History Matters: Treasures from Stonnington's Archives

The Stonnington History Centre is pleased to present a selection of items from its collection, some of which are on public display for the first time. More detail on some of the following items can be found by searching the Stonnington History Centre's catalogue.

1. Photograph: Jubilee of Prahran Pioneers, 1906

Prahran-pioneersThe Prahran Pioneers Association was an organisation of families who had settled in Prahran in its early years; some had settled permanently in Prahran in the 1840s. A large group of these long-term residents were photographed at an event celebrating 50 years of municipal government in Prahran, held at the Prahran Bowling Club in March 1906.

2. Display: We built this city

The Prahran Road District was proclaimed on 17 May 1854, and plans were soon underway to have Prahran – along with a number of other districts in Melbourne – declared a municipality, although not everyone was in favour of such a move. A letter by the Assistant Colonial Secretary to D. Stobie (Hon Secretary for the Prahran Municipal Committee), dated 19 March 1855, reveals that a group of residents signed a protest against such a move. Despite this, Prahran was declared a municipality on 24 April 1855, with the first elections for the Prahran Road Board held on 22 February 1856.

Pioneers-scrollIn 1906, when the Prahran Council celebrated its jubilee, the Pioneers Association held a reunion at which all members present signed a scroll (pictured). The signatures at the top of the scroll belonged to the five members of the Executive Committee: David Oakley (Chairman), John Dunham (Vice-Chairman), William Davies (Treasurer), J. H. Furneaux (Hon. Secretary) and William Carter. In addition to the large group photograph, photographs of the Executive Committee, and of twenty residents who had settled in Prahran before 1850, were taken on the day, and attendees were given souvenir certificates. The Association continued to hold reunions and meetings until 1970, and recorded minutes and membership lists, along with invitations and newspaper clippings, in a ledger.

Pioneers of the early Malvern municipal area were less organised, but no less important: Kong Meng, a well-respected Chinese merchant, lived in Longwood, in Elizabeth Street, Malvern; while John Gardiner, considered to be the first ‘Overlander’ to run stock from Sydney to Melbourne, settled beside the watercourse that bears his name (Gardiners Creek).

3. Poster: Colony of Victoria - City of Prahran - 1 January 1892

Posters of statistics and information about the City of Prahran were usually printed each year and hung in the Town Hall.  

4. Display: All in a day’s work

John-DickJohn Dick (pictured) was a long-standing employee of the Prahran City Council. He was a hard-working man; the leave application he submitted in 1887 indicates that he had not had a holiday for seven years. His main job was as rate collector, but his personnel file describes his varied duties. Mr Dick’s reply to a customer's complaint (reproduced below) shows that it cannot have been easy doing such an unpopular job.

Town Hall Prahran 19th March 1889
To the Chairman of the Officers Committee
Mr Kemplen called at my office and complained that his name was not on the roll or misspelt, and gave me a very severe lecture on the duties of Municipal Officers and the inefficient manner in which their work was done. I corrected the name as requested. He then gave me another lecture on roll making and said he had voted in August last, and insisted again and again on my giving an opinion as to whether he should vote at the approaching general election. This I declined to do, and he got much annoyed that I would not take upon myself the responsibility of advising him to vote as Kempton. He then gave me another lecture on roll making and the “utter stupidity of mistaking “the name” I turned up last year's rate book and showed him the name. I said “you see it is written Kempton” He said “you stupid it is Kemplen”, I replied “if that is Kemplen either you or I must be a lunatic. He asserted “I tell you it is Kemplen” at the same time spelling the word. I said jocularly “I think you must be the lunatic”. He got in a rage and went on as to how ratepayers should be treated, saying “I’ll report you. I’ll see into this” “when does the council meet”. I said by way of jokeing [sic] him “the council meet on Monday but as you seem in a hurry the Supreme is sitting you might go to it: he banged the door and left. Mr Kemplen evidently came to my office to get me to advise him to vote Kempton, and because I would not do so he got in a temper and to say the least so it was abusive, and I poked a little fun at him as I thought his getting angry because I would not be his legal advisor ridiculous.
      I am yours respectfully
              John Dick

Ticket machineStreet cleaners used to be called ‘scavengers’ or ‘street orderlies’. A 1898 ‘Register of Employees (outdoor only)’ shows that they were not paid very much relative to today’s wages, but they did have job security at Prahran Council. Their equipment changed considerably over the years. The collection of photographs on display shows: a c1912 street orderly boy with Prahran’s pony cart No. 2; bicycle street cleaners, c1941; and street cleaning during autumn, c1995. Meanwhile, the 1871 logbook of duties of the Prahran Town Clerk of Works, R. Robertson, shows that he spent a considerable amount of time checking up on the weights and measures, as well as the ‘scavengers’. Pictured is a ticket issuing machine, used for issuing fines (date unknown).

