The Theatre Royal was one of the premier theatres for nearly 80 years in the city of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, from 1855 to 1932. It was located at what is now 236 Bourke Street, once the heart of the city's theatre and entertainment district.[1]


The first Theatre Royal in Melbourne was a ‘ramshackle affair’ attached to the Eagle Tavern on Bourke Street between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets. It was a utilitarian weatherboard barn-like structure measuring 65 ft. by 35 ft. and cost £1000.[2] Originally known as The Pavilion, and later as the Theatre Royal, it closed in 1845 due to competition from the superior facilities of the newly opened Queen’s Theatre in Queen Street. An early William Liardet watercolour of the tavern and theatre depicts the rough and ready nature of the pioneer settlement.[3]

Theatre Royal Melbourne, 1861. State Library Victoria H20742
Theatre Royal Melbourne, 1861. State Library Victoria H20742

Ten years later, in 1855, Melbourne's second Theatre Royal was built a block away, on the north side of Bourke Street between Swanston and Russell Streets, by John Melton Black. It was capable of holding 3300 people and was comparable in size to London's Drury Lane and Covent Garden theatres. The opening production on 16 July 1855 was Richard Sheridan's The School for Scandal. Described as a "magnificent theatre", the £60,000 cost of the theatre's construction ultimately bankrupted Black.[1][4][5]

The Theatre Royal, Melbourne, 1877. State Library Victoria H84.3/17
The Theatre Royal, Melbourne, 1877. State Library Victoria H84.3/17

Barry Sullivan was sole lessee and manager from March 1863 to 16 February 1866, when he played his last night and relinquished management. His lease still had a year to run, and he sublet it to William Hoskins,[6] but it was taken over by a partnership of Richard Stewart (father of Nellie Stewart),[a] H. R. Harwood, T. S. Bellair, Charles Vincent, John Hennings, and J. C. Lambert, then in 1867 George Coppin joined, and Bellair, Lambert and Vincent dropped out. Coppin bought his partners out, and was sole manager in April 1872 when the theatre burned down. Coppin immediately rebuilt it bigger and better (the new theatre could seat 4,000 people over four tiers), and opened in November the same year,[7] under joint management by Coppin, Stewart, Harwood and Hennings.[8]

It was remodelled in 1904, seating fewer people more comfortably on three tiers, but the growing popularity of the moving pictures in the 1920s affected theatre attendance, and the effects of the Great Depression led to the closure of the theatre in 1932. In 1933 it was finally demolished, and replaced by Manton's department store, later becoming a Coles store, itself redeveloped into a Target store in the 1970s. Kmart now occupies the site[1][9]


  1. ^ Nellie Stewart, who was born in Sydney, made her first appearance as a child at the Theatre Royal during this period.


  1. ^ a b c Melbourne, School of Historical Studies, Department of History, The University of. "Theatre Royal – Entry – eMelbourne – The Encyclopedia of Melbourne Online". Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  2. ^ Cole, R. K. (June 1950). "Early Melbourne Hotels". Victorian Historical Magazine. 23 (2): 53. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  3. ^ "[The Eagle Tavern and Theatre Royal] [picture]". State Library of Viictoria. State Library of Viictoria. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  4. ^ "John Melton Black". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Qld.: National Library of Australia. 10 July 1934. p. 7. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  5. ^ "The Theatre Royal". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 10 July 1855. p. 5. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  6. ^ "Advertising". The Age. No. 3, 522. Victoria, Australia. 12 February 1866. p. 8. Retrieved 9 October 2021 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ "The Stage". The Weekly Times. No. 166. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. 9 November 1872. p. 9. Retrieved 15 May 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ "The Late Richard Stewart". Table Talk. No. 895. Victoria, Australia. 28 August 1902. p. 21. Retrieved 12 July 2021 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ "Theatre Royal". Retrieved 17 January 2016.

Coordinates: 37°48′47″S 144°57′59″E / 37.8130°S 144.9665°E / -37.8130; 144.9665