Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne Town Hall, October 2023
General information
TypeTown hall
Architectural styleSecond Empire
Location90-130 Swanston Street, Melbourne, Victoria
Coordinates37°48′55″S 144°58′00″E / 37.815145°S 144.966777°E / -37.815145; 144.966777
Construction started1867
OwnerCouncil of the City of Melbourne
Official nameMelbourne Town Hall and Administration Building
TypeState Registered Place
Designated9 October 1974
Reference no.H0001[1]
Heritage Overlay numberHO746[1]

Melbourne Town Hall, often referred to as simply Town Hall, is the administrative seat of the local municipality of the City of Melbourne and the primary offices of the Lord Mayor and city councillors of Melbourne. Located on the northeast corner of Swanston and Collins street in the central business district of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, the building was completed in 1887 and heritage listed on the Victorian Heritage Register in 1974. The building is frequently used for art and cultural events such as concerts, festivals, theatrical plays and exhibitions.[2][3][4]


Melbourne Town Hall, 1910

Melbourne was officially incorporated as a town on 13 December 1842, with Henry Condell as its first Mayor. However, it was not until 1854 that its first Town Hall was completed. Begun in 1851, the work ground to a halt with the beginning of the Victorian gold rush. The foundation stone of a new, grander Town Hall was laid on 29 November 1867 by the visiting Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, after the demolition of the first.[5][6] The current town hall officially opened on 11 August 1870 with a lavish ball, which was personally funded by the Lord Mayor Samuel Amess.[7][8][9]

The foundation stone of the additional front portico was laid in 1887, and Sir Henry Weedon laid the foundation of the administrative annex building on 27 August 1908.[10]

During the Melbourne International Comedy Festival the Melbourne Town Hall acts as venue to a large number of the performances.

An early cinema event Soldiers of the Cross premiered at the Melbourne Town Hall on 13 September 1900 to an audience of about four thousand people.[11]

In 1913, the city hired a hall keeper in his 30s named James "Jimmy" Dewar, a Scottish immigrant and Black Watch veteran from Dundee. He continued to work there loyally for 30 years.[12] James lived with his wife and family in the Hall's penthouse, raising their children there, and retired in 1943. During their upbringing in the Town Hall, their only playing space was a small asphalt yard where the children went "pigeon-nesting" on the roof.[13]

In his obituary in 1946, The Argus reported that James was a familiar face at the Hall in this era. In his duties, he greeted various visitors from locals to royals, including the French General Paul Pau, the Princes of Wales Edward VIII, and Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester. James was described as a "friend, guide, and philosopher" to many Lord Mayors of Melbourne.[14] When opera singer Dame Nellie Melba performed at the Hall in 1928, she wanted to give an encore, but her piano had been packed up and there was no music. James lent her his piano from his upstairs penthouse so she could perform.[15]

On 1 February 1925, a fire destroyed a large part of the town hall, including the main auditorium and pipe organ valued then a £15,000.[16] It was rebuilt and enlarged, extending east over the site previously occupied by the Victoria Coffee Palace, an early temperance hotel frequented by Melbourne's power brokers. The rebuilt section lost some of Reed's original flourishes including the elaborate mansard roof.

In 1964, The Beatles attended a civic reception at the Melbourne Town Hall. "Outside 20,000 teenagers had gathered to obtain a glimpse of the pop idols. Again, frenzied and hysterical cheering and uncontrollable screaming erupted when the Beatles emerged."[17]


Further information: Architecture of Melbourne

A Napier Waller mural in the Melbourne Town Hall Auditorium beside the proscenium arch

The Town Hall was designed by the famous local architect Joseph Reed and Barnes, in the Second Empire style. Reed's designs also included the State Library of Victoria, the Royal Exhibition Building, and Melbourne Trades Hall.

The building is topped by Prince Alfred's Tower, named after the Duke. The tower includes a 2.44 m diameter clock, which was started on 31 August 1874, after being presented to the council by the Mayor's son, Vallange Condell. It was built by Smith and Sons of London. The longest of its copper hands measures 1.19 m long, and weighs 8.85 kg.

