A relic of the past tucked away in Franklin St

In 1937, this old two-storey house that had seen better days was put up for auction. It was on a site adjacent to a terrace of six other two-story old houses, tucked against a right-of-way and not far from Elizabeth St.

When auction day came, no one bid on Franklin St. 83-95. At the time of the auction in October 1937, the world was just beginning to emerge from a catastrophic economic depression. It was not a good time to sell and this “beautiful block of land”, as the sales hype called it, was passed on.

This 1934 photo, part of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria’s image collection and featured in a number of contemporary newspapers, clearly shows that the house has been around for some time. It was made of brick and stone, had a modest picket fence at the front and a tall, lone gum tree at the front, a tree known to have been transplanted from Bulla about 20 years earlier. Street guides tell us that next door were stables and just a little further, past the right of way and on the corner of Elizabeth St, was The Old Lamb Inn.

It is possible to visualize this scene as it was in the 1860s by looking at De Gruchy and Leigh’s beautiful 1866 isometric plan of Melbourne, which can be downloaded from the Victoria State Library. Consult that fascinating map and it won’t take long to find the house, even then nestled between taller, more imposing buildings. You will also see the stables and the inn.

For a time, this house was known to be the home of Melbourne’s first mayor, Henry Condell, a theory that was rejected around the time the photo was taken, though the myth persisted. Condell, a brewer, settled in Lonsdale St in 1839. In the early 1840s, he served a short, disastrous term as Mayor of Melbourne and an equally disastrous term as Port Phillip District member of the Legislative Council, Garryowen, referring to his “complete incompetence” as a politician. However, he was adept at developing a valuable property portfolio and returned to Britain in 1854 a wealthy man.

So where is our humble home in Franklin St? It appears that John O’Shanassy (later Sir John, Premier of Victoria) and John Mooney bought this site in 1850 as fallow land in the Crown. And it’s possible that the so-called Condell connection came about because a milkman named Connell lived on the street in the 1850s. What is known is that some 30 years later it was part of the estate of James Noonan JP of West Melbourne, a very shrewd businessman who built up a sizable property portfolio which was inherited by his three surviving children when he died in 1896. property at 83-95 Franklin St was part of that portfolio, although he and his family lived in Dudley St, West Melbourne.

Go forward to 1924 and Bridget Noonan, James Noonan’s last surviving child, died and her valuable, inherited real estate portfolio was gradually put up for sale.

The attempted sale of this site in 1937 fell through, but in June 1939 it was advertised again and this time it was sold and would become the base of the Beaurepaire Tire Service for many years.

The house was demolished in early 1940 to make way for the modern new Beaurepaire building. This photo and the aforementioned isometric map from 1866 are reminders of his long period as a modest home. •

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