A bustling scene at Queen’s Wharf, 1853

A bustling scene at Queen’s Wharf, 1853
Dr Cheryl Griffin

Full of life and activity, you see here a crowded Cole’s Wharf, located between Spencer and King streets, in the early 1850s.

Constructed and operated by George Ward Cole, a former naval man and merchant, on an acre of land bought soon after his arrival in 1840, he and his young family lived here for a short time before moving to St Ninian’s in Brighton.

Cole built up his wharf into a thriving concern as seen here in this sketch made by S T Gill. The masts of sailing ships appear as backdrop to the men busily loading and unloading barrels and boxes of goods from horse-drawn wagons.

Recent arrivals are disembarking from Cole’s steam-operated paddle steamer, the Gypsey, seen on the left of the image.

It is a reminder that most people who arrived in Melbourne at this time did so by sea. And side-by-side we have the travel power of the past – sail – and that of the future – steam, both under George Cole’s banner. He had embraced this technology, steam, and for some years operated paddle steamers on the Yarra and Port Phillip Bay.

The story of this artwork is worth mentioning, too. It appeared in S T Gill’s 1854 sketchbook, then was turned into the steel engraving you see here by James Tingle, a prolific British engraver, and colourised. It was sold through retail outlets in Melbourne, as were other Gill watercolours.

This particular image was converted into a glass slide in about 1930 by Alex Gunn & Sons of Collins Place, who were lantern slide specialists. The slide was prepared for a series of magic lantern (early image projector) lectures given by Historical Society member Isaac Selby in about 1930.

Selby’s lectures featured many aspects of early Melbourne and raised money for the Old Pioneers Memorial Fund, which he established to promote the study of history.

Going back now to Cole’s Wharf, it is no more. It was cut off by the construction of the Spencer Street Bridge in 1927 and is now located under Batman Park. Its disappearance marked the end of a connection to a very early Melbourne enterprise set in the heart of the city’s waterfront.

Just the year before, the last member of the Cole family, Margaret Morison Ward Cole, died at Brighton aged 83. She had outlived her parents and siblings and with her died much of the story of Cole’s contribution to early Melbourne.

All was not lost, though. She donated family memorabilia to both the Brighton Historical Society and RHSV, so ensuring that not all the family’s legacy was lost. •

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