Theatres/Venues 6a: Melbourne

Melbourne CBD ……. p.1
Inner City Suburbs …… p.2
Eastern Suburbs …… p.3


Melbourne CBD


(1876-1889) Bourke Street.

Situated beside the Victoria Arcade, the 1500-seat Academy of Music opened in 1876 but was renamed the Bijou Theatre in 1880 by lessee Eduardo Majeroni. The theatre was perhaps most associated with the Brough and Boucicault Comedy Company which used it as a home base for several years. The Bijou was destroyed by fire in 1889. It was replaced by a second Bijou Theatre and a smaller, purpose-built vaudeville house called the Gaiety.



AMERICAN HIPPODROME: See Prince of Wales Theatre [1]

APOLLO MUSIC HALL [1]: See Haymarket Theatre

APOLLO THEATRE: See National Amphitheatre



aka Bijou Theatre [1] / Kitts Music Hall / Sportsman’s Club

(1872-) Eastern Arcade, 131-135 Bourke Street.

After fire destroyed the Haymarket Theatre and Apollo Music Hall in 1871, the Eastern Arcade complex, including a new Apollo Hall, was built in its place. Opened on Boxing Day 1872 by Harry Rickards the hall seated up to 1,000 people and was used for theatrical entertainments, concerts, exhibitions, public meetings, lectures, primary industry shows and sporting events etc. It was converted into an athletics hall in 1887 and later served as a venue for boxing. Variety troupes to play the Apollo included Carroll and Wallace Minstrels (1873), Quintuto Minstrels (1874), the Empsons (1875, 1877), California Minstrels (1875), US Minstrels (1875-77), La Feuillade and Buckley’s Minstrels (1876), Hudson and Holly Comedy Co (1879), Georgia Minstrels (1879), Weston’s US Minstrels (1879) and Buckley and Gardner’s Minstrels (1881).

Kate and James Kelly were “exhibited” at the Apollo on the evening of the day Ned Kelly was hanged. Sometimes referred to as the “Temple of Amusements,” it was briefly renamed the Bijou in 1867 and Kitts Music Hall (1880-81). It was also occupied by the Sportsman’s Club between 1882 and 1884. It is presently unclear when the hall was last used for entertainments.
Apollo Hall 2 - 1877 [SLV]Image: 1877. Source: State Library of Victoria.



Located between Russell and Exhibition streets and extending from Little Collins Street to Bourke Street, the Eastern Arcade was a two-level building erected on the site adjacent to the Eastern Market (originally a fruit and vegetable market that by the late 1800s had become the heart of Melbourne’s Saturday nightlife). During its early years the arcade included a wide variety of business, ranging from booksellers and hairdressers to newsagents and pie shops and even a dance hall. By the early 1900s it also housed theatrical agencies, costumiers and rehearsals rooms. The arcade was reconfigured as a furniture store by the 1950s and later served as an outlet of the Fletcher Jones clothing company. Its last tenant was Allan’s Music. The building was demolished in 2008 to make way for an apartment building [Information sourced from Walking Melbourne].



aka Astley’s National Amphitheatre / Bal Fleury

(1854-1857) Spring Street.

Astley’s Amphitheatre opened for business on 11 September 1854. Although built by hotelier Thomas Mooney and circus entrepreneur George Lewis as an equestrian/circus venue, it also hosted variety entertainments like minstrelsy and burlesque, along with drama, concerts, public meetings and lectures over the next two and a half years. Key acts associated with the venue were Billy Barlow, Rainer’s Serenaders (both 1854), and the Backus Minstrels and Lola Montez (1856). After Lewis departed for Sydney in July 1855 it was briefly leased by James Ellis, Henry Burton, and builder Adam Kennedy, before being taken over and remodelled by George Coppin in early 1856. In April the following year it was renamed the Princess Theatre. Although mostly used for meetings from mid-1855, Astley’s also operated as a ballroom (Bal Fleury) over the summer of 1855-56.

