Government House is the official residence of the Governor of Victoria, and is located in the precincts of the Botanical Gardens.
Government House History
Melbourne was founded on the east-west axis of the Yarra River. At first, the north bank was developed with commercial and residential buildings, and land on the south bank left largely vacant. After the Swanston St-Princes Bridge-St Kilda Road line formed a north-south axis, the sloping land to the south-east, bounded by the river, Anderson St, Domain Rd and St Kilda Road, was set apart in 1841 as the Domain parkland, including a reserve for a future Government House. When Ferdinand von Mueller was appointed Director of the Botanic Gardens in 1857, he was in charge of landscaping the whole Domain, including the reserve, as one parkland.
The highest point of the park was selected for the site of Government House; this provided one of the few vistas clearly seen by Melburnians looking south over the Yarra. By 1870 a decision had been made to construct Victoria's first purpose-built Government House on the site. Victoria's first Government House had been La Trobe's prefabricated cottage, in use from 1840. Toorak House, which was leased from 1854 to 1874, was the second, then briefly, Bishopscourt in East Melbourne was used before the present building was occupied.
The historian Asa Briggs has described Melbourne, only four decades old when this house was built, as one of the great cities of the Victorian era. By the 1870s Victoria regarded itself as 'the most important Austral division of the empire', and required a Governor's residence befitting this status.
The gold rush years brought to Australia not only energetic diggers, but a group of talented professional men. Among these, the botanist Baron von Mueller, the architect-engineer William Wardell and the landscape gardener William Guilfoyle, played a part in the creation of Government House and its grounds.
In 1871, William Wardell, Inspector General of the Public Works Department, was commissioned to draw up plans for the house. J.J. Clark and Peter Kerr worked under the direction of Wardell in the Public Works Department. Wardell's other notable Melbourne building is St Patrick's Cathedral, Clark's is the Treasury Building and Kerr's is Parliament House.
The house was designed in Italianate style and construction was in the economical medium of brick and cement render. Government House was built in the mid Victorian period, when the emphasis was on pragmatism and efficiency. Its refined, functional ambience contrasts with the embellishment characteristic of boom mansions of the 1880s.
The construction contract was awarded to Martin and Peacock, and the house built in the years 1872-76. The tower provides a central focus for its three sections: the central State block, the private apartments to the north and the ballroom to the south. In the 19th century the naturally greyish exterior of the building created depth of shadows which enhanced the texture of its surface detail.
Government House, because of its commanding position, has been part of the city's consciousness since its construction. It provides a focal point for the central business district which faces south over the Yarra River. Its tower can be glimpsed from a variety of locations in the inner suburbs such as Richmond, South Yarra, Toorak and the City of Melbourne. From high-rise buildings in the city the full splendour of its location within extensive parklands can be appreciated.
On 26th January each year, Australia Day, the Governor of Victoria opens the doors to the public who can view many rooms not normally open and enjoy a picnic on the lawns.
Government House Open Day..
Guided tours on Mondays and Thursdays may be booked through the National Trust (03) 8663 7260