The building and the portico, excluding the interiors, were first classified on the basis of its Venetian Renaissance facade architecture by the National Trust in 1964 and reclassified in 1971.[18] The organ and the 1927 murals by Napier Waller[19] commissioned for £1,700[20] (a 2021 value of A$138,340.00)[21] are also classified as historically significant at the State level. They were painted directly in line onto the newly installed asbestos Celotex acoustic tiles in a redecoration of the Auditorium after a fire in 1925.[16] Waller, who had been given a free hand in devising the artworks explained that the figures were not intended to be allegorical, but to create rhythm, and that line-work was used because a skin of paint would interfere with the panels' sound-absorbing quality. The actual painting on the series of 7 metre high by 4m wide wall sections from Waller's half-scale cartoons produced in his Darebin studio was undertaken by H. Oliver and Sons under the artist's supervision.[22]


The Main Auditorium includes a magnificent concert organ, now comprising 147 ranks and 9,568 pipes. The organ can be played by a fixed console located directly beneath the front pipes or by a secondary mobile console which is placed in close view of the audience for recitals. This organ is of great significance as it is the largest and most comprehensive pipe organ in Australia (measuring by number of voices/stops, the Sydney Opera House organ has more pipes thanks to its entirely "straight" design; there is no borrowing or duplexing at all whereas the Melbourne Town Hall organ makes extensive use of borrowing in the pedal division). The organ is best suited for romantic and symphonic works but is capable of playing just about anything thanks to its vast tonal resources.

History of the organ

The Grand Organ, Melbourne Town Hall 1872, Charles Nettleton State Library Victoria H96.160/2732
Melbourne Town Hall organ

The organ was originally built by Hill & son (of England) in 1872 before a fire destroyed it in 1925.[16] A new organ constructed by Hill Norman & Beard was installed in 1929 and has since then been rebuilt and enlarged by Schantz Organ Company of the United States of America from 1995 to 2001 at a cost of $4.5 million.[23] The rebuild included 2 new floating divisions (Fanfare & Bombarde), many new voices and a secondary moveable console

Console of the Melbourne Town Hall Organ in 2019


The stop list is as follows:

I. Choir II. Great III. Swell Pedal IV. Solo Bombarde
Contra Salicional 16 Double Open Diapason 16 Contra Violone 32 Gravissima 64 Quintaton 16 Grand Diapason 8
Horn Diapason 8 Tibia Profunda 16 Bourdon 16 Double Open Diapason 32 Harmonic Claribel 8 Principal 4
Corno Flute 8 Contra Geigen 16 Violine 16 Tibia Profunda 32 Flute Celeste 8 Grave Mixture V-VI
Flute Celeste II Open Diapason I 8 Diapason Phonon 8 Contra Bourdon Acoustic 32 Violoncello 8 Fourniture IV-V
Lieblich Gedeckt 8 Open Diapason II 8 Geigen Principal 8 Contra Violone 32 Cello Celeste 8 Grand Chorus VI-VIII
Salicional 8 Diapason Phonon 8 Flauto Traverso 8 Open Diapason 16 Salicional 8 Contra Posaune 16
Voix Céleste 8 Tibia Plena 8 Cor de Nuit 8 Tibia Profunda 16 Concert Flute Harmonic 4 Posaune 8
Lieblich Flöte 4 Harmonic Flute 8 Bourdon 8 Great Bass 16 Nazard Harmonique 2 2/3 Clarion 4
Gemshorn 4 Hohl Flöte 8 Gamba 8 Bourdon 16 Harmonic Piccolo 2
Echo Viola 4 Rohr Flöte 8 Gamba Celeste 8 Lieblich Bourdon 16 Tierce 1 3/5
Harmonic Piccolo 2 Gamba Major 8 Aeoline 8 Contra Bass 16 Schalmei 16
Dulciana Cornet III Octave Diapason 4 Vox Angelica 8 Violone 16 Tuba 8
Tuba Sonora 8 Octave Phonon 4 Principal 4 Geigen 16 French Horn 8
Cor Anglais 8 Principal 4 Harmonic Flute 4 Contra Salicional 16 Corno di Bassetto 8
Closed Horn 8 Tibia Octave 4 Rohr Flute 4 String Bass 16 Clarinet 8
Cremona 8 Wald Flöte 4 Octave Gamba 4 Quint 10 2/3 Orchestral Oboe 8
Octave Quint 2 2/3 Harmonic Quint 2 2/3 Prestant 8 Fanfare Orchestral
Stopped Quint 2 2/3 Piccolo 2 Principal 8 Tuba 16 Contra Viola 16
Super Octave 2 Salicetina 2 Geigen Principal 8 Sub Trumpet 16 Tibia Clausa 8
Fifteenth 2 Tierce 1 3/5 Flute Major 8 Tuba Sonora 8 Viol d'Orchestre II
Tierce 1 3/5 Chorus Mixture V Bass Flute 8 Tuba 8 Orchestral Strings II
Grand Fourniture VI-VII Grave Mixture III Stopped Flute 8 Trumpet Victoria 8 String Celeste II
Chorus Mixture V Sharp Mixture III Lieblich Bourdon 8 Octave Sonora 4 Octave Viola 4
Mixture IV Double Trumpet 16 Violoncello 8 Tuba 4 Orchestral Strings
Contra Trombone 32 Bassoon 16 Super Octave 4
Trombone 16 Cornopean 8 Fifteenth 4
Fagotto 16 Trumpet Victoria 8 Open Flute 4
Trumpet Victoria 8 Orchestral Trumpet 8 Grand Fourniture VI
Tromba 8 Horn 8 Fourniture IV
Harmonic Trumpet 8 Oboe 8 Diaphone 32
Clarion 4 Vox Humana 8 Double Ophicleide 32
Clairon 4 Contra Fagotto 32
Tuba 16
Octave Diaphone 16
Ophicleide 16
Posaune 16
Trombone 16
Bassoon 16
Schalmei 16
Tuba 8
Trumpet Victoria 8
Trumpet 8
Bassoon 8
Clarion 4