  • See also: Princess Theatre 1 [below] • G.W.B. LewisGeorge Coppin
  • For further details see: Colligan, Mimi. “Circus in Theatre: Astley’s Amphitheatre, Melbourne 1854-1857.” Australasian Drama Studies 35 (1999), 31-43.
1: Thomas Mooney, the proprietor of the National Hotel, has been described as both Irish and American. His actual heritage is yet to be determined.
2: James Ellis, described as the originator of promenade concerts in Melbourne, had previously been the proprietor of the city’s Cremorne Gardens. At Astley’s he promoted Grand Saturday Concerts. Under Henry Burton’s lease the venue was known as Astley’s National Amphitheatre. The Bal Fleury series of balls were presented by lessee Mons Fleury.
3: In addition to equestrian events the opening night entertainment included the inimitable Barlow (comic minstrel singer), Juba (dancer), Miss Edwards (singer), Annie Galbreith (ballad singer), Mr Hemmings (comic ballads), Madame Grier (Italian Bravura), Mr Williams (Scottish ballads), Miss Octavia Hamilton (national melodies), Mr Johnson and his 80 piece band, and music director Herr Stebinger.
4: Both Lewis and Mooney were sued separately in 1855 in relation to Astley’s. Lewis was taken to court in May by Adolphe Berg for breach of contract. Berg was awarded £500 by the jury (see “Supreme Court.” Argus 14 May 1855, 6). Lewis later claimed that the damages were a major factor in his request for insolvency. Mooney’s breach of contract, which he also lost, was in relation to an architectural design for a theatre to be built next to the National Hotel. Mooney decided to build Astley’s instead and failed to pay for the first design. The plaintiffs were awarded £35 (see “Knight and Others v Mooney.” Age 25 July 1855, 5).



BIJOU THEATRE [1]: See Apollo Music Hall [2]

BIJOU THEATRE [2]: See Academy of Music

BRENNAN’S AMPHITHEATRE: See National Amphitheatre



(1890-1934) Bourke Street (between Swanston and Russell streets).

Melbourne’s third Bijou Theatre opened in 1890 after the second had been destroyed by fire in 1889. Situated alongside the rebuilt Victoria Arcade and a newly-built (but smaller) Gaiety Theatre, the debut season saw former tenants Brough and Boucicault return with their musical comedy company. The Fullers took over control of both theatres in 1913 and under their management the Bijou became a popular venue for vaudeville and revusicals. It was later leased to other firms before laying vacant between 1939 and 1954.


CANTERBURY HALL: See Theatre Royal [1]

COTTIER’S THEATRE: See Polytechnic Hall


DUKE’S THEATRE: See Polytechnic Hall



aka The Roxy

(1890-1934) Bourke Street.

A small purpose-built vaudeville theatre located beside the more sumptuous Bijou Theatre, the Gaiety was nevertheless historically significant as variety establishment in Melbourne. Among the entrepreneurs associated with the theatre were Dan Tracey (early 1890s), F.M. Clark (early 1900s) and James Brennan (1907-12). In 1913 the Fullers took over the lease of both the Bijou and the Gaiety. The Gaiety was renamed The Roxy in 1930. A few years later both theatres were demolished. The Gaiety portion of the property later became the Commonwealth Bank building.

Image: Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria


HALL OF SCIENCE: See Polytechnic Hall



aka Apollo Music Hall [1] / Royal Haymarket Theatre / Duke of Edinburgh Theatre

(1862-1871) Bourke Street (through to Little Collins Street).

Occupying a 1½ acre block of land, the Haymarket Theatre was part of an entertainment complex built by George Coppin in 1862. The first section to be ready was the 1,5000 seat Apollo Music Hall (June). The main theatre, the 2,500 seat Haymarket, opened on 15 September, with a season by American actor Joseph Jefferson. Renamed the Duke of Edinburgh for the first Royal tour of the colonies (1867) it also operated as a variety house. The building was destroyed by fire in September 1871.

