Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published November 25th 2021
Visit marvellous mansions in Melbourne
It's been a while, but Melbourne is back in business, and what better way to celebrate than by visiting some or all of the city's National Trust properties. These places have been around since the 1800s and are a reminder that Melbourne is an enduring city. Apart from that, they are fascinating, beautiful, interesting and steeped in history. It's a great outing for adults and an even better way to introduce your children to history, not from the pages of a book, but in person. There are nine National Trust properties in Melbourne. Some offer walkthroughs, some tours, others have special days or host unique exhibitions.
Rippon Lea hallway - Image by Citizen D, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
1. Old Melbourne Gaol at 377 Russell Street, Melbourne operated from 1842 to 1929. Along with the Old Magistrate's Court and Old City Watch House, the gaol has been set up as a museum to the times. This gaol holds the stories of many a Melbourne bad boy, but is perhaps best known as the place where Ned Kelly was executed on 11th November 1880. The gaol is currently open to visitors Wednesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. Tickets can be purchased online. Click here to go to the visitor information page on their website for times, costs, tickets and COVID-Safe measures.
Old Melbourne Gaol - Image by User (WT-shared) Onyo at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
2. Rippon Lea Estate. The Victorian mansion at the Rippon Lea Estate, 192 Hotham Street, Elsternwick, was built in 1868 for Frederick Sargood, who had made his fortune on the goldfields, not from finding gold as you might expect, but from selling soft goods. Over the years, it was expanded to thirty-three rooms. What an effort it would have been to keep the place clean, just as well the family had seven maids.
Rippon Lea front door - Image by Citizen D, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The extensive gardens incorporate a large lake, an orchard, a rose garden and a fernery. Rippon Lea Estate is open daily from 10am to 5pm. At the time of writing, the mansion is closed to the public, so keep an eye on their website for changes to this. Click here to go to the visitor information page on their website for times, current events, costs, tickets and COVID-Safe measures.
Rippon Lea boat house - Image by Citizen D, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
3. Polly Woodside is a three-masted cargo vessel built in Belfast in 1885 and docked at 21 South Wharf Promenade. The ship is decked out as it would have been in its heyday. Just imagine being aboard on a stormy and thrashing sea; sailing in the 1800s can't have been an easy job. There is a history gallery with interactive exhibits at the wharf where there are also picnic facilities. Guided tours are available and special events are often hosted. The Polly Woodside opening hours are seasonal and it is sometimes closed to the public. Click here to visit their website for opening times, pirate days, costs, tickets and contact details.
The Polly Woodside - Image by Koichi Oda, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
4. Como House and Gardens at the corner of Williams Road and Lechlade Avenue, in South Yarra, was built in 1847 for the Armytage family who were known to host dances, dinners and receptions for Melbourne's high society. Imagine the spectacle it must have been, men and women in their finery, ornate dresses swirling with the dance. A large, double-storey mansion with imposing verandahs it is set amongst beautiful gardens.
Como House - Image by Sardaka 10.48, 21 February 2008 (UTC), CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
These days the house often hosts exhibitions and is otherwise closed to public tours while these are running. Como House can be booked for your special event or your wedding. The gardens and the stables are open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday 10am to 5pm and there is a pop-up store showcasing the work of local artisans that is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 3.30pm. Click here for opening times, current exhibitions, costs and ticket purchases.
Labassa - Image by Stephen Digby, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
5. La Bassa is a Victorian mansion at 2 Manor Grove, Caulfield North, built in the mid-1800s. This is a property with a checkered history, having moved through incarnations from a mansion for the well-to-do, from 8 rooms to 35 rooms, in Victorian and then French Empire styles, and to a block of flats in the 1920s. La Bassa is normally open on the third Sunday of each month but does run special events and tours from time to time. Click here for visitor details, current events, and pricing.
Labassa - Image by Biatch at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
6. Portable Iron Houses. Ikea, eat your heart out! These houses were made in Britain in the mid-1800s, shipped as kits to Melbourne where they could be reconstructed by anybody from the instructions provided. The National Trust has preserved three of the nearly 100 of these houses thought to have been erected in South Melbourne by 1855. The Portable Iron Houses are at 399 Coventry Street, South Melbourne and are available for viewing on designated open days. Click here for details of open days, entry fees and contact details.
Portable Iron House back door - Image by SurveyorMJF, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
7. Governor Latrobe's Cottage which was prefabricated in England in the mid-1800s, was once the home of Victoria's first governor, received the 2014 Victorian Community History Award. The house and gardens at the corner of Birdwood Avenue and Dallas Brooks Drive, Melbourne, near the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Shrine, are displayed true to the times of Governor LaTrobe. The cottage is normally open between October and April from 1pm to 4pm on Sundays. Click here for visitor details, pricing or to book a tour. Tours of the cottage can be combined with tours of Government House.
La Trobe's Cottage - Image by Tirin at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
8. Tasma Terrace at 6 Parliament Place, East Melbourne, is the Victorian head office of the National Trust. This three-storey terrace house was built in 1879 for George Nipper who had made his money as a grain merchant. At the time of writing, the house is temporarily closed to the public. Click here for details, opening times, and contact details.
Tasma Terrace East Melbourne - Image by HappyWaldo, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
9. Waller House in Crown Road, Ivanhoe is the youngest of the Melbourne National Trust properties, having been built in the 1920s. Named for Australian muralist, mosaicist and stained-glass artist Napier Waller and his wife Christian for whom this was both home and studio, it is a superb example of an Arts and Crafts style home. At the time of writing, the house is temporarily closed to the public and tours at any time must be pre-booked. Click here for further details, pricing and contacts.
Napier Wallace House - Image from Heidelberg Historical Society Facebook Page
So much to choose from and so much to see; don't let the grass grow under your feet. The good news, once you've been to these properties and acquired a passion for our history, is that there are many more National Trust properties scattered across Victoria. Click here and scroll down to find out where they are.