0 items(s)

Middle Class Melbourne



From Social Life and Manners in Australia
Mrs. I. Massary.
London, 1861.

Mrs. Massary, an Englishwoman, lived in Melbourne. She is describing her life there.


The house we sought was quite close to the Richmond Punt, and almost opposite the Cremorne Gardens. It was built of brick, and the rooms were all on the ground floor with a wide verandah running round three sides. The stables were good, whilst a paddock, a very large fruit garden and a vineyard made it a desirable residence. The rent at first seemed very high, being four hundred and fifty pounds a year, but on consideration we took it for a term of five years, as we were anxious to get settled as soon as possible, and then commenced the arduous, puzzling and yet delightful toil of furnishing.

In Collins Street we purchased almost everything we required as good as we could have procured in England. The newest inventions and the most fashionable patterns are sent out here immediately after their appearance in London or Paris. These things, however, are by no means cheap ; our furniture was most expensive, a sofa costing fifteen pounds, and chairs in proportion; but we invariably found the trades people most civil and obliging. Our attention was next turned to the garden. As the produce was far too great for our consumption, we hired a gardener and made arrangements with him after supplying us with fruit and vegetables, he was to dispose of
the remainder. The sum thus obtained went some way towards the rent of the house. Then I bought poultry, and, as eggs were six shillings a dozen, I used to send a few dozen every week to my grocer, for which he gave me credit in his bill. I soon became very expert in rearing chickens and always had the produce of the farm-yard to fall back in the hot weather. We also kept three goats, as milk was a shilling a quart. Every morning the butcher used to send for orders and bring the meat, as in the hot weather we were obliged to eat it the very day it was killed.

The greatest plague in Melbourne is the flies; they are more disgusting if possible than those at the diggings, for they alight on your plate at dinner and leave such disgusting traces that all idea of dining is at an end. We found a store room very much wanted, so we agreed with our landlord that we should build one on our own plan, if he paid something towards the expense. This he willingly promised to do; we therefore erected a large square brick room immediately over a tank in the yard, thereby ensuring coolness. The roof was of slate, very shelving and projecting; an opening was made through the roof and ceiling, so that a current of air might pass freely through the apartment; the windows were protected by fine canvas wire to prevent the flies coming in. We had shelves and cupboards made,
also a trap-door in the floor so that the tank might be cleaned when required without inconvenience. The tank held fourteen or fifteen thousand gallons of water and, as our roof was slate, the water was perfectly good for every purpose and we never had to buy any, which was of some consequence to us, as it was sold for four shillings a load or barrel. The store room we found succeeded admirably; it was always deliciously cool and fresh.

The mosquitoes were so very annoying in summer that, besides mosquito curtains for our beds, we nailed “lino”, a kind of net, to the window frames so that we were not obliged to close windows at night, which was a great luxury.

Our establishment consisted of two maid-servants, a housemaid and a cook, and the coachman, who also waited at table. The women-servants as is the custom in this country, did the washing between them, so we had a washing machine and also a patent mangle; thus, though their wages were high, we had no washing to pay for. The coachman and cook were a married couple; they received eighty pounds a year; both were most excellent English servants, perfectly trained in their several departments. The housemaid, who also acted as parlor maid, was Irish; she got up the fine things beautifully; her wages were thirty-five pounds. I would very strongly recommend Irish servants to anyone settling in the colonies as I found, from my own experience and observation, that if properly managed and well treated they become different beings when away from Ireland, attaching themselves strongly to the family and making light of many a little inconvenience which would scare an English servant.

We kept two riding horses and a dog-cart which prevented our having to hire a carriage when we went out which was, there, the great expense of visiting. Two pounds ten shillings is frequently the charge for conveyance

to and from a party. We also had a boat, which was a source of much enjoyment during the hot months. When it was not convenient for us to use our own horses to go into town, we used to hire a boat and row down the river. The charge for each person was only a shilling. I need hardly say that the boat was a far more agreeable mode of conveyance than the other alternative, the omnibus, the fare of which was sixpence.

As soon as we were at leisure we drove to Toorak, the residence of the Governor, to leave our cards, as is, the usual custom in the colonies. Government House is between four and five miles from Melbourne, and nothing can be more charming than the drive to it, passing, as it does, by a succession of gentlemen’s [houses] many of them giving evidence of the highly cultivated tastes of their owners; indeed their beauty and variety would lead one to imagine that each architect had resolved that his own designs should bear away the palm.]

We were at the opening of the Theatre Royal, which is as large as Drury Lane. It is beautifully fitted up, and brilliantly lighted. The first
performance was ”The School for Scandal”, in which Mrs. Charles Poole exhibited much talent. This was followed by the ballet: but almost the saddest sight I ever witnessed was that of a clever little child who played the “Actress of all work”, and took six characters in succession.  She was but nine years old!  It was impossible for admiration not to give way to pity at the thought of the life of drudgery that must have been so early imposed on the poor little thing before she arrived at such perfection in all her parts. What could she have known of merry careless childhood with its simple pleasures? The noisy plaudits of strangers were her only reward for over-wrought powers of mind and body; but even this is not all—what can the future of such a child be?

Catherine Hays was turning the heads of the Melbournites at the Queen’s Theatre. Her singing and acting gave the most unbounded pleasure, which was testified by showers of nuggets, sovereigns, and bouquets which every time she performed fell at her feet. It was said that she made eight hundred pounds a night. However, it is pleasant to know that she is very charitable, freely giving when any opportunity occurs.

The Mayor of Melbourne’s fancy dress ball was attracting all attention, and great preparations were making to render it a splendid affair; not a very difficult task in a country where money is so profusely lavished that it seems to have lost its real value. The ball was held in the Exhibition building, and was attended by a thousand persons, comprising all classes of respectable people.  Many detectives were pointed out to me who were joining in the dances and looking like lambs.  The mixture of persons was as curious as the dissimilarity in dress; diamonds and jewels sparkled in profusion on rich, whilst the most bizarre costumes were worn by the would-be fine. One lady’s head-dress deserves recording:

it was composed of beetles’ wings, which, entirely covering her head,
descended to her waist; the effect produced was most grotesque, as may
easily be imagined.

[From Social Life and Manners in Australia, Mrs. I. Massary. London,
1861. Mrs. Massary, an Englishwoman, lived in Melbourne. She is
describing her life there.]