  • See also: Apollo Hall [2] (above)
Haymarket-Duke of E on fire - Melb [IAN 9 Oct 1871, 185]Image: The Duke of Edinburgh on fire (1871). Source: Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers (Melbourne) 9 Oct. 1871, 185.



HUDSON’S THEATRE: See Polytechnic Hall

IMPERIAL THEATRE: See Temperance Hall



Kings Theatre - Melb [](1908-1977) Russell Street (between Bourke and Little Collins streets).

Designed by William Pitt Jnr, and built by William Anderson for his two melodrama companies, the King’s hosted a number significant Australian bush drama premieres (often starring his wife Eugenie Duggan and English actor Roy Redgrave). After financial difficulties forced Anderson to lease (1912) and then sell the theatre (1915), it was used variously for drama, pantomime and variety. Notable lessees included the Taits, J.C. Williamson’s and Carroll-Fuller. Projectors were installed in 1942, and it was renamed the Barclay Cinema in 1959. A multiplex cinema was built on the site in 1977.



KITTS MUSIC HALL: See Apollo Music Hall [2]

LIBERTY: See Royal Colosseum

MARSH’S ROYAL LYCEUM: See Prince of Wales Theatre [1]




aka Brennan’s Amphitheatre / Palace Theatre / Apollo Theatre

(1912-) Bourke Street (Parliament House-end).

Brennan’s Amphitheatre was built by James Brennan for his Melbourne vaudeville operations. Within a year, however, he sold his circuit to Ben and John Fuller. The 2,000 seat venue remained a part of their theatrical empire until 1940. During that time it was known variously as the National Amphitheatre (1912-16), the Palace (1916-34), and the Apollo (1934-40). Under MGM three decades-long ownership the venue was also called the St James and the Metro. Since being restored in 2007 it has once again become known as the Palace Theatre.


NOVELTY THEATRE: See Polytechnic Hall

NUGGET THEATRE: See Polytechnic Hall

ODEON: See Royal Colosseum



Olympic Th - Melb [VT-DPB, 88](1855-1894) Corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale streets.

Built by George Coppin and opened on 30 July 1885, the Olympic Theatre (aka the “Iron Pot”) was a prefabricated iron shell. Seating just under 1200 people it was reportedly cold in winter, stiflingly in summer and noisy when it rained. Shakespearian actor G.V. Brooke was the first to play a season at the Olympic. Although not known as a variety house, the theatre was home to the 1855 pantomime spectacular Harlequin L.s.d. Later used as a dance hall, Turkish baths and furniture warehouse it was demolished in 1894.

Image source: Viola Tait. Dames, Principal Boys… And All That (2001), 88.


OPERA COMIQUE: See Varieties



aka Prince of Wales Opera House / Her Majesty’s Opera House / Alhambra Palace of Varieties

(1872-1899) 249 Bourke Street.

PoW Op House, Melb 1872 [Thorne TIA, 52]The Prince of Wales was opened by L.M. Bayless on 24 August 1872. When W.S. Lyter took over the lease in 1873 it became simply the Opera House. His nephew George Musgrove was lessee during the early 1880s. Another lessee renamed it Her Majesty’s in 1884, while F.M. Clark renamed it the Alhambra Palace of Varieties (1893-94). By this time the building had become renowned as possibly the most dangerous in Melbourne.  Undeterred Harry Rickards made the theatre his Melbourne base in 1895, renaming it the Opera House. Under his management it held the distinction of being the venue in which the first motion pictures were seen in Australia (1896). Safety concerns eventually led to the building being closed and demolished in 1899.

  • See also: Opera House [2] / Tivoli Theatre [below]
1: Peter Maltezos records that in the Opera House site was a timber yard and stables during the 1850s and that by the early 1860s the business was run by the Australian and New York Letting and Livery Stables. He further notes that the firm erected a building that included an auditorium on the upper level. By 1866 the hall was operating as a commercial enterprise known as The Varieties, later renamed the Opera Comique. During its time as the Varieties the hall reportedly hosted the first Australian performance of the Can Can (“The Titillating Tivoli Theatre.” Urban Melbourne , 2014 – sighted 12/01/2018).
2: Among the numerous safety concerns identified in 1894 was the fact that building had begun to lean. The venue by then seated more than 2,100 people.
3: Australia’s first motion pictures were exhibited at the Opera House on 22 August 1896 by magician Carl Hertz.
4: The Melbourne City Council attempted to have the building demolished in 1897 but Rickards managed to have the order delayed until his lease expired in 1899.
Image: Prince of Wales Opera House (1872); Source: Ross Thorne Theatres in Australia.


