theatres and bars, the only place for people to relieve themselves. The laneways that ran behind the Bourke Street blocks, Little Bourke and Little Collins were also considered to be a dangerous and nefarious place where robberies and houses of ill repute abounded. These essential arteries of the city were a world apart from but tangibly close the elegant main boulevards and both repelled and fascinated respectable Melburnians.

In the eyes of some this supposed moral decay was synonymous with the physical decay of the locale. In the contemporary press, there was a feeling that the streetscape of popular Bourke Street did not match the rest of the city’s grandeur, nor its aspirations. The Argus, which reported the story of the future arcade, envisaged that this new structure, one of the epitomes of metropolitan town life in Europe would, along with the development planned for the adjacent Eastern Market, lend a much needed air of improvement to this section of Bourke Street which would:

be much bettered in appearance by a building of the character above described. When it is finished the City Corporation will have to be active with their schemes for the improvement of the Eastern Market, and the replacement of the rookeries by something more in keeping with business requirements and public taste. (The Argus, 8 September 1871, 4)

The Eastern Market, Henry Gritten, James Philp, Charles Troedel, 1864. National Gallery of Australia. http://cs.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?irn=160628&view=lrg

This desire for ‘improvement’ was a persistent catchcry in the city of Melbourne, with such aspirations expressed each time a new building was constructed. The construction of public institutional buildings such as the Public Library, the General Post Office and the Houses of Parliament during the 1850s and ‘60s were proof of Melbourne’s status as a city. Likewise, in the discourse surrounding the city’s arcades, they were often compared to those of Europe from which they drew their inspiration and touted as verification of Melbourne’s claim to be a modern, cosmopolitan city. When Anthony Trollope visited Melbourne in 1871/2, he sang the city’s praises stating that it was ‘exceedingly well built, with handsome banks, pleasant gardens, broad streets, and a claim to city well-being which [could] hardly be seen in towns of similar population at home’ and praising its lack of squalor. Bourke Street impressed him; he compared favourably to Oxford Street, and Cheapside, two of London’s most popular entertainment and shopping districts (Anthony Trollope, Australia and New Zealand, (Leipzig, 1873: Bernard Tauchnitz), 37 & 40). But in the contemporary Melbourne press, there was a feeling that the streetscape of popular Bourke Street did not match the rest of the city’s grandeur, nor its aspirations:

The visitor to Melbourne who has passed through Collins-street from west to east, who has admired the palatial façades of the banks which flank that thoroughfare, has had his attention arrested by the New Town-hall and the campanile tower of the Independent Church, and who, pursuing his walk, turns into Stephen-street, and enters the Eastern Market, must be equally struck by a similar contrast suggested by the meanness and inappropriateness of the structures which constitute or fringe the Eastern Market. (The Argus, 11 April 1871, 3)

It was within this setting that the new arcade was to be built, replacing the ruin of the Haymarket Theatre. The Eastern Arcade was to feature a French Second Empire influenced façade, and was touted as ‘one of the best examples of street architecture … in the city’ (Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, 5 December 1872, 239).

It had a galleried promenade illuminated by a skylit roof and was to have 35 glass-fronted shops on the ground level and 28 in the gallery but would also feature other spaces of leisure and pleasure, including:

[on Bourke Street] accommodation for an hotel … Above the hotel there will be a large hall … the Apollo hall of former days, with various improvements and additions … It is to be covered with a mansard roof, and on the top will be an observatory, from which a comprehensive view of the city and suburbs will be obtained. … The frontage to Little Collins-street provides for an hotel on the ground floor; a restaurant with a dining-hall … on the first floor; and on the second floor, a set of rooms prepared for Messrs. Mayall and Sons, the photographers …

Eastern Arcade, Bourke Street
The facade of the Eastern Arcade, Bourke Street, ‘The illustrated Australian news for home readers’, 1872

Next post: Shopping in the Arcade

*PS If you would like a copy of the full footnotes, or a PDF of the full paper, please let me know.

