Queen Bess Row

Queen Bess Row

Queen Bess RowQueen Bess Row: 72-76 Hotham Street, EAST MELBOURNE

Queen Bess Row is architecturally significant as a fine example of the work of the notable architectural firm of Tappin Gilbert and Denneby, who during the 1880s, designed a number of important buildings throughout Victoria.

Queen Bess Row is the first fully developed example of the Queen Anne Revival in the style of noted English architect Richard Norman Shaw and marks the advent of a style that was to dominate 20 years of Melbournes domestic architectural history.


The land on which Queen Bess Row was built was bought in the original land sales of 1853 by WJT Clarke. In 1895 his son, Joseph Clarke (brother of Sir William Clarke, bart. of Cliveden), is listed as the owner. He died the same year and the property was held by the Clarke Trustees.

However the building permit application was submitted by a Miss Cornwall. It was for three four storey houses, although it seems the building never functioned in this way and the plan was merely a fallback position. The party walls between the houses were designed with archways between them to allow for easy opening up or closing off. The caption to an illustration in The Building & Engineering Journal, 21 July 1888, describes the building as the East Melbourne Coffee Palace, and this name is also written below the central gable of the building. However it appears that while a coffee palace was the intended usage it was never the reality. The building, under the management of Miss Henrietta Rebecca Macartney, initially became The East Melbourne Trained Nurses' Home, and by 1890 was also a private hospital. The Argus carried the following advertisement:

'MISS MACARTNEY begs to intimate to the members of the medical profession that she has made all the necessary arrangements for carrying out the HYDROPATHIC TREATMENT of disease. Including steam, hot air, and douche baths at her private hospital, Rubra, Hotham-street, East Melbourne, and has engaged the services of an experienced masseur, who will carry out the doctor's instructions.'

Advertisements for both the Nurses' Home and the hospital ran until 1894. On 15 October, 1895 The Argus ran an extensive advertisement for the sale of contents of Rubra, including domestic furniture and hospital equipment. In 1894 Miss Macartney had been sued for negligence. Damages awarded against her were 25 pounds; this plus the bad publicity may have been enough to cause the hospital's closure. It was also the same year that Joseph Clarke, the building's owner, died. However the house was not immediately sold after Macartney's departure, and was advertised To Let. The inventory amongst Clarke's probate papers describes the building as 'a Brick and Stone building used as a Private Hospital' and valued at 6,000 pounds. Miss Macartney owed rent of 143 pounds and 16s. 8d.

The archways were blocked up in 1896, and the building was converted to apartments with one apartment on each floor of each house. Although not built as apartments the building is regarded as possibly Melbourne's first apartment block.

By the the late 1920s the buildings were known as Rubra Flats (72), Angus McArthur's boarding house (74), and Cregh Flats (76). By 1936 No. 74 was known as Tudor Guest House.

In 1989 the building ceased operating as a 50-room boarding house, home to low-income tenants. Following prolonged feuding between the Ministry of Housing and the Melbourne City Council, and amid much opposition from tenants, would-be tenants and their defendants, the building remained empty for a year. In 1990, it was finally subdivided into three separate houses and sold to individual purchasers.

Owners and occupiers:

1886-1895: Joseph Clark, brother of Sir William John Clarke of Cliveden and Rupertswood.

1889-1895: Henrietta Rebecca Macartney (c.1837-1919). Miss Macartney was the eldest daughter of The Very Reverend Hussey Burgh Macartney, first dean of Melbourne. She was born in Ireland and arrived in Melbourne with her family in 1848. She died at her home, Rubra, 22 Derby Street, Kew.

1886?: Miss Cornwall. Probably the daughter of George Cornwall, builder and contractor of Melbourne. Frances Octavia Cornwall married George Thompson Hutchinson in 1886 at Holy Trinity Church, East Melbourne (Argus, 18 May 1886, p.1). Hutchinson was the son of George Hutchinson of Arundel Square, London. In 1887 George Thompson Hutchinson founded the publishing firm of Hutchinson & Co. He was knighted in 1912. This would explain the disappearance of Miss Cornwall from local records hereafter. How she came to have her name on the Notice of Intent to Build remains unexplained.

Queen Bess Row is classified by National Trust (B4783) and Victorian Heritage Register (H0602) - Queen Bess Row is protected by state law.


By Lotte Mulligan

Queen Bess Row had seen better days
when we bought our house next door to
it in 1981. It was built in 1886-7, originally
perhaps as a coffee palace (to house young
men from the country who wished to avoid
the temptations of alcohol) but soon used
instead as a private hospital. The house,
like the monarch it commemorates, was
overdressed, showy, and dominated the
surrounding landscape with its size and bulk.
By the time we moved in it was inhabited,
with its 60-odd rooms, by 60 odd single men.
Indeed, on the day we arrived, a strange young
man with a beard and a vacant look wandered
into the kitchen and asked for a beer. Thinking
he must be one of the removalists, we handed
over a stubbie which he consumed hunkered
down by the wall and then he slowly wandered
out again, disappearing next door. While
most of the inhabitants were self-sufficient
and self-catering, the middle section at
No. 76 was provided for by an Irish cook
who fed them, judging by the permeating
odours, on nothing but bread and mutton.
At the back our garden was separated
from QBR by a high morning glory creeper
sustained as it turned out by string tied to
an iron frame. Over the hedge we could
see four storeys of windows overlooking
our yard. Across this permeable divider the
occasional tinnie would land on the laundry
roof and one day we found that a harpoon
had been shot into the laundry wall.

When the hedge collapsed there were often up
to eighteen heads peering out to admire our
daughters trying to sunbathe in the garden.
But the most dramatic inhabitant was a
totally silent Hungarian 'Count' dressed in
a white three piece suit who would lie in the
patch of sun on our drive. This made backing
out a hazardous affair, as when we returned
to the driver's seat
having checked that
he was not there, we
could not be sure that
he had not perhaps
re-appeared and
we would anticipate
a sickening thump
under the car wheels.
In the late 1980s the
owner of the boarding
house removed all the
inhabitants leaving
the place eerily
empty except for a
caretaker. There was
no real protection
from fire and we
constantly corresponded with the MFB
to put in appropriate fire protection.
In 1989 after the Government had considered
buying QBR for sheltered accommodation, it
was put up for public auction. The street was
aflutter with banners and posters from the
Victorian Tenants' Association campaigning to
keep the place for public use. Fiery speeches
and a demonstration followed, but capitalism
won the day and the Queen was sold to
private buyers who have sensitively restored
the building to its Victorian splendour with
21st century conveniences (in both senses).
Life next to the Queen is now rather more
sedate and secure with three sets of good
neighbours, but it is certainly less exciting.

Source: EMG | PDF

❊ Address & Contact ❊

Queen Bess Row⊜ 72-76 Hotham Street East Melbourne | Map
72-76 Hotham StreetEast Melbourne

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Queen Bess Row 





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