PALACE THEATRE: See National Amphitheatre



aka New Opera House / Rickards’ Opera House / Tivoli Theatre

(1901-1966) 249 Bourke Street.

After safety concerns forced the demolition of the Opera House, its owners commissioned architect William Pitt to design a replacement theatre. Costing £35,000, and with input from Harry Rickards, the new theatre was conceived as dedicated variety or vaudeville venue even though it retained the Opera House name. Pitt’s design allowed for up to 2,000 people to be seated in three levels of stalls, along with a dress circle and gallery tier. Rickards opened the venue on 18 May 1901 with a programmed headed by London idol Marie Lloyd. Following Rickards death in 1911, Hugh D, McIntosh renamed the venue the Tivoli in his honour. The theatre closed in 1966 and a year later its interior was destroyed by fire. The site was sold for redevelopment in 1969.

  • See also: Opera House [1] [above]
1: The theatre as known for some time as the New Opera House, and later Rickards’ Opera House.
2: Other performers to appear during its opening week were Alec Hurley, and Noni and Madge Rickards. Harry Rickards also appeared on stage for the first five nights.
3: The theatre could not be used as a cinema because Pitt’s design called for 14 pillars to be used in the auditorium, thereby making film screening unsuitable. The pillars were eventually removed during extensive renovations in 1956.
Image source: Urban Melbourne.



aka Novelty Theatre / Duke’s Theatre / Hudson’s Theatre / Hall of Science / Nugget Theatre / Cottier’s Theatre

(1862-1889) Bourke Street (Parliament House end).

Opened on Boxing Day 1862 by L.L. Smith, the Polytechnic Institute was a four story building that initially included a Museum of Anatomy and an auditorium known as the Polytechnic Hall. The Latter was used as a venue for minstrel troupes and various entertainments and exhibitions for almost three decades. Between 1879 and the 1889 the venue was known variously as the Novelty Theatre, Duke’s Theatre, Hudson’s Theatre, Hall of Science, Nugget Theatre and Cottier’s Theatre. After being demolished the site became home to the Y.M.C.A and later the Salvation Army.

Image source: State Library of Victoria.



aka Tattersalls / American Hippodrome / Marsh’s Royal Lyceum


(1858-1862) Lonsdale Street (between Swanston and Russell streets).

During the late-1840s and early-1850s the southern side of Lonsdale Street served as the location for a vegetable market, stables, horse repositories, carriage factories and auction houses. In 1853 John Black erected Tattersalls, a huge multi-purpose complex designed to accommodate horse-related businesses. It also included a ballroom. Messrs Rowe and Marshall converted Tattersall’s into the American Hippodrome and Circus in 1858 and two years later it was remodelled as the Prince of Wales Theatre. Over the next two years the theatre hosted minstrelsy, burlesque, pantomime, drama (including Shakespeare), opera, concerts and balls before falling out of favour as an entertainment venue. After renovations in early 1862 it operated briefly as Marsh’s Royal Lyceum but closed down by year’s end.

Image: Lithograpgh by S.T. Gill’s (1853). Source: Walking Melbourne.





aka Princess Theatre and Opera House

(1857-1885) Spring Street

Built in 1854 as Astley’s Amphitheatre, the building was renamed the Princess Theatre and Opera House in 1857 under the management of John Black and lessee Alex Henderson. Its opening programme, staged on 22 April, featured Anna Bishop in Bellini’s opera Norma. The ownership changed many times over the next three decades, as did the lessees. The building also underwent several renovations, the most significant being in 1865. After eventually falling into disrepair lessees Williamson, Garner and Musgrove closed the theatre on 3 January 1885. It was subsequently demolished to make way for the new Princess Theatre. Although largely known for hosting legitimate theatre and music productions (notably opera), seasons of pantomime, burlesque and minstrelsy were also presented during the first Princess Theatre era.

