History of Government House

 

Early years

Victoria was originally founded as the Port Phillip District of New South Wales and became a separate British colony in 1851. The then Superintendent, Charles La Trobe, became Lieutenant-Governor at that time.

 

Since then, there have been five principal residences of the Victorian Governor. Victoria’s first Government House was a pre-fabricated wooden building brought from England in 1839 by and erected on Charles La Trobe's estate 'Jolimont'.

  

Today, La Trobe’s Cottage has been relocated and contains many pieces which belonged to La Trobe and his family. It is open to the public and can be found at the corner of Birdwood Avenue and Dallas Brooks Drive (near the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Shrine), Melbourne.

 

In 1854, Toorak House was leased for Sir Charles Hotham and became the second residence of the Governor. Today, it is one of Melbourne’s most impressive mansions and is owned by the Swedish Church.

 

Toorak HouseToorak House 

 

From 1874 until the present Government House was completed in 1876, Bishopscourt, in East Melbourne, was used to house the Governor. Today it is in use as the official residence of the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne.

 

Bishopscourt MelbourneBishopscourt

 

 

Colonial Era

Although Domain land, including a reserve for the future Government House, was put aside in 1841, construction on Government House did not begin until 1872 and was completed in 1876.

 

Unlike previous residences, the house was designed specifically to house the Governor of Victoria. The architects, William Wardell, who also designed St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in East Melbourne, and JJ Clarke, the designer of the Old Treasury Building, adopted an Italianate architectural style for the building. Rumoured to be the largest Government House in the British Empire at the time of its construction, the grandiose proportions and refined architecture of the House reflected the prosperity and sophistication of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’.

 

Government House was constructed when Victoria’s population was a mere 150,000 people. However, the economic boom of the Gold Rush had transformed the small capital of the fledgling colony into one of the greatest cities of the nineteenth century. Government House was an example of the high standards of design and craftsmanship which characterised many of the public buildings erected by the Government of Victoria in the 19th Century.

 

Government House wood engraving June 10 1878

  

 

Federation

In 1901, the six colonies of Australia became a single nation. After the Opening of the Commonwealth Parliament on 9 May 9 1901 at the Royal Exhibition Building, the Federal Parliament sat at Parliament House in Victoria, and Australia's Governor-General resided at Government House in Melbourne. (The State Parliament of Victoria sat in the Royal Exhibition Building during this period.)

 

 

 Stonington State Government House. ca 1915Stonington circa 1915

 

 

World War One

During World War One Government House, in particular the Ballroom, was used by the Red Cross as a packing and distribution base as part of the war effort. The role of Government House during World War One is the first stop in a walking tour developed by Heritage Council Victoria. You can listen to the tour, or download the transcript, on the HCV website.

 

Ballroom WW1 

 

Great Depression

In 1930, Federal Parliament moved to Canberra and Government House was handed back to Victoria. The Governor of Victoria did not immediately return to Government House, however. For three years during the Great Depression (1931-1934), Government House was occupied by Melbourne Girls High School (later named MacRobertson Girls High School) as their school buildings were unsafe. The Ballroom and State Drawing Room were used as classrooms until 1933.

 

 Melbourne Girls High - Macrob High

 

 

1934 to the present day

In May 1934, Government House once again became the Governor’s official residence when Lord Huntingfield was appointed Governor of Victoria. Since then, Government House has remained the home of the Governor and family.