5. Photographs: General Sir William Birdwood visiting the War Widows' Homes in Ashleigh Street, Armadale, 1920

War-Widows-homesImmediately following the end of the First World War, parkland to the east of Toorak Park was donated by Prahran Council for the purpose of erecting sixteen timber houses to accommodate war widows and their children. Each house cost £500 to build, raised through public subscription, and built over six months in 1919, with significant help from volunteers attending the working bees every Saturday morning. Water, sewerage, gas and electricity were all introduced free of charge. The houses, in Victory Square, off Ashleigh Street, Armadale, represented ‘a concrete realization of an effort made by the citizens of Prahran to honour the pledges of Australia to the men, who volunteered to fight at their country’s call, that if they fell in the fight for humanity, we who were left would see that their wives and children would not want’ (Prahran Telegraph, 8 March 1919, p. 5). Many widows applied for tenancy, and lists were drawn up to facilitate selection by the trustees. Some women had up to five children in their care. Rent was set at a nominal 1/- (one shilling) per week. The houses were demolished in the early 1970s, by which time only one of the widows was still alive. The area was subsequently transformed into Victory Square Reserve. The framed group of eight photographs on display shows the visit of General Sir William Riddell Birdwood to the Prahran War Widows' Homes in January 1920.

6. Display: The sky was falling

Gas-maskAir Raid Precaution (ARP) was a significant part of Civil Defence during the Second World War. All municipal councils were involved, and a volunteer army was recruited to defend the home front. ARP Wardens patrolled the streets during blackouts, wearing helmets and carrying gas masks and whistles. Exercises were carried out regularly to the entertainment of a bemused public. However, after the first bombing of Darwin in February 1942, the threat of attack by air was a constant. On 1 November 1942, a simultaneous exercise was carried out in seven municipalities across Melbourne. Five thousand ARP workers were involved and air raid conditions were set up with mock Japanese bombs and scores of casualties employed. Pictured is a gas mask used during the Second World War.

7, 8 & 9. Plinths: Keeping business in check

Local councils used brass measures as standards against the scales of businesses within their area were checked. These measures were used for foodstuffs, with a bushel equal to 36.36 litres, and a peck equal to 8.8 litres.


10. Photographs: Inauguration of the Prahran-Malvern Tramways, 1909-1910

Laying-tram-trackThe Prahran and Malvern Tramways Trust was formed in 1908 to construct and operate municipal electric tramways. The Trust’s first electric tram lines ran along High Street from Charles Street in Prahran to Tooronga Road in Malvern, via Glenferrie Road; and from Wattletree Road to Burke Road, East Malvern. The first tram left the Tram Depot in Coldblo Road in Malvern on 30 May 1910. This photograph shows the laying of the first tram track for the High Street tram, on 20 October 1909.

11. Display: The art of gardening

Victoria Gardens was formally opened by Lady Elizabeth Loch, wife of the Governor of Victoria, on 7 August 1885. The gardens takes its name from the wife of Prahran's Mayor, Cr George Taylor. William Sangster, a well-known gardener and nurseryman of the firm Taylor & Sangster, was employed to lay out the gardens. Taylor & Sangster were responsible for many Toorak gardens and, in conjunction with architects Reed & Barns, laid out the gardens surrounding the (Royal) Exhibition Buildings.

Highly regarded landscape designer Edna Walling was employed to redesign the gardens in 1946. Her design included changing the alignment of the entrance path at High Street. It was designed to curve around the west side of the pergola and to join, off centre, the path encircling the oval. The pergola was walled in at either end and opened up at the sides, and the garden beds enlarged. It was Walling’s belief that it should not be possible to take in the gardens at one glance and it should not be immediately revealed upon entering. Pictured is a section of Walling's hand-painted 1946 plan.

Victoria Gardens plan section 

12. Architectural drawing: Church Street Bridge, 1924

Church-St-bridge-sketchMessrs H. Desbrowe Annear, J. A. Laing and Thomas Ashworth designed the bridge that links Church Street in Richmond with Chapel Street in South Yarra; having won the Prahran Council’s design competition. The construction cost of £84,000 was met jointly by Prahran and Richmond Councils (each party contributing 32.5%), the Metropolitan Tramway Board (20%) and Melbourne Council (15%), calculated after an initial contribution by the State Government of £3,500. This bridge replaced an earlier iron-walled bridge erected in 1857, made of part of a pre-fabricated structure commissioned by the British War Office for use in the Crimean War. The bridge was opened to traffic on 8 July 1924. A letter signed by the architects accompanies the drawing, a section of which is shown here.