  • See also: Astley’s Amphitheatre [above] • Princess Theatre 2 [below]
  • For further details see: “Princess Theatre.” Australian News for Home Readers (Melbourne) 23 Dec. 1865, 22 • “Recollections of the Princess Theatre.” Age (Melbourne) 28 June 1884, 13.
1: The date for the theatre’s grand opening was originally scheduled for 16 April 1857. This was pushed back to 20 April when management realised that the building was not quite ready. Management announced on 20 April that the opening would be again postponed (until the 23rd) due to the unexpected death of Lady Barkley. Norma was supported by a farce – The Married Bachelor.
2: The 1865 renovations involved a complete restoration of the inside on the building. The outside shell remained pretty much as before.
3: Among the biggest names to be associated with the theatre were Joey and Adelaide Gougenheim, Mary Provost, American actor Joseph Jefferson, Irish comedian John Drew, George Fawcett, Richard Stewart, English actor Barry Sullivan, and scenic artists John Hennings and Alexander Habbe. Lessees included the Gougenheims, J. R. Greville, G.V. Brooke, George Fawcett, and W.S. Lyster.




Princess Theatre - Melboure 1908 [SLV](1886 -) Spring Street.

Built by Williamson, Garner and Musgrove on the site of Astley’s Amphitheatre and the first Princess Theatre, Melbourne’s second Princess Theatre opened on 18 December 1886. It was acquired by the Fullers in 1915 and under their management it operated primarily as a venue for plays, grand opera, pantomimes, musicals and revusicals. The company rebuilt the auditorium in 1921 in partnership with Hugh J. Ward. In 1934 Frank Thring Snr, whose radio station 3XY was housed in the building, produced the musical comedy Collits’ Inn there. Lessees and owners have included Union Theatres, Carroll-Fuller Theatres, Garnet Carroll, Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust and Princess Theatre Holdings.

  • See also: Princess Theatre 1 [above]
Image: State Library of Victoria



aka Victoria Hall / Melba Picture Theatre / Liberty / Odeon

(1868-1978) 283 Bourke Street.

The Royal Colosseum opened as a variety house on 25 June 1868 and for its first 40 years catered to a largely working class theatre audience. When its popularity declined in the early-1880s A.H. Simmons remodelled the building at a cost of £7,000. The new 800 seat venue opened in October 1882 as the Victoria Hall under the lessees Hiscocks and Alison, and Frederick Maccabe headlining. J.D. Williams (Greater Amusement Co) remodelled it as the Melba picture theatre in 1911, and it remained a cinema (albeit under different names) until closing down in 1978.



ROYAL PAVILION SALOON: See Theatre Royal [1]

ROXY THEATRE: See Gaiety Theatre

SAVOY THEATRE: See Temperance Hall

SPORTSMANS CLUB: See Apollo Hall [2]



aka Weston’s Opera House

(1862-1914) Bourke Street, next door to the Theatre Royal (western side).

St George’s Hall played a major role in Melbourne’s social and leisure pursuits for more than 40 years. The single story venue opened to the public on 16 December 1862 and was used the following night for a Scotch College Speech Night. W.S. Lyster staged its first concert on 22 December. The countless entertainments staged there included seasons by leading Australian and international minstrel troupes – the first being Christy’s Minstrels in 1863. Briefly renamed Weston’s Opera House in 1869, by the late-1870s the hall was regarded as Melbourne’s “home of Minstrelsy.” Hoyts exhibited films there from 1909 until late-1914. It was then demolished to make way for the company’s De Luxe cinema (which opened on 26 March 1915).

