The Melbourne Athenaeum, formerly the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institute, is that gracious landmark building standing in Collins Street adjacent to the Melbourne Town Hall. In 1839, just four years after John Batman, John Pascoe Fawkner and a handful of other adventurers first pitched their tents on the banks of the Yarra River, the ‘gentleman’ and ‘mechanics’ of Melbourne Town got together to establish the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution. This was fraught with tensions and squabbles, even ‘newspaper wars’, and perhaps was the start of Melbourne-Sydney rivalry.
This book looks at the origins of the mechanics’ institute movement in Britain and studies the links between the Melbourne institute and two of the earliest mechanics’ institutes established in Australia: the Van Diemen’s Land Mechanics’ Institute set up in 1827, and the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts established in 1833.
Finally, a close look at the fifty men elected to the institute’s first committee and their pioneering role in the settlement of Port Phillip reveals the broad social platform leading to the cultural identity of present-day Melbourne.
Published in association with The Melbourne Athenaeum and with assistance from the State Library of Victoria. Includes bibliographical references and index.