13. Display: Nuisances and neighbours

Livestock, businesses and households can be uneasy neighbours. Unruly children and livestock caused a commotion in the newly residential suburbs, as did a feisty council ranger fed up with catching straying cattle. In c1900, children played cricket at Rob Wilson’s birthday party, East Malvern, relatively unheeded, but by 1923, Council received letters complaining of impertinence and children’s cricket games (the reply to one such letter is reproduced, below); while in 1952, a piano tuner wrote of his war with straying horses eating his roses during the early hours of the morning.


Before the Yarra River bridges were built, residents and businesses had to rely on a ferryman to row them across, in scenes not unlike this hand-tinted photograph of the Twickenham Ferry across the Yarra River, c1900, which ran from Survey Paddock, Richmond, to Grange Road, Toorak from c1880 until 1934 when the MacRobertson Bridge was completed.Twickenham ferry It was not easy for the two Councils – Prahran and Richmond – to find reliable ferrymen who were prepared to work for the small salary and the inconvenient working conditions. While probably uncomfortable for the passengers, the ferrymen had their own issues with some customers, as shown in correspondence concerning the ferryman William Harvey and a customer in February 1927.

Telephones were becoming common in the 1930s and the new technology had a big impact on the community. Many people relied on the public phone box, or ‘Silence Cabinets’, as they were called, but wealthier residents had the ‘convenience’ and luxury of a home telephone. However, the paper letter was still used to report the nuisance of vandalised public telephones, as related in a Postmaster General’s Office letter on robbery and vandalism of a public telephone box from 1930.

14 & 15. Display: Keeping business in check

Brass jugs displayPrahran municipal weights and measures were the first set of authorised standard weights and measures issued to a Local Authority in Victoria. The Council of the Borough of Prahran acquired this set in 1864 at a total cost of £75. These standards were in continuous use for 114 years, from 1864 to 1978, when the City of Prahran became a sole metric area. They were checked for accuracy every five years against the standards held by the Victorian Government. The weights were re-calibrated where necessary by inserting small gold plugs into the base, and each item was stamped with the date they were checked. The first Weights and Measures Inspector in Prahran was Alfred Lynch, appointed in July 1864 on a salary of £150 per annum plus fines paid (up to £50 per year) under the Weights and Measures Act and the Publican’s Act.

16. Display: The land beneath our feet

Land subdivision plans, printed by real estate agents, show how large areas of the city were divided into allotments, when they were developed, and sometimes when a street got its name. For instance, many of the streets in the Malvern Garden Estate were named in honour of Sir Walter Scott: Abbotsford Avenue, Rob Roy Road, Ivanhoe Grove, and Rebecca and Rowena Roads. Two streets that did not go ahead were Sherwood Road and Nigel Street, named after Scott’s Fortunes of Nigel.

ChilternsArchitect Joseph Plottell – who later designed the Footscray Town Hall and the Beehive Building in Elizabeth Street in Melbourne – designed this house for Mrs E. Kaye at 377 Glenferrie Road in Malvern (on the corner of Stonnington Place), in 1917. Called Chilterns, the two-storey mansion was an unusual bungalow, influenced by the Georgian Revival style. The garden was thought to be designed by Edna Walling. In 1992 the property was considered of regional significance in the Malvern Heritage Study. This photograph was taken just before the house was demolished in 1998, and the land subdivided into four allotments.

Meanwhile, Malvern Town Clerk and Treasurer, Bertram Crosbie Goold, commissioned Philip B. Hudson to design alterations and additions to his residence at 10 Vincent Street in East Malvern, in 1930. Hudson and James Hastie Wardrop had previously designed Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance (1924). Bertram Crosbie Goold served with the Council until just prior to his death in 1944. His house has since been demolished.

17. Illuminated Address and photograph: John Branscombe Crews

Crews-illuminated-addressIlluminated address presented to John Branscombe Crews on 3 September 1880, by members of the Victorian Permanent Property Investment and Building Society. The address is signed by eight members of the Society. J.B. Crews was a printer, baker, estate agent and Member of Parliament. He served on the Prahran Council at various times from 1856 to 1887; he was Chairman of the Municipal District of Prahran in 1862 to 1863, and its first mayor (from 1863 to 1865).

