542 Victoria Street

542 Victoria Street
North Melbourne VIC 3051
Also known as The Freemasons Hotel [14] 1860-1904
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NE corner Curzon and Victoria Streets.

The Freemasons Hotel [14] 1860-1904, deprived (of its licence) and demolished, re-built, currently occupied by Brown Gouge Dry Cleaners.

The name

Freemasons are members of a widely distributed and once secret European organisation for men only. Its members establish lodges, attend various rituals and swear to promote brotherly love and tolerance. A Freemason Hall still stands at 42 Curzon Street, between Curzon Place and Atkins Street.

An owner

Thomas Hayes, a proprietor of The Freemasons around the beginning of the 20th century, Hayes’ business was well known and it was widely claimed that he was one of the first to use solid rubber tyres on his horse-drawn vehicles. He was also proprietor of the Freemason Stables in Victoria Street that hired out buggies, hansoms and wagonettes. A buggy was a two wheeled horse-drawn carriage that might or might not have a hood. Hansom cabs and broughams were both vehicles available for hire and drawn by one horse. A wagonette was drawn by four horses and carried passengers on a crossover seat at the front and two lengthwise seats facing each other.

The site

The Freemasons was one of about 20 pubs in the vicinity of the Benevolent Asylum. Over a long period, there were strong moves on the part of North Melbourne residents to get rid of both The Benevolent Asylum and the more troublesome pubs frequented by its inmates. For example, the North Melbourne Advertiser of 6/11/1885 reports:

A large number of the inmates at present are a nuisance to the neighborhood and by soliciting money which is too often freely given they are enabled to procure drink at the numerous hotels, the proprietors of which are in some instances largely kept going by the ‘inmates’.

The publicans, who made their living out of the inmates and their visitors, resisted efforts to move them out. However, the Freemasons Hotel was deprived in 1904 due to a ‘poor record of management’. The report stated that Jane Hayes, the licensee of the time was fined for running a tote. An earlier article in The North Melbourne Courier and the West Melbourne Advertiser reported a brawl between the patrons and the licensee’s husband.

150th Anniversary

A plaque was unveiled on 10 November 2000 on behalf of the North & West Melbourne community by The Rev Davis McCaughey AM & Mrs. Jean McCaughey AO to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone. It reads:

The foundation stone of the Victoria Benevolent Asylum was laid near this spot by His Honour Charles Joseph La Trobe on 24th June 1850. The Benevolent Asylum (1851-1911) was the first permanent building in North Melbourne, set within a ten-acre site located on the traditional land of the Wurundjeri people.

The 1920’s

Miss Ethel Mann, who has lived in Curzon Street for over 80 years, has been able to tell us a great deal about the area.  Her father had built their house on a site within the grounds of the recently demolished Benevolent Asylum. She remembers:

the very old ex-public house in the corner of Curzon and Victoria Streets (east side) had become a sleazy rooming house when I was a small girl in the 1920s. The old cobbled yard and old stables could be seen from Victoria Street … One night loud screams woke us all up and running outside we saw a woman in her nightdress and bare feet pushed out a first floor window and she was left hanging on the sill. A neighbour, Mr. Hyman ran across the road and I now think he got the woman to let herself drop while he caught her to break her fall. I can remember I was horrified to see her run away down Curzon Street in bare feet.”

Miss Mann also has an interesting observation about a bad thunderstorm where lightning struck the parapet and chimneys of buildings in Errol Place. As she described it:

During the strike a “fire ball” or flash of ball lightning came bouncing up the middle of Curzon Street going uphill towards Victoria Street. I seem to remember it was bluish and about a metre or perhaps more in diameter. Examining the road later I think I can remember patches in the tarred surface left each time it bounced on its way up hill. There was no one about, and no traffic I think. as ii was a terrific storm. There was no dividing trees or grass in the centre of the road then.

Historic Pubs of North Melbourne by Hotham History Project.



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