Queens Arcade Melbourne
Queen’s Arcade, Melbourne, Interior. St Gill, 1856. State Library Victoria

I know I’ve been very very quiet lately! I actually have lots of prepped posts but have been super busy over the last six months madly writing my thesis plus conference papers plus journal articles (this is good!). Today I’m writing Chapter Two and came across just the best advertisement for the Queen’s Arcade, placed in the newspaper in its opening days in October 1853.

Nineteenth-century newspaper advertisements were often entertaining and appealed to the reader through a variety of methods, including in this case … rhyme. It shows that the arcade’s owners, a consortium of well-off middle-class Melbourne businessmen, aimed provide a the wide variety and mix of tenants and produce for the consumer who visited.

Much like today’s modern shopping mall, everything shoppers desired could be found at the arcade – clothing and accessories, fabrics jewellery, musical wares, art materials, luxury consumables and onsite refreshment rooms. This gave them (ideally) no cause to go elsewhere, and the diversity and variety available seemed to place the new novelty of the arcade in an ideal position to become the centre of shopping and social life in Melbourne.

THE QUEEN’S ARCADE.

THE Belles and Beaux of Melbourne’s Town to aid,
What can be better than the Queen’s Arcade for
A pleasant lounge in summer’s sultry days,
Well shelter’d from old Sol’s o’powering rays;
And when the hot winds drive dust helter skelter
What place than this more cool and fit for shelter?
When the wet season makes our town a swamp.
The Queen’s Arcade is dry and free from damp;
And here the Melbourne belles may walk at ease,
And choose what rare commodities they please.
I’ll run them over with your kind permission
First, we’ve G. Goldsmith’s Bonnet Exhibition,
To suit complexions whether dark or fair;
Jewels and ornaments, both rich and rare;
Scents of all kinds, exquisite and recherche,
With papier mache, too, and gutta percha;
Drapery, hosiery, splendid silks, and satin,
With books in English, French, German, and Latin.
“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,”
And fewer bosoms. Here you’ll find the best
Quadrilles by Jullien, D’Albert’s waltzes fast,
The Arcade Polka, Winterbottoms’s last,
Bijouterie and articles of dress
On your attention, ladies, let me press,
That everything for widow, wife, or maid,
Is to be met with in the Queen’s Arcade;
And if the ladies’ smiles we only win,
Of course the gentlemen will soon drop In,
And they will find that them we’ve not forgot,
Havannahs and cheroots, a splendid lot,
With meerschaums, cutties, snuffs of every kind,
In short, all tastes will here be pleased; you’ll find
Rings, watches, pins, and studs in rich array.
Coats, trousers, vests of patterns neat or gay,
Canes, riding whips, and boots of patent leather,
With Mackintoshes to resist the weather.
To sum up all, an Universal Mart,
We mean to be a Gallery of Art,
And every exertion will be made
To please the public, in the Queen’s Arcade.
Refreshments of the best and choicest kind.
Will also be provided; you will find
Confectionery, pastry, jellies, ice,
Crackers, bon-bons, and everything that’s nice;
And taste it once, you’ll say such lemonade
You never drank but in the Queen’s Arcade.

The Banner, Melbourne, 7 October 1853 (via Trove)

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Being a researcher of any sort takes a large degree of doggedness, obsessiveness, and lots of eye strain. From scientists to historians, professionals, and amateur enthusiasts, anyone who researches has experienced this. We also understand the need to go over our material again and again, looking for new angles and evidence.

SLV H332 Gill The Block
Doing the Block, Melbourne. ST Gill, 1880. State Library Victoria.

So my quest to explore the history of Australia’s shopping arcades. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve trawled through Trove, Google Images, library websites, and books looking for images of these buildings. In addition to that, I’ve looked through hundreds of dusty old archival files, maps and plans that I’m terrified will crumble in my hand, astonishing but delicate and hard-to-see 100-year-old glass plate negatives and the most unsexy and eye-killing of research tools – the microfilm. Every time this was in pursuit of myriad tiny bits of information that a historian pieces together to tell as coherent a story as possible about their subjects.

