SmellbourneMelbourne has had many names but one it didn't like was SMELLmellbourne.

In the 1800's the majority of sewage and waste from houses was emptied into open drains that flowed into street channels. This waste mixed with waste from stables and industries made these open street channels extremely smelly.

The street channels carried the waste to the nearest river or creek which became open sewers flowing to Port Phillip Bay.

Later, pan closet toilets, or 'thunderboxes' were introduced. They were emptied about once a week by a nightman but because the wastes stayed in a pan for up to a week, pan closet toilets were really smelly.

Stop 5 in Melbourne's Golden Mile tour is Marvellous Smellbourne. In 1890, when the Rialto opened, Melbourne was still unsewered, and male tenants were obliged to relieve themselves in this primitive outdoor urinal. Bad smells and rampant typhoid inspired one wit to re-christen the city 'Marvellous Smellbourne'!


In 1890's, after almost 30 years of discussion the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) built a sewerage system.

While today it is known that underground sewerage systems are an efficient method of dealing with sewerage and waste, back in the mid-1800's the world's major cities disagreed over the best method. Many thought underground systems would only harbour waste and breed desease and vermin.

In 1889 English engineer, James Mansergh was employed to draw up plans for Melbourne's sewerage system and in May 1892 construction began and despite a depression in the 1890's, the Werribee sewerage farm was treating Melbourne's sewage..

This system was based on a network of main underground sewers that would carry sewage, via a massive pumping station at Spotswood, to a sewerage farm at Werribee, where it was treated before it was released into Port Phillip Bay.

Gradually underground sewers spread throughout Melbourne. The infamous thunderboxes, along with the attendant nightmen, were replaced by inside water-flushed toilets.

Unlike modern toilets, which flush with a push of a button, early toilets had a high cistern located above the toilet that was flushed with the pull of a chain. The introduction of reticulated sewerage systems also meant that smelly open drains and street channels were no longer required.

As a final note, pan closet toilets are not necessarily things from the distant past. For example, the removal of the last three pan closet toilets in Frankston occurred in April 1991 and was hailed as 'a small milestone' in the city's history.

Smellbourne was no more and Melbourne once again became marvellous.

The original pumping station can be seen at Scienceworks, the Museum of Victoria's Centre for Science and Technology in Spotswood.

❊ Address & Contact ❊

Smellbourne⊜ 2 Booker Street, Spotswood | Map
2 Booker Street,Spotswood

❊ Web Links ❊


History of Melbourne's Sewerage system

Stop 5 Golden Mile Melbourne Tour

Scienceworks Museum @

Spotswood Pumping Station Tours

Disclaimer: Check with the venue before making plans...

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