A remnant of the past tucked away in Franklin St

Dr Cheryl Griffin

In 1937 this old two-storeyed house that had seen better days was put up for auction. It was on a site alongside a terrace of six other old two-storeyed houses, tucked up against a right of way and not far from Elizabeth St.

When auction day came along, no-one bid for 83-95 Franklin St. At the time of the auction in October 1937, the world was only just beginning to emerge from a catastrophic economic depression. It was not a good time to sell and this “magnificent block of land”, as the sales hype referred to it, was passed in.

It is clear from this 1934 photograph, part of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria’s images collection and reproduced in a number of contemporary newspapers, that the house had been around for a while. It was made of brick and stone, had a modest picket fence at the front and a long, lone gum tree at the front, a tree reputed to have been transplanted from Bulla about 20 years before. Street directories tell us that next door were livery stables and just a little further along, past the right of way and on the corner of Elizabeth St, was The Old Lamb Inn.

It is possible to visualise this scene as it was in the 1860s by looking at the marvellous De Gruchy and Leigh’s 1866 Isometrical Plan of Melbourne, available for download from the State Library of Victoria. Consult that fascinating map and it won’t take you long to find the house, even then nestled among taller, more imposing buildings. You’ll see, too, the livery stables and the Inn.

For some time, this house was reputed to have been the home of Melbourne’s first mayor, Henry Condell, a theory dispelled around the time the photograph was taken, although the myth continued. Condell, a brewer, set up business in Lonsdale St in 1839. In the early 1840s he served a brief, disastrous term as Mayor of Melbourne and an equally disastrous term as the Port Phillip District Member of the Legislative Council, Garryowen referring to his “utter incapacity” as a politician. He was a whizz at developing a valuable property portfolio, however, and in 1854 returned to Britain a wealthy man.

So where does that leave our modest house in Franklin St? It seems that in 1850 John O’Shanassy (later Sir John, Premier of Victoria) and John Mooney bought this site as vacant Crown land. And it’s possible that the so-called Condell connection came about because a milkman named Connell lived in the street in the 1850s. What is known is that 30 or so years later it was part of the estate of James Noonan JP of West Melbourne, a very shrewd businessman who built up a considerable property portfolio which was inherited by his three surviving children when he died in 1896. The property at 83-95 Franklin St was part of that portfolio, although he and his family lived in Dudley St, West Melbourne.

Move forward to 1924 and Bridget Noonan, James Noonan’s last surviving child, died and her valuable, inherited property portfolio was gradually put up for sale.

The attempted sale of this site in 1937 fell through, but it was advertised again in June 1939 and this time it did sell and was to become the Beaurepaire Tyre Service’s base for many years.

The house was demolished in early 1940 to make way for Beaurepaire’s modern new premises. This photograph and the 1866 isometric map mentioned earlier remain as reminders of its long period as a modest domestic dwelling. •

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