Almost 30 years after the first shopping arcade was built in Melbourne, the first was constructed in Sydney. The 1881 Royal Arcade, which ran between George & Pitt Streets, was considered ‘one of the most tasteful features of [the] city’ by the Illustrated Sydney News (25 Nov 1882, 8)

Interior of the Sydney Arcade, Thomas Rowe, 1890. State Library of NSW. http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemLarge.aspx?itemID=10695

This was followed quickly by the Sydney Arcade and later in the decade by the Victoria Arcade on Castlereagh Street. Despite the depression of the early 1890s, several more arcades were built in Sydney at this time, including one that has been completely forgotten. In discussions of these social spaces in Sydney most authors/historians discuss only five or six arcades, depending if they include the QVB or not (which I do, but more on that later). In fact there was a seventh.

Located on George Street, the Central Arcade was a rather small arcade with only a handful of shops, that first appears in city directories in 1890. It certainly received little fanfare, with almost nothing written about it in the newspapers of the time, apart from a few advertisements. Perhaps this is not surprising given that it lacked the grandeur and luxury shops of the other arcades located closer to the heart of the CBD. Rather it housed more practical shops such as a herbalist and a variety of tradesmen. The only reason I even identified it is because I caught site of it in the directory listings.

The seventh and final arcade constructed in Sydney was the large Queen Victoria Markets building, which took up an entire city block adjacent to the Town Hall. While some don’t count it in lists of Sydney Arcades, it certainly was one for all intents and purposes, despite its name. The Sydney City Council, shamed by the supposedly run down George Street markets in the vicinity of their new, grand Town Hall, desired a more fitting structure for their aspirations as a city. The brief for City Architect, Scottish-born George McRae, was to design a building in arcade form that would occupy this block, containing shops in it’s main spaces with a market hall in the basement. It is possible that McRae was inspired by the monolithic arcades of Europe that took up single blocks, such as Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the new Upper Trading Rows building in Moscow, which was built in 1893 and which bears a striking resemblance to McRae’s original design for the Sydney Markets.

This is just a brief introduction to the nineteenth-century shopping arcades of Sydney, much more about which will be written at a later date!

Sydney’s nineteenth-century shopping arcades:

1881 Royal Arcade, George & Pitt Streets – demolished

1882 Sydney Arcade, George & King Streets – demolished

1887 Victoria Arcade, Castlereagh & Elizabeth Streets – demolished

c1890 Central Arcade, George Street – demolished

1891 Imperial Arcade, George & Castlereagh Streets – demolished

1892 Strand Arcade, George Street & Pitt Streets – extant & operating continuously

1899 Queen Victoria Markets, George, Market, York & Druitt Streets – extant & operating

Adelaide Arcade, between Rundle & Grenfell Streets, 1886 Adelaide Arcade, between Rundle & Grenfell Streets, 1886. State Library of South Australia (click image to view in Flickr, for further information & a link to the catalogue record).

It’s been a while between posts I know! But I have been busily writing. Here’s the introduction to Chapter One, which is being handed in soon for my confirmation! Gives a bit of an idea of what I’ve been researching for the last year (FT equivalent – really 2 1/2 years!). Please feel free to skip the footnotes. A couple of things need fixing up but here goes!

[the] arcades … in their physiognomy, remind you, now of the Burlington … and now of the Passage des Panoramas … in Paris, but which, nevertheless, possess a distinctive stamp and character of their own.[1]

English journalist George Augustus Sala, visiting Australia in 1885 as a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, wrote a series of syndicated articles, The Land of the Golden Fleece, describing the land, peoples and cities of the continent.[2] In Part Eight, ‘Arcadia in Australia’, he explored its shopping arcades, along with other public spaces, and their inhabitants, with a specific focus on Melbourne. In this passage Sala compares these arcades to several of the oldest and most elegant of their European counterparts and likewise sung the praises of some of the city’s other public spaces, where ‘you might, without any very violent stretch of the imagination, fancy on a fine night that Bourke-street was one of the Paris boulevards instead of being a road hewed not 50 years ago out of the trackless bush’.[3] Sala’s narrative suggests that these were one of a number of sites through which nineteenth-century urban developers utilised public spaces and architecture to express a colonial identity that partly relied on emulation of European forms. Arriving in the midst of rapid population and urban growth, he paints a picture of booming and elegant antipodean cities, tinged with slight incredulity at how far these cities had come in such a short time period.[4]

