The Great Fire of 1897

Repost 2016:

Repost 2016: The Great Fire of Melbourne in 1897. One of the biggest things to happen in the CBD, but largely forgotten. Starting somewhere in the Flinders Lane warehouses near Elizabeth Street in the early hours of Sunday November 20th, it soon grew to destroy nearly the whole block between Flinders, Elizabeth, Flinders Lane, and Swanston Street, 17 buildings in all, stopping at the backs of the Swanston Street buildings – we nearly lost Young & Jacksons (where they rescued the beer barrels just in case).

Crowds flocked to see the still smoldering ruins the next morning, when the whole area looked like post-war berlin, since the external solid brick walls often survived. The State Library has a great collection of little seen photographs of ‘after’.

The only building to survive within the inferno was the Mutual Store, built in 1891 with steel window shutters and an external sprinkler system. The most spectacular building to succumb was Fink’s Building, a 9 storey ‘skyscraper’ built just 8 years before (surprisingly most walls would be retained and reused, minus the top two floors). The fire helps explain the dating of many buildings in the block is around 1900, especially in Flinders Lane, notably Ross House, built in 1899. Photos @library_vic, the ones with titles from #MelbournePunch via FB, the watercolour is by Charles Hammond, from 3am, plans from Fire Services Museum.

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