In its 139 years, Queen Victoria Market has had a colourful and sometimes controversial history. During that time, the site has been a cemetery, a livestock market and a wholesale fruit and vegetable market. Each of these operations has its own history and an element of controversy.
Take yourself on our Self Guided History Tour
The Queen Victoria Market was officially opened on 20 March 1878, a range of markets having operated from the site in varying forms prior to that date.
Melbourne remains a Market town with many large municipal markets including South Melbourne, Prahran and Dandenong Markets. However, Queen Victoria Market is the largest and most intact of all Melbourne’s great 19th century markets.
Melbourne has always been a Market town. Its residents have always had a fascination with Markets, and this tradition continues even today. The Melbourne City Council was originally established in 1842 to manage the City’s many markets, of which one was Queen Victoria Market.
This was Melbourne’s first official fruit and vegetable market, established a mere 6 years after settlement began. In its early years, the Western Market was a general market; in the end, a wholesale cased fruit market. It lasted for ninety years, taking up the city block bounded by Market, Collins and William Streets and Flinders Lane, a site now occupied by the AXA Centre.
The development and expansion of Melbourne to the east led to the establishment of the Eastern Market and ultimately to the decline of the Western Market. The Eastern Market was demolished in 1962 to make way for the Southern Cross Hotel. Much more heavily frequented by the general public than the Western Market, the Eastern Market grew, matured, changed and died.
In 1841, at the corner of Little Collins and Exhibition streets, about three quarters of an acre of the reserve which remained next to the building used for a ‘female penitentiary’ was designated as a future site for a general market by the Market Commissioners. At the time, unofficially, it was used as a hay and corn market. At the request of the Council, it was proclaimed a general market site on 1 August 1846, and immediately became the official hay and corn market in place of the one which had operated on the site where St. Paul’s Cathedral now stands.
The Lower Market (bounded by Elizabeth, Victoria, Queen and Therry Streets) is the oldest part of the Market. It was originally set aside in 1857 for a fruit and vegetable market due to over-crowding and congestion at the Eastern Market but the location was unpopular and the market gardeners wouldn’t use it. Instead, it was used as a livestock and hay market until it was permanently reserved as a Market in 1867.The following year, a substantial brick building was erected on Elizabeth Street and this became a Wholesale Meat Market. However, the wholesale meat trade soon became dissatisfied with the site and relocated to the Metropolitan Meat Market building in Courtney Street, North Melbourne. The building was then turned over to a Retail Meat and Fish Market and slaughterhouse.In 1878, the Market sheds G, H, I & J were built on the site and wholesaling and retailing of fruit and vegetables occurred for the first time. While H & I Sheds still stand, G Shed was removed to construct the current Meat Hall loading bay and a block of public toilets. The original J Shed burnt down and is now a public plaza. In 1880, the Elizabeth Street shops were constructed following the realignment of Elizabeth Street. This also allowed the Meat Hall to be extended, and the present facade to be constructed in 1884. The Dairy Produce Hall (also known as the Deli Hall) was the last of the buildings to be built on this part of the Market, and was constructed in 1929.
The Upper Market (bounded by Queen, Victoria, Peel and Franklin Streets) was not originally reserved as a market but had a number of other uses including a school and drill hall. Its predominant use, however, was as Melbourne’s first cemetery. Construction of A-F sheds began in 1877 at the northern-most edge of the Market. This site was chosen because it contained the school, drill hall and the least-used section of the cemetery.
By 1930, the remainder of the site had been built upon. Between 1903 and 1905 A-C Sheds were extended to Peel Street, while D-F Sheds were not extended until 1922. That same year, the Queen Street and Peel Street verandahs were also constructed. The roofing of the centreway occurred in 1927. In 1929-1930 the large K and L Sheds were constructed for growers.
In 1929-30, the City of Melbourne constructed 60 brick stores on the current car park to house the wholesale agents and merchants. However, allegations of corruption and racketeering and a Royal Commission in 1960 led to the decision to relocate the Wholesale Market to Footscray in 1969. A single row of the Agents stores along Franklin Street is all that remains of the Merchants section of the Market.
The separation of the Wholesale Market from the Retail Market lead to a plan to redevelop the Queen Victoria Market site into a trade centre, office and hotel complex in the 1970s. However, public outcry prevented this and resulted in the Market being classified by the National Trust. Later, the Market site and its buildings were listed on the Historic Buildings Register. Queen Victoria Market survives today as one of the largest and most intact examples of Melbourne’s great nineteenth century markets.
The Queen Victoria Market site is listed as an historic place by Heritage Victoria. Many of the buildings are also listed as notable buildings on the Historic Building Register of Victoria.
Projects undertaken to date include:
|Restoration of A- E Sheds||1970s|
|Refurbishment of Victoria Street Shops (83-159)||1986|
|Refurbishment of Victoria Street Double Storey (Shops 65-81)||1995|
|Refurbishment of Elizabeth Street Shops||1991|
|Restoration of Victoria Street slate rooves (83-159)||2004|
|Restoration of timber columns – A to E Sheds||2004|
|Drainage Works in the Lower Market – H & I Sheds||2005|
|Drainage Works in the Upper Market (MCC)||2006|
|Refurbishment of the Meat Hall||2006|
|Refurbishment of the Dairy Produce Hall (part complete)||2006|
|Refurbishment of the Food Court estimated $1.0 million||2007|
One of the most intriguing stages in Queen Victoria Market’s history was during the 1960s, when the Market was associated with the infamous “Honoured Society”. Indeed, much of the innuendo and rumour surrounding the Market today can be attributed to this period.
It all began in 1960, when the complaining of suspicious growers unhappy with the handling of their consignments resulted in a Royal Commission being established to investigate price fixing at the Wholesale section of the Market.
Then, in 1963, a stallholder was shot. This was the first of 5 shootings associated with the Market. These shootings, it is claimed, were carried out by the “Honoured Society”, some of whose members had entered Australia through an illegal immigration racket and were using extortion to cheat immigrant Italian growers out of thousands of dollars.
This led on to the registration of merchants, saw limits placed on the commissions they could charge, and eventually resulted in the relocation of the Wholesale section of the Market to Footscray Road, where it remains today
Between the years of 1837 and 1854, much of the land on which the Queen Victoria Market now stands was the site of Melbourne’s first official cemetery, which housed the remains of an estimated 10,000 early settlers, including those of John Batman.
In 1917, when that Market was extended upon much of the cemetery site, 914 bodies were exhumed and re-interred at other cemeteries around Melbourne, including Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton, and Fawkner Cemetery, which is now the resting place of the “Old Pioneers”.
Numerous bodies remain buried beneath the existing car park. Unfortunately, there are no records of those buried there. Following its closure, the Cemetery fell into disuse and many of the red gum head stones were stolen for firewood. Official records for the cemetery were destroyed during a fire in one of the wings of the Melbourne Town Hall.
Today, the John Batman memorial is housed on the north east corner of the car park site, and a further memorial “Passage” to the numerous persons still buried on the site is situated on the corner of Queen and Therry Street.