Such was life

Martha Needle – Melbourne’s 19th century serial poisoner

In 1894, Martha Needle was sentenced to death for the murder of her prospective brother in law, Louis Juncken, and executed in the Old Melbourne Gaol. She was also said to have poisoned her husband Henry, their three daughters Mabel, Elsie and May, as well as attempting to murder Herman Juncken. Read the rest of this entry »

Victoria’s horse trams

In 1884 Melbourne’s first tramway- a horse tramway in Fairfield- was built to promote land sales in the area (100 years of Melbourne’s trams, pg 1). Two horses pulled a carriage containing about twenty passengers along rails, providing considerable more comfort than the horse bus, which ran on the bumpy roads. Read the rest of this entry »

Romeo Street and Juliet Terrace (what’s in a name?)

In the 1870s Romeo Lane and Juliet Terrace in central Melbourne were home to men and women of the night. Supposedly men would ply their trade in Romeo Lane and the women in Juliet Terrace. The lanes led to Bilking Square, an unofficial name for this infamous red light district. ‘Bilking’ means to cheat someone of money, and here prostitutes would steal the wallets of potential customers. It puts a very different twist on the notion of ‘star crossed lovers’ presented in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Read the rest of this entry »

The Anti-Football League

Melbourne is routinely depicted as a sport loving city with our devotion to Australian Rules football characterised as an obsession. The writer George Johnston, author of the novel My Brother Jack, likened it to a ‘mad contagion’ which took hold of Melbourne each winter. [i] Read the rest of this entry »

Elves and fairies by Ethel Jackson Morris

For many months a charming illustration of a fairy child and a kookaburra has graced the walls of the Library’s Cowen Gallery in the exhibition Once upon a time: a world of children’s picture book art. The decoration is based on an illustration by Victorian artist Ethel Jackson Morris (1895–1985), who published her first book at just seventeen.  Read the rest of this entry »

Echuca’s anniversary

In 1864 the railway connecting Melbourne to Echuca opened. This had an enormous effect on the town, with the resultant increase in trade turning Echuca into Australia’s largest inland port. Read the rest of this entry »

Melbourne’s historic skyline

Melbourne’s skyline developed rapidly once the first passenger lifts were installed. The L. Stevenson & Sons warehouse in Flinders Lane had two of the first hydraulic goods lifts installed in 1865. However, it was not until the 1880s that a rise in the height of Melbourne’s skyline saw the first passenger lifts installed. Read the rest of this entry »

First shot fired!

On 5 August 1914, the day Australians learnt of the declaration of war, the German trading ship SS Pfalz was just leaving Port Phillip Bay. The ship had originally planned to depart the previous night, however, a last minute decision to take on additional coal meant that the departure was delayed until the following morning. News of the imminent outbreak of war was on everyone’s mind and the German crew were especially anxious as they slowly steamed towards the Heads. Read the rest of this entry »

Olde Melbourne guidebooks

Wondering what the cab fare rate was in Melbourne in 1973? Or the opening hours of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1911? Or where must imported explosives be unloaded in 1925?  Melbourne’s old guide books hold the answers; they combine miscellaneous facts with practical information for the visitor to the ‘seventh largest city of the British Empire.’ (The Melbourne guide book, p. 1) Read the rest of this entry »

Violet Town railway disaster

On a very hot Friday, 7 February, 1969, just after 7.00am, the Southern Aurora, Australia’s overnight express passenger train between Sydney and Melbourne, collided head-on with an Albury-bound goods train, 174km north of Melbourne. The Melbourne-bound Southern Aurora ran through the Violet Town crossing loop where it should have waited for the goods train to pass. Read the rest of this entry »