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    The Melbourne Club, 1860, by Charlier, Jean Baptiste, photographer., courtesy of State Library of Victoria.

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    'The Melbourne Club', 1862, by A. Willmore, engraver, courtesy of State Library of Victoria.

Melbourne Club

Built in 1858, 36-50 Collins Street, has been the home to the Melbourne Club since 1858, although they did not technically move into the premises until 1859.
On February 20 1839 one of the first Melbourne Club meetings was held at Dr Barry Cotter’s, although the previous year is credited as the club’s year of origin. The club’s first premises were later located at Fawkner’s Hotel.

The exclusive club proved a haven for aristocrats, with the new premises sporting a billiard room, a card room and numerous lounges; all the necessary facilities for gentlemanly pursuits of leisure. Among the earliest and indeed most renowned of members were Thomas Turner a’Beckett, Sir Redmond Barry, Robert O’Hara Burke, Marcus Clarke; C.H. Ebden, Charles Joseph La Trobe, William Lonsdale, Archibald Michie, Bishop Charles Perry, Sir William Foster Stawell, James Wilberforce Stephen, Charles Swanston, Henry Gyles Turner and Sir George Verdon. Two members died at the Collins Street Clubhouse, Captain Frederick Standish and Sir George Verdon, but not in the bath, as legend has it.

On the 6th of October 1859, a ball attended by some 500 people was thrown to celebrate the opening of the new premises. Being a strictly male-exclusive establishment, the ball was given prior to the official moving of the institution, thereby when the ladies in ball gowns entered the new Collins street address, the club, had not in fact breached any of its principles. The Ball was heralded in the papers the next day as being the event of the season. Containing twice as many rooms as the previous club house, 300 in all, by the 1860s and 1870s, there were, however, complaints being lodged about the food and premises in general. With the addition of a West Wing dining room being added onto the Collins Street building, the food and conditions were considered improved by 1883.

Melbourne’s first two recorded duels were between members of the Melbourne Club.
In 1839 George Arden and Barry Cotter duelled on the racecourse at the foot of Batman’s Hill, and whilst no account of the cause of the dispute exists, Dr Cotter was the challenger, so it can be assumed that Arden had given offence. And in 1840 Peter Snodgrass, aged 22 and William Ryrie 35 duelled at dawn on New Year’s Day, quite possibly also on the open ground at Batman’s Hill. As there were no pistols at hand, Hamilton rode to Heidelberg and borrowed pistols from Joseph Hawdon, whilst powder and shot was sourced from one of the army officers in the town. Snodgrass, not being used to pistols with hair triggers, shot himself in the toe, whereupon Ryrie fired into the air. The wound was slight. The dispute: hot words of disrespect at a New Years’ dinner.

Sally Ruljancich

de Seville, Paul, Pounds and pedigrees, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1991. Details