The Hall of Science, haunt of 1880s radicals.

First posted instagram January 24, 2020 

This curious building in the middle of St Vincent’s Hospital on Victoria Parade was built as the Hall of Science in 1889 by the Australian Secular Association, a pretty radical organisation who lectured on ‘freethought’, which was seen as anti-religious – on Sundays ! They didn’t hang on to it very long though, and St Vincent’s bought it in 1913. It’s ironic that the new owners are a Catholic institution, who successfully argued against it being added to the Victorian Heritage Register in about 2011 – which was a big surprise to me, I mean how many Secular Halls do we have ? The Heritage Council thought that since it wasn’t used much, the historic importance was slight, but then they built it didn’t they ? Even more interesting actually, the Secularists were led by English ‘Freethought’ figure Joseph Syme, who fell out with the Trustees of the Society, and the pro- and anti-Syme factions came to blows over occupation of the hall in June 1890 (during which a scularist was shot and killed by accident), and kept fighting over it for the next few years, both on the ground and in the courts. Syme eventually got it back in 1897, but it wasn’t the same, and he left Australia in 1904. Fascinating. It is heritage listed as Contributory by the City of Yarra, but that might not prevent demolition, but maybe they’ll just keep the facade ? They’ve already demolished next door, and apparently planning to demolish the other side, so it doesn’t look good. Though you could fairly easily build over it, even columns through the roof would be ok.

Free Thought Hall, Victoria Parade, c1958, Uni Melb Archives

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