18. Slide show: Views from two towers through time

This slide show presents photographs of the streetscapes surrounding the Town Halls of Prahran and Malvern from the 1860s to now, with landmarks and key streets noted. The photographs, taken from each direction, depict the changes occurring over time. All photographs are held at the History Centre. Approx length: 12.30 minutes.


19. Portrait: Mayor Ann Morrow


In the early 1970s, as a result of having difficulty placing her three-year-old son in a local kindergarten, Malvern East mother Ann Morrow organised a group of parents into forming an independent kindergarten, which formally opened in the Serrell Street Presbyterian Church Hall in 1973. The following year she became the first female elected to Malvern Council, where she served until 1983. Councillor Morrow subsequently became the first female Mayor of Malvern in 1979, serving one term, and achieved her goal of opening Council Committee meetings to the public. This portrait was painted by artist June Woods in 1980.

20. Photographs: Children’s Libraries 1923

This group of photographs shows the Children's Libraries in South Melbourne, North Melbourne and Prahran in 1923, and states that 'these Libraries are each controlled by the Municipality and have Special Lady Librarians'. It is believed that Prahran was the first municipal library in Victoria to establish a children's library.


21. Display: The health of a nation

Baby-clothes Infant welfare health services started early in the Prahran and Malvern areas, and provided a diverse range of support for young families. In a time of higher infant mortality, the Infant Welfare Sisters were appreciated by the women they helped, as indeed they are today. Immunisation was one of the biggest weapons in the fight to reduce the infant mortality rate. Parents could see the results of diseases such as polio, diphtheria and whooping cough all around them, and their fear and concern is palpable in letters written to the Infant Welfare Sisters. Indeed, mothers wrote many hundreds of often highly personal letters to the Sisters, and discussed some common concerns about disease, vaccinations ... and vegemite.

Baby-weigh-scalesThe early Infant Welfare Centres built up resources to assist and teach new parents. Advice in books such as Our Babies (1924) and The Intelligent Parents Manual (1931), and in the many leaflets, is not so different to that received by today's parents. To check that babies were thriving, regular weighing was conducted, as it was – and is – an immediate indicator of their health status. Weight gain was recorded meticulously in Daily Weight Books in the Malvern Infant Welfare Centre. The Sisters also kept detailed and valuable statistics on the babies and children attending the centres, as shown in the 1943 Analysis book from the Tooronga Infant Welfare Centre, included in the exhibition. The baby weighing scales (Seca brand) shown here, were used at the Brookville Gardens Infant Welfare Centre in South Yarra.

Sister Rachel Beveridge was the longest serving Infant Welfare Sister in the Prahran district. She worked for 40 years in the area and saw three generations of babies and their mothers. A c1930 photograph shows a very young Sister Beveridge standing beside her scales in the consulting room in the Prahran Infant Welfare Centre; while a 1970s photograph shows her administering a vaccination to an infant at the Prahran Infant Welfare Centre, on the corner of Malvern Road and Clarence Street. There was a lot of press coverage when she retired in 1969, all recorded in the Prahran infant welfare press cuttings book covering 1922 to 1970.

22. Illustration: Original design of The Alfred Hospital

Alfred-Hospital-illustrationThe Alfred public hospital was founded in 1871 and sited just west of Punt Road and south of Commercial Road. Although geographically located within the City of Melbourne, ‘spiritually, it has always belonged to Prahran’. This reproduction of a sketch titled ‘The Original Design of Alfred Hospital’ by architect Charles Webb, was presented to the City of Prahran by the Board of Management of the Alfred Group of Hospitals in 1993, in recognition of the Council’s gift of the land to the hospital in 1868. Webb’s other designs included St Paul’s Church in Swanston Street, Wesley College, the Royal Arcade and South Melbourne Town Hall.

23. Display: Taking the rates

Rates-bookRate records for the cities of Malvern and Prahran were prepared annually from 1856 until amalgamation as the City of Stonnington in 1994. The rate taker walked up and down the streets collecting rates, noting properties, residents, street number changes and so forth. He then transcribed his notes into the large rate ledgers. The information held in the rate books included the names of owners and occupiers, their occupations, building size, stables and vacant land size. The annual rate fee paid, and valuation of the property was also recorded. Any changes during the rating year were annotated in pencil and indicated by crossing through the previous entries.

24. Photographs: The Governor General arrives at Stonington, 1901

Built by John Wagner of the firm of Cobb & Co. in 1890, Stonington in Glenferrie Road became the Vice-Regal residence for the Governor of Victoria in 1901. Seven governors occupied the mansion until 1931: Sir Arthur Sydenham Clarke, Sir Reginald Talbot, Sir Thomas Gibson Carmichael, Sir John Fuller, Sir Arthur Lyulph Stanley, George Edward Rous and Arthur Herbert Tennyson (Lord Somers).

