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Lodging Houses

The Argus wrote that the influx of gold seeking migrants ‘into the colony of Victoria turns Melbourne into "a city of lodging-houses", many of them filthy and the breeding-dens of crime’.

22 August 1854
Published Source
Australian National Dictionary Centre, The Gold Rushes and Australian English: a resource for researchers, teachers and students, Australian National University, 2005, http://www.anu.edu.au/andc/res/aus_words/gold/index.php. Details
This material is provided by the Australian National Dictionary Centre, a joint project of the Australian National University and Oxford University Press Australia.


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[The gold rush — from England, America, and Europe, as well as from the other Australian colonies — into the colony of Victoria turns Melbourne into "a city of lodging-houses", many of them filthy and the breeding-dens of crime]: LODGING-HOUSES. Probably no people in the world are so much interested in the proper regulation of lodging-houses, as those of Melbourne. A very large proportion of the inhabited houses in the city belong to this class. We will hope that the greater number of these are conducted with as much regard to the health and comfort of the inmates as is attainable in the present dearth of house accommodation. But many of the lower class, there is reason to fear, are overcrowded and filthy to a degree, perilous not only to the health of their inhabitants but to that of the whole community. Many of them are scenes of extortion, drunkenness, riot, and robbery, if not sometimes of murder. The previous habits of many of those who keep such houses prepare them to take advantage of any opportunity which may present itself for the commission of such crimes, and similar characters will naturally gather around them. They may almost calculate on impunity, and the circumstances of the colony bring continually within their power those who may be plundered, in such a way as that they cannot convict the criminals; or who may even be made away with, their disappearance leading to no hazardous enquiry. Many persons land in Melbourne whose inexperience and very excess of caution render them an easy prey. Others return to town from the gold-fields whose experience there leads them to fool-hardy rashness in exposing themselves to danger. The new comer has exaggerated notions of the expense of living in Melbourne. To his home notions the price demanded for even trifling services is alarming, and from prudential considerations he seeks some of the cheaper and less respectable lodging-houses. If, after the privations of the voyage or the life at the diggings, such a one be betrayed into excess, there is great probability that he may pay for his imprudence by the forfeiture of all he has, if not by the loss of life itself. It is stated upon good authority that in many of these houses drugs are kept, and if it appears that any one who is worth the trouble is sufficiently off his guard to be safely operated on, a dose of laudanum puts him completely in the power of the desperadoes whose guest he has become. If he return to consciousness he may be persuaded or bullied into believing that in his intoxication he has fallen a prey to others. If the dose has been sufficiently powerful to produce continued insensibility, and endanger life, it is easy to procure medical attendance. The representations of bystanders as to the conduct of the patient will lead the medical man naturally to regard the symptoms as those of ordinary intoxication; and if death ensue, a certificate to the effect that the deceased died from intemperance, will enable the funeral to be effected without suspicion arising in any quarter. It is obvious that this is an evil which may exist for some time, and spread to a considerable extent, without attracting much attention. There is no public officer charged with the detection of this evil. Indeed there is no power possessed by the police authorities to interfere. They cannot visit these houses, and exercise that surveillance over them which is absolutely necessary. The victims are usually friendless and strangers. No one probably notes their absence; or if their disappearance does lead to inquiry, such inquiry may be easily baffled. The evil seems one which imperatively demands a remedy. In London and other large towns of England model lodging-houses have been erected by private enterprise; and it has been proved that working men can be comfortably accommodated at much less cost in such establishments than in those which they have replaced. In France the sum of ten millions of francs has been devoted to the improvement of the lodgings of workmen in large manufacturing towns. A considerable proportion of this sum has already been expended. Vast buildings have been erected in Paris and other towns, in which single bedrooms for unmarried men are let at 20 centimes a night, and apartments for married couples at 7 francs 50 centimes per superficial yard per annum. Of the expense of these buildings the French Government contributes one-third. It might be a profitable as well as a philanthropic mode of investing money, to erect in Melbourne lodging-houses on a large scale for the accommodation of different classes of the community. But the matter appears to require interference on the part of the Legislature. In England, lodging-houses are inspected, are licensed for the reception of a certain number of inmates, according to the accommodation afforded, and are subjected to regular police superintendence. A similar measure has been introduced into the Legislatures of New South Wales and Tasmania. The Common Lodging-houses Bill now before the Legislative Council at Sydney provides for the registration of all such houses after they have been inspected and approved by a duly appointed officer, for their being regularly cleansed and inspected, for their being furnished with an abundant supply of water, and for notice being given of the appearance of disease. The Colonial Secretary, in introducing a similar measure in the Tasmanian Legislative Council, described it as nearly identical with that in force in England. He stated that the necessity of such a measure was felt both in Launceston and Hobart Town. He said— The number of houses of which the bill took cognizance in Hobart Town were about fifty, situated in all parts of the city, but principally in the lowest neighborhoods. Many of them were the resorts of thieves and prostitutes—complete dens of infamy. At present these places were closed to the police, unless armed with a warrant, and, as a consequence, outrages of a monstrous description were perpetrated with impunity, and sometimes murder itself. The filth in most of these dens was abominable, and it was necessary for Government to interfere, if only for the good order and health of the residents. If such measures are found necessary in the adjacent colonies and in England itself, it might be expected that the same necessity would exist in such a city of lodging-houses as this. There is evidence that it does exist. The protection of the helpless, the prevention of crime, and the abatement of nuisances, physical as well as moral, which, if undiminished, may entail suffering on all, require that the evil be recognised and a remedy sought for without delay. Argus, 23 August 1854