This relatively brief characterisation highlights the inextricable connection of the history of the Australian shopping arcades (and other urban forms) with their European origins. The comparison of Australian cities to those in Europe, America and other continents has long been part of the way that Australians and visitors have conceived of the country’s place within the global context.[5] Nineteenth-century Australia was part of ‘a vast transcontinental movement of people and information at intensely parochial and inherently cosmopolitan’[6] that looked to other cities for inspiration and emulation. One such idea embraced by Australian entrepreneurs was the shopping arcade, a structure considered representative of urban modernity, with their innovative organisation of semi-public retail and leisure space and use of new technologies in their construction.[7]

From 1786 to the late 1930s, a period Bertrand Lemoine defined as l’Ère des passages (the Arcade Era), thousands of glass-roofed shopping arcades were built throughout the world. A direct derivative of an architectural form that had first been invented in Paris almost a century before, by Sala’s time they were a common feature of many urban centres. While they were, in their origins and in public perception, a very European form of architecture and social space, the arcades were in fact a global phenomenon, adopted as a popular architectural solution in European-influenced cities throughout North and South America, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

German theorist Walter Benjamin, writing in the 1930s, described the shopping arcade as ‘a city, a world in miniature’,[8] and used them as a lens through which to explore the story of nineteenth-century Paris, the ‘Capital of the Nineteenth Century’. Within his essays on the city and in his major work, The arcades project, Benjamin explored facets of urban modernity – technological advances, commodity consumption, the transience of the modern city, changes in urban space – that were to be found represented within these buildings.[9] As Dana Arnold has suggested, they are not merely a way to view the history of Paris, but it is also ‘possible to narrate the history of other cities, including provincial ones, through the lens of the arcades’.[10] While Arnold considered the arcade as a pan-European phenomenon, observing that it could be used as an analogy for any of the cities of that continent, they should, as I have argued, be more correctly viewed as a pan-global one. With their widespread adoption in cities and towns on six continents, the arcade might arguably be utilised to explore the history of any urban space in which one was located, including Australian cities and towns.

These architectural forms incorporated and were inspired by technological and industrial advances that characterised modern urban spaces in the nineteenth-century, such as the introduction of gas lighting and electricity and developments in iron, steel and glass construction. They were an economic and social centre, both a product and a representation of diverse strands of social, cultural and political changes, which occurred in different cities and nations at different times throughout the world.[11] The retail aspect of the arcades was incontestably a crucial one. Lining the pedestrian ways that were the heart of these buildings were individual stores that provided specialised goods and services intended to attract the custom of the rising middle classes to whose identity the conspicuous consumption of luxury goods sold in such establishments was central.[12] While they are primarily associated today with their retail function – as a place to shop – they contained a wide assortment of spaces and tenants that made them a social, cultural and business hub, an extension of the street outside.[13] The arcade was much more than just a place to buy goods – it was also a site for business, leisure and pleasure. Most were truly intended to be cities in miniature, housing an enormous diversity of spaces including refreshment rooms, offices, studios, theatres, galleries and more. With opulent decorations, bountiful products on display, diverse entertainments, and refreshment rooms, they were intended as enclosed and rarified spaces removed from the outside world in which to indulge the senses.

Patricia Morton wrote that ‘the arcades both represent the development of the nineteenth-century economy and are transformed as it changes’, capturing the inextricable link between the history of the arcade form and the history of modernity in that century.[14] Arguably the arcade can also be used as a lens through which to view the history of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As Lynda Nead has discussed with her work on mid-Victorian London, the history of modernity is multi-layered, with ‘varied and uneven strands and … multiple levels of representation and experience’ and, following Benjamin, that ‘the city was an accumulation of historical traces …’[15] The glass-roofed arcade influenced and gradually gave way to new forms of similar pedestrian passageways as the twentieth century advanced. Other forms of retail space with which the arcade form had synergies – the department store, the shopping mall – developed and arose.[16] So too the arcades constructed during the nineteenth century underwent changes that reflected the ever-changing nature of urban life. Some arcades lost popularity relatively rapidly, while others, never quite achieved it. Stores and goods found in them changed with the changes in consumption and fashion. Changes were made to the physical fabric of the buildings in order to attempt to make them viable or in step with architectural fashion. Some continued to be well-frequented shopping locations, meeting place or thoroughfares, while others became down at heel and empty. Numerous examples ceased to function as arcades at all and were gutted to become carparks or liquor stores,[17] while over time many were gradually demolished altogether to make way for more modern buildings high rise buildings that were able greater income for the owners. The architectural form of the arcade is part of the story of modernity and the city but, like the historical process of modernity itself, the history of the arcade is not one of linear progression and development.[18]