1: Like other community-orientated venues St George’s Hall played host to lectures, concerts, touring solo entertainers and specialty showmen, exhibitions, dances, and moving pictures. Its attraction as a live performance venue decreased by the turn of the century due to increasing competition from newer purpose-built theatres.
2: Other minstrels minstrel troupes and showmen/lessees to utilise St George’s Hall included Weston & Hussey’s Minstrels, Frank Hussey, Enderby Jackson, Harry Rickards, J. C. Rainer, Royal Marionettes, Blonenette Lady Minstrels, Corbyn’s Original Georgia Minstrels [1], C.B. K. R. Minstrels, Hiscocks & Hayman’s Mammoth Minstrels, Richard Stewart, New Orleans Minstrels, Kelly and Leon’s Minstrels, Cogill Bros, Rignold & Allison, Cushman’s Minstrels, Sherwin-Shepherd Opera Co, and Dante the Great.
3: The hall’s first owner was Ambrose Kyte. The proprietors in 1914 are named in a court report as Catherine Porter, Charles Petty, and Frederick Hughes (“Public Hall Ventilation.” Age 21 Feb. 1914, 15).


TATTERSALL’S: See Prince of Wales Theatre [1]



aka Total Abstinence Hall / Temperance Hall of Melbourne / Imperial Theatre / Savoy Theatre

Temperance Hall - Melb [SLV](1847-1963) 172 Russell Street.

Built by the Total Abstinence Society, the Temperance Hall served as a venue for commercial entertainments, functions, meetings, exhibitions and lectures for over a hundred years. It was rebuilt in 1872, opening on 28 March, and from 1875 it was linked to the People’s Concerts, a variety theatre institution that operated one or two nights a week and played host to many of Australia’s leading variety stars of the late 1800s/early 1900s. The Hall was renamed the Imperial Theatre in 1934 by new owners the Fullers and between 1939 and 1963 operated as The Savoy – a foreign language cinema.

Image source: State Library of Victoria.



aka Royal Pavilion Saloon / Canterbury Hall

(1841-) Bourke Street.

Little is currently known of Melbourne’s first Theatre Royal. The recorded history today indicates that opened on 12 April 1841 at the Royal Pavilion Saloon and that it was situated alongside the Eagle Tavern. The following year it was renamed the Theatre Royal. It later became known as the Royal Victoria and at some stage was called Canterbury Hall.



Th Royal - Melb 1855-1933 [walkingmelb](1855-1933) 236 Bourke Street.

Opened on 16 July 1855 the Royal was bought by G.V. Brooke in 1856. When Ambrose Kyte bought it in 1860, he reneged on a deal to on-sell the theatre to George Coppin and the matter ended up in court. Coppin gained control in 1871 with partners H.R. Harwood, John Hennings and Richard Stewart, but a fire in 1872 forced them to build a new theatre. J.C. Williamson became sole lessee in 1881. His various partners and company remained in control of the Royal until it was demolished to make way for a department store.

Image source:


TIVOLI THEATRE: See Opera House [2]


WESTON’S OPERA HOUSE: See St George’s Hall



aka Australia Hall / Opera Comique

Opera Comique [VT-DPB, 88](1866-1870) Bourke Street (between Swanston and Russell streets).

The Varieties was originally known as the Australia Hall – a venue built over a stable. It opened as the Varieties in 1866, with the interior resembling an English music hall, complete with tables, chairs and a rough platform as a stage. Renamed the Opera Comique in 1869 it was destroyed by fire in July 1870. The site was later home to the Prince of Wales Opera House (1872), Her Majesty’s Opera House (1884), Alhambra Palace of Varieties (1893) and Rickards’ Opera House (1895).

Image source: Viola Tait. Dames, Principal Boys… And All That (2001), 88.


VICTORIA HALL (Melbourne): See Royal Colosseum Theatre


Image citation details for entries without expanded biographies are noted at the bottom of the overview. All other image details are provided in the expanded PDF biographies.
For information concerning copyright issues see “Copyright” attachment in the AVTA “About” page.

Pages: 1 2 3

Published on June 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm  Comments Off on Theatres/Venues 6a: Melbourne