But I also really really want to find some photos – because they are of course half the story and what helps bring to life these stories for your readers. Being an urban historian, this has often involved scouring street scenes of numerous Australian towns to hope that you’ll finally catch a glimpse of that building that you know existed but no-one thought it worth keeping an image of, or it hasn’t been tagged in digital files in order for you to find.

As an urban historian and curator first starting out, I spent probably over 100 hours looking at street scenes of Sydney for the Sydney’s pubs exhibition, trying to find elusive pubs that no-one knew about. I had eureka moments, when I spotted the Imperial Hotel on Wynyard Park, and crashing defeats in others, such as the Blue Anchor on George Street. Nine years later I still find myself looking for ones that escaped me, or getting excited about new images of those I already had found (that’s the obsession part!).

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Wynyard Square, Sydney. 1879. State Library New South Wales.

Now I’m back to scouring for this project. Realistically, most of the Australian arcades I’m researching have exterior images that are relatively easy to find. Interior images decidedly less so. For the last few years I’ve been searching for images of the first arcade built in Australia, the Queens Arcade, built on Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, in 1853. And believe me I’ve looked. I feel like I can see the changing urban portrait of Lonsdale Street from the 1850s to the 1890s in my mind like a palimpsest over today’s streetscape. But I had very little success in finding any image of any part of the building. The camera was always facing not quite the right way or the photo I found was of the site after the arcade had been demolished. And definitely no interior was to be found.

The first breakthrough was when I was trawling the internet yet again and found an old illustration in an old lecture Powerpoint that eminent urbanist Miles Lewis had put online. The Illustrated Melbourne Post is one of those rare newspapers that hasn’t been put online and you need to go to and find it in the State Library of Victoria on a microfilm ‘in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”‘ (Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 1979).

Queens Arcade, Melbourne, Illustrated Melbourne Post, 29 October 1853, p4.
Queens Arcade, Melbourne, Illustrated Melbourne Post, 29 October 1853, 4

But frustratingly, I could never find anything else. Until the other day. I just decided to randomly look on the State Library of Victoria’s site again and up popped a new image of the interior of an arcade from 1856 – the Queen’s Arcade. The image shows it’s curved corrugated iron roof (one of the first galvanised iron structures made locally in Melbourne) as well as the lighting, which was achieved using clerestory windows rather than a glass ceiling. This was a simple interpretation of the arcade form, inspired by European examples but built using local materials.

Queens Arcade, Melbourne, Interior. St Gill, 1856. State Library Victoria
Queens Arcade, Melbourne, Interior. ST Gill, 1856. State Library Victoria.

Additionally the description of this item mentioned another image – a panorama of Little Collins Street by Melbourne photographer Charles Nettleton – that also shows the arcade from its back entry at far right. I may have looked at this photograph before but never picked up on the arcade being in it – it also didn’t come up in searches, as the description is not labelled it with the name of the arcade. Here you can see clearer the curved roof and clerestory windows, as well as the rather ornate back entrance on Little Bourke Street.

SLV H23929 Bourke Street Looking NE
Bourke Street Looking NE. Charles Nettleton, 1860. State Library Victoria.
SLV H23929 Bourke Street Looking NE detail
Bourke Street Looking NE (detail). Charles Nettleton, 1860. State Library Victoria.

The image of the interior was by celebrate illustrator ST Gill, who captured the life and rhythm of mid- to late nineteenth-century Melbourne and Ballarat. Currently the library is hosting a fantastic exhibition of Gill’s work, which I’ve lately found to be one of the visual inspirations for my thesis in the way it brings to life the city streets and their inhabitants. The Gill drawing probably went up online as part of the library’s research for the exhibition and my finding of it shows that its worth (re)searching again and again for images (and other historical information), as institutions like the library are always working on new exhibitions and research and, therefore, putting up new digitised images and other information for us to discover.

Addendum: ST Gill also drew this illustration of Melbourne’s second arcade, the 1854 Victoria Arcade, which doesn’t have appeared to have lasted long and may have never really got off the ground.

Victoria Arcade, Bourke Street Melbourne. ST Gill for JS Campbell & Co, Lithographers, 1853. State Library Victoria
Victoria Arcade, Bourke Street Melbourne. ST Gill for JS Campbell & Co, Lithographers, 1853. State Library Victoria

block
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!