The global shopping arcade phenomenon transcended time and space and ‘needs to be situated in the wider context of intellectual and architectural discourses which extend beyond local and national boundaries … part of a wider economic, geopolitical and cultural system’.[19] But particular arcades were also products of their own time and place, with specificity unique to a particular moment and affected by local events and personalities. The urban dweller of different epochs had their own unique experience of their particular period with its own ‘set of historical discourses and processes’.[20]

From the first example, the Queen’s Arcade, constructed in Melbourne in 1853, arcades in Australia provided an obvious point of comparison between the colonial cities and others in which they were located worldwide, particularly those of London and Paris. As with other forms of Australian urban life, contemporary nineteenth-century writers often equated the arcades with their European and other international counterparts, contextualising them within a wider global context of economic, social and cultural exchange.[21] The history of these spaces is multilayered, with development and influences that followed diverse vectors. A comparison of the use of the arcade in the contemporary discourses of other cities and nations in order to construct their identities and explore their global relationships may also reveal commonalities with the Australian experience.[22] Thus these Australian arcades must necessarily be viewed through a transnational lens, not only in order to examine exchanges of international ideas and influences but also to illuminate their own particularities influenced by their specific location and period and what gave them ‘a distinctive stamp and character of their own’.[23]

To this end this chapter will explore the broader history of the arcade phenomenon in a twofold manner. First, it will briefly explore the chronological development of the shopping arcades from their origins in pre-Revolutionary eighteenth-century Paris to the spread and development of this architectural form throughout Europe and the rest of the world during the course of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. In order to gain an overview of their origins and diffusion, such chronological signposts are necessary to understanding the various events and strands that impacted on the arcades in different times and places. The chapter goes on to discuss specific aspects of the history of the arcade, including origins and influences, architectural forms and uses. It will explore the importance of arcade as an architectural, social, celebratory, business, political, economic space and its multiplicity of meanings and uses within the city and introduce themes that are more will be more fully explored in later individual chapters on the Australian arcades.


[1] George Augustus Sala, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 – 1956), 22 August 1885, p5, viewed 17 October, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article6092118

[2] These articles also appeared at the time in numerous Australian newspapers, including Melbourne’s Argus.

[3] Sala, The Argus, 22 August 1885.

[4] Each of the colonial capitals had generally experienced rapid growth in population since their founding and saw massive urban growth in the 1880s boom period. Melbourne had grown rapidly since its founding in 1832. Spurred by the 1852 Victorian Gold Rush, the population jumped from 29,000 to 125,000 in 1851-1861 (McCann, 2004, 15) [Miles Lewis says 126,000 – five times what it was in 1851 (Melbourne – the city’s history and development), the fastest growing city in the world at the time. When Sala arrived the city was in the midst of another boom driven by immigration, investment, development and trade. In the decade from 1881-1891 the population almost doubled from 268,000 to 473,000 and by the end of it, Melbourne was the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s growth and population outstripped Sydney during the decades 1850-1880, with the latter growing from c 54,000 to c 96,000 in 1851-61 and c 225,000 to c 383,000 in 1881-1891. While far smaller, Brisbane had similarly rapid relative growth, from 2,097 to 6,051 (1851-1861) and 37,000 to 100,000 from 1881-1891. Earlier visitors had expressed surprise at how urbanised the population of the Australian colonies was.