See also


  1. ^ a b "Melbourne Town Hall and Administration Building". Victorian Heritage Database. Government of Victoria. Retrieved 22 August 2023.
  2. ^ "Melbourne Town Hall | Melbourne, Victoria | Attractions". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  3. ^ "Melbourne Town Hall". Melbourne Writers Festival. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  4. ^ "Melbourne Town Hall | Venue Hire | Functions | VenueNow". Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  5. ^ "VISIT OF THE DUKE OF EDINURGH". Hamilton Spectator & Grange District Advertiser. No. 605. Victoria, Australia. 30 November 1867. p. 2. Retrieved 16 February 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  6. ^ "THE MELBOURNE TOWN-HALL: PAST AND PRESENT". The Australasian. Vol. LXXXIX, no. 2, 315. Victoria, Australia. 13 August 1910. p. 36. Retrieved 16 February 2017 – via National Library of Australia., PHOTOGRAPH: THE TOWN-HALL, BUILT 1850–53, PULLED DOWN 1868.
  7. ^ "THE GRAND FANCY DRESS BALL GIVEN BY THE RIGHT WORSHIPFUL SAMUEL AMESS MAYOR OF MELBOURNE, ON THE OPENING OF THE NEW TOWN HALL, 11th AUGUST, 1870". Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers. No. 162. Victoria, Australia. 10 September 1870. p. 161. Retrieved 16 February 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ "DEATH OF ALDERMAN AMESS". The Argus (Melbourne). No. 16, 224. Victoria, Australia. 4 July 1898. p. 6. Retrieved 16 February 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ "NEW COUNCIL CHAMBER". The Australasian. Vol. LXXXIX, no. 2, 315. Victoria, Australia. 13 August 1910. p. 36. Retrieved 16 February 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ "Happy birthday to our Town Hall admin building #melbourne", City of Melbourne on Instagram
  11. ^ Bertrand, Ina (1988). Perry, Joseph Henry (1863–1943). Vol. 11. Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  12. ^ "OBITUARY". Argus. 25 February 1946. Retrieved 19 January 2024.
  13. ^ "WOMEN'S NEWS". Herald. 20 January 1943. Retrieved 19 January 2024.
  14. ^ "Brilliant Civic Ceremony". Herald. 6 June 1935. Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  15. ^ "Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 - 1954; 1956), Monday 30 April 1928, page 35". Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  16. ^ a b c "Melbourne Town Hall On Fire: Concert Hall Demolished: City Organ Destroyed: Victoria Coffee Palace In Danger: An Early Morning Outbreak". The Age. 2 February 1925. p. 9. Retrieved 7 April 2023.
  17. ^ The Beatles in Melbourne, OnlyMelbourne
  18. ^ "Melbourne Town Hall - Organ & Napier Waller Murals". Heritage Victoria National Database. Retrieved 7 April 2023.
  19. ^ Moore, William (1 October 1932). "Art and Artists". Brisbane Courier. p. 18. Retrieved 7 April 2023.
  20. ^ Moore, William (1 September 1927). "At Home and Abroad". Art in Australia. Third series (21): 10.
  21. ^ Hutchinson, Diane; Ploeckl, Florian (2023). "Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of Australian Amounts, 1828 to the Present". Measuring Worth. Retrieved 7 April 2023.
  22. ^ "Mural Beauty: Artist Explains Work on Town Hall Panels". The Herald. 11 August 1927. p. 14. Retrieved 7 April 2023.
  23. ^ "Town Hall Grand Organ". City Collection. 8 October 2019. Retrieved 28 October 2019.