‘I think everyone remembers how it feels to walk into Government House and to experience first-hand, the scale and the beauty of this heritage building,’ tells the Governor of Victoria, Linda Dessau AC.
For Victoria’s first Lieutenant-Governor, Charles La Trobe, things looked considerably different, but still made an impact. In 1841, the site was parkland and had been an important meeting place and camping ground for local Aboriginal people. La Trobe saw great potential, as its highest point could provide one of the few vistas visible to Melburnians looking south of the Yarra River. And so, he set it aside for a future Government House.
It wasn’t until over a decade later that the Colonial Government called for design submissions, but the winning entry (an Elizabethan-style building J. G Knight and Kemp) was considered too costly. Another decade later, competition 2.0 saw a French Baronial-style building by Reed and Barnes chosen, however, estimated at £45,000, it was also deemed too expensive.
Cue the economic boom of the Gold Rush… In 1871, Inspector General of the Public Works Department William Wardell (of Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral and Gothic Bank fame) was commissioned to create a purpose-built Government House for Victoria. John James ‘JJ’ Clark, who designed the Old Treasury Building, and Peter Kerr, who designed the Victorian Parliament House, worked under Wardell to draw the designs, which were ‘of Italian architecture’. Constructed by Martin and Peacock between 1872 and 1876, the building cost the colony £200,000, including furnishings.