[5] Newspaper articles, travelogues and other forms of literature often compared the Australian cities to those of both Britain and mainland Europe. Marcus Clarke frequently used such comparisons in his work, viewing the urban landscape of Melbourne and its architectural forms, including arcades, as representative of European metropolitan life. See Andrew McCann, Marcus Clarke’s Bohemia:Literature and Modernity in Colonial Melbourne (Melbourne, 2004): Melbourne University Press) 52-53. For other nineteenth-century contemporary accounts cf. Tim Flannery, The Birth of Melbourne, 2002 where a large number of the excerpts written by immigrants, visitors and native-born Australians compare Melbourne to the cities of Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Graeme Davison, ‘The European City in Australia’, Journal of Urban History, 27.6 (2001), 779-793; Ben Schrader, ‘Paris or New York? Contesting Melbourne’s Skyline, 1880-1958’, Journal of Urban History, 36.6 (2010), 814-831 discusses the long debate over which ideal urban landscape – Paris with its height limits or New York with its skyscrapers – that of Melbourne should be modelled on.

[6] Kirsten Mackenzie, Scandal in the Colonies: Sydney and Cape Town, 1820-1850 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004), 9.

[7] Other European urban forms of architecture, leisure and entertainment were emulated in the cities of colonial Australia, including cafes, theatres, panoramas, waxworks, museums, art galleries, International Exhibitions, Turkish baths, libraries and more, marking them as modern metropolitan cities.

[8] Walter Benjamin, ‘Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century’ (Exposé of 1935) in The Arcades Project (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1999), 3. He saw them as ‘the most important architecture of the nineteenth century’ in Das Passagen Werk, 1002, (translated by Patricia A. Morton in ‘The Afterlife of Buildings: Architecture and Walter Benjamin’s theory of history’, in Dana Arnold, Elvan Altan Ergut and Belgin Turan Özkaya, eds, Rethinking Architectural Historiography, (London and New York: Routledge, 2006)).

[9] Key works on Benjamin’s Arcades Project include Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: MIT Press, 1989) and Peter Buse, Ken Hirschkop, Scott McCracken, Bertrand Taithe, Benjamin’s Arcades: An unGuided Tour (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2005).

[10] Dana Arnold, ‘Panoptic visions of London: possessing the metropolis’, Art History, Vol 32 No 2. April, 2009, 332-350, 349 note 2.

[11] Morton, ‘The Afterlife of Buildings’, 361, quotes Benjamin: ‘I pursue the origins of the forms and changes in the Paris arcades from their beginning to their decline, and grasp them through economic facts. These facts, seen from the point of view of causation … wouldn’t be primal events; they only become that insofar as, in their own progress – unfolding would be a better word – they allow the whole series of the arcades’ concrete historical forms to emerge, like a leaf unfolding all the wealth of the empirical world of plants (N2a, 4) and M says ‘Economic facts do not directly determine the life history of the arcades … Rather, Benjamin posits a more complex relationship between economy and the history of Ur-phenomena such as the arcades, in which their forms develop out of changes to their economic foundation’.

[12] Davison, Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne, 200-202; Linda Young, Middle class culture in the nineteenth-century America, Australia, and Britain (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 88-94.

[13] Hannah Forsyth‘‘‘Making night hideous with their noise”: New Year’s Eve in 1897’, History Australia, Volume 8, Number 2, 66-86, 78; Benjamin,

[14] Morton, 361.

[15] Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon: People, streets and images in nineteenth-century London (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000) p6. James Winter, London’s Teeming Streets (London and New York: Routledge, 1993) 12.

[16] As will be explored in the literature review, histories of the department store and the shopping mall recognise the arcade as the antecedent of the department store and the shopping mall. See Henderson-Smith ‘From Booth to Shopping Mall’, 40, 52, 55-58; Bill Lancaster, The department store: a social history, 8, who calls the arcade a ‘proto shopping mall’; Geoffrey Crossick and Serge Jaumain, ‘The world of the department store: distribution, culture and social change’, in Geoffrey Crossick and Serge Jaumain (eds) Cathedrals of consumption: The European department store 1850 – 1939 (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 1999) 1-45, 10; Matt Bailey, ‘Bringing “the city to the suburbs”: Regional shopping centre development in Sydney, 1957-1994’, PhD thesis, Macquarie University, 2010, 22-23.

[17] The Galerie Vivienne in Paris was turned into a carpark, while a garage operated out of the Eastern Arcade, Melbourne in the late 1920s; the 1889 Prahran arcade on High Street, Prahran in inner suburban Melbourne became a giant liquor store in the 1960s; the 1899 Queen Victoria Markets in Sydney were reused numerous times, including to house a council library and electricity office; and the 1889 Royal Arcade in Charters Towers, Queensland became the towns stock exchange after a year.

[18] Morton.

[19] Felix Driver and David Gilbert ‘Imperial cities: overlapping territories, intertwined histories’, in Felix Driver and David Gilbert, Imperial Cities: landscape, display and identity, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999) 8

[20] Nead, 7.

[21]Driver and Gilbert, ‘Imperial Cities: overlapping territories, intertwined histories’, 4: ‘urban economies were integrally related to a wider global economic system’.

[22]For example, the form of the arcade was used in contemporary discourse in Russia & Turkey to explore these countries complicated relationship to Europe and the adoption of European culture and ideas. They might be very different to those of these countries but also might utilise both European and local ideas to produce an architecture and process of thought that melded the two. [Ref here].

[23] Most authors writing on individual arcades or those of specific cities and countries prefaces their work with a brief or long discussion of the general history of the arcade form. Hollington ‘Dickens, Sala & the London Arcades’, Dickens Quarterly, 273 stresses the relationship of the London arcades to their predecessors in Paris and the indivisibility of the British from the Parisian history of the arcades. Driver and Gilbert ‘Imperial Cities: overlapping territories, intertwined histories’, 4: ‘identity of places … is constituted as much by their relation with other places as by anything intrinsic to their location’.

So I always knew you could create a custom map on Google. But didn’t think to do one basic one for the nineteenth-century arcades in Australia until I did my post the other day about creating maps in TileMill.

I am not sure yet how much you can customise these custom Google Maps but for the moment it is a good little reference point. And it means other people can see it and imagine these buildings in relation to the street layout of today.

So here is the link to the map for those who want to check it out. Please let me know if you can’t see it!!

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 1.15.29 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 5.53.29 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 5.53.55 PM

Block Arcade, Collins Street, Melbourne

Between 1853 and 1893 approximately 12 glass-roofed shopping arcades were built in the the colony of Victoria. Influenced by the numerous examples built in Europe from the late eighteenth century onwards, these buildings were hailed as symbols of the colony’s modernity and progress.

The majority were built in the central business district of Melbourne, but some also appeared in suburban Melbourne and regional cities. For many years Victoria was the only state to boast these forms of architecture, followed by Brisbane in the 1870s, then Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and various regional cities in the 1880s. The building of arcades in Victoria ceased after 1893, possibly due to the economic depression that affected Australia so greatly in this decade.

In the first half of the twentieth century, arcades were built all over Australia, from capital cities to small country towns; arguably they were an influence on the suburban shopping arcade and the large shopping centres of the second half of the century.

I say there were approximately 12 arcades, but I have glimpsed hints of some through newspaper reports and such for which I have little further information – and there may even have been more. If you have any further examples or know any information about the arcades listed I would love to hear from you!

Today I will just leave you with a short list of the nineteenth-century arcades of Victoria and will return to discuss them in further detail at a later stage.

Nineteenth-century Arcades in Victoria

1853    Queens Arcade, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

1854    Victoria Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne

c1869  Royal Arcade, Sturt Street, Ballarat

1870    Royal Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne

1874    Eastern Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne

1876    Victoria Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne

1889    Prahran Arcade, Chapel Street, Prahran, Melbourne

1889    Queens Walk Arcade, Collins & Swanston Streets, Melbourne

1890    Howey Place, Little Collins Street, Melbourne

1891    Metropole Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne

1892    Block Arcade, Collins Street, Melbourne

c1892  Bendigo Arcade, Hargreaves Street, Bendigo (on the site of an earlier arcade?)

1893    Kings Arcade, High Street, Armadale, Melbourne

EDIT: Sadly I’ve had to strike the Kings Arcade off the list! I’ve discovered that it was actually a single block of shops until the 1920s, when it was turned into an arcade. I was doubtful that it was all nineteenth century from visiting it but this was confirmed when I visited the National Trust (Victoria) and looked at some of their files. Such a shame that now I can only say that there was one nineteenth century suburban shopping arcade in Australia – the Prahran Arcade!

ANOTHER EDIT: Or was their only one … tantalising hints are surfacing!