New Hall, 1872

Mr Biers, elected president in 1871, announced he would build the long-awaited new hall during his presidency. With Alfred Smith's design and a mortgage obtained with the help of Mr Payne, the project proceeded.

The plans, with the additions and amendments that had been agreed upon, having been completed, tenders were called for, and that of Messrs Turnbill & Dick for £659/13/8 being the lowest, was accepted. The contractors broke ground on 23 of April, and thenceforward proceeded steadily with the work. On the 1st of July, when the walls had risen a few feet above the ground level, a memorial stone was laid by the President of the institution with the usual ceremonies. After this, without any stoppage except for a day or two now and then on account of weather, the buildings progressed until, about the middle of November, they were announced to be ready for occupation.

Annual report 1872


Architects drawing from the illustrated Australian news for home readers,
published by Ebenezer and David Syme, December 5 1872, page 240.
Pictures Collection of the State Library of Victoria

It was 100 feet long by 49 feet wide and 38 feet high, with a raised platform extending across the full width at the northern end. Along the east and west walks ran a clerestory of double-hung sashes, above which were ventilators behind ornamental grilles. Above each of the three sunlights (gasoliers) in the ceiling was a ventilation shaft 15 feet in diameter and fitted with a revolving cowl. The floor was securely nailed to facilitate dancing. Eight hundred could be accommodated in the hall and 150 in the balcony, which was supported on elegant iron columns at the hall's southern end. Facilities included cloakrooms and a 30 foot refreshment room.



"The Athenaeum : The story of its building" by Jennifer Mitchelhill from

The Melbourne Athenaeum : A journal of a Melbourne institution, 2009 page 144


The new hall was officially opened on 19 November 1872, by His Excellency the Governor, Viscount Canterbury. A grand concert marked the occasion.

Read a news article about the building: "THE MELBOURNE ATHENAEUM." The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848-1958) 20 Nov 1872.

The new hall was an instant success. The press regarded the miraculous change to the building akin to a grub changing into a butterfly and commented that with such an impressive hall it was the right time to change the organisation's name from Mechanics' Institution to Melbourne Athenaeum.

The popularity of the new hall can be judged by the extraordinary variety of events held there. Everything from sporting exhibitions and social occasions to musical and theatrical performances and banquets took place in this venue.


The photograph of this dance card was provided by a researcher of social dancing.



John Roberts Junior, an English billiards champion, gave several demonstrations of billiards, in 1876. This drawing is an artist's impression of the hall at that time. Considering the range of events in the hall, a billiards demonstration was not unusual.


Mr. Roberts, the billiard champion, at the Athenaeum Hall, 1876.
Pictures collection, State Library of Victoria