25. Certificate: Victorian Operative Bricklayer's Society

This illustrated address was presented to Brother F. E. Schoff by the Victorian Operative Bricklayer's Society, Prahran Lodge, in 1940, ‘for past services’. The Society was formed in 1856. In 1988 it became part of the Victorian State Building Trades Union.


26. Display: Unearthed

Pistol This metal pistol, with the makers’ name Smith London, is similar to examples of single shot percussion pistols made in about 1830-1840. It was found by parishioner Christopher Bailey, when the lawn beside St George’s Church in Glenferrie Road Malvern was converted into a vegetable patch during the First World War. In 2007 the curator of the Police Museum viewed the pistol and confirmed that it was the exact type that Peter Lalor had used in the Eureka Stockade. Lalor had rented a house in Nelson Street, Prahran in 1856, where his first child was born.

The milk bottles from Cotswold Hills Dairy, c1900, were unearthed in the garden of a property in Woodside Avenue. Cotswold Hills Dairy stood on the north corner of Woodside Avenue and Williams Road in Hawksburn. It was the first dairy to install a pasteurisation plant in Prahran (in 1931) and one of the first in the metropolitan area. It was still operating in the late 1960s, delivering milk by horse and cart. A 1920s sketch by Will Dyson depicts the dangers of consuming tuberculosis-infected cows’ milk.

South-Yarra-brickworksThe City Brick Works Company purchased land in Elizabeth Street in Malvern in c1902. Clay was dug from a pit on the land and by 1907 the clay hole extended to a point half way across to today’s Henderson Avenue. A tramway carried clay from the pits into the building north of the kiln. Quarrying was discontinued in the 1950s. South Yarra Brick Works was situated on the east side of Chapel Street, north of Toorak Road (pictured). The company manufactured fire bricks for use in boilers and fireboxes. The copy of the painting Brick Kiln at Prahran c1866 on display, by Louis Buvelot, is from the original held in the Art Gallery of South Australia.

27. Photograph: Glenferrie Road looking south, 1915

Glenferrie-Road-1915Photograph by Muntz showing Glenferrie Road looking south from Llaneast Street towards Dandenong Road. Wattletree Road crosses east-west, with Moran & Cato grocers on the south-west corner. Malvern Post Office is on the west side. Other names visible include: The Globe Dye Works, E. McCallum, agent; D. Livingstone Muntz; Miss Rush, millinery and ladies' fashions; Hattam & Co., drapers; Pearson Bros, cash grocers; Robert Hurst; Moran & Cato. Motor cars, horses and buggies, bicycles and an electric tram share the road.

28. What’s in a name: Two Malverns

Malvern-HillsThe City (and suburb) of Malvern, Victoria, takes its name from the Malvern Hills district in England. Charles Skinner, a barrister and early land-holder, built a hotel on the corner of what became Malvern and Glenferrie Roads in 1853, to attract purchasers to his planned village of Ledbury in the Malvern Hills Estate. In naming this hotel the Malvern Hill Hotel, he created a link to the English district which continues to this day. Postcards and photographs of the English district of Malvern can be compared with early photographs of ‘our’ Malvern. The City of Malvern (Victoria) was proclaimed in 1911. A public proclamation was held in the Malvern Gardens on 30 May 1911, with Mayor Alex McKinley and other dignitaries. The City of Malvern seal on display was used on official documents.

Cricket bat

In 1948, the Mayor of Malvern received a letter from F. A. Edwards, Chairman of the Malvern Urban District Council in England, to accompany a cricket bat, inscribed with the signatures of the members of the Worcestershire County Cricket Club, the Malvern (England) Cricket Club, and the Barnards Green Cricket Club, and presented as ‘a token of lasting friendship from the people of Malvern, England’ in a relationship that continues to this day (pictured). As Edwards had hoped, the cricket bat has found ‘a place among the treasured possessions’ of the City. The mulberry tree in front of Northbrook has its own interesting history. George Bernard Shaw planted a mulberry tree to commemorate his 80th birthday in Priory Park Malvern, England, in 1936. A cutting from this tree was planted at Northbrook in 1960 by Councillor Johnson. When the English tree fell in a storm in 2000, the Friends of Malvern Springs and Wells arranged with the City of Stonnington for a cutting of the Northbrook tree to return to Great Malvern, England, to be planted.