It's difficult to believe, when you step into the brightly lit, welcoming foyer of the Athenaeum Theatre that the first building on this site was a modest, Georgian-style brick building of two storeys, set back from the footpath, with a green lawn and cast-iron, picket fence. In those days Collins Street was a muddy road, with trees and tree stumps growing along it that made it dangerous to travellers at night, even those with a sturdy carriage and reliable horses. The colony was still part of New South Wales and no official name had been proclaimed for the settlement at that time. Squatters, social and religious groups, societies, such as the Debating Society and the Philosophical Institute (later named the Royal Society of Victoria) took place. Lectures on a wide variety of topics, were organised by the committee, and these continued for many years. The hall and rooms were also rented out to teachers for classes, such as drawing, music, languages, and science. Concerts, given by the music students, were popular. The Lierdertafel and the Philharmonic Society gave concerts. Mr George Allan's singing classes were well attended by both men and women.
This advertisement for George Allan's singing class was kindly forwarded by Jim Lowden.
Allan's Music company continues to trade in Bourke Street, Melbourne.
Church of England Assembly, 1870
From the pictures collection of the State Library of Victoria
The picture shows the hall on the first floor of the original building. The display cases, that can be seen at the back of the room, held some of the hundreds of donated items in the museum collection.
Typical events held in the Mechanics Institution Hall:
- 1851 Exhibition - working model of the Burra Copper Mine
- Music - weekly subscription concerts
- Anti-transportation Committee meeting
- 1853 First meeting of the geological society
- First performance of Handel's Messiah in Victoria, by the Philharmonic Society choir (now the Royal Philharmonic Society)
In 1872 a new hall was built, read about it in the building section of this site.
The new theatre built on the ground floor in 1872 was a popular venue until 1923 when Frank Talbot renovated the entire space.
This photo, taken circa